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Noah Wyle is ready to tangle with aliens again in television series

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Noah Wyle stars as the leader of a group fighting aliens in the second season of "Falling Skies" on TNT.

Noah Wyle stars as the leader of a group fighting aliens in the second season of “Falling Skies” on TNT.

Michael Muller, Mct

CULVER CITY, Calif. — One of the most profound learning experiences for actor Noah Wyle wasn't an acting class or a moment on stage or even a hit TV show. It was serving as a busboy in a hotel restaurant.

"The guy I worked for has become a bit of a celebrity, Dmitri Dimitrov ... he's constantly being written up as the power broker of Hollywood because he shifts people around at various tables and all these deals get struck under his watchful eye," says Wyle, seated at a conference table at a film studio here.

"I give him a tremendous amount of credit because ... he instilled in his wait-staff this notion of nobility and humility. That just because you're in the service industry didn't mean you had to act with an air of servitude. You were actually putting on a show, and the show was to give these people the most incredible dining experience that they'd ever had."

The lesson seemed aimed at Wyle. "The way he reached me was by saying, 'You want to be an actor? Acting's about attention to detail. You take the same attention to detail that you're applying here in the restaurant and apply it to your work, it'll pay off in huge dividends down the line. So you think I'm on you about not cleaning an ashtray or filling up a water glass or bringing more bread or making sure the fork is a quarter-inch off the end of the table — but you'll thank me one day because you'll be paying attention to detail in whatever you do.' And he was absolutely right."

From then on Wyle did pay attention. And he did it so well he was cast as Dr. John Carter in the now legendary "ER." That was a tumultuous experience, he says. "It took me from total anonymity and obscurity and put me on the cover of Newsweek magazine in the first season. It was exhilarating and an abject lesson of be careful of what you wish for," he says.

"I think most actors start off wanting to be storytellers first and foremost and wanting to just work. That mutates into a fantasy about making a lot of money and being famous and having this sort of life that seems other-worldly," he shrugs.

"You don't really know what it is but it sounds really good in concept. Then you get it, and realize what it is. And nine times out of 10 it's more of a hassle and inconvenience than it is a help."

While he's eternally grateful for the show, he says that sudden fame interferes with personal interactions. "You have to redefine every relationship in your life. Your relationship to money, to where you live, to your friends, to your family. It's a very powerful thing to go through and I was fortunate enough to go through it with five other people who I got along with extremely well — all of whom had a little bit more experience than I did and offered really sage advice in how to navigate that. But it's a heady experience."

It was so unnerving that Wyle dropped out for a couple of years to reconnoiter and spend time with his two children, a boy 9 and a girl 6. Then he starred in the popular "Librarian" series for TNT and is back Sunday for the second season of "Falling Skies," in which he plays the leader of a stalwart group of alien fighters.

He says he had doubts about committing to another series. "'ER' was a job that was the most incredible experience of my life and I have absolutely no regrets," he says.

"But the day after my son was born, I was back on the set ... and this bell went off in my head that there was some place I'd rather be. So that kind of effectively ended my interest in doing episodic television just because of the schedule grind and how much time away from home that took."

When the "Falling Skies" script arrived, it was competing with three other top-notch screenplays. Choosing was difficult, says Wyle. So he let his son decide. "I summed it up: 'Do you want to see your dad be a cop, a lawyer, an insurance adjuster or an alien fighter?' He said, 'Dad!!!'" No contest.

Wyle and his wife, Tracy Warbin, are divorced and he confesses that was the most wrenching event of his life. "We all go through life telling certain myths about ourselves. 'I'm not the kind of guy who would ever do this, or would ever do that. I don't think I'm capable of this. I don't think I'm capable of that.' And when that myth meets reality and is no longer sustainable, (you're) having to take a hammer and smash it and then sifting through the pieces and figure out, 'OK, what kind of guy are you? What are you capable of?' It's a very sobering and analytical and painful process. But ultimately positive."

Still he says he'd be willing to try again. "I'm not disillusioned on the institution (of marriage) I still think it's a pretty cool thing. We share custody and she and I have managed to maintain a really wonderful relationship with the priorities being exactly what they should be, which is the kids' well-being first and foremost."TV-TINSEL