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9-1-1's Corinne Massiah Breaks Down May's Harrowing Near-Death Experience

And explains how her latest conversation with Claudette will stay with May forever

Max Gao

[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Monday's episode of 9-1-1. Read at your own risk!]

After knocking heads earlier in the season with Claudette (Vanessa Estelle Williams), the veteran 9-1-1 operator who hijacked one of her calls after transferring back to the central Los Angeles station, May's (Corinne Massiah) relationship with the legendary dispatcher came to a head on a fateful day at the emergency call center.

In the opening moments of Monday's 9-1-1 episode, Claudette waved off May's helpful suggestion in the middle of a police pursuit—only to later use and pass the idea off as her own. The next day, May reached her breaking point after Claudette redirected an ambulance to a "higher priority emergency" without consulting her first. When the two women exchanged words in front of the rest of their colleagues, Sue (Debra Christofferson) escorted May and Claudette to the "quiet room," a place designed for dispatchers who need some time away from the phones.

But as they began to work out their differences, with Claudette urging May to go back to college and explore new avenues, the former foes discovered that a fire had started in their vicinity. Traumatized, Claudette revealed that she once found herself in a life-threatening fire and didn't think she would be able to survive another one. "So that's it? You're just a playground bully that likes to pick on little kids to feel better about herself?" May yells at Claudette to get her out of a rut, just as Bobby (Peter Krause) and some other firefighters arrive to save them in the nick of time. "It's actually quite pathetic. You don't like me because I'm younger and more competent than you ever were," May continued to yell. "And yeah, people like me a lot. So just lay there and die like the old dinosaur that you are." (Damn, May really gave Claudette a piece of her mind.)

After handing Claudette off to a couple of firefighters, who made it out just in time, Bobby and May were crushed under the weight of a collapsing roof. When Lucy (Arielle Kebbel) found Bobby's captain hat, she alerted the other members of the 118—Buck (Oliver Stark), Chimney (Kenneth Choi), Hen (Aisha Hinds) and, yes, Eddie (Ryan Guzman) — who worked desperately to dig Bobby and May out from under the rubble. Thankfully, Bobby and May were found alive, and the pair walked arm-in-arm with the rest of the 118 to a triage area in one of the show's most emotional sequences to date. Claudette, however, mysteriously succumbed to her injuries on her way to the hospital—and the team suspects that Jonah (Bryce Durfee), Chimney's former paramedic replacement, is partly to blame for her death.

TV Guide spoke with Massiah about the experience of growing up on the set of 9-1-1, working opposite Krause and Angela Bassett, the evolution of May's relationships with Bobby and Athena, and how the tragic death of Claudette will affect May going forward.

Corinne Massiah, 9-1-1

Corinne Massiah, 9-1-1


Even though they briefly reconciled in the middle of the season, May and Claudette never really saw eye-to-eye until they were stuck in the quiet room together and discussing May's future. Where do you think May's conflicting feelings about Claudette came from? Did it have to do with the fact that she once had to deal with a bully at school and now had a much more intimidating one at work?
Corinne Massiah: I think May was definitely intimidated by Claudette's presence, and she did get the bully vibes from her, and that was obviously very triggering for May. Since May was so welcomed to the call center, she was kind of taken off guard how Claudette came in just guns blazing. [She was] like, "This is my place now." So I think May was very offended with how Claudette came off, and I think it was a traumatic thing for May to go through. But you brought up the quiet room, and I think you see how it puts a lot of things in perspective for May, and you see May and Claudette reach a common ground and understand and appreciate each other for their differences.

They're able to settle those differences in the middle of a fire, no less. What was it like to film those scenes where Bobby and May have to be dug out by the past and present members of the 118?
Massiah: Honestly, it was probably one of my favorite episodes to film because usually, I'm in the call center. I'm not really around Kenny, Ryan, Oliver, Peter, or Aisha, so it was really refreshing to work with them. They were so patient with me, they took me by the hand and guided me through everything, and I learned a lot. It was really fun, and I've never worked with such a nice and welcoming and warm cast before, and I felt [like I was] a part of something when we were filming this episode. I had never been involved in stunts like that before, and it was just so cool. As we were filming this, they offered me pads to put on my knees, and I'm like, "No, [I'm good]. I played volleyball for 10 years." But I would come back and I'm like, "What are these welts on my knees?!" I'm like, "Damn, these are battle scars." [Laughs.]

As we look ahead to the final two episodes of the season, how heavily will Claudette's advice weigh on May, knowing that it was one of the last things Claudette said to her before she died?
Massiah: I think it's gonna traumatize May beyond belief. To go from really struggling with [their] relationship, to finding common ground and going through a very traumatic experience, and finally appreciating each other's differences, seeing each other for who they are and seeing why Claudette is the way she is—to see all that taken from May, it's definitely gonna leave a mark on her.

May might take Claudette's advice into account because May is a little young to be going through these traumatic experiences already and hearing other people's trauma and kind of taking their trauma on as her own. But she also might use it to have a different mindset in the call center. So we'll see in the upcoming episodes if she decides to stay in the call center, or go to college and take Claudette's advice.

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May has been through a lot in the five seasons we've come to know her—her dad coming out as gay, her parents' divorce, her suicide attempt, her mom almost dying on the job, and numerous difficult calls in her time as a dispatcher. How would you say those events have shaped May into the young woman she is today?
Massiah: Throughout the entire series, May has definitely been trying to find her purpose. I think her suicide attempt in the second episode of the first season also put a lot into perspective for her. She kind of lost herself in that moment. And seeing her mom being beaten on the job [in Season 3], I think May was like, "You know what? I have the power to help my mom, to be an eye for her [in the field]." She wanted some sense of control in her life and stability, and I think that's what the call center provided for her. And in the tsunami episodes, she saw her mom in action and saw how she could save someone and help them through something, so I think that was a deciding factor in her transition into the call center. But also, it was a surprise for me at least, because I didn't really know that they had those plans for me, so it was really cool to see that they knew I was capable of being in the call center with Jennifer [Love Hewitt], Bryan [Safi] and all of them.

What has been your favorite part of working opposite Peter Krause, and how do you think that translates to your onscreen dynamic?
Massiah: Peter is literally Bobby off the screen as well. He's so patient, he's so kind, he's so understanding. He will just have so many conversations with me in between scenes, just like Bobby does with May. He's really a role model to me, and I think [Bobby] is for May as well. It definitely translates into our scenes, and he's one of the best scene partners that I think I'll ever have. He's truly a teacher, and I do soak up a lot of what he does every time I'm on set with him. So when doing scenes with Peter, it always feels so natural, and it's always super fun to work with him. Every time I'm on set, I'm like, "Yay! I have a scene with him today." [Laughs.] This episode, I think, is also really formative for Bobby because this is his second chance to save his family, and he definitely adopted May as his own daughter, and in the episode, he refers to her as his kid.

Peter Krause, 9-1-1

Peter Krause, 9-1-1


We can't talk about May without talking about Athena. You're one of the lucky actors who gets to call Angela Bassett your onscreen mother. What have been some of your biggest takeaways from working with her after all these years?
Massiah: I love that woman! She is so funny. Every time she walks on set, she's talking to everybody, she's talking about her kids. She can go from talking and laughing, then, at the flip of a switch, be in a really serious scene. So it's cool how you can see her take off her Angela hat and put on her Athena hat, and that's one of the biggest things that I think I've taken from her. She's just so open as well. As an actor, you can't be set in a certain way of doing a scene. You can come in with your ideas of what you want to do, but it's like a dance. You have scene partners that you interact with and it might go totally differently than you expected, and I think I've seen that from her. She's so flexible in scenes. And sometimes, I'll have trouble [with] a line, and she'll just immediately go back to her line to let me redo it, and that's something I've learned as well: "If someone needs some help, just take it back, don't change your position or anything, and just do it again." She's a great mentor.

At this point, you must think of her a little bit as your mother on set, because she has that calming, maternal energy wherever she goes.
Massiah: Yes, exactly. And I think what people don't realize is actors are people too. She's gotta go pick up kids from lacrosse practice and school and stuff like that. [Laughs.] May and Athena's relationship is like Corinne and Angela's.

You began the show when you were 14, and now you're 19 and going into your sophomore year of college at UCLA. What kind of advice have you received from your co-stars as you work to strike that balance between school and work?
Massiah: I've definitely gotten good advice, especially from Peter. But a lot of the time, they've also told me: "You already have a career, don't stress yourself out too much. If you do have to take a step back from school, you can always go back to school." So they've kind of taken that stress off of me, because I set these really high expectations for myself, so sometimes you need people in your life to kind of ground you. So they're like, "If it's too hard, it's stressing you out too much, it's okay if you want to take a step back." But also, Peter has a son who's a year older than me, who's in college, so he's telling me, "Hey, he's having trouble with his roommates" or something like that. [Laughs.] But luckily, I don't have those problems because I love my roommates, but it's cool to talk to Peter about it too, and it's funny to be like, "Hey, guess what happened?! I got a B on my final!"

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What parts of May's life would you like to explore going forward?
Massiah: I've always liked her character development. I've put all my trust in the writers because they have given me opportunities that I necessarily wouldn't have expected, especially in the call center. So I'm like, whatever you have in store for me, "I'm all ears. I'm down to do whatever." But I think seeing May interact with people her own age, because she is around [older] adults 24/7. Maybe a relationship, I don't know. [Smiles.] I don't know where Darius is, but I think he's still around!

What else can you preview about the last two episodes of the season?
Massiah: So this episode was very intense, but that's not to say the next couple of episodes aren't intense. [Laughs.] You guys will be on the edge of your seats. I don't want to spoil it because they're literally insane. I was reading those scripts and I'm like, "There's no way . . . There's no way that they're doing this." So I really don't want to spoil it, because I want to let you guys experience it on your own. This was crazy, but it doesn't get any less crazy. [Laughs.]

9-1-1 airs Mondays at 8/7c on FOX. Episodes are available to stream the next day on FOX Now or Hulu.