Noah Wyle Leads a Powerful Ensemble Cast in ‘The Red Line’

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A “red line” often refers to a point of no return. Once a person or event passes whatever the red line may delineate in a certain situation, things can change rapidly, and not usually for the better — and most of the time with no going back.

That definition of “red line” comes into play in CBS’ new eight-part limited series The Red Line (Sundays at 8pm ET/PT beginning April 28) , but there is also another meaning to the title of this Windy City-set drama, according to executive producer Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th).

The Red Line is named for the train that runs through the city of Chicago,” the Oscar nominee explained, “and stands as a metaphor for the city’s contrast, a diverse but segregated American city with a huge potential for connection. The moniker speaks to Chicago as an American microcosm, two parts of a city divided by a red line.”

In the series it’s three different families who collide across this line when African-American doctor Harrison Brennan is misidentified as the suspect in a robbery and fatally shot by a white police officer.

Noah Wyle plays Daniel Calder, who was married to Brennan, the two having had a comfortable life on Chicago’s North Side with the now-teenaged daughter they adopted at birth, Jira (Aliyah Royale). Wyle and Royale stand out among a riveting cast as Daniel and Jira begin to face a future without the man they loved. It’s a future that Jira wants her birth mother to be a part of, and she begins a search for the woman against Daniel’s wishes.

That woman, we quickly learn, is Tia Young (Emayatzy Corinealdi), from Chicago’s South Side, who is torn between chasing her political ambition of running for alderwoman and risking it to comfort the daughter she’s been hearing about on the news in the wake of the tragedy.

On the west side of the city, the officer who killed Brennan, Paul Evans (Noel Fisher), is horrified about shooting an innocent man, conflicted about the circumstances surrounding the events and worried about the public and legal fallout.

As stories of the Calder, Young and Evans families play out, perhaps this collision of their lives may also lead to a better understanding across the red line. But if there is a point of at least some return when it comes to this geographical and metaphorical border, it probably won’t be a return to the status quo. In its presentation of how its characters might get to that point, The Red Line is powerfully captivating and grabs an emotional hold right from the start — and not just for viewers.

“There’s a lot to unpack,” Wyle told us when we talked about the show after a press conference. The actor admitted he was very impacted by this role, so much so that he had gotten emotional just watching the trailer with reporters earlier.

“I felt a little vulnerable up there for a minute. We hadn’t seen that trailer, and so then when we were out there, it’s a bit like tearing a scab open.

“I was really moved by this material from the jump, and it just didn’t stop. I’ve been doing [this] long enough to know that the muse doesn’t always sit on your shoulder as firmly as she was sitting on mine through this experience.”

Wyle says the experience of working within the relative brevity of an eight-episode limited series, while certainly different, offered creative benefits for both himself as an actor and for the viewer.

“It’s an unsettling thing when you only do eight [episodes],” he said. “You know, [with] 22, you feel like, ‘OK, I’m ready for a hiatus.’ Even 12 can feel like an effort. But eight felt like you’re just figuring things out, and you want to keep going and exploring.

“I really liked where we’ve taken the character at that point. … Over the course of this arc, he finds a completely different gear that he didn’t know was there.”