Noah Wyle's Farewell...and Return

One of prime time’s longest-running actors, Noah Wyle, has just closed his locker on 11 wild years of ER. But that doesn’t mean he’s gone for good.

What many Wyle watchers might not realize is that he will hit the hospital halls again as Dr. John Carter, as he reveals: “It’s contractual at this point: eight more performances over the next two seasons.” The television and movie actor — and family man (he and wife Tracy have one son, Owen, and a child “premiering” this fall) — decided that having worked on the hit NBC show since its 1994 debut, it was time for an official break. “I’m in the cast or out of the cast; I wasn’t going to stay on the posters and in the opening titles and only do eight shows. I would rather not be part of the regular ensemble, and [instead] come back as a guest star, hopefully in a well-written fashion. Being No. 1 on the call sheet and not staying there was not appealing to me.

“This is like any long-term relationship,” he says. “You fall in and out of love with it systematically over the decade. There have been periods of time where of course I wanted to go. But overall, I enjoyed every second I was on the show,” which is the first series he auditioned for.

Wyle certainly struck gold, as Carter matured into the heart of the show while saving, touching and breaking innumerable hearts along the way. Of the daring, dapper doc’s many love interests during Wyle’s run on the medical drama, he shares three favorites — two of whom share the same name. “They range from the comical to the dramatic. I would have to obviously rank Maura Tierney (Abby) up there as second to Thandie Newton (Kem); she’s an unbelievably talented actress and a wonderful person, and I enjoyed playing out that storyline with her, as tempestuous as it was. Going back, even though she was seven months pregnant when we shot the storyline and we had to shoot her only in closeup, I really enjoyed working with Glenne Headly (ex-Abby Keaton). That was an interesting relationship, both with the age discrepancy and the fact that she was my senior in the hospital.”

Having become the respected “senior” veteran in the Chicago-based series, did Wyle have enough clout to ask producer John Wells and his staff for the right swan song (as in one less sorrowful than Anthony Edwards‘ aloha to Mark)? “I asked nothing terminal, please (laughs); something life-affirming and positive. Those have been the prevailing winds for all 11 years: Whenever I had an inclination on where the character should go, they picked up on it on their own. Through audience feedback, they steered it in that direction, so I’ve had very little input over the years, other than editorial.” Wyle adds that he welcomed input on his own performance, especially during the show’s early years: “I don’t think I could have kept a level head about me without the advice of George Clooney (ex-Ross), Eriq La Salle (ex-Benton) and Anthony Edwards.”

Wyle, who will shoot the sequel to his hit TNT adventure movie The Librarian in July, hints that some Cook County staffers might travel to Africa to visit Carter and his truelove, Kem: “Maybe [the producers will be] bringing other doctors through the Doctors Without Borders experience.” He added he might do another series, but not for some time: “It may take me a couple years to get my head around the idea of those hours again. It would not be conducive to the family life I’m looking to have.”

For now, he beams, “I’ve got a worldwide calling card to walk around with for the rest of my life. It’s been an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

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