Chicago Fire mixes realism and entertainment
Taylor Kinney and Jesse Spencer star in Chicago Fire (Global)
Do not expect Chicago Fire to just be an action show. The upcoming drama, which examines the going-on within a Chicago fire house, will also, says star Jesse Spencer (TV’s House), explore the personal toll the job takes on its firefighting characters. To that end, Spencer relates the story Battalion Chief Steve “Chik” Chikerotis, a 28-year Chicago fire department vet who serves as the show’s advisor, tells about the psychological cost of losing members of the public by mere seconds.
“He said they’re the really hard ones, the ones that are really, really close [to being saved]. And then that’s when they start questioning themselves: if they were there 30 seconds too late or whatever then the question [becomes] ‘could I have done anything different to save the kid?’ That’s when the psychological stuff, I think, really kicks in for them, when it gets really close.”
Created by Derek Haas and Michael Brandt, the writing team behind the Christian Bale-Russell Crowe western 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and the action sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), Chicago Fire is an ensemble action-drama set within the Windy City’s fictional Firehouse 51. Spencer stars as Matthew Casey, a fireman whose partner recently died on the job. Casey blames rescue squad leader Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney, TV’s The Vampire Diaries) for the death; Severide blames Casey. In addition, the show details the professional and personal tensions within the squad, as well as with the paramedics they work with daily.
To prepare for their roles, many of the actors, including Kinney and Spencer, met with members of the Chicago Fire Department’s Squad 5 in the city’s Englewood neighbourhood and participated in ride-alongs with Squad 3. They also went through a training regimen at the city’s fire academy with Chikerotis. Actresses Monica Raymund (TV’s The Good Wife) and Lauren German (Hostel: Part II), who play EMTs Gabriela Dawson and Leslie Shay, respectively, rode along with paramedics.
“You keep your eyes open,” says Kinney. “You spend time with fighters, paramedics, and you pick things up that you otherwise wouldn’t. And you’re able to bring that to the table, to your character, to make it that much more authentic.”
Adds Spencer: “Just having those guys around all the time just sort of really helps with the overall vibe of our cast because they’re always there and we’re always mingling with them.
“You know, they’re coming from a shift the day before or about to go to one the next day. And they swap out and change, and so we get a really sort of nice cross-section of the real guys doing the real job. And I think that’s really been invaluable to us.”
Both actors and executive producer Danielle Gelber take pains to thank the city for its co-operation, and promise to showcase Chicago as best they can.
“I don’t think we could have asked for a better reception,” says Spencer. “Chicago is - I mean, I’ve never lived here; this is my first time living here, but I love this city. And I think it’s the perfect setting for our show. It feels like the people in the city are really supportive of the show.”
“Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel and the State of Illinois were incredibly welcoming right from the start during the pilot,” says Gelber, “and that’s only increased during the production of the show. And Chicago is such a visually singular city that we just feel really lucky to be able to sort of bring that into people’s living rooms every week.”
To honour Chicago firefighters, many of whom have been hired as extras on the show, producers held the show’s Oct. 2 premiere at the Chicago History Museum, inviting 150 of them plus their partners.
“I think the continual message of the show is that we’re really doing this for audiences to really keep in mind the firefighters and the real people who are the heroes in our country,” adds Gelber. “And so we always want to try and take an opportunity to honour them and single them out. So this premiere is really sort of centered on them.”
While each show will centre upon an action set piece, Gelber is quick to point out that Chicago Fire is far from a fire-of-the-week type show. “It’s the kind of thing where you’re only going to be invested so much in the adrenaline part of the show. But to carry you through emotionally you need to go past that and much deeper.”
Adds Kinney: “I think the aim and the payoff with what we’re doing, to have an audience empathize with these characters, is how much time you spend with them and how much time they spend together as a family - as you would a family; the camaraderie and just the cohesive effort that they have together.
“And, yes, they have these careers and they get into situations that put their life on the line at times, but they’re also just people and they’re also dealing with demons and triumphs and successes like anybody else.”
Chicago Fire begins Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Global and NBC.