Screen, please, doctor

Noah Wyle has never heard of the “Carter scale”, a phrase coined by University of Edinburgh medical students addicted to “ER” — the highly rated US TV drama that has made Wyle a star — as a gauge of male attractiveness. He is certainly aware of the international fame that the role of the sweet and earnest Dr John Carter has brought him, and admits that it has changed his life on every level. But he comes across as the most unlikely Hollywood luminary, still striving to reconcile his shyness and the rewards of celebrity.

We’ve been talking for 15 minutes, Wyle having driven for two hours to Los Angeles from his 45-acre ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, near Santa Barbara, California, which he bought from actress Bo Derek last year for a reported $2.5m (£1.7m). Simply but elegantly dressed, in a stylish brown jacket and blue jeans, the 6ft 2in Wyle clearly anticipates my comment on his beard, which made a brief but controversial appearance on “ER” a couple of years ago…

Wherever I lay my hat

Robert Altman spent three decades after his first hit film, the 1970 war satire “M*A*S*H”, telling the US what was wrong with it. Whether it was the unlikely mixture of country music and politics in “Nashville”, the scathing view of Hollywood in “The Player” or the suburban epic “Short Cuts”, American audiences reluctantly recognised the merits of Altman’s films but rarely gave him wholehearted approval at the box office.

Europeans loved the maverick director’s take on just about all things American, partly because his shrewd observations reflected their own perceptions of the superpower’s arrogance and greed. In fact, Altman’s name today stands next to Bergman’s, Fellini’s and Truffaut’s much more naturally than beside Coppola’s, Scorsese’s or Spielberg’s…