Tonight’s episode of Chicago Fire finds Chief Boden (Eamonn Walker) trying to remedy a touchy situation with a teenager suspected of arson. Chief Boden himself, Eamonn Walker, participated in a conference call alongside writer Derek Haas to discuss tonight’s powerful episode.
On filming in Chicago:
Eamonn Walker: Chicago is like home to us. I think, to give you an example, last night I took my son to Buddy Guy’s. Didn’t book, my son didn’t resist and I just said “Let’s go and see if we can get in,” and literally we walked through the door and it was like, “Oh my God, Chicago Fire’s in the house!” I said, “We didn’t book.” He was like, “We’re going to make space for you. We love what you do, we love Chicago Fire.” And the doors just opened up. And I reckon that’s just a metaphor for all of Chicago. That’s my experience with Chicago. We’ve been welcome.
Derek Haas: It’s been a dream to shoot there. The city has let us in at so many places and, you’ll see, at the beginning of this episode next week, we actually shot at the top of the Willis Tower, formally known as the Sears Tower. And any locations we’ve wanted they’ve just rolled out the red carpet. It’s been great.
On whether there was extensive training involved in preparing for the series:
Eamonn Walker: [Technical advisor] Steve Chikerotis took us to the academy when we first did the pilot, and we were in the gym … because we knew it was going to be quite hard work, but we had no idea really what it was. So yes, under his tutelage we’ve learned everything you’ve seen us do. So there was a certain amount of training, and training is ongoing for any given episode if there’s a specific that needs to be known. But the skill set comes from him really, and Miss (Chow) who did the paramedics.
On his opinion of Chief Boden between now and when he first read the pilot script:
Eamonn Walker: Well, more has been revealed about Chief Boden. We have found our feet now as we’ve been growing. I really like playing Chief Boden and it’s been really open with Derek and with Michael [Brandt, co-writer on the series] and the ideas that have been going that way. And they inform of us things coming up, and we can hardly wait.
Where he’s at now, with the deeper layers of the onion are coming out about who he is, I’m very, very happy to play him. And once this episode goes out and you find out this other layer with Cody [Sullivan] who plays the young boy, I think the audience will be really, really happy.
On the casting of Treat Williams as Severide’s father:
Derek Haas: Oh, we were over the moon. We had seen a performance he had done in Law & Order the previous year, Law & Order: SVU, and he just kind of looks like Taylor [Kinney], like obviously he was a matinee idol when I was a kid, and then to get him to play who is, unquestionably, a handsome man’s father, it was perfect casting. And then the fact that he’s got these dramatic chops, which is what this role requires, it’s been a dream.
On writing for television vs. writing for a film. Is the creative process more rigorous, more fluid, or both?
Derek Haas: Yes it’s both. It’s more rigorous and more fluid. When you work on a movie you write your script, you go on set and you always know there’s an end and you’re working towards a premier date and then it’s over. And with writing a television show, it’s really like writing chapters in a book, and you have some of the same goals because you’re closing storylines, you’re opening new ones, but the anxiety level of each week of having to try to do something equal to what you did the week before, for me it’s an awesome challenge. I love challenges and to get more in depth with all of these characters and know that there’s more stories to tell and surprise people, that’s what makes it fun.
On whether the show is as dangerous and physically demanding as it appears:
Eamonn Walker: Well sometimes we literally are playing with fire. But the thing that you should take on board if there’s a corridor fire, on the other side of that corridor, firemen and safety people and the special effects guys all sit in waiting, having done all the safety checks. So in actual fact we’re not in any danger at all, but sometimes it’s arduous.
The other day we did a scene on the lakefront in freezing weather. That’s hard to do. You can’t stop the cold. Running up and down those stairs, carrying the axes, they’re real axes. They’re not plastic or anything else like that. So yes, sometimes it’s really, really hard work. Me being the chief, fortunately I don’t have to do as much running as everybody else. It’s a pretty good place to be. Now I’m sure Derek’s going to do something about it. Aren’t you Derek?
Derek Haas: We’re always laughing when we write these scenes because we just think, “How in the hell are they going to shoot this?” And most of them are based on stories that we’ve heard firemen tell us either directly or from Steve Chikerotis, who is our technical advisor, or Michele (Martinez, also technical advisor). And then we just write it and we never think about the budget, we never think about how they’re going to figure it out because we have a great crew and these actors get in there and do it and it always astounds us.
Eamonn Walker: Yes it’s exciting. If the truth be known, when we read the script and we all have to sit down with the read-through, and we see the fire or the accident or we’re cutting somebody out of the car, [and] because we’ve all been trained to use all the equipment, now we get really excited about that stuff. And that’s also a good balance away from just the acting.
I think the show has a great balance in all departments. It does the action… The writing is fantastic. I’m not blowing smoke, Derek, but it’s a real joy to come to work every day.
Derek Haas: I will say there are way less visual effects than you think.
On whether his perception of firefighters changed or was enhanced by playing Chief Boden:
Eamonn Walker: I said this really early on, the amount of knowledge that is needed to be a fireman, you know, there’s a degree you can get in fire science which I had never taken onboard in any shape or form before playing this role or any of the research for it. They have to know basic engineering, constructs of buildings, how they’re put together to be able to calculate how much stress a floor can take before it gives away after it’s been burning for a certain amount of time. So everything that I thought I knew has changed, and how it manifests now in my real life is when I hear a siren I’m forever changed, and I will always pull over because I know at the end of that siren is some drama or a tragedy. Sometimes there’s a comedy at the end of it but most of the time it’s not.
On the aspects about firefighters they most want to get right:
Derek Haas: For me, and we saw this in the very first firehouse we walked into, was that these guys who work on this shift, and these women, are a family. And when we first conceived the show, we thought, “Oh we’ll just follow one character’s journey in a firehouse.” And then we walked into a house in Chicago and watched these guys interact, and in five minutes you’ll be laughing so hard you’ll fall out of your chair, and then they’ll tell another story and you’ll be wiping tears out of your eyes. And we thought, “Okay that’s our show.”
Eamonn Walker: It’s a real honor to be able to portray them, truth be known. My respect level has gone through the roof for them, those men and women and the things they run towards to be able to [save someone's] life or help somebody in a dire situation, and yet come back and try and be normal, and then go back and be with their own family.
And I’m always digging with the firemen who are around us, when they finish this shift and they come and they are extras around us while we’re filming, and maybe the night before they had been fighting a fire, and I try and get information out of them. They tell you the bits they want to tell you and they obviously don’t tell you the bits that really affected them as much. I’m quite good with people but I can see in the eyes and I go, “Wow.” So my respect has gone through the roof.
On whether Boden’s personal life will be elaborated upon in this episode:
Eamonn Walker: Yes, that’s basically what’s going to be happening with this episode. … [It's] following Boden and this young boy, and [you are] probably asking yourself, “why is he investing so much time in this young person?” And what Derek and Michael have written on this episode … you get to see why and what’s underneath it. And that story, it goes deeper and deeper. It’s like the layers of an onion. But yes, for the first time, really, you get to see … Boden, the man outside of the fire station, and I’m really, really happy that’s now coming to light.
On what’s next for Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney):
Derek Haas: You will see a lot of what’s next for Severide and another decision he’s going to facem and obviously you’re going to meet his father, since those photos got released and Treat Williams is playing the part. And his father is going to provide some – let’s just say “a glimpse” of what Severide’s future might be and, so it’s all – it’s really Eamonn’s story and Taylor’s story in this episode.
On whether Walker is the Chief around the set as well:
Eamonn Walker: Nobody’s obedient around me, and Mr. Haas will vouch for that. … But we enjoy each other, we [speak] to each other and we inspire each other to actually do better.
That’s what’s great about this cast. Everybody knows their roles. Just like any fire station, they’re having a laugh, they’re having a joke, but when that bell goes, everybody knows their job and they go to it. It’s not really about giving out orders. They go and they do their job and they finish the situation, and then they go back. Well, we’re kind of the same. We’re falling into that off screen. Everybody knows what their job is, and we come, we do it, and we go away and we enjoy each other.
Derek Haas: I’ve never seen a cast and crew as generous with each other as on this production. And I mean, I’ve been on productions where crew members are looking at their watch when an actor asks for another take and saying, “We’ve got to get to lunch.” I’ve never seen these guys give each other so much room and attention and growth. And it’s really exciting for us to watch.
And Eamonn may not think he’s a leader but, definitely, I know I look up to him, and a lot of the cast and crew look up to him because he’s got such a wealth of experience, and he brings his A-game on every take, and it’s great to have a guy like that in the position of chief on the show and on the set.
Eamonn Walker: You’re a good man. You’re a good man, thanks mate.
“Warm and Dead”, the latest episode of Chicago Fire airs tonight at 10:00 PM/9:00 Central on NBC.