Category: Archive

Echo Profile: Hot stuff

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

For “Rescue Me” star and co-creator Denis Leary, playing a hero perpetually on the edge is not only the job of his career, it is a fitting tribute to the firefighters he has known all his life.
Explaining how he was surrounded by firefighters when he was growing up in Massachusetts, then again when he moved to New York as an adult, he 48-year-old Worcester native told the Echo by phone last week. “I guess it was inevitable that I would either do a movie or something about these guys.
“And I’m really glad that Peter (Tolan) and I did it as a series because we really love writing it,” he added. “We love seeing it happen in front of our eyes. I love the cast and I love the stories and I love the comedy and the drama of it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a home run.”
Having studied acting and writing at Emerson College in Boston, the son of Irish immigrants taught at the college for five years after he graduated, meeting his wife, Ann, in one of the classes he taught. While the couple was on a weekend trip to England, Ann went into labor and delivered their son, Jack, three months early, forcing the cash-strapped couple to stay in the country until Jack got strong enough to travel home to Boston.
It was during this time that Leary, who was flying back and forth to the United States to earn money to support his family, also performed his comedy act at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, effectively launching his stand-up career. Roles in dozens of movies like “The Ref,” “Wag the Dog,” “The Matchmaker” and “Suicide Kings” and on the TV cop series, “The Job,” soon followed.
In 1999, the actor founded The Leary Firefighters Foundation after a Worcester warehouse blaze killed six firefighters, including his cousin. In a letter he posted on the foundation’s Website, Leary asks for donations and offers a glimpse of why he is so intrigued by these men and women who risk their lives every day for strangers in peril.
“We all know there is never enough money to get them the equipment and the training that they need, but here’s the thing about firefighters: they do their job because they care about us and they care about keeping our communities safe,” Leary wrote. “Regardless of what kind of equipment they are working with or what kind of training they have, firefighters will always make due.”
Despite his fascination with and respect for firefighters, Leary says he pretty much ruled out being one himself at an early age.
“(I was) 13 when I did my first play at St. Peter’s,” he recalled. “I witnessed as a 13-year-old that all the prettiest girls were in the plays and I felt like I had gotten the secret … I was like: ‘Man, I’m in! I like this job.'”
Although he briefly considered going to work as a smoke-eater when he was a little older and some guys he knew were starting their fire-fighting careers, the rabid hockey fan said: “I got lucky. I wanted to do show business and I got a scholarship to Emerson and I learned how to act and then because of Lenny Clarke and those guys, I learned how to do stand-up. Everything kind of fell into place for me. I never really had to consider anything else.”

‘Rescue’ mission
Now in its third season, “Rescue Me” follows Tommy Gavin (Leary,) an alcoholic FDNY firefighter as he struggles to put his life back together while mourning his fallen brothers, including his best friend and cousin, Jimmy Keefe, who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
“I see [Tommy] as growing in small increments,” Leary said. “It’s a long journey here. In terms of his faith, he’ll be challenged again this season and will grow in some ways in that department.
A show that expertly tempers heart-breaking drama with pitch-black comedy, “Rescue Me” has from the very beginning tested Tommy’s faith and, at times, even his sanity. By the end of Season 2, it seemed life couldn’t get much worse for the battle-scarred firefighter. He broke up with his girlfriend, Sheila, after she had a miscarriage and didn’t tell him; his newly discovered priest half-brother turned out to be a child molester; his only son, Connor, died under the wheels of a drunk driver’s car; his Uncle Teddy was arrested for shooting the guy who ran the boy down; his elderly father’s health was failing; he watched his fellow firefighters suffer their own personal trials and his wife, Janet, left him again.
“I think if you look at the third season — by the time you go from episode 1 to 13 — there’s going to be some changes,” said Leary. “Not necessarily the way people would want him to go, but there is definitely growth and discipline that people haven’t seen in him before.”
But the season premiere, which aired May 30, indicates there is still fresh hell for the hapless hero to endure.
Janet (Andrea Roth) is playing house with Tommy’s cop brother, Johnny (Dean Winters,) while she plans their divorce; his hard-drinking shrew of a sister (Tatum O’Neal) is dating his firefighter friend, Sean Garrity (Steven Pasquale;) Uncle Teddy (Lenny Clarke) is getting a little too comfortable in jail and his father (Charles Durning) is nagging him about siring another male heir to the Gavin fire-fighting dynasty. On top of all that, Tommy just quit smoking and his still trying to stay off the bottle.
If it sounds like the acclaimed FX show is treading increasingly dark waters, that’s good news for Leary and Tolan; the show’s co-creators, producers and head writers say they constantly worry their wicked, warped senses of humor make the edgy show too funny.
“I don’t think it’s that dark. That’s my problem,” Tolan said. “If anything, I look at the show and go: ‘Maybe it’s too funny. Maybe we should do more dramatic stuff.'”
“I think that’s also my problem,” Leary agreed, adding that the blend of gallows humor and high tragedy that is the show’s hallmark closely mirrors the day-to-day lives of real firefighters he knows.
“There is stuff we could do that people would go, ‘I don’t believe that!’And it’s actual stuff that has happened to these guys,” Leary explained.
Describing the cast and crew as a “real, dysfunctional family,” Leary says the guys find plenty of ways to entertain themselves during their down-time on the set, regardless of how grave the subject matter they are shooting that day may be.
“We’re making fun of each other and cutting each other down and pulling practical jokes on each other,” he told the Echo. “I can’t believe we get the work done because I spend most of the time on the floor holding my sides.”
“Rescue Me” airs on FX Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. EST.

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