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9-1-1: Lone Star Finale: Jim Parrack on Why Judd's Huge Decision Fits His Character

And how the cast and crew prepped for the Tarlos wedding

Max Gao
Jim Parrack, 9-1-1: Lone Star

Jim Parrack, 9-1-1: Lone Star

Kevin Estrada/Fox

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for 9-1-1: Lone Star Season 4, Episode 17, "Best of Men," and Season 4, Episode 18, "In Sickness and in Health." Read at your own risk!]

For Judd Ryder (Jim Parrack), nearly losing his son, Wyatt (Jackson Pace), whom he met for the first time last year, was always going to be where the rubber met the road.

In Tuesday's two-hour season finale of 9-1-1: Lone Star, which picked up a few days after Judd learned from his friend and paramedic captain Tommy (Gina Torres) that Wyatt had been badly injured in a biking accident, Judd discovered that his son, who had dropped out of college to follow in his father's footsteps as a firefighter, may not regain enough mobility in his legs to ever walk again. After hearing that Wyatt would have to undergo three months of physical and occupational therapy at a sterile rehab facility, Judd decided to quit his job at the 126 and requested an early payout to become his son's full-time caregiver and hire the necessary home health nurses for his recovery.

Although his wife, Grace (Sierra McClain), and fire captain, Owen (Rob Lowe), asked him if he was really willing to give up everything that he had worked for professionally for the last two decades, Judd remained adamant about being there for Wyatt, since he still feels a little guilty for not being present for most of his life. But the tough and well-meaning ex-firefighter quickly learned that he and Wyatt still have a lot of work to do to get to know each other as father and son.

On a recent video call from Los Angeles, Parrack opened up about the key moments from Judd's storyline in the final episodes of Season 4, his character's decision to leave the 126, the experience of bearing witness to the long-awaited "Tarlos" wedding, and his pitch for a future Lone Star boys' night that would (naturally) go terribly wrong.

When we last spoke, you said Judd's arc in the last three episodes of this season has been one of your favorite storylines to play out in the four years you've been on this show. What kinds of conversations did you have with showrunner Tim Minear about what this arc would mean for Judd as a character?

Jim Parrack: We knew that Wyatt was gonna get hurt, and we knew that was gonna be the thing that brought Tommy and I out of our pettiness and disagreement. We had this conversation where Tim was like, "I think Judd would quit his job to take care of him." And I was like, "Yeah, man, I think so too." It was one of those moments when I realized how much that part of the show means to me, and certainly to Judd, it's a big deal. It's a conversation we had [on the show] about stepping out and believing that maybe the one thing that this guy does is to care for and protect his family, and it was like, "Wow, we just had that talk, and now that's what you're being asked to do."

Your family's in jeopardy, [but] you can't do your job and take care of your family the way that you need to at the same time. And what I realized in that moment was, "Yeah, but that family has definitely extended all the way over to everybody at the firehouse too." It's a "rock and a hard place" [situation for Judd] that so many people in their day-to-day lives are going through, and I'm glad that we came at that story as realistically as possible. I worked with Tim and the directors — Tessa [Blake] at the end of [episode] 16, Chad [Lowe] through 17, and Brad [Buecker] through 18 — to tell one story instead of making three [different] episodes.

How did you react when you read these final scripts?

Parrack: There was a moment in one of those scenes where we'd already had a tough day of shooting at the hospital the day before, and it was an emotionally challenging day. They, at the last minute, gave us this scene where Tommy and I are in the bunk room, and I get the call and tell her, "Damn, this is more serious than we thought." I was really scared of that scene. I was intimidated by the emotional demands of it. I was intimidated by not having a lot of time.

I got on the phone with everybody and convinced everybody that it didn't need to be a heartfelt scene. It could be Judd in a state of shock, and everybody went, "We understand," and they were supportive. I built a pretty good case for it, and on the walk back to my trailer, I felt this real God moment where this small voice was like, "Hey man, somebody out there needs a better version of the scene than that." And I just went, "F--k, that's right." We've decided to make this part of the story very true to life, and that means somebody doesn't need somebody in a state of shock, not experiencing the bad news they got — they need somebody to relate to. I haven't seen it yet, so I don't know what they ended up using, but I know on the day it was a heartfelt scene.

Considering how Judd reacts privately to the news about Wyatt's prognosis, how did you want to approach the scene when Judd and Marlene (Robin Lively) are breaking the news to Wyatt?

Parrack: [Chad and I] really talked about making sure that things were changing one scene to the next. We worked out that mostly what [Judd] was there to do is just to shoot straight with [Wyatt] and not show him someone freaking out so that he could see the face of someone with some real confidence that this is not the end of [his] life, that this is the beginning of a real challenge. That's what I hoped was conveyed to him, and then by proxy to the audience. It was someone who could look him in the eye and tell him bad news, but to say, "Hey, look, I'm here with you, and this is not the end." Jackson's so fantastic and Robin's so good in the scene that it does become a bit of a challenge to hold it together and stay strong for the kid, instead of indulging in whatever feeling may be coming up.

Judd is put through the wringer as a relatively new parent in these last three episodes. What do you think he learns about his role as a father by the end of this arc?

Parrack: The little expression that I kept using for these three episodes is "where the rubber meets the road." Doing whatever needs to be done for [your] family is a nice idea to have, but preferably it'd be something you have for a rainy day, right? And these three episodes are the rainy day. [Judd learns that] even though his job is to help people, he can't quite help his son here — not with his self-esteem, not with his ability to not be embarrassed [about] having to change his diaper again.

The arc that would come out of that is, "The most heroic thing I could do is take off the hero gear, set it down, and go change the diaper of my grown son without embarrassing him." There's nothing glamorous about it. Parenthood got real, and I think it's the first time that Judd's been tested as a father. There have been emotional hurdles to overcome, like learning how to talk to your son and learning about boundaries, but it's manageable stuff. This is a crisis, and it's gonna require new levels of sacrifice.

That's the thing that makes it my favorite thing that we've gotten to act, because it's one thing to have a situation where tragedy befalls you and you find yourself under the anvil, and it's another thing to then have this story that really looks at, "Well, so what do you do after the anvil?" You get up, stumble forward and crawl in a state of embarrassment and frustration. We're gonna keep moving forward — whatever that looks like. And the thing that made it easy to act is I certainly wouldn't have any answers on how to help somebody in a situation like that.

But Judd still has Grace to lean on, and the two of them have always been a great sounding board and support system for each other. Do you have a favorite scene between Grace and Judd from this season?

Parrack: There's a scene in bed [in the finale] where I just tell her I need to quit my job for Wyatt. It was such a real moment between husband and wife saying, "It's just now dawning on me that I have to do this thing." And for her to have fully accepted Wyatt as family is an amazing thing. It's not the kind of thing that comes naturally to people, and she handled that so graciously and sensitively. And because of those open arms that we all gave, everybody, including the new baby, is in a state of sacrifice; everybody's gonna have to pay for it. But that's what you do in your family when you love each other. It was a heartbreaking and very tender scene, and it was written that way.

I think what we're getting over time with Judd and Grace is we're getting to see us move from the idealistic beginnings to people living out their ideals, which is always harder than when you can just have your ideals and things are going well. In some of these final episodes, [Grace] put herself out there in new ways. She put herself out there with her family. She put herself, I think rather carelessly, into harm's way, playing detective [laughs], but it was because of what mattered to her, and it was true to her ideals.

It was her last year who said, "Here's how we're gonna move [forward] because we're a family." She took the boy in, and now life's maybe gonna be harder for her all time because of that, but she is graciously bearing that again. It's such an earnest, respectful look at a sincere Christian woman; it's as honest as anything you're gonna find on TV about a sincere Christian woman doing her very best and relying on the God of her faith. It's so beautifully acted by [Sierra] all the time, and I think she's just one of the best actors working right now.

We also have to acknowledge that a core part of Judd's self-identity is wrapped up in his vocation as a firefighter. Do you think it's a part of his life that he can give up for good, or do you think he is only planning to stay off the job until Wyatt improves? Do you think he has a long-term plan?

Parrack: I definitely think [Judd] has thought it through because there's that bit where I tell [Owen, played by Rob Lowe], "Hey man, I've thought this through enough to the point where I understand I'm losing pension. This isn't a break. This is me retiring, losing all status, losing seniority, so that I can get the quick payout money to try to make things better for Wyatt."

So are there held hopes that someday Judd will be a firefighter again? For sure. But Judd makes peace with the fact that that's done for now. He literally gives up his career in exchange for, I think, 40% of what he's owed, because his kid needs it now. That's the kind of hero that doesn't get celebrated — there's no action figure for a guy like that — and it's so cool that we're telling stories for men like that.

I'll admit that I did enjoy hearing Owen call Judd his best friend. You don't realize how close these two guys have gotten.

Parrack: [Laughs.] It was so touching, yeah.

Sierra McClain and Jim Parrack, 9-1-1: Lone Star

Sierra McClain and Jim Parrack, 9-1-1: Lone Star

Kevin Estrada/Fox

The other storyline in this finale revolves around Carlos (Rafael L. Silva) and T.K.'s (Ronen Rubinstein) emotional journey to the wedding altar. What are some of your fondest memories of shooting that wedding in the finale?

Parrack: I rented a house [in Malibu], and the first night Jules [Works] and Brian [Michael Smith] and the second night Brian and Rafa stayed over, and we watched old movies, cooked in the kitchen and hung out. It was just a gratitude fest, and I think everybody — cast and crew — must have been doing their own version of it, because then when we came together for the wedding, it was two days of everybody expressing how glad we are to have come this far together and how we've become a close group of people. We were just celebrating and expressing our thanks for that, and it was a really touching couple of days. It was a beautiful location. Everybody was in a really good, open-hearted place, and it was the perfect place for everybody to be in to tell that part of the story too.

There wasn't a dry eye in the house when Tommy began singing at the reception, was there?

Parrack: No, no. [Laughs.] Not a bit! And then every time they would do it again, there'd be some new piece of that song or some new line that would just be a dagger to the heart. It was stunning.

Lone Star was just renewed for a fifth season. Is there something in particular that you'd like to explore with Judd next season?

Parrack: The thing that I think would be great is if Judd started to care for himself the way he does for these other people. There needs to be a better version of [Judd] available because of this crisis that's come around, and I think clearly Judd's instinct is to rush to everybody and take care of them all, and the wise thing to do would see him realize and demonstrate to his kid and the rest of his family that, "Hey, I have to take care of myself too."

Is there a dynamic with any of the other characters that you're looking to explore further?

Parrack: Yeah, I've been pitching for a while that Paul, Mateo, Judd and Owen go down to Mexico for a boys' night. [Laughs.] I hear stories from my uncle and people that did that kind of thing, and I think it's a little different now in a lot of ways. But let's say Mateo has a family member or somebody, and we go, "Yeah, it'll be fine, and we'll have some fun," and then go down into Mexico and get in some trouble.

You guys are just asking for trouble at this point.

Parrack: Well, are you in or are you out?

I'm in! We'll see what happens next season.

Parrack: Yeah, we'll see. [Laughs.]

9-1-1: Lone Star airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on Fox. Episodes are available to stream the next day on Fox Now or Hulu.