Dave Karger
October 03, 1997 AT 04:00 AM EDT

It’s a crisp April morning in Maine, and Noah Wyle is thinking Oscar. ”I could get nominated for this,” he muses as he slides on a grimy football helmet on the set of The Myth of Fingerprints. ”The Academy loves funny costumes.”

Don’t get him wrong. Even if little gold guys are dancing in Wyle’s head, it hasn’t swelled too much. For his first film made after becoming a Thursday-night living-room fixture as ER neophyte Dr. John Carter, Wyle has chosen the unassuming Myth, a low-key drama about a dysfunctional New England family from first-time writer-director Bart Freundlich. And unlike a few Friends we could talk about — not to mention his ER costar George Clooney — Wyle doesn’t seem greedy for big-screen time. With Myth, he settles comfortably into an impressive ensemble cast that includes Blythe Danner, Roy Scheider, and Julianne Moore, of The Lost World: Jurassic Park and a regular on the indie-flick circuit.

But while Myth is a modest endeavor (shot for $2 million), it does carry some risk, hitting theaters at a time when indie movies are coming and going like talk shows. Though the film premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, that high-profile event doesn’t always guarantee commercial or critical success: For every The Full Monty, there are five Dream With the Fishes. ”I certainly hope it doesn’t disappear in three days, that’s for sure,” says Freundlich, 27, who wrote the film after graduating from New York University’s film school and borrowed its title from Paul Simon’s Graceland track ”All Around the World Or The Myth of Fingerprints.” Sony Pictures Classics, which had planned to release Myth last April, decided to wait until now, thinking that the movie’s snow-covered settings would seem more appealing to fall audiences. But like Wyle, the movie itself is starting small, having just opened in three Manhattan theaters. Says Scheider: ”Nobody’s gonna get rich off this.”

Indeed, the real payoff for the film’s players was in their personal lives. Last year, during the six-week shoot in Bethel and Andover, Maine, the quaint Victorian house used as the production’s main location became something of a love shack. Wyle, 26, started seeing the production’s key makeup artist, Tracy Warbin, outside of the styling chair; eighteen months later, they’re still an item. Meanwhile, Freundlich (a dead ringer for Party of Five‘s Matthew Fox) and Moore, 36, who began dating during production, now share a home in Los Angeles and are expecting a baby together in November. Even two Myth crew members — a production accountant and the line producer — are getting hitched this month.

It wasn’t exactly love at first sight between the director and Moore when they met in L.A. to discuss the possibility of her playing grouchy big sister Mia, who breaks out of her frigid shell with the help of a former kindergarten classmate (James LeGros). In fact, there almost wasn’t a first sight at all. ”She had me meet her at the Peninsula Beverly Hills Hotel, which is, like, not an environment I feel comfortable in,” remembers Freundlich. ”Every person had a cell phone. I must have done 50 rounds around the bar, and she wasn’t there.” A half hour late, Moore arrived, skipped the small talk, and grilled him about the film. (”It was a time in my life when I was feeling particularly crabby,” admits Moore, who was in the process of divorcing her husband of eight years, actor John Rubin.) ”It was like a very bad date,” Freundlich recalls on the set of Myth during a break. ”I could feel myself sinking lower and lower in my chair, just wanting my mommy. And all I know is that at the end she got up and went diagonally to another meeting!”

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