As I enter the Lower West Side studio lot and round the trailers, I come upon Jesse Spencer sitting on the parking-lot concrete in his fireman’s gear. He’s chatting with two men smoking cigars who introduce themselves as writers for NBC’s Chicago Fire. The laid-back Melbourne native walks me into Cinespace Studios’ massive warehouse, jokingly offers me the “shit coffee” on set and then steps in front of the camera, where he busts down a door while a carefully controlled fire blazes behind him. At 5:30pm, the crew gets lunch. “Fire looks better at night,” Spencer says of the late hours involved in playing fireman Matthew Casey. Created by Law & Order’s Dick Wolf, Chicago Fire premieres October 10.
Have you gotten insight from local firemen?
Yeah, we have firefighters on set all the time. Our chief consultant, Steve Chikerotis, he’s a firefighter’s firefighter. Every instance we have so far, like a car crash or a fire, it’s all based on a real story he experienced or firefighter acquaintances of his experienced. I did ride-alongs and did some firefighter training at the Chicago Fire Academy.
What did you see on the ride-alongs?
It gives you insight into the camaraderie between these guys. It’s like a family. They give each other shit, but once they’re out on a job, they’re a team.
Get any fires?
I didn’t get any fires. I got, like, hookers strung out on meth. A lot of it’s bullshit; they call them bullshit runs, where it’s just, like, someone didn’t take their meds or someone’s just being an asshole.
Was the strung-out hooker like, “Hey, you’re the guy from House”?
[Laughs] Not really. I don’t think she knew where she was, poor girl. Man. But also these guys see so much stuff and some of it’s really hard. Like Chik yesterday—he’s got a white chief shirt and it was all black, and he was like, “Just came back from a run. We lost a three-month-old. There was one of those space heaters and there was a grandma and three kids and they didn’t call us in time and the baby was, yeah, burned up.” But he said the hardest ones are when you nearly save them.
Any concerns about going directly into a TV show after eight years on one?
Sure, absolutely. But this came around, and it was nice to get out of L.A. for a bit and to be in a real city. Chicago’s like Melbourne—there’s a city center, there’s public transport, and there’s more of a cultural scene. It’s got some history, whereas L.A.’s more of a sprawl. I miss the beaches ’cause I surf, but it’s nice to be in a city, and Chicago is a city.
The few reviews of Chicago Fire so far have been a bit mixed.
They haven’t even finished the pilot yet. [Laughs] They’re reshooting tonight some of the pilot.
One reviewer wanted more beefcake.
More ab shots from you and Taylor Kinney.
They’ll get that down the line, I’m sure. At least it wasn’t, “Oh, too much guys without their shirts on.”
Your father and all three of your siblings are doctors. Would they give you notes on playing a doctor on House?
They couldn’t watch it. They were very nice about it. It’s frustrating to watch if it’s in your field ’cause, as medically accurate as House was, we take creative license. My brother rang me up once. He’d been watching House, something had come up, and he didn’t know what it was. He went and studied it, and it was on his exam the next day. It helped him pass his exam. And I was like, Yes! [Laughs] Saving the world. I met one [med student] in New Zealand who told me the exact same story.… Cops don’t like cop shows, doctors don’t like doctor shows, lawyers hate lawyer shows, and I’m sure firemen will probably hate this show. [Laughs] No, they’ll like it because they’re in the show. They’re mates, and we hang out on weekends.
I saw online that your parents founded a political party called Australians Against Further Immigration. I was like, What the…
[Laughs, pauses] No, I’m not gonna talk about that.
Is it as bad as it sounds?
No, no, it’s actually not as bad as it sounds. I love politics. Watching the stuff that’s going on right now, the election coming up, I’m absolutely enthralled by it. It’s equal parts horrifying and entertaining. But in general I steer clear of politics. I support firefighters. [Laughs] I support the union of firefighters, the 100 Club of Chicago.
Spoken like a true politician.
There were several articles about your dating fellow House actor Jennifer Morrison. Are you finding now that you’re dating surfer Maya Gabeira, you’ve gotten some relief from that?
Much. A lot. All of my girlfriends have been actors, and I’ve realized that maybe it’s not for me—and find something else outside of the industry. And Maya, she’s still in an industry that’s sort of similar, that I can relate to it; she’s in the public eye a bit. Her father [Fernando Gabeira] actually is a controversial politician in Brazil, and a great guy.
Controversial in what way?
You can look it up. [Laughs]
Chicago Fire premieres October 10 on NBC.