House's Jesse Spencer trades in his scrubs and The Vampire Diaries werewolf Taylor Kinney declaws to play firefighters in exec producer Dick Wolf's new drama Chicago Fire. Here, the calendar-ready stars tell us what makes life in Firehouse 51 so hot.
TV Guide Magazine: Jesse, after eight seasons on House, how does it feel to ditch the medical jargon for firefighting derring-do?
Spencer: House was a great show, but very cerebral. So it's good to move on to something more physical.
TV Guide Magazine: Firehouse 51 is different than most, isn't it?
Kinney: In Chicago, a few houses not only have a truck company but also a squad that's search and rescue. They do rappelling and they're all trained for water rescue. There's a rivalry between them that makes for good back-and-forth on TV.
Spencer: We also have a friendly on-set competition between the squad and the truck. Just like in real life!
TV Guide Magazine: There are two female EMTs, played by Lauren German and Monica Raymund, assigned to the house as well. How do they fare?
Spencer: They're surrounded by a lot of testosterone. But they give as good as they get.
TV Guide Magazine: What are the keys to your characters, Matthew Casey and Kelly Severide?
Spencer: Casey lieutenants the truck squad and he's a natural-born leader, a guy with a big heart. But he has an aggressive streak that can get him in trouble. In the first few episodes his fiancée is being threatened, and revenge is at the forefront of his mind. He struggles with that.
Kinney: Severide runs the rescue squad. He's a passionate, hardworking, blue-collar guy.
TV Guide Magazine: He's also the lady-killer of the house, isn't he? He even has to fight off the advances of the chief's new assistant.
Kinney: It's pretty well-known that he likes the ladies and the ladies like him. [Laughs] But he puts more into his job than his relationships. Unlike Casey, he doesn't know how to talk things out. He buries his feelings, and animosity can build out of that.
TV Guide Magazine: When the show opens, there's animosity between the two. Why?
Spencer: They lose a friend [and coworker]. His death on the job is a big blow to everything they represent.
Kinney: And there's a lot of tension between them over who's at fault.
Spencer: Severide's to blame so...
Kinney: It comes out that it's pretty much Casey's fault. [Laughs]
TV Guide Magazine: Every little boy wants to be a fireman. What's the most fun about playing one?
Kinney: I'd say the gear and the tools — and of course the red trucks. [Laughs] When I was young I always had a sense of awe when I saw a fire engine. And the public's warm response brings out the kid in you.
Spencer: I really like the camaraderie on set, which sort of simulates the camaraderie among real firefighters.
TV Guide Magazine: How did you train for your roles?
Spencer: We went to the Chicago Fire Academy and learned how to use the ladders, drive the trucks, break into doors and how to use an SCBA, a self-contained breathing apparatus. And also how to deal with the claustrophobia that can happen even in a simulated fire situation.
Kinney: I was able to hang out in a couple of squad companies, sleep and eat with the guys.
TV Guide Magazine: Well, you look to be in the peak condition of your lives....
Kinney: That happens solely on the basis of running around with 60 pounds of gear in the Chicago summer heat! These firefighters are strong guys. They're not doing yoga!
Spencer: They were kind of laughing at us, because when they gear up to fight a fire, they have all that for a maximum of an hour. We shoot for, like, 14 hours.
TV Guide Magazine: Sounds like you actually got pretty close with the local firefighters.
Spencer: We're mates with these guys. We hang out with them on weekends.
Kinney: We even went with them to a Firefighter Appreciation Night at a Cubs game. Jesse played the national anthem [on his violin]. And I got to throw out the first pitch. We really want to do right by them and tell truthful stories. Many of the situations on the show are based on events that our consultant, Deputy District Chief Steve Chikerotis, experienced or his friends have.
TV Guide Magazine: Yours is the first firehouse on TV since Rescue Me ended last year. Does the ghost of that edgy series hang over Chicago Fire?
Kinney: There's no ghost on our show. Only aliens. [Laughs]
Spencer: Rescue Me was a dark take on firefighters. I've spoken to real firefighters about it and they were like, "It went very inward." Our show tends to drive outward.
TV Guide Magazine: So which of you will be on the cover of the inevitable firefighter calendar?
Kinney: We'll fly you out for that.
Spencer: I believe that would be called jumping the shark!
Chicago Fire premieres Wednesday at 10/9c on NBC.