By Iain Blair
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It's been six years since Noah Wyle left hospital drama "ER."
Now he's back on television in the new TV series, "Falling Skies," the much-anticipated alien invasion drama from executive producer Steven Spielberg.
Launching with a two-hour premiere on Sunday on cable network TNT, the show stars Wyle, Moon Bloodgood ("Terminator Salvation") and Will Paxton ("Armageddon") as survivors of an attack who've banded together to fight back.
Wyle spoke with Reuters about the new show, why he's never had a Charlie Sheen-style meltdown, and why he's not afraid to turn forty this month.
Q: "Falling Skies" is quite a change of pace for you.
A: "Total change -- certainly very different from anything I've ever done before. Fighting aliens? I never expected that!"
Q: Are you a big sci-fi fan?
A: "I never thought I was, but then I just realized what a huge influence movies like 'Star Wars' and 'Close Encounters' had on me, and I loved 'District 9.' I like sci-fi best when it uses metaphor, like 'Star Trek,' where you're dealing with a hot topic but telling it one step removed, so there's that objectivity."
Q: You and Spielberg go back to "ER" where he also executive produced. How involved was he on this?
A: "Very. He was on the set of the pilot and very hands on with all the casting and alien designs and so on."
Q: There have been several recent alien invasion TV and movie projects, such as "Battle: Los Angeles," "V" and others. What makes "Falling Skies" special and different?
A: "This isn't about the actual invasion and destruction but how people survive after it. It's essentially a character drama. And like 'Lost,' it opens with a question mark -- why did this happen, what do they want and how will we survive? And each week you learn a new piece of information about the aliens and their motives."
Q: This is your first TV series since "ER." Had you consciously avoided doing another TV series?
A: "Totally. It was partly burn-out but also the awareness that 'ER' was never going to be replicated in my lifetime. So the idea that I could just go out and find another show like that would have been foolhardy. And after that incredible workload, I wanted to just pick and choose smaller projects more based around my kids' schedules and vacations, and be more of a presence in their lives."
Q: Talking of burn-out, do you think that was part of Charlie Sheen's problem?
A: "Show burn-out is a reality, and I can't overstate how long of a season 24 TV episodes really is. It can be incredibly draining and a real grind. But I'm not sure sitcom actors understand that, because I had 11 years of watching the 'Friends' cast roll in at 10 am and roll out again at 11 am after a quick read-through. Then they'd camera-block for a couple of days and shoot, while we were there 18 hours a day, 5 days a week. I know on a relative scale it was probably a grind for them, but.. (laughs)."
Q: Toward the end of your run on "ER" you became the highest paid TV drama actor. How come you never had a sex-drugs-and-rock 'n' roll meltdown?
A: (laughs) "I have a very blue collar attitude to work. I don't take it too preciously. I treat it like a hard hat, lunch pail job. I punch in every day, do my job, and go home."
Q: What do you do when you're not working?
A: "I'm a very dedicated father to my two kids, and I love reading. Books are my passion. And I live on a very pretty farm in Santa Ynez, with horses, cows, pigs, goats and chickens. You can't beat fresh eggs for breakfast!"
Q: You turned 40 on June 4. Are you freaking out or embracing it?
A: "I'm cool with it and ready. Not to sound too space-agey but I have 4 letters in my first and last names, I was born on the 4th, there's four letters in June, and I've always felt around 40 mentally, so it seems just right."
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)