TV Guide: At the end of last season your character, Tommy Gavin, lost his young son in a tragic accident. What kind of shape is Tommy in now?
Denis Leary: He's holding on. And even though his family is falling apart, he feels like he has found an inner strength. There's a new maturity to him. There's another big shock at the end of Episode 2 [airing tonight], and he thinks he can't deal without being his old violent self, but he comes through it. There are several guys thinking of leaving the firehouse, and Tommy tries to get a secret evil plan in place to keep everyone from leaving.
TV Guide: Tommy wrestles with a lot of demons, but audiences respond strongly to him. Why?
Leary: Everything about firefighters becomes more interesting because of what they do they go to work every day with the real possibility that they may not come home. That bravery and courage and sheer dedication is fascinating. And I don't think I've ever known a fireman, especially one that was in a really active firehouse, who didn't have some screwed-up element to his personal life. The best firefighters have a tendency to sort of tell people off because they know it doesn't mean anything. The day-to-day stuff that regular people think is important, firemen know is not.
TV Guide: There's a funny scene where the chief tells the guys that smoking is banned from the scene of fires. Anyone ever try to institute a smoking ban on the set?
Leary: No, they wouldn't even think of it.
TV Guide: The guys of Ladder 62 lead turbulent lives. Is the only time they're truly at peace when they're on the job?
Leary: These guys are really only happy when they are in the middle of a fire, on their way to a fire or on their way back from a fire, when they're going to sit around and wait for the next one. Everything makes sense in the middle of the action, and the rest of the world doesn't taxes, the ex-wife, whatever.
TV Guide: Why are women so attracted to firefighters?
Leary: When a policeman comes to your door, he may be there to question you, accuse you, arrest you or point something out to help you stay safe. When a fireman comes to your door, there's only one reason he's there to pick you up and take you out. I think that's the reason there is such a forgiveness when they're maybe doing things they shouldn't be doing.
TV Guide: What's been the reaction in the firefighting community to Rescue Me?
Leary: We knew a lot of the older guys in the FDNY were going to have problems with what we were saying, and the secrets we were showing. But my touchstone was the father of a friend, Timmy Higgins, who died on 9/11. Timmy's brother Joey was a firefighter, his brother Bobby is still a firefighter, and their father was a firefighter in New York for 35, 40 years. He's one of the show's biggest fans, and he says, "If one of the guys my age has a problem, you tell them to talk to me, because I think it's the best firefighting show that's ever been done." As long as he's happy, we're happy.
TV Guide: The plan at Ground Zero is to have a memorial to the 9/11 victims below ground. How do you feel about that?
Leary: I think it's [almost] five years later and there should be something there already. It's hard to get 3,000 families together, but I think it's fairly easy to get the families of 343 FDNY members together to find out what they want. And what they want is something that says 343 men performed the greatest rescue effort in the history of the fire department. That's all.
TV Guide: OK, barroom brawl between the guys of Ladder 62 and the cast of The Sopranos. No weapons. Who wins?
Leary: We beat them in softball, like 35-2, two weeks ago. If we use softball as a metaphor, I got to say I think we'd win. Jimmy [Gandolfini] is big, but he's really out of shape. A lot of their guys are in that same circumstance.
Rescue Me's John Scurti (aka "Lou") writes a weekly (and very irreverent) blog for TVGuide.com. Find it here.