Denis Leary heated up the doldrums of summer television with the FX dramedy "Rescue Me," a bold look at New York firefighters in a post-9/11 world. Lacking the heroic melodrama of other emergency shows, "Rescue Me" kicks off the halo and presents a brash and darkly humorous look at life in the firehouse.
Leary, who co-writes and produces the show with Peter Tolan, plays firefighter Tommy Gavin. Gavin knew 60 men who died on Sept. 11, 2001 -- including his cousin Jimmy, whose ghost has the funny habit of showing up to chat with Tommy. As Tommy's life unravels -- he's in the midst of a divorce and is drinking again -- he's buoyed by the coarse camaraderie of the men in his company who are dealing with the demons of loss in their own way.
As the critically acclaimed show wraps up its first season and prepares for a second, local firefighters from Engines 20 and 31 in the District watched the show. They had a few questions and comments about "Rescue Me," which Leary later answered via phone.
What made you want to portray firefighters? It's different from your usual roles.
-- Will Smith, the District
This was something I had thought about doing as a movie. I had put it in my back pocket because I was busy doing "The Job" [a previous TV show] and other movies. When Peter [Tolan] and I started talking about doing a new series, we started saying, "These guys are such a family in the firehouse that you could do an entire series based on their relationships."
What kind of research or training did you do? Was it with the FDNY?
-- Hap Schneider, Bowie
I didn't have to do much research. A lot of the guys I grew up with were firemen. My cousin Jerry was a fireman [who died in a 1999 fire]. My best friend Terry [Quinn] is a fireman in New York.
I knew a lot of the stories from Terry, who's our technical adviser. As we signed up the actors, we'd send 'em to Terry's firehouse to have them ride around on trucks and get used to everything. We had them riding around, living in the firehouse with the guys. It was pretty inclusive from sitting around the kitchen to going to an actual fire. A lot of the guys came back pretty wide-eyed, which is good.
Do you work with real firemen?
-- Tyrone Pratt, Greenbelt
We have three firefighters in the cast: Jack McGee, who plays the chief, was a firefighter in New York for 10 years. Ed Sullivan, who plays Billy Warren, just retired. And Bobby Burke portrays Father Mick.
All of the extras are real firemen. They're all guys from the FDNY. Most of them are still working and they do this on their days off.
Why are you talking to dead people?
-- Courtland Lomax, LaPlata
That's based on the character of Tommy's psychosis, which is his wish fulfillment to still be in contact with his cousin who died in 9/11.
In the past five years, I've lost between 10 and 15 people, almost all of them under the age of 45.
When you're walking around the streets, somebody from behind reminds you of them or someone's voice [does]. You can be a normal person, walking through a normal day, and something like that jolts you back to that old reality.
We had a real paramedic playing a paramedic in case something went wrong on the set. We were sitting there getting a close-up on this girl. He said, 'She looks like this girl I lost two years ago; I've seen her ever since.'
He just said it to me. He wasn't bragging. He wasn't sorrowful. He was saying this factually. Especially with 9/11, a lot of these guys are haunted by what could have been.
Will you keep talking to dead people?
-- Joe Beach, the District
I don't want to give the [story] arc away. Things get a little twisted. It goes back to the root of the guys who stay on the job after 9/11. They have to grieve, but they have to do it in their own way. . . . My personal experience is some of the guys who caught jobs right after 9/11 were very happy . . . to have to run into a fire because it got them over the hump. You can't have hesitation or anxiety or panic on this job. You're not just affecting your own life, you're affecting your crew.
Do you think firefighters get paid enough?
-- Will Smith
No. They don't get paid enough. They don't get funded enough. . . . I've always made a joke about this country having ADD. We point our faces at something for a brief time and then we get bored with it. I think that's what happened with 9/11 and firefighters. . . . But these guys wake up every day and whatever happens to you, those are the first guys who are going to respond. It doesn't matter if it's a car accident or your cat up a tree or an actual fire in your apartment, those are the guys who run in. When everyone else is running away, they run toward the problem.
Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX