Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
Whether it’s working feverishly to save someone’s life, running into a burning building or protecting the innocent, first responders are among the most heroic people on earth at any given “normal” time.
Just imagine, then, how much more difficult it’s been to be a medic, firefighter or police officer in the past year – with the coronavirus lurking behind the bushes.
We’ve heard stories of bravery and selflessness – but we really can’t get a peek inside the hospitals, firehalls and police departments to see these first responders in action.
That is, unless it’s Wednesday night on NBC.
“Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf crafted a world where, through “Chicago Med,” “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago P.D.,” audiences can get a sense of what their public defenders do day in and day out.
The actors work with real-life counterparts – and know the jobs so well that, once a year on "One Chicago Day" – they can teach journalists how to resuscitate a patient, kick down a door or tag-team through a blaze, find fingerprints and solve mysteries.
Though neither the talent nor the communicators are actually risking their lives, they do get an appreciation for the real-life fearlessness that’s required to throw oneself into danger in an attempt to help someone in need.
That gratitude has only been amplified in the past 11 months.
Taylor Kinney and Miranda Rae Mayo
“Chicago Fire” star Taylor Kinney (Kelly Severide) said he and co-star Miranda Rae Mayo (Stella Kidd) have many friends who are real-life first responders. One in particular, who works at Rescue Squad 3 in Chicago, “He never stopped working,” Kinney said. “He didn't get chunks and chunks of time off, and they kind of push through. So, in terms of going out there and being on the front lines and continuing to do what has to be done, regardless of even amidst a pandemic, that's where I think that kicks in. And maybe people, at times, take it for granted, but that's a necessity that we can't operate (without). I mean, the economy can be in flux, small businesses can or will have mandatory shutdowns, leisure things will be shut down – theater, sports – but first responders, that's just a necessary evil. And it's not as though if they get a call – and I'm not talking about big structure fires and these big scenes – but just the kind of day-to-day mundane calls, they don't know if someone's sick; and even if they are, they can't say, ‘We're not coming.’
“That's where it's a whole other tier of heroism, really. I think your levels of respect only grow. And I've never heard any of these people question it and say, ‘Well, it's not safe. I'm going to go on sabbatical or quit.’ Your level of respect has only grown – for me, anyway.”
Mayo said, “I love that quote, ‘It's a whole other tier of heroism.’ That's brilliant. … Just really realizing and seeing how, no matter what our world is going through, our first responders are our first responders; they show up.”
“Chicago P.D.” star Marina Squerciati (Kim Burgess) said, “I think it's important to shine a light. … I have trouble answering questions like this, because it's like we are pretending to be first responders; we’re not really. And to make that calculus of going into a ward with COVID or running into a burning building or running towards the bullets to save someone, I feel like is a chip that few of us have – and God bless the ones that do. If it helps and inspires people to watch your show and want to do that, fabulous. But, in terms of representing them, I’m like, ‘Well, I'm an artist and I'm doing my best, but I couldn't do what they do.’ ”
Of course, to illuminate someone, there has to be a spotlight.
For the “Chicago” actors, their gratitude also extends to the showrunners for creating safe sets suitable for performance art.
Jesse Spencer and Kara Killmer
“Chicago Med” star Jesse Spencer (Matthew Casey) said it felt, “So good” to get back to work after the world shutdown almost one year ago.
“I don't think there was one person who didn't want to come back to work, once that happens,” he said. “I guess a lot of the questions were how are we actually going to do this and make it safe and keep the same energy. We want to keep the same product, but we're gonna have to make it a little differently.
“But we're all stoked. You know, so many people are unemployed; to be able to get back and do what we love to do – I think everyone was extremely happy about it.”
His co-star, Kara Killmer (Sylvie Brett), said, “We’re so blessed and so grateful to be able to do what we're doing, and sensitive about the fact that a lot of people have not been able to return to their work, or a lot of people have lost work. So, it definitely brings a little more gravity to the fact that we've been able to keep it going.”
(All images courtesy of NBC)
For many actors, jumping into a character with a great arc is a welcome escape from real life – especially when the news cycle is particularly horrific. But for the “Chicago Med” cast, performing on camera has been … well, not that different from being at home and watching TV.
Star Brian Tee (Ethan Choi) said, “You know, it's interesting: Like I said before, art imitates life; and we're all living in this COVID world right now. So, when I got back to set, there was this sense of knowing and knowledge, as far as what has been happening in the outside world, and what we're actually doing on the inside world, as far as ‘Chicago Med’ is concerned – you know, really kind of taking COVID head on and going through all the protocols and stuff.
“It was easier to really get into the shoes of Ethan through COVID, because I'm experiencing it in real life. That was a really interesting kind of twist coming back into work. It's one of those situations where – like Dick Wolf always says – ‘Stripped from the headlines.’ We're literally living and breathing exactly what we're existing in our kind of fictitious ‘Chicago Med’ world.”
Brian Tee, S. Epatha Merkerson and Nick Gehlfuss
His co-star, S. Epatha Merkerson (Sharon Goodwin), said, “I'm living it. You know, having to do those (first) three episodes virtual on Zoom was perfect for me, because I am also diabetic and over 65. So, it was important for me – and production realized it – that I should sit back and wait until all the protocols were in place, before I'm put into this situation. So, Goodwin and Epatha – Sharon and Epatha – are living sort of parallel lives, really. And then to walk into the (emergency department) and knowing these things that we're dealing with as not only characters but as actors, it's actually been rather smooth – which I totally appreciate. Because production has been very, very specific about how we deal with all the protocols. And so again, we're living it and we're working in it.”
Nick Gehlfuss (Will Halstead), said, “It's a really interesting point you bring up, because our work – for me a lot of the time – it can be an escape from reality; but it's not right now. But actually, for my character Will, since we've balanced the hospital into the ICU COVID ward and the E.D., which is COVID-negative, there are stories that I get to escape into.
“Of course, it's still drama. At the end of the day, you're escaping into more drama. But it is a little bit of a break from it. And I think it's actually healthy – it's good. Through the pandemic, I think we've all learned that you can't be consumed by news, and you got to figure out how to take your breaks. And work, just by nature for an actor, can do that sometimes. So, that's one of my favorite parts about this job. But then, yeah, we're following the protocols on set, and so it's a lot to juggle.”
Tee said, “But I also want to add – and I have to – like, hats off to our producers – I mean, from the top to the bottom. And then the writing, obviously, for taking COVID head-on. But also behind the scenes, I feel when we do come to set with all the protocols in place and everyone taking on that responsibility and testing every day and putting in all the things that make us, as actors, feel safe in order for us to do our work, you know, I commend them; and I just really want to appreciate them right now for everything they've done for all of us.”
Gehlfuss said, “Absolutely. We definitely felt safe coming back to work, and we knew we'd learn more stuff along the way, and we've improved on what we started with – and it just continues to keep growing into a better direction.”
The three “Chicago” series often come together for a joint storyline. Interestingly enough, the last crossover took place in late 2019. At that time, the cast members joked about the plot: A deadly viral outbreak that was threatening society – and how “sci-fi” that sounded.
Yeah, then 2020 happened.
So, will the next “Chicago” mashup also predict some doom and gloom event we should all fear?
“Hopefully, it's not something as dire as a worldwide-spread virus, but we'll see,” Kinney said. “I think they probably have like a whiteboard idea of a big crossover, but we haven't gotten the overall kind of cheat sheet for it yet.”
“Our setup at ‘One Chicago’ is like ‘Minority Report,’ ” Mayo added. “You know, we have a couple psychics like in tanks, you know what I mean? And we’re just waiting for their predictions to come through so we know what to make the next crossover. But once we know, we'll let you know.”
Amy Morton and LaRoyce Hawkins
“Chicago P.D.” star Amy Morton (Trudy Platt) said, “I think if we see a script where there's an alien, we should get really nervous” (laughs).
Her co-star, LaRoyce Hawkins (Kevin Atwater), said, “Also, I think if we see a script where there is another crossover, we should also get really nervous (laughs). I think what the pandemic taught us is that all we kind of got to relax and give each other a little space. So, I'm not sure if we'll see that in the near future.
“But, you know, it is very interesting – and impressive, I think – the way that the writers are able to just put us in these pockets that have purpose, exactly when they need to be. It's something that we marvel at every moment.”
Squerciati said, “I think, if anything, we’ve learned that Dick is clairvoyant. Don’t mess with Dick, because he knows what's coming down the pike!
“I think crossovers are hard right now, because there's so many protocols and so much testing that we really try and keep a certain cadence with the episode. We test, we rapid test, we do PCR tests, and crossing over right now just makes that more complicated. But, I look forward to (reuniting). I love being on ‘Fire.’ I haven’t really been on ‘Med’ that much. But, it's just so much fun to play with the other people; so, I hope it starts again.
“But then again, I hope we all get vaccines and we don’t have COVID. So, let's hope for that first.”
“One Chicago Day” 2021
“One Chicago Day” goes live Wednesday, Feb. 10 (5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT) on the NBC OneChicago YouTube Channel, streaming free to viewers everywhere.
The one-hour fan event is slated to include actor-guided set tours, cast trivia games, social giveaways and more bonus content.
•Trivia & experiences with cast members:
David Eigenberg from “Chicago Fire” hosts a trivia game featuring actors from all three shows.
Fan-favorite themed videos from YouTube will be highlighted throughout the event, along with new videos featuring cast members dishing on behind-the-scenes secrets, never-heard-before experiences with fellow cast members, and their first lines from the series.
•“Chicago” show set tours:
Join “Chicago P.D.’s” LaRoyce Hawkins, “Chicago Med’s” Nick Gehlfuss and “Chicago Fire’s” Kara Killmer for personally guided tours of their sets.
•Bonus content and fan giveaways:
Never-before-shared content from the cast will be featured on the @OneChicago social accounts throughout the day.
Lucky fans will also be treated to custom “One Chicago” premium jackets featuring all three “Chicago” show logos. @NBCOneChicago will identify super fans from the comments, community tab, and social platforms to surprise and delight with the jacket.
•All seasons, all episodes on Peacock, plus “One Chicago Day” content:
A collection of “One Chicago Day” content is featured on Peacock’s “Trending” section, a hub for the latest pop culture updates, news and sports highlights updated daily.
Fans can find digital and social engagement across @NBCOneChicago, @NBC and @Peacock accounts.
New episodes of “Chicago Med,” “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago P.D.” air Wednesdays beginning at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. All seasons are available to stream on Peacock.
(All images courtesy of NBC)