A PLUCKY FELLOW
Sure, playing Dr. John Carter on NBC's hit series ER has been heady stuff for Noah Wyle, but doing a guest shot on Sesame Street was a real stitch. "Truly, it was my crowning achievement," says Wyle, 25, who appears on Sesame Street's season premiere Nov. 18. "It was probably the first show I ever watched, the first entertainment I remember seeing." And it meant meeting one of his idols. "I worked with Big Bird almost exclusively," says Wyle. "I plucked a couple of his [tail] feathers out to give to my niece, and he was very gracious. He just said that they cost, I don't know, $1.75 apiece and that I should make sure I didn't lose them." Were Wyle's ER costars impressed with his work on the Street? "I don't think that the magnitude of my achievement has really sunk in on them yet," he says. "Actually, Eriq LaSalle was pretty impressed. I got the biggest vote of confidence from him. There's a very tender man inside that hard shell."

SUCH SWEET SORROW
"If this hadn't been a contemporary spin on Romeo and Juliet, I wouldn't have done it," says Leonardo DiCaprio, 22, who plays Romeo in the latest screen version of Shakespeare's classic Romeo and Juliet, which is set in the present. "I didn't want to be leaping around in tights." He also wanted input on the casting of his Juliet, a role won by Claire Danes. "[Director] Baz Luhrmann let me audition with most of the actresses who wanted the part," says DiCaprio. "Every other actress did these flowery, mooning things. It turned me off. I wanted someone who would be strong and firm with my Romeo, and Claire gave us that right off." But even she had her breaking point. "In the last scene, Juliet is lying there, and I make this big speech," says DiCaprio. "I was crying, and I guess I got to Claire because she started crying. Then she sat up and said, 'Don't make me cry! I'm supposed to be comatose.' "

THE OLD MAN AND THE SCENE
"I only want to be a little famous," says 10-year-old Brawley Nolte, who has a starring role as Mel Gibson's kidnapped son in the hit thriller Ransom. "I don't want to completely lose my privacy." The fifth grader speaks from experience, having spent time on movie sets with his dad, Nick Nolte (who separated from Brawley's mom, Rebecca Linger, in 1994). "Dad gives me lots of advice," says Brawley. While rehearsing Ransom, for instance, Brawley couldn't cry on cue despite coaching from director (and former child star) Ron Howard. "I didn't want to push too hard," says Howard, "but it wasn't good enough, and Nick, who was there, could see it wasn't good enough." So Nolte took his son aside. "We can cry, it's nothing to be ashamed of," he told him, and promptly shed a few tears of his own. Recalls Howard: "Brawley saw this and just burst into tears. It could have been a sensitivity workshop."

CAST PARTY
Behind the polished doors of Sally Jessy Raphaël's plush Victorian-style office, the TV host indulges a secret passion. "Fly fishing is to fishing what watercolor is to oil paint—you want to get a lightness," says Raphaël, who demonstrates, sitting at her desk, by casting with a fishing rod strung with orange yarn. "Theoretically, every day I am supposed to practice with my yarn. My teacher can throw out to 160 feet with a flick of her wrist!" The lessons were a gift from her husband, businessman Karl Soderlund, who has also taken up the sport. "He's jealous of my gear," says Raphaël. "If I buy a fishing rod, he buys a fishing rod. If I buy waders, he buys waders. If I buy a set of flies, he buys a set of flies. He doesn't care about what he's doing, he just doesn't want me to have more toys."