Back to the Books for Noah Wyle
He plays another well-educated type this week as Flynn Carson, a man with 22 academic degrees, in the two-hour movie "The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines," premiering Sunday, Dec. 3, on TNT.
There must be a reason Wyle keeps getting cast in these roles. He seems to put a quick end to that theory.
"I didn't actually attend college," he says, laughing, "but I do consider myself slightly self-educated, and I have a pretty wide variety of interests in many esoteric topics."
Wyle relishes the role of Flynn, an atypical action hero who sometimes struggles to save himself, let alone save the day. He first adopted the persona in the 2004 original movie "The Librarian: Quest for the Spear."
"It gave me an opportunity to scratch every itch that I never got to scratch while doing 12 years of a medical drama -- to do some physical comedy and to play Errol Flynn's roles as if I was Don Knotts," he says.
Three of Wyle's co-stars from that first film -- Bob Newhart, Jane Curtin and Olympia Dukakis -- join him for "Return to King Solomon's Mines." In this go-round, Flynn has an increased confidence in his role as the Metropolitan Public Library's protector of humanity's greatest secrets and a new love interest in an equally brilliant archaeologist played by Gabrielle Anwar. In other words, his education continues.
"I think he's got a little bit more savvy and a little bit more game, as they say," Wyle explains. "In the first (film), he was cerebrally impressive and physically deficient. In the second, he's had a bit of training; he's done a couple of missions on his own. He no longer needs a chaperone."
Which is not to say Flynn has worked out all the kinks -- or Wyle has worked out all the Knotts.
"There's an adage, I forget which actor came up with it, but somebody said, 'You want to play smart people like they're stupid and stupid people like they're smart.' That's very effective," he says. "Even though [Flynn's] a very, very smart guy, we tried to maintain a certain sense of obtuseness in the way he would come about figuring these things out."
Wyle admits the motives behind his character's somewhat stunted growth extend beyond the aforementioned acting technique -- and beyond this sequel. He views Flynn as a work in progress that hopes to continue for at least one more "Librarian" film.
"In a perfect world, I think we'll make between three and five of these films," he says. "I'd like to see it arc itself out appropriately so that in the third he'd really be the Librarian, and the fourth and fifth would sort of be the demise into madness [from] being exposed to too many secrets in the universe, and [he'd] have to choose a protege."
In the meantime, Wyle has a few other projects in the works. He recently shot an independent movie called "The Boy of Pigs" with Perrey Reeves ("Entourage") and Gretchen Mol ("The Notorious Bettie Page"). Set in Washington, D.C., in 1962, the film tells the story of a teenage boy's infatuation with a neighborhood woman who happens to be JFK's alleged mistress Mary Pinchot Meyer.
Next spring, Wyle begins filming his directorial debut, a low-budget romantic comedy called "The Prince Test" in Chicago. At some point down the line, there may even be a return to series television.
"I don't rule it out," he says. "I'm ruling it out for the next couple of years, if I can keep it at bay, only because the time commitment is so extreme. There were a couple of scripts sent my way that were damn tempting. You know, I'm trying to keep my resolve."
That's because the most important role Wyle's playing these days is that of father and husband. After shouldering a heavy workload the past dozen years, he has made his family his No. 1 priority.
"That was the deciding factor in leaving 'ER,' " he says. "Once my son was born, 80 hours a week on a soundstage seemed a lousy way to parent. I was looking both to have the freedom of choice professionally but also to have a life back to give back to my friends and family, who basically said goodbye to me 12 years ago."
After putting himself in the position to make the decisions that are right for both himself and his family, it's no wonder Wyle has become television's go-to smart guy.