Spent Friday in New York on the set of one of my favorite shows on TV, Rescue Me. The scorching, New York firehouse black comedy is produced on a sound stage in Queens, N.Y. Rescue Me has been off air for a year-and-a-half due to the writers strike and is roaring back for a sixth season with 22 new episodes. They begin airing April 7 on FX and April 19 on Showcase in Canada.
Highlight was getting 50 minutes with star/writer/producer Denis Leary, a big NHL fan who walked in sporting a Winnipeg Jets jersey. Leary, from the Boston area, grew up a Bruins fan and is pals with former power forward Cam Neelly. Leary and several others crew members play hockey every Thursday morning at a nearby rink before reporting to work at the studio.
Leary parked his pack of Marlboro Lights on a coffee table (he has the entire cast smoking, including some who had quit) and spoke about how his show is employing all the Canucks in the States not already working for his pal Kiefer Sutherland (photographed with Leary at last January's Fox press tour party in Los Angeles). Among them are series regular Callie Thorne and, for five episodes this season, Michael J. Fox, who plays a real jerk who is moving in with Leary's Character Tommy Gavin's ex-wife. Leary says he and writing and producing partner Peter Tolan have been trying to find the right part for Fox for years and both are thrilled to get him for the series.
Leary spoke about how the series was originally pitched to HBO but did not end up there because Leary and Tolin would not surrender ownership. They've thrilled to have found a home at FX, where Leary says marketing and PR is second to none. (Check out the eye catching NYC bus ad, above, one of several featuring Leary and other cast members dotting New York and other big market American cities.) He marveled at how the marketing people got into the creative meetings right from the get go. "No one sells a show like these guys," he says.
You have to remember FX was still a bit of a leap of faith when this series took root. The Shield had just put it on the creative community map.
Leary spoke of very many things during the course of the wide ranging chat. He liked that they doubled up this season with 22 episodes instead of the usual 13, shooting two at once over a 15 day span. He and Tolin try not to work more than two episodes ahead because the cast contributes so much to the storylines, he says. There was only a few days left to shoot when I spoke with Leary, who now faces two months of editing and promotion, but he seemed exhilarated. Having seen the first four episodes this season, he should be. The season is a real return to form, with core characters back to the fore. No show can go from laughter to tears on a dime like Rescue Me and look for plenty of both this season. A female french reporter, who quizzes the firehouse staff for her upcoming 10th anniversary book on 9/11, brings the attacks on ther World Trader Center towers and the after effects back to the front burner.
Leary also spoke about another theme that fascinates me as a viewer, the whole random acts vs. acts of God thing. Stuff happens on Rescue Me that is breathtaking in terms of shattering expectations on both sides of the random/God scale. Leary and Tolan's Irish Catholic upbringing get a thorough work out on this series.
Leary also has his own theory that all great people in history have some Irish in them, listing Barack Obama, Robert De Niro Muhammad Ali and others as proof. And if they smoke that's even better, apparently.
Leary says he did manage to quit smoking for nine months or so, but then he did a movie with Clint Eastwood where Eastwood's character had to smoke constantly and kept blowing blue smoke right in Leary's face. It was cool walking around with Eastwood, says Leary, because he would smoke everywhere and nobody dared to tell Clint to butt out. That's a movie star.