“ER” star Noah Wyle has watched every other member of the original cast make an exit from the 10-year-old medical drama.
But for Wyle, there’s nothing wrong with steady work on a hit series, even as you say goodbye to old friends.
Saying goodbye to “Friends” felt odder.
“That left me not just the last man standing on the set, but the last man standing on the lot,” he explains, speaking of Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, Calif., where both series were filmed.
“Those two shows came on the air at the same time (fall 1994),” says Wyle. “We sold them together. We promoted them together.” He even guest-starred on a “Friends” episode.
“The day the cast filmed their last episode, I saw them in the commissary. It was heavy. Here they were, closing a defining chapter in each of their lives, and all I could do was think: ‘The end of that chapter’s coming, for me.”’
Wyle still loves the ‘ER’ excitementDon’t quake, NBC! Sure, you’ll be losing your biggest comedy in just a week. But your biggest drama, “ER,” another staple of your “must-see” Thursday lineup, will close out its season with new episodes the next three weeks, then stay put in its 10 p.m. ET berth for its return next fall.
And Dr. John Carter — Wyle’s character — will remain as attending physician at Chicago’s County General Hospital.
Why is simple. Unlike George Clooney, Anthony Edwards, Eriq La Salle, Julianna Margulies or Sherry Stringfield (who left “ER” in 1996 then returned to the fold in 2001), Wyle hasn’t found a compelling reason to make the break from a series he still loves.
“I find the job extremely gratifying,” he says during a recent visit to Manhattan, “and the story lines are still exciting and in keeping with the character’s continuity, which I’ve worked so hard to maintain all these years.”
Carter in recent seasons has suffered a near-fatal knife wound from a deranged patient and battled substance abuse, and now he’s about to face a crisis endangering the child he is expecting with his girlfriend, whom he met on a medical-relief trip to Africa.
The current “ER” troupe includes Laura Innes, Mekhi Phifer, Alex Kingston, Goran Visnjic, Maura Tierney, Ming-Na, Sharif Atkins, Parminder Nagra and Linda Cardellini, along with Wyle, who steadily rose to his leadership position — not unlike Carter.
Art imitates life for WyleCertainly Carter has come a long way since “ER” began. He was a third-year medical student, wide-eyed at the turmoil around him and often overwhelmed by it.
And from week one, Carter proved to be a juicy role for Wyle, then a 22-year-old Hollywood native (and son of an orthopedic nurse), who, after studying drama at Northwestern University, had scored only one prior success: a small part in the film “A Few Good Men.”
“As Carter was getting comfortable in the environment of a hospital, I was getting comfortable on a film set,” Wyle recalls.
“To a certain degree, we had the same fear of failure, the same driving motivations.” He chuckles. “Carter’s craving for the approbation and approval of his co-workers was equal to mine. You know?”
These days, Wyle echoes the hard-won maturity of the character he plays. He is happily married to Tracy, a former makeup artist; as the father of 18-month-old Owen, he embraces parenthood: “I’ve never smiled wider, felt happier, and — when I imagine what could take those feelings away — never felt so vulnerable.”
Heartthrob with a conscienceOf course, even at 32, Wyle retains the boyish air that first earned him heartthrob status. For his interview, he is casually clad in jeans, yellow oxford shirt and brown sweater, and tennis shoes. He displays a couple days’ stubble on his baby face, along with those arched, guileless eyebrows, which seem to certify everything he says.
He has a serious manner, but when his interrogator momentarily lags in asking the next question, Wyle jumps in with a string of waggish answers: “Six-foot-2. Brown and brown. Gemini,” he recites. “Somewhere between 32- and 34-inch waist.”
His extra-“ER” credits include the thriller “Enough” (2002), co-starring with Jennifer Lopez as a bad-guy cop, and as Steve Jobs in the cable movie “The Pirates of Silicon Valley” (1999). He was in the all-star ensemble for the 2000 live-television production of “Fail Safe.”
He’s also busy off-camera. Among his activities: serving as spokesman for Cover the Uninsured Week 2004, an initiative co-chaired by former Presidents Ford and Carter to draw attention to the issue of Americans who lack health coverage. This media blitz will take place May 10-16, Wyle says.
“The nightly news terrifies America about the theoretical — things that probably will not come to pass,” he says. “But the things that come to pass every single day for 44 million Americans should be newsworthy. For a week, it will be.”