Noah Wyle admits it: He plays for a living. "I'm a guy who never wanted to hold a steady job," he says, "because I was worried about the monotony." That's why, long ago, Wyle embraced the gypsy life of an actor. And that's why The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines, a TNT original movie in which he portrays an unlikely action hero, "is right in my wheelhouse."
The movie, which premieres at 8 p.m. ET Sunday, Dec. 3, marks Wyle's return as Flynn Carson, guardian of the greatest treasures in history, myth and legend. He first played the character in The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, the highest-rated cable movie of 2004. "What better job can you have," Wyle muses, "than you wake up in the morning and you look at the call sheet and you say, 'Oh, today I'm jumping over the lava pit'? Or 'Today I'm doing the horseback chase'? Or 'Oh, this is the day I do the swordfight sequence with Excalibur'?"
Here's one way to make that experience even more magical: pack your bags and shoot the whole thing on location in Africa. "We started off production in Kenya," Wyle recalls. "We had a really phenomenal two days shooting in an actual Masai village with Masai warriors. That was fantastic, being in their camp and trading with them and buying some of their wares and learning a little bit about their culture." The Masai people are masterful negotiators, by the way. "When I got back, I fired ICM and now I'm represented professionally by the Masai," Wyle jokes. "They go over all of my contracts now."
Cast and crew also spent a couple of weeks shooting exteriors at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. Then they moved to Cape Town, South Africa, for interior work. "Everything came off without a hitch," Wyle says, "even though there are logistical problems about moving your production to the middle of a game reserve, where you're importing everything from equipment to power." There also can be perils when bringing Hollywood to Africa. "There was a cobra underneath the craft service table," the actor notes. "But we all lived to tell the tale."
This wasn't Wyle's first trip to Africa, mind you. He filmed episodes of ER there when his character, Dr. John Carter, went abroad for "Doctors Without Borders" missions. Wyle's overall take on the continent: "Africa is a continent of extremes. You see extreme poverty; you see extreme opulence; you see extreme despair and extreme hope. Occasionally it's difficult to be shooting a comedy in the midst of it, but the crews were phenomenal and the people could not have been more excited or more gracious about having us there."
In the original movie, during Flynn's first week overseeing the treasures at the Metropolitan Library, our hero recovered the Spear of Destiny, the lance that was used to skewer the side of Christ when he was crucified. In this new outing, Flynn teams with a brilliant and beautiful archaeologist (played by Gabrielle Anwar) during a quest to find the fabled mines of King Solomon. There's already a script for a third Librarian movie, by the way. "I think the reason the first film was successful," Wyle says, "was it filled a void that exists on television for that kind of throwback Saturday-afternoon, matinee-popcorn flick, where the jokes are funny, the chase scenes are harrowing, the romance scenes are sexy and you leave the theater satisfied on all fronts."
Wyle is a big fan of this genre. But until the first Librarian movie came his way, he never had much luck being cast as an action-movie hero. "Maybe because I'm 6-foot-2 and only about -– what? -– 100 pounds," he says. But Wyle was an ideal fit to play Flynn. And now, "I get some really gratifying mail from librarians," he says. "They're very pleased that we're trying to rewrite the paradigm of what an action hero is supposed to be -- that it's not just might that makes right, that sometimes the biggest brain can win you out in the end."
Flynn, who holds 22 academic degrees, definitely has the biggest brain. But in Wyle's hands, the character never seems elitist about his intellect. Wyle's secret to making Flynn so appealing? "Somebody told me a long time ago," he says, "that the best way to play an idiot is to play him like a smart person -- and the best way to play a smart character is to play him like an idiot."