'Chicago Fire': Jesse Spencer on long days, mortality, and his overly sensitive smoke alarm

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Image Credit: Sandro/NBC

It’s about 7 p.m. and Jesse Spencer has just woken up from a nap. The late afternoon snooze may not be the norm, but it’s necessary prep with two days of night shoots ahead of him.

The day before his call with EW, he and his fellow TV firefighters from Chicago Fire spent 14-hours in the blazing hot August sun while wearing 60 pounds of protective gear and equipment. So far, this is a lot harder than House.

But then again, that, too, had its challenges…

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me a little bit about some of the other offers that you fielded after House and why you decided on this role.
JESSE SPENCER: It was kind of one that felt like the right fit. [House] was a very cerebral show and it was a really, really really, good show. Chicago Fire was just something different. It’s not cerebral. It’s more of a character-based show with a lot of action. After eight years of being an intellectual and spewing out medical terms, it was time to do something in the opposite direction. And running around in [firefighter’s] gear for 14 hours seemed like the right thing to do. [Laughs]

Was there ever a question of whether or not you’d want to go back to television? This could end up being another eight or nine years of your life.
I know! I know! I was a bit hesitant at the start but the other cast was great and Taylor [Kinney] is great. I met him at the audition, and we got along great. And the writers are awesome. Also, the odds of something going 10 years is actually really slim. But it was a bit scary because I guess it could. If it does, it’s a huge success, which is not a bad thing either. We’re taking it one day at a time. We’ve got to get past the first season and the first 10 episodes before we have to start being concerned about it going for 10 years.

What’s more exhausting — lugging around 60 pounds of gear or trying to learn Chase’s doctor jargon with 80-syllable diseases?
I guess right now this feels much much harder. [Laughs] By the end of that show, we got that down to a fine art in terms of learning all that stuff. But when I think back to the first days of House, that was really tough, too. We had extremely long days. It was tough in the first couple of years of the show — it was all new. And that’s what this feels like at the start of this, except you also have the physical demands. I still really like it. I do question, though, ‘If I’m still doing this in three or four years that’s going to be tough!’

But you’ll be in great shape!
Exactly. At least we get a free workout.

So introduce me to your character Lt. Casey a little bit.
[a sharp, incessant beeping noise sounds] Sorry. I’ll tell you what, those smoke alarms way too sensitive.

Was that really just the smoke alarm?
Yeah. Sorry.

That’s kind of ironic considering the show we’re talking about.
[Laughs] I hate that thing. I’m going to disable it. Of course, the [landlord] probably won’t be too happy with me if I do that. But, anyway, we’ve done some reshoots for the pilot, so we basically see [a major] death and how it happens. It really sets up the tension between [the characters] much, much better. It’s a harsh reality to lead the audience in to, and it’s going to put it in their faces that this happens sometimes on this show. It is a reality that everyone has to deal with. The real firemen on set, they’ve all got buddies that they’ve lost and it’s really tough. It’s a great way to put the stark reality of death into [the show] — like House. House is all built around the idea of mortality and that death is always just around the corner and that’s what we do in the pilot. That relationship between Casey and Severide (Kinney) is quite strained. It’s almost like it’s the peak of their relationship — the worst part. But its not always going to be like that. They’re going to find their feet again.

Last, there is some talk about the show being too classic in format or tone. Do you think there’s an appetite for this kind of show?
It’s a little reminiscent of ER or something like that. It delves into the characters, and we watch them at their workplace and how it effects their jobs. Here’s the thing, I think everyone loves firefighters. In terms of people who we call heroes — and I don’t tend to like that term and firefighters don’t consider themselves heroes — but if you look at their job description, they are. Their job is to straight up save people. And I think America is really going to love that.

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