‘Chicago Fire’ Star David Eigenberg Mostly Mum About The Cliffhange

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By Rich Heldenfels

Akron Beacon Journal


Fans of the NBC drama “Chicago Fire” have been anxiously awaiting Tuesday’s third-season premiere, to see who survived the explosion that had almost the entire cast in danger in the second-season finale.

You can rest more easily about Christopher Herrmann, the family-man firefighter played by David Eigenberg on the show. Eigenberg was in Cleveland this week to promote the series, and admitted that he survived.

Beyond that, though? Even with spoilers all over the Internet, he said, “I don’t know anything!”

Recalling questions he also gets about another reunion of “Sex and the City” (where he played Steve Brady), Eigenberg added, “People have no idea how far out of the loop I am. All of us, the performers — they’re not terribly concerned about keeping us abreast of developments. They hire us as performers, not as producers.”

He’s not the kind of actor who goes to producers to ask for better storylines. “I’m a for-hire guy,” he said during a chat at Cleveland’s NBC affiliate. “You tell me what to do, and I’m going to deliver, within the realm of my talents, the best I can.”

As a result, “I’m one of those guys that’s always pleasantly surprised,” he said. “Maybe I have low expectations of myself. I got married at 38. I never thought I was going to get married, and I’m married 12 years now. I thought about kids, but I never knew if that was a chance for me. (Now he has two.) Living in New York for 22 years, I never dreamed of having my own home. I only dreamed of having a room in a nice apartment that I could rent and call my own. Then I had some good years and ended up owning a house. I was amazed. …

“If I have faith in the producers and the executives on this show, they’re going to take it on a (good) path.”

But any actor on this show has to live with some anxiety. After all, “Chicago Fire” and its companion “Chicago P.D.” come from producer Dick Wolf, who as mastermind of the “Law & Order” programs was more than willing to jettison actors. Besides its second-season cliffhanger, “Chicago Fire” killed off a significant character during the season.

Eigenberg recalled with some amusement a panel featuring Wolf along with “Chicago Fire” stars Jesse Spencer (who plays Matthew Casey) and Taylor Kinney (Kelly Severide). In front of the actors, Wolf said every actor on his shows is expendable.

“The first two seasons I had quite a bit of anxiety,” Eigenberg said. It’s not just about producers’ ideas, either. You get nervous as a performer. Am I up to snuff? Am I up to speed? Do I still have it?”

With “Chicago Fire,” there’s the added task of portraying the profession correctly. Eigenberg said the show works closely with real firefighters and paramedics, to the point of using some as background extras.

Eigenberg’s off-camera life gave him a sense of the realism the show sought. Having served in the Marines, he related to the service and sacrifice of firefighters. And since many Chicago firefighters were also Marines, he thought he had “a little street cred” because of his experience.

Overall, he said, “This season, for the first time, my anxiety level has dropped. I’m not complacent, but I’m not overwhelmed. … I was very much a thumbnail sketch in the pilot. And they’ve taken the show in a really interesting direction for me.”

At 50, he is finally feeling like an old pro.

“In part of my brain, I still see things through the eyes of a 20-year-old,” he said, joking that “maybe because I’ve failed in maturing appropriately.” Then one day, a new director, Reza Tabrizi, came to him with a question.

He doesn’t remember the question. He does remember that “these words came out of my mouth, and as they came out they were insightful — which is not always my strong suit — and they were knowledgeable and experienced. … I’m going, ‘I’m a veteran of this industry! Why are you coming to work every day like it’s your first day? … Dear God, buddy, you’ve done a couple of hundred episodes of television.’ “

His veteran status is reflected in the show, where Herrmann and Chief Boden (Eamonn Walker) are bound at least in part by being experienced men in the middle of a lot of relatively young people. Walker told the producers that “we were the two guys who had been together and been through a lot together,” said Eigenberg. “I really love that element. We definitely have a firefighter-to-the-chief element, but we’re also old friends.”

“Chicago Fire” has given Eigenberg plenty of other acting chances, from comedy to drama, from outspokenness about controversial issues to warmhearted behavior. He is grateful that the producers and writers have seen something in him and his character to write about in different ways.

He knows that with the large cast on “Chicago Fire,” there will be weeks when some characters are more prominent than others, and that’s fine.

“We pass the ball,” he said. “The great thing about the cast is, we all understand that.”

That also gives the cast a chance to watch other people do great things. Asked about a favorite moment on the show, Eigenberg’s first choice was not one of his scenes, but one in the second-season finale where firefighter Mouch (Christian Stolte) meets police Sgt. Trudy Platt (Amy Morton), a character on “Chicago Fire” and now “Chicago P.D.” Each immediately sees something in the other.

“Amy Morton … is a phenomenal actress,” he said. “She is the queen of Chicago theater, which makes her the queen of a lot of American theater. … (The meeting with Mouch) is a very small scene, maybe not even 30 words exchanged between the two of them. And it’s just wonderful watching the two of them coming together.”

Of course, since the episode ends with the explosion, you may have asked yourself if Mouch’s finding love meant he was doomed.

“I don’t know,” Eigenberg said. “Can’t tell ya.”

©2014 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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