Congratulations on the early renewal for season 5!
I know that news came as a surprise, so I’m sure you guys were over the moon. What does that mean to you to be part of a television show- and now a trilogy- that has expanded to this magnitude?
“I think it gives you a little bit of a stability. It’s always good as an actor to know year to year that you are gonna have a paycheck and be able to pay your mortgage. Even so, though, in just three years of working on this show, you know firefighters go at any given moment. It’s always a precarious situation. But you know, what more could you ask for? I like to tell people it’s rare that you get to find a job as an actor, let alone one where you get to play the same character on three different shows in the same week. I think that we have tremendous writing, and we are incredibly fortunate, and now we belong to a universe of shows which seems ever-expanding. And it’s really a thrill.”
I was hoping that the season five renewal would come with an announcement for the second annual WhirlyCruz tournament. Where did the idea for that tournament come from, and why whirlyball? And please tell me we can expect a second tournament!
“We certainly have great expectations for a second annual WhirlyCruz Cup. And I have actually- my publicist, Betsy- I owe her a great debt of gratitude for that. She is the one who organized all of that. So I really do owe her a big, great debt of gratitude. But yeah, we definitely want to do another one next year.
And why whirlyball? Well, I’ve been in Chicago since 2004. And when I first moved out here I actually lived very close to the whirlyball over on Fullerton . And a friend of mine took me and I immediately was obsessed with it. And then once I got the show I- since I was the Chicago ‘guy,’ I was kind of the go-to in terms of where we would go and hang out and what we would do. And I brought up whirlyball once. And then we went out maybe twice, and then in the last year, everybody has been coming up to me like, “hey Joe, when are we going back to whirlyball?” I was like, ‘you know, guys? It’s not like I have some sort of membership in order to get in. You’re welcome to go whenever you get a moment without me.’ But it did seem to be that it was not plausible to get there without me, so I said, ‘well let’s take it a step further. Let’s see if we can make a tournament out of it, raise a little bit of money for some people who really need it.”
I’m going to piggyback on the last question. I know you were born in the Bronx, but I think it’s safe to say that you’re a Chicago native. Hypothetically, say I’m coming to Chicago for the next tournament, and I’ve never been. What are five things I absolutely MUST do when I go to Chicago?
- Chicago Architectural Tour
- The Carriage House for Southern cooking
- Wrigley Field
- Chicago Blackhawks Game for the National Anthem
- The Violet Hour for cocktails
Let’s talk about Cruz. We’ve really seen him grow from season one to now. He had the issues with Leon, dating Sylvie and now he’s on Squad. What is your favorite thing about Cruz as a character?
“I think exactly that. I think that we are always seeing something new from Cruz. What’s been really great I think is that we’ve really been able to see both a lot of the dramatic world Cruz lives in as well as a lot of the creative side. He’s a man of great loyalty and great heart, and his family bonds are very deep. But at the same time, he’s a goofball, and you get to see that. And I think sometimes when you’re doing shows like this, you can get a little bit stuck in, ‘I’m either a fire guy, or I’m just a goofball,” but with Cruz I’ve been able to play so many different things- which is a great testament to the writers, and I’m so grateful for it that it’s never boring. I never could’ve predicted in season one that I would ever leave a man in a burning building in order to save my brother’s life. And likewise, fast forward to season three, I could never have predicted that I was going to be a Zumba instructor. So it has just gone to so many great places, and I think that that has been the best joy playing him.”
And what was your reaction when you find out that he was going to go to Squad?
“I was nervous. I don’t know if you’re a fan or if you’ve watched the show from top to bottom, but that particular seat on Squad is where a lot of firefighters go to die. They even mention it in the first season how many different firefighters have gone through that post on Squad. So it’s a precarious post cause he [Cruz] doesn’t know, you know, ‘what does that mean?’ But it’s so far been an incredible journey. I’ve gotten an opportunity to work with Taylor Kinney a lot more. And I’ve already admired his work so much on the show. But if you notice, we don’t even get an opportunity as truck members to really associate with Squad so much, so it’s been really great kind of getting to know that whole other side of the show. You see them almost every day, but when you spend three years inside of a freezing truck during the winter when you’ve been on these shoots for twelve, thirteen hours a day, you get to learn people in a whole new way. And I think the thing that’s happened with Squad, I’m definitely somebody who is really good on stunt work, and getting as physically involved in the show as possible, and that’s really been highlighted for me this year. I’ve had an opportunity to do so many great stunts, and that has been epic. But it was definitely scary at first.
Not to mention- I must say- I don’t get to drive the truck anymore. Which is what I used to tell people was why I had the best job on Chicago Fire. Because every boy wants to drive a firetruck when they’re a kid. And I actually got to do it.”
So that was actually you driving in the driving sequences? They don’t rig it so it just looks like you driving?
“No, that was me. During the first season, they were a little bit more hesitant. But by the end of the run- seasons two and three- I drove every inch of that truck. Every shot that was on camera, that was me.”
That is so cool!
“I agree! I totally agree!”
The nerd in me wants to ask then- the episode when the trucks crashed together [season three, episode three, titled “Just Drive the Truck”]- did you get to drive that episode, or was that all rigged?
“I did all of the driving, but that was all composite work. So anytime you actually saw the truck keel over, or like you saw the impact, that was all kind of done through CGI. There was no actual impact when we were driving, but I did do all the driving leading up to that. And all the stuff that you see under the L tracks? That’s me.”
Going back to your brother, I know I just mentioned Leon, but we just meet a friend of his in Tuesday’s episode. Can you tease us anything about that storyline?
“So basically now that Leon is out of the picture, and he’s out in Florida, we meet a guy who is from the neighborhood. He used to roll with Leon, and he is kind of looking for a way out. He comes to me in the hopes that I can kind of help him find a new life and kind of find a way out of the predicament that he is in currently. And the kid himself, Ralph, he is just a monster actor. He has been such a great addition to the show. We’re going to see quite a bit of him over the next couple of episodes, and it has just been really, really great stuff. I’m really excited to explore that world again. Especially after last season when we focused on a lighter side of Cruz, and his dating life and his life with Otis. It’s fun being able to do something that’s kind of darker.”
I know P.D. has their winter finale this week, and then they are going to pick up in January with their part of the three-way crossover. Have you guys already filmed your part of the crossover, and can you tell us anything about it?
“We are in the process of filming our crossover right now, and I can definitely say that Freddie plays a part in kind of what sets the momentum going on the crossovers. And he has kind of gone missing and it involves me helping the PD folks track him down and bringing him out and trying to help him. It’s a crazy episode- like I don’t really understand how most of these writers manage to put together forty-two minutes of television at all. The way they weave a story this complicated through three different shows- I actually think they did a really, really great job and they deserve a great debt of gratitude for it.”
I love that this is the first time that the crossover concept has been done on this scale, but it just works so seamlessly. It’s fantastic.
“I agree, and I think that this one in particular is gonna be- now that we have Med on board- the crossovers just make so much sense, and they marry so well together. I think it’s going to lead to some incredible television.”
And on the lighter side, something the fans have been dying to see for a while now is a blooper reel. We know you guys are goofballs over at Fire- we see the Vines and the Instagrams, all of it. So can you recall the funniest moment you’ve had on set, and can you tell us about it, if so?
“Gosh, that’s a really hard one, just because I laugh everyday on set. On multiple occasions, I have had snot coming out of my nose because it has been so funny. Is there one particular thing that I can think of? Gosh, I think it’s hard to nail down, to be honest with you. Last year, we ended up doing a live sketch comedy show at the Improv Olympics (iO Theater) here in Chicago, and it was really a culmination of a bunch of things that made us laugh. It’s a little bit unsafe in nature. We really enjoy feeding off of each other, and each others’ time. The funniest moment would be a guaranteed Christian Stolte story. I don’t know what it would be specifically, but it would definitely be involving him because he is hands-down the funniest man I’ve ever met in my life.”
And on the flipside of that, aside from the funny, what has been the hardest or most challenging scene for you to film, and why is that?
“I would say, up to date, the most difficult thing that I have filmed was probably just in this crossover episode with David Eigenberg. It’s insanely emotional. That man [Eigenberg] has one of the purest souls you’ve ever seen. And then with it is the guy who directed it. It’s hard not to break down. And that was a really rough scene just because of the nature of the material. But it was deeply gratifying because I really got to explore some really, really great stuff.”
I would be doing a disservice to fans everywhere if I didn’t ask the most burning question of all, which is when might we expect the return of Zumba to Chicago Fire?
“That’s a good question. I really wish that I had an answer for you. I can promise that I’ve been pushing it as much as you guys want it. I never had expected- when I pitched it the first time it was kind of just a toss-up and we were joking. I didn’t expect them to bite on it, and I didn’t expect that it would get the attention that it did, and it was incredible. And I love those guys. Since then, I’ve developed a great relationship with the Zumba organization. They’re top-notch people. I got an opportunity to go to a convention back in August and these people are just so full of life and happiness and joy and just want to spread it across the world. And luckily we’ve been able to kind of weave together and work together and we’re in the process of trying to see if we might be able to organize some sort of fundraiser in the Spring where I would teach a class with a couple of celebrity instructors. So we have that in the works, and hopefully that pans out. But as far as the show, as soon as we can get it in there, I promise you we will. We want it to happen just as much as everyone else.”
Last question. I had a little bit of spare time, and I was scrolling on your IMDB page. I came across an upcoming project of yours called “Boyband.” I didn’t really think anything of it, and then I clicked. And I saw that it stars, Randy [Flagler], Christian, LaRoyce [Hawkins], David and Yuri [Sardarov]. Please tell me more about this and when we may be able to expect to see it!
“To be honest, I’m not sure exactly when you’d be able to see it. This was a project that Joe Chappelle- one of our executive directors- his wife, Colleen, was producing a little web series about a boyband. Which is hilarious- it’s really funny, and the kids that she found to be the boyband were extraordinarily talented and hilarious in their own way. And she just asked a couple of us to come in and take on a couple of smaller bit parts to help breathe some life into the show. And it was a ton of fun. What I can tell you is Yuri and I are in a scene together as a hairdresser and crazy makeup artist.”
“Yeah. It’s pretty incredible. I haven’t even seen it, I don’t know what the footage looks like, but it was a ton of fun to do.”