On FX's dramedy Rescue Me (Tuesdays at 10 pm/ET), none of the characters is as straightforward or stereotypical as they look on paper. Take Franco — played by Daniel Sunjata — a ladies' man who has taken guardianship of the young daughter he just found out he had, then developed a painkiller addiction, which put his kid in jeopardy. The 33-year-old Sunjata tells TVGuide.com he's loving the changes in his character and looking forward to the rest of the show's fiery season.
TVGuide.com: I finally started watching Rescue Me this season, and now I'm totally hooked!
Daniel Sunjata: Well, that's a good sign, we're happy to hear that. It's like Sex and the City for men. If women want to hear what men talk about when they're not around, watch Rescue Me.
TVGuide.com: Your character has certainly changed throughout the show, especially with the drug addiction.
Sunjata: Certainly, and warming up to being a single dad and that story line is connected to his drug addiction; it's kind of what woke him up. Franco's kind of gone through a trial-by-fire maturation this season, but it's truly a joy to play that character and an honor, obviously, to represent any member of the FDNY.
TVGuide.com: Were you excited when you started getting these scripts where your character expands to more than just "the ladies' man"?
Sunjata: He never really was just the ladies' man. Especially in Western society, we need to categorize and label [people] so they're easily recognizable, but there was always a lot more to him. I was definitely encouraged to see that there was going to be more meat to the character this season. It's more fun to play that as an actor; it's what you want.
TVGuide.com: We recently saw Franco's first trip to Narcotics Anonymous. What else can we expect in the weeks ahead?
Sunjata: Another trip to NA, possibly. Mostly as the season progresses, not only for my character but for all the characters in the show, you'll see a deeper analysis of where they are. Things get a little more complex before they start to get clearer, but that's as it should be in the world of dramatic television. Also, maybe a twist and turn that may be a little unexpected in the relationship between Franco and Laura [played by Diane Farr, who left Rescue Me after filming this season to join CBS' Numbers].
TVGuide.com: How much of the firefighting scenes do you actually get to do, or are they all deferred to stuntmen?
Sunjata: Unless there's a really dangerous stunt, like Tommy jumping from the roof of one building to the next or something like that, it's pretty much all us. They do a good job of keeping those fire situations as safe as possible, making sure we've been schooled on what not to do. We have so many real firefighters on set with us every day that it's pretty hard for us to make a mistake, and if we do, somebody's usually there to correct it before it becomes a dangerous situation.
TVGuide.com: What do your firefighter advisors think of the show?
Sunjata: They love it, but they're on the job, so I don't know if they would say anything. Off the job, I've spoken to firefighters and gotten mixed reactions; by and large they like the show but there are some that think that it doesn't [offer] a truly realistic portrayal of firefighters. The fact is that every now and again, you open the New York Post and see a story about a DUI involving a drunk driver who happens to be a member of the FDNY. With the post-traumatic stress of an event like 9/11, you're going to see an increase in the instances of drug abuse or domestic violence or various manifestations of how human beings behave under stress. It's a stressful job. These guys deal with death on a daily basis. It's noble and it's heroic.
TVGuide.com: Do you think the show does a good job portraying all those emotions?
Sunjata: What's fantastic about Rescue Me, aside from its social relevance being based on the events and repercussions of 9/11, is that it examines the heroism and humanity of these men and women with just a little bit of humor. The subject matter is sometimes so serious that the only way to address it is with a somewhat light hand. If it was just purely dramatic with no leavening comedic influence, it might be just a little bit too much for people to stomach.
TVGuide.com: Speaking of lightening things up, my favorite funny scene this season was the sexual harassment class. Was it fun for you to just let loose?
Sunjata: It was. I don't think that any of us were venting our blatant racist tendencies. Racism is another issue that we still have a lot of dealing with to do in America, and it's great to be on a show that brings that to the table.
TVGuide.com: It doesn't seem like you've shied away from much.
Sunjata: I will say that in that scene, I thought the "N bomb" was conspicuously absent, and I wonder why. I don't know if it was a censorship issue. For instance, Franco is the one who rattled off the various derogatory terms for African-Americans, yet that term was conspicuously absent. This isn't a criticism of the show, but hey, why not go whole hog and really examine it? I think some of that might be the structural constraints that come along with being on basic cable rather than, say, Showtime.
TVGuide.com: Is Rescue Me definitely coming back for a third season?
Sunjata: We haven't gotten the official word yet. In terms of the decisions FX has on its plate, it has four new shows, and I think the issue is that we're in the deck, but they're trying to decide on the shuffle. Once they make that decision, I'm sure we'll get the final word. [We've gotten] a few Emmy nominations, so I don't know why they wouldn't bring a show like Rescue Me back.
TVGuide.com: Good luck with the rest of the season. Hopefully things will cool off here in New York so you don't have to film scenes with that heavy gear on in 90-degree weather.
Sunjata: I think the worst of it is over. When we have our bunker gear on, we basically have an extra 80 lbs. of weight on us. I actually feel like a wuss complaining about acting like a fireman. But what it really brings to mind is that there are men and women who run into burning buildings wearing that in 90-degree weather. I can only imagine what it must be like. Thank god for the FDNY, thank god for firefighters everywhere — I don't know what we'd do without them.