‘Chicago Fire’ – Steven R. McQueen, Kara Killmer and Matt Olmstead Interview

Steven R McQueen in Chicago Fire
Steve McQueen as Jimmy Borrelli in ‘Chicago Fire’ (Photo by Elizabeth Morris / NBC)

Season four of NBC’s popular dramatic series Chicago Fire kicked off on October 13, 2015 with an episode that found Lt. Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney) stripped of his leadership duties and a new cadet making quite an impression – mostly negative – on Chicago Firehouse 51. The new cadet is played by The Vampire Diaries‘ Steven R. McQueen who joins the cast as Jimmy Borrelli. With the season just getting underway, Chicago Fire newbie McQueen joined Kara Killmer who plays paramedic Sylvie Brett and executive producer Matt Olmstead on a conference call to discuss what’s in store for Chicago Fire‘s fourth season.

Matt, how did you go about casting Steven as Jimmy Borrelli?

Matt Olmstead: “We opened to casting and it was Jason Beghe who plays Voight on Chicago P.D. who called me and mentioned Steven. They know each other… I don’t know how exactly they know each other.”

Steven R. McQueen: “We workout together in (Alba).”

Matt Olmstead: “[…]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. 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.”

How much involvement does Dick Wolf have in the series now?

Matt Olmstead: “He has a lot, 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 be able to pull out of your pocket when you need it.

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. If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to have new characters or new conflicts like that. 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. 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, how many takes did you do of your introduction scene in episode one of this season?

Steven R. McQueen: “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. I met them all when my box is wrapped up in toilet paper. So, you know, I don’t think there’s a better way to make an entrance – or break the ice at least.”

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 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.”

Kara, after a season of playing Sylvie, what are some of the things you like most about the character?

Kara Killmer: “I think what I love about Sylvie is that she comes from a small town. Obviously I know all about that. And similar just even to my own personal [life], she’s having to figure out how to kind of start over. She’s figuring out what she’s made of and she’s having to learn how to do that with this incredible group of people who are very supportive but very challenging. So I think 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. I really like that about her because she seems very resilient and sort of an eternal optimist.”

How will Jimmy’s arrival affect the house and the squad this season?

Kara Killmer: “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, so I think that the house, Firehouse 51, is still just a tad bit raw from all of the transitions. But 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 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’re the cadet so people are going to – I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this – but bust your balls. But 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.”

Chicago Fire Dora Madison and Kara Killmer
Dora Madison as Chili and Kara Killmer as Sylvie Brett in ‘Chicago Fire’ (Photo by Elizabeth Morris / NBC)

Kara, Sylvie went through so much last season but are there any particular challenges that she’ll will have to face this season?

Kara Killmer: “Oh yes. I think 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. 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 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; it’s just a taxing job physically and emotionally. 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 [she’s] trying to figure out 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.”

What can you 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. 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 firefighters and asked them what it was like fighting their first fire. None of them said fear. They all said it was kind of like clockwork. You all have to move like gears working together to accomplish one goal. So if you’re the cadet, you’ve got to find your place in that clock. You’ve got to become a gear and you’ve got to make it work.”

Matt, how has the writing process changed from when you first started to this season? Have you evolved in a certain sort of way or figured out some shortcuts?

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. 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.”

Kara and Steven, how do you feel right before you read a script? Are you excited? Are you nervous?

Steven R. McQueen: “I’m absolutely excited. It’s exciting to see what’s coming next.”

Kara Killmer: “It’s less stressful. 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.’

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. I feel like 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 [that] I get to see more parts of Jimmy with every episode. So I’ll see like some episodes where he’s just a super nice guy and some moments where he kind of snaps and it’s fun. It keeps it fun.”

How is the series going to handle Casey’s pregnancy?

Matt Olmstead: “That is a big turning point for the show, for the character, for the Casey character. 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/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. 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.

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. 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.”

How does Severide’s demotion 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, 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. 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. 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 sh*t, where did all the conflict go?’ And maybe it’s too late, hopefully it’s not too late.

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. 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. His approach to it is, ‘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.”