An Interview with Chicago Fire Actors Kara Killmer, Steven R. McQueen and Executive Producer Matt Olmstead
Last week, we were invited to take part in a conference call interview with Chicago Fire actors Kara Killmer and Steven R. McQueen, as well as executive producer Matt Olmstead. They told us what is ahead for characters Sylvie Brett and newcomer Jimmy Morelli, talked about their love for Chicago and even gave us the scoop on what lies ahead for Dawson and Casey.
Now that you’re not fighting vampires or any supernaturals, how excited are you about being on this hit show?
Steven R. McQueen: “You know, I couldn’t be more excited. You know, and when I heard about this, the opportunity to play an American hero I jumped at the opportunity. I’m very excited to be here.”
Can you tell me or tell us how you came about picking Steven to join?
Matt Olmstead: “Yes. We, you know, we opened to casting and it was Jason Beghe who plays Voight on Chicago PD who called me and mentioned Steven. They know each other I don’t know how exactly they know each other but…”
Steven R. McQueen: “We workout together in (Alba).”
Matt Olmstead: “There you go, it all goes back to (Alba), you should know this by now. And I’m like yes, can we get him? I know he’s come off the show. And he, Jason, talked up Steven not only as a talent but as a person which goes a long way. Because you go to Chicago, you’re away from home.
You kind of have a new family. You’re going through the cold. And it takes a certain personality and you kind of have to go through it together and so when we were looking to get a read for it and it’s one of those things.
You know, it’s like when Kara read for Brett, it was just this is it. And so it came through Jason. He recommended and did little phone calls and negotiated and we made it happen. And we’re very fortunate.”
Can you tell us how much involvement does Dick Wolf have in the series now?
Matt Olmstead: “He has a lot as by his own assessment, he likes to keep as he’ll say a light hand on the wheel. When it’s going well, he encourages everybody to do their job. Put them in the position to succeed.
And when it starts to wobble or when there’s interference, infrequently I’ll say, from network on something that’s when he gets involved which is nice to have, I might add, you know. The call Dick is nice to kind of being able to pull out of your pocket when you need it.
And but in particular he’s involved at the beginning of each season in terms of making sure the shows are going in the right direction. There’s enough conflict. He’s fully aware of the fact that with these relationship ensembles, you can burn through stories.
And if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to have new characters or new conflicts like that. And it was his idea to introduce this Patterson character having come in at the beginning of the season and the Riddle character. And it was a good idea.
If he’s there with fresh eyes to assess and make sure that everybody’s doing their best work and that the material is feeding, hopefully the prior season’s material.”
Steven, you really come in with a big show at the first episode this season. Did you do that all in one take or did it take some doing?
Steven R. McQueen: “No, we had to do it a couple of times but it was a lot of fun. It was a great way to meet the cast and crew. You know, everyone was there. And I met them all in my boxers wrapped up in toilet paper.”
It was priceless.
Steven R. McQueen: “So, you know, I don’t think there’s a better way to make an entrance, you know. Or break the ice at least.”
So the character got hazed. Did any of the actors do any hazing as well?
Steven R. McQueen: “You know what, that’s honestly been one of the coolest parts about this experience is, you know, coming to Chicago and then being in a new place. This cast and this crew has been so incredibly welcoming that it’s made it feel more like a family than work.”
How does the city of Chicago treat you all? Are you all like local heroes not just with the fire department but with, you know, everybody. Is it like, oh your money is no good here kind of thing.
Kara Killmer: “Oh no. I mean thankfully the city seems to receive the show and the cast and the crew very well. I mean, you know, there are days whenever we will close up a whole city block and redirect traffic on days. And I’m sure a couple of people feel a little fired up about that every once in a while.
But for most of the part, I feel like people are glad that we’re here. Its fun that this is happening in the city. And, you know, the show really I think sheds a fun light on the city of Chicago. I mean it’s such an incredible city to live in.
So I think that we try to highlight that as much as possible in the show. And the local Chicagoans just love it.”
Can you tell me after a season of doing your character, what are some of the things you like most about Sylvie?
Kara Killmer: “Yes, I think what I love about Sylvie is that, you know, she comes from a small town. Obviously I know all about that. And similar just even to my own personal, she’s having to figure out how to kind of start over. And she’s figuring out what she’s made of.
And she’s having to learn how to do that with, you know, this incredible group of people who are very supportive but very challenging. And so I think, you know, throughout last season and certainly through this season, you get to see different scenarios where Sylvie is really having to kind of reach in for her inner gumption.
And I really like that about her because she seems very resilient and sort of an internal optimist.”
How will Jimmy’s arrival affect the house and the squad this season?
Kara Killmer: “Well I think I’ll raise my hand there for that one. I mean, you know, I think with last season obviously we start out by losing Leslie Shay. And then at the end of the season we lose Peter Mills.
And so I think that the house, you know, Firehouse 51 is still just a tad bit raw from all of the transitions. But I think that, you know, I think that people really welcome him in.
There’s always an adjustment period. You know, there’s always a period and I think you can see that well in the first couple of episodes where people are still just trying to kind of figure him out as you would. Because if you’re running into a burning building, you need to know that the person who’s running in there with you is going to have your back.
And so I think, you know, you really see everyone trying to figure him out and really kind of testing him in a good way, in a friendly way.”
Steven R. McQueen: “Yes, I mean from the new guy’s perspective, you know, it’s definitely, you know, you’re the cadet so people are going to — I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this — but bust your balls.
But, you know, the thing about Jimmy is he’s kind of a hard worker. And he finds a way to wean himself in there right away. So while they’re tough on him he finds a way to hold his own pretty quick.”
Steven, how are you holding your own in Chicago?
Steven R. McQueen: “You know what? It’s a beautiful city. You know, we get to shoot on location a lot of the time during these action sequences. It’s cool. I get to see just this and that.
But I, myself, being new to Chicago, I thought a good way to kind of take in the whole city was to run the Chicago-Bank of America marathon Sunday.”
You’re not going to be showing up for work Monday morning.
Steven R. McQueen: “Oh yes I will. I won’t let it interfere with work. I already talked about that.”
Is there going to be a little something-something going on with Sylvie and Jimmy this season?
Kara Killmer: “Hmm, you know, there is definitely some romance happening this season. But you’re going to have to wait until Tuesday to figure it out.”
Kara, [we] know that Sylvie went through so much a lot last season, but are there any challenges that Brett will have to face this season?
Kara Killmer: “Oh yes. I think, you know, towards the end of last season, we introduced Dora Madison’s character, Chili, as Sylvie’s new partner. And while they’ve had a few opportunities to kind of adjust to one another, I think the season is really going to be about them really coming together as partners and as friends.
And, you know, there’s just a rainbow of different scenarios that paramedics get met with. And, you know, we’ve seen Sylvie go through a journey of having to kind of toughen up and get thicker skin and whenever she’s running on some of these emergencies.
But I think Season Four is really taking it to the next level. I mean there’s so much emotion and so much at stake, you know, it’s just a taxing job physically and emotionally.
And the writers have written a lot of conflicts and just very challenging circumstances that Sylvie’s going to have to overcome emotionally and physically. And trying to figure out, you know, who can she lean on for those things and bond with in the process. So there’s going to be a lot of that this season.”
Based on what [we]’ve read, Jimmy is different from Jeremy. But there has to be at least a similarity between the two characters. Can you tell us of the similarities that Jeremy and Jimmy share?
Steven R. McQueen: “Inner strength. I’d say that’s the main thing. They both found their inner strength.”
Steven, you’re coming into a show that’s been around for four seasons now. It’s very well established. So the fans don’t really know Jimmy. We know a couple of little things like how you entered. What are some things you can tell us about Jimmy that we don’t know yet?
Steven R. McQueen: “Well I think that’s going to be kind of the fun of it. You know, you kind of see it as it comes. You know, he’s the new guy so he’s got to earn his place.
But he’s eager and hardworking. And he wedged himself in there, you know. It was interesting, when I first got to Chicago, I got to talk to a couple of fire fighters and asked that what it was like, you know, fighting their first fire. And then none of them said, fear. They all said it was kind of like clockwork.
This premise of related shows in the same universe of characters moving in and out, it’s such a simple concept. And yet this is the first time that it’s been done on this scale.
So why do you think that it took so long to finally get this on TV? And what do you think about this concept makes it work? And for Kara and Steven, what do you guys think of the whole premise of characters coming in and out of three different series? Do you like it? You know, just talk a little bit about that.
Matt Olmstead: “I’ll just say that concept, it wasn’t sold as a three shows within one city concept as you might imagine. For these things to happen I’m sure a lot of people would like them to happen. But the first thing is the first show has to work.
And as you well know, the odds of television shows working, there’s so many hurdles you have to clear to be a successful television show it doesn’t happen that often. And so once Fire got its feet on the ground and then it opened this up to PD.
And when that happened, there was obviously discussion about is there a life for another show. And it just lends itself because if you look at the different shows, they have natural handoffs.
If it was three cop shows and Dick Wolf has done three cop shows under the same brand, you can definitely do crossovers and handoffs. But they’re all essentially doing the same job.
This is Ambo can handoff to Med. Med can handoff to a PD investigation. There’s more of a natural flow for potential storytelling.”
Kara Killmer: “Yes, I think it’s fascinating. I mean I think that for the fans who watch the shows, it’s just a bigger way to get yourself immersed with the characters and the stories.
And, you know, anyway that we can make Chicago bigger to the rest of the world, you know, we love to do that. But I really think it’s a brilliant concept. And we’re really excited about it.”
Steven R. McQueen: “Yes, I’m looking forward to my invite. I just heard Oliver Platt is on Med. I was like oh my gosh, I have to work with him at some point. I was like, it’s pretty cool.”
Matt, you’ve been doing this for a little while now. How has the writing process changed from when you first started to this season?
Matt Olmstead: “In terms of when I first got into it or for this show when it first started?”
For this show, when you first started Chicago Fire how this has all changed in the last couple of seasons. Have you evolved in a certain sort of way or figured out some shortcuts or anything like that?
Matt Olmstead: “Not really. You know, one of the things, if you’re fortunate you can get some great writers on your staff. In my opinion, based on my experience, that makes or breaks the show.
And we’ve had Andrea Newman and Michael Gilvary since Day One. And they’re still on the show. Derek and Michael who created Chicago Fire are still on the show. So there’s been a continuity since the beginning. And bringing in new voices always helps certainly.
But the process doesn’t really change because there really is a tried and true formula that works on any show and has for many, many years that you don’t really mess with it. You’ve got to have the right people hopefully and work your ass off and cross your fingers.”
And then for Kara and Steven, so when you guys get a script, how do you feel right before your read it? Are you excited? Are you nervous? Or how do you feel?
Steven R. McQueen: “I’m absolutely excited.”
Kara Killmer: “Oh yes.”
Steven R. McQueen: “It’s exciting to see what’s coming next.”
Kara Killmer: “Yes, these last couple of episodes have been like a page turner. I’ve got to stop reading them on set because they’ll be like Kara, we’re calling you, can you please come? It’s like I’m finishing this last page, just let me, okay, okay here I go.
And these last couple have just been kind of riveting. So it is exciting. It is exciting to see where they take things. And I feel like even as an audience member watching the show, it’s interesting to see the arcs that the writers are able to put into the stories.
Like I feel like it’s sort of a pendulum swing. It always goes back and forth between conflict that’s happening within the house and within the characters with conflict that’s happening outside of the house and the adversity that they’re met with and that forces them to kind of stick together.
So I feel like, you know, you can really see the pendulum swing back and forth between those two things. And it just makes it so interesting and keeps things fresh.”
Steven R. McQueen: “Yes, the same. I mean I get excited with every script. And for myself, since this is a newer character for me, I kind of like I get to see more parts of Jimmy with every episode, you know.
So I’ll see like some episodes where he’s just a super nice guy and some moments where he kind of snaps and its fun. It keeps it fun.”
Matt, we haven’t touched too much and I’m hoping I can get a little something out of you about some of the other characters mainly I think I have a question about Dawson.
And how we’ve heard, you know, she’s pregnant and she’s going to be dealing with that. And she’s going to be dealing with a lot personally. And the first thing I thought when I saw that storyline in that season finale is you can’t have a pregnant firefighter. It’s just not done.
So I was very interested to see how the show is going to be handling her transition into another form of work during her pregnancy. Can you talk a little more about that?
Matt Olmstead: “Yes. That is a big turning point for the show, for the character, for the Casey character. As you point out, you can’t be an active duty firefighter while pregnant. And so she goes to work for Arson Investigation.
And Severide had kind of helped there a little bit in the past. He was recruited to work there. His dad, Benny, had worked there so it’s kind of in the blood a little bit. He had shown an aptitude towards it and so had Dawson when they both investigated the Shay death slash arson.
And so it’s already in her wheelhouse. There are already connections there so it’s a pretty easy move for her though jarring because she’s away from her extended family. And she’s away from the adrenaline of being a firefighter which she really wanted to be and was intending on doing it for many, many years.
So it’s at once a step down and a step up because fairly quickly she is in charge of investigating an arson that 51 responded to and 51 is in hot water for. And she has a lot on the line in terms of investigating this arson to see if she can essentially clear the name of 51. But arson, as it’s been pointed on the show and in reality, is difficult to prove.
It’s a slower process than perhaps 51 would care for. But she is doing the best she can. So yes, she transfers over to Arson Investigation and does that.”
Another question that I have for you that is kind of touches on the new characters coming in is that Severide we’ve learned is being demoted in the season premier and that I know is going to create a huge conflict.
How does that affect his relationship with his peers and his superiors as well?
Matt Olmstead: “Actually it’s a pretty cool storyline and going back to a question that was posed earlier about that was a Dick idea in terms of how to shake things up. Because, just to go back to the question a little bit to inform this question that you really do have to be vigilant, storytelling wise. Because there is an old tip that was brought up by a screenwriter many, many years ago to me who said you can’t have your story turn into village of the happy people.
And if you take your eye off the ball, all of the sudden everybody kind of gets along. Everybody is friends and then you’re like oh shit, where did all the conflict go? And maybe it’s too late, hopefully it’s not too late.
And there was this assessment at the beginning of the season how to bring in some conflict that is natural, that is organic. That’s real world for firefighters. And we looked at Severide’s track record and you start to add up the people who’ve rotated through the squad, friends, not friends.
And that becomes a black mark on his record. And that’s why he gets dinged. And for Severide in particular, it’s great because he has to when he’s demoted it’s humiliating.
And his approach to it, look it, I can either do what I’ve always done in life and in relationships which is just breeze on out of here and go to the next girlfriend, or the next town, or the next job, or the next whatever which I’m good at. Or am I at the place in my life and is this house worth fighting for and sticking around with to suck it up and work my way back.
And also is there a part of me that admits that maybe they’re right in a way. Maybe I am too aloof as a manager, a leader. Maybe I can get better at it. So he has to step down and work for somebody else for a while in hopes of one day getting his lieutenantship back and take over a squad. So it really throws him in the deep end.
Can you just talk about maybe a scene that you’ve had so far this season that you really enjoyed for whatever reason. It was just fun or dramatic and just tell us maybe what you liked about it?
Steven R. McQueen: “I could say like well oh gosh, I don’t know what I’m allowed to say. But actually the stuff is all pretty sweet like I love doing all the stunt stuff. But again, I’m not sure what I’m allowed to reveal with that. But the stunts are a lot of fun.”
Kara Killmer: “Yes, wow. There’s so much to choose from. Well at least while the weather is still nice, it’s been really nice to see the sunshine. But as Steven, you’ll learn all about that.”
Steven R. McQueen: “Oh I’m excited especially being from Delhi.”
Kara Killmer: “Yes. I think, you know, right off the bat, Chili and Brett get a call that really challenges them both. It’s really emotional. We end up having a pregnant teenager who gets shot. And…”
Steven R. McQueen: “Spoiler alert.”
Kara Killmer: “And such as it is in real life, you have paramedics have to make the call while they’re on the move. And so there’s some quick decisions that have to be made to decide, you know, what’s the right course of action.
And once you make those decisions, you have to live with them. And so you see Chili and Brett go through a fairly, you know, the first few episodes are fairly emotional. And, you know, it’s been great to kind of like jump in and dig our heels in.
Dora and I have enjoyed getting some like heavier material and being met with some scary situations for paramedics especially as two girls. And so I had a blast coming right back I mean right in Episode One. It was like, you know, wonderful, bold, dropped in our laps. So far it’s been a really great season.”
Tune in on Tuesday, October 13th when Chicago Fire returns to NBC at 10 PM EST/9PM CST!