Noah Wyle has been preparing for an acting career most of his life.
He was raised in Los Angeles, and while walking home from school each day, he would place his foot over actor Noah Beery Jr.'s last name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and imagine the star was his. Wyle does not yet have a square on that hallowed strip of concrete, but after acting in TV for the past 25 years, he's well on his way.
His latest role is in the timely new CBS limited series The Red Line. Several months have passed since Wyle finished filming, but the 47-year-old still gets emotional talking about it.
"I think that's why I jumped at the chance to do it," he says. "This material really affected me in a way I haven't been moved in a long time."
Wyle plays Daniel Calder, a Chicago high school teacher whose husband, African-American surgeon Harrison Brennan (Corey Reynolds), is shot and killed by a white police officer after he's mistaken for a convenience store robber.
The impact of the shooting reaches well beyond Daniel and the couple's 17-year-old adopted daughter, Jira (Aliyah Royale).
Officer Paul Evans (Noel Fisher) struggles with his own culpability as he faces backlash from the community once he's cleared of all charges in Harrison's death.
Meanwhile, a devastated Jira searches for her birth mother, Tia (Emayatzy Corinealdi), who happens to be running for city council (and thus keeping a close eye on the volatile situation).
The scope of the tragedy is not lost on Wyle. "I looked at this particular man and what he was about to go through, and I just thought, 'I wouldn't want to be you for anything.' [Everyone's] grief is going to trump yours. Your daughter's grief is bigger. The city's anger and grief are bigger. That still gets me," he says, choking up.
"He's just made of feelings!" jokes Caitlin Parrish, who wrote A Twist of Water, the play The Red Line is based on, for a Chicago theater company and created the series with the play's director, Erica Weiss. Ava DuVernay and Greg Berlanti are also executive producers.
Teasing aside, Parrish and Weiss consider themselves lucky to work with an actor so invested in the material. "No matter what comes down the pipe, Noah's going to be ready for it emotionally," Parrish says.
Wyle's stepfather worked as a film historian and preservationist, so from a young age, Wyle didn't think of movies as magic — they were a job.
"I think back to my early days [on film sets] and the adjective I would use to describe myself would be curious," he says. "I was just curious about everybody's jobs and every part of it."
Early on, Wyle landed a small part in the 1992 Tom Cruise blockbuster A Few Good Men.
But, as the actor jokes, a funny thing happened on the way to becoming a movie star: He found success on the small screen.
After breaking out as Dr. John Carter on ER in 1994, a role he played for 13 seasons, he starred as alien-battling militia man Tom Mason in Falling Skies (2011–15), then saved ancient artifacts as adventurer Flynn Carsen in the Librarians TV movies and series (2014–18).
No surprise he's always playing the good guy/hero. With his open, earnest face, it's hard to see him as a villain.
Wyle finds something particularly exciting about the open-ended stories told on television. "You get to go a lot deeper into the character. You get to take them through a whole myriad of circumstances."
In fact, when he read the pilot script for ER, the potential for this green medical student appealed to him most. "I thought, 'That's the best part, because everybody else has to be a really good doctor and this guy is dropping trays of piss all over himself. But eventually, this guy could be the greatest doctor in the hospital. What a journey that would be.'"
For Wyle, that journey was life-changing — and one he's unlikely to revisit. Asked about a revival of the beloved medical drama, he says, "It'll never happen. [Executive producer] John Wells would never have it. [Not doing a revival] protects the integrity of the show."
While he wonders what Dr. Carter might be up to, Wyle is the sort of actor who doesn't want to repeat himself. He wasn't necessarily looking for a more grounded project coming off years of sci-fi and fantasy — he simply wanted to do something different.
The Red Line, with its diverse perspectives and themes of racial justice, gave him that chance. "The Red Line was the first time in a long time where I could actually call home and say, 'I think this is a good one. You're gonna be proud,'" he says.
And while CBS has billed The Red Line as a limited series, Wyle thinks the show could have a future beyond these eight episodes. "I would certainly be interested in exploring this character further," he says. "Anything can happen, right?"
The Red Line, Series Premiere, Sunday, April 28, 8/7c, CBS