[Warning: This post reveals details from the most recent episode of 9-1-1.]
So far, 9-1-1 has devoted full episodes to many of its characters' backstories. We've seen how Captain Nash (Peter Krause) lost his family, as well as the hazing Hen (Aisha Hinds) endured before she got accepted as a firefighter and paramedic. In Monday's "Chimney Begins," the wild Fox procedural looked into the past of Howie "Chimney" Han (Kenneth Choi), albeit in the worst possible way. Just as he was about to whisk Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) off for lovely date that's been a long time in the making, her abusive ex husband Doug (played by Hewitt's real-life husband, Brian Hallisay) arrived at her doorstep and stabbed Chimney, leaving him on the ground in a pool of his own blood. As he lay on the concrete gasping, Chimney's life flashed before his eyes, and viewers got to see what led him into the lifesaving business, as well as the strained relationship he has with his family.
There's no telling yet how or if he's going to pull through (those injuries look pretty darn severe), but Chim became a real-deal hero in this episode. He overcome a period of personal uncertainty and aimlessness, gained confidence after dealing with some cold rejection from women, and then survived the tragedy of losing the man who was like a brother to him, Kevin (James Chen), while on the job.
"Chimney Begins" was also notable for making Chim's heritage relevant to the story, in a great moment for Asian representation on TV. 9-1-1 illuminates some of the unique challenges and experiences Chim faces as an Asian man, just as it did in the Season 2 premiere, when Chim was vying to be in a "sexy firefighter" calendar but made to feel like he had no shot — a statement on how Asian guys often get overlooked in conversations about "hotness." With "Chimney Begins," 9-1-1 repeated that theme in a somewhat crushing scene where a white women flirted with him as a joke. The episode also examined Chim's strained relationship with his stern dad, a story that Choi — who ran away from home and cut off contact with his own family because they initially didn't support his decision to act — knows all too well. TV Guide caught up with the actor to talk about how that story affected him and what's next for Chimney.
Does Chimney stand a chance at survival?
Kenneth Choi: I'd say it's 50/50. He's taken three stabs to the gut, which is pretty treacherous, but Chimney's a very resilient guy.
Speaking of resilience, is it just me, or does Chimney bear the brunt of the worst things to happen on 9-1-1? He got impaled in the beginning of the series, now he's getting stabbed...
Choi: Yeah, he got a bar through his head, he's suffered a broken heart at the hands of Tatiana, now he's been stabbed. I think the writers are having a time torturing Chimney.
What's it like being on set with all those bonkers accidents happening around you? Do you freak out? What are you going through as you see all these disasters happening?
Choi: I think we're just as shocked as everyone else when we read these emergencies that are ripped from the headlines. The first episode there's a baby in the sewer pipe. That was the first I had to look up to see if it was true or not and it was. So we kind of have our jaws open when we're reading the script along with everybody else watching. We kind of get desensitized to it because we do it day after day after day. Last week we were at PaleyFest, and we got to sit in the theater and actually watch fans of the show, and seeing their reactions kind of reminds you... It's crazy. You read it and you giggle and you're prepared for it. Because there's been so many intense emergencies on set we tend to shoot long hours, and sometimes we go over into the weekends and we all kind of band together because we know we're creating good television and it takes a lot of effort. That's been the beautiful part about the show.
Assuming that Chimney lives, what kind of terror is he going to rain down on Maddie's ex-husband?
Choi: We don't know if he's going to make it yet. But hypothetically speaking I think Chimney is more a peaceful soul.
A previous episode dealt with Chimney being overlooked as a sex symbol, an important storyline. Did you have input in that story? Could you relate to that?
Choi: That is all because of the great and wonderful Ryan Murphy. In the beginning he said, "Kenny's an attractive guy and he happens to be Asian American. We don't see a lot of sexy Asian Americans on screen so let's push him forward." I heard I was going to win this firefighter calendar and I was grateful for the opportunity, because as you said a lot of Asian actors don't get shown in that kind of light. And Ryan was paramount in making sure we'd follow this storyline and we'd follow up with the fact that Chimney would hook up with Maddie. Everyone thought it would be Eddie, but they burnt the norm — that's what Ryan Murphy is brilliant at, subverting what you think would happen. I loved it. I happen to be an Asian American man and I've had my fair share of relationships, and you don't get to see that on screen. And when you don't see it you don't identify, so hopefully a lot of other Asian American men out there can identify. I'm proud to have taken on that mantle.
Chimney's heritage comes through in this episode more than any other time before, and it had some similar parallels to your own life. What was it like to play that out? Did you have any input into it?
Choi: I didn't really have any input in that storyline. The writers are very crafty in the sense that they pull stuff from actors' lives and put it in the characters. We don't know how they figure these things out, but somehow they work their way in. It was a kind of personal storyline because I was at odds with my father when I decided to become an actor. I dropped out of college and I ran away. I moved to Portland to pursue a career in acting. It took me abut five years to get my training done. During that five years I had no contact with any of my family members because of this decision from my father that I was not allowed to become an actor, which parallels with what Chimney does. He tries to find his passion in life. I'd always been searching for that. I'd always wanted to become an actor. In Chimney's storyline his father just kind of broke away. I had a lot of empathy for Chimney because I'd gone through the same thing. It was kind of cathartic to play that in the episode. It made me very grateful for where I am now. My father and I are tighter than we've ever been, and one of the reasons is that I went off on my own. He respected me more as man and as a human being. He didn't look at me as just his kid. Now he's proud, and it gave me such appreciation for the relationship we have now. And it made me empathetic to Chimney because I wanted him to have that same relationship with his father. I was able to channel all that into the character.
Could you give a hint about what kind of crazy emergency we're going to see next?
Choi: I would say chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.
9-1-1 airs Mondays at 9/8c on Fox.