Last week I was in L.A. for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms red carpet premiere. While I was there we did so many fun things, including having a picnic in the 100 Acre Wood and meeting Jim Cummings (who does the voice of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger). Another fun part was being able to visit the sets of ABC’s Station 19 and The Kids are Alright. Today I am sharing more about my visit to the Station 19 set, our interview with Showrunner & Executive Producer Stacy McKee, actress Jaina Lee Ortiz (“Andy Herrera”) and actor Boris Kodjoe (“Captain Robert Sullivan”).
Stacy: Quickly a little about me. I wrote on “Grey’s Anatomy” for 500 million years. I started on Season One and moved up the ranks and finished there on Season 13 in order to come over here and create a spinoff about firefighters, which is kind of amazing. And it seems like a really natural sort of extension of the Grey’s universe because it still involves medicine and in the background of all the Grey’s episodes, you see all of the first responders scootching into the breezeway, dropping off patients and then you know, really quickly we dispense with them and get them out of the scene so we could focus on the surgeon.
But what about if we got back in the ambulance and drove away with them and then started to see what their life was like? What if there was a fire station, 3 blocks down from this hospital that we’ve been seeing for 13 years and they have a whole life that’s been going on this whole time too. What if we just shine a light over there so that was really sort of the beginning gestation of the idea and it’s just also just something really appealing to me. You know Grey’s, you know what it’s like, it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you like Mm, feel things and it was really appealing to me to show those same types of emotions, and the same type of humor but to do it in a world of first responders.
Especially right now, this day and age, I feel like the world can be tough. There’s a lot of difficulties when you wake up every morning, you open up your news, there’s stuff that’s hard. And to focus on a group of people whose only job is to help other people. Doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter what color you are, what your religion is, doesn’t matter what your politics are. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that if you are a person who needs help, these characters will help you. And to me, that was just remarkable. I wanted to put that little piece of joy out into the world. It’s so unifying and universal. And it seems like this was the right moment to tell stories like these.
Well, I literally grew up on the show because I started there. I was a wee baby, look at me, I’m so young. But yeah, it’s been such a huge part of my life too. I’m a fan first, I’m always a fan first. You guys know this. I kind of geek out over every episode. We screen them sometimes and I get up and I just gush because you know, I’m basically you guys. I write things I want to watch. And then we’ve got these amazing people on.
Jaina was the first person cast on the show. And at the time, there wasn’t even really a show. It was the kernel of an idea. I was in my office frantically trying to I think to finish an outline or something and I got this call from Shonda saying, we’ve met our Andy. I was like what? And so that was, you know, that’s how that kicked off and that was amazing. And then Boris came on just this season.
Jaina: Yeah, we’re really excited to be a part of Stacy’s vision and creation and this…
Jaina: I mean before the show even started talking to her, I signed onto the show the second I heard Shonda Rhimes is doing a spin off, I said yes, I don’t care what it is, just put me in. Luckily, I found out it was about firefighters, I went and met 2 female captains and I was like Oh my gosh, these ladies are bad-ass and they could do everything. They could be moms and work and still have a life and balance. It’s been a dream, it’s… Pinch me!
Stacy: Well you dove in too because you went in and took the firefighter test.
Jaina: Yeah, I took the firefighter test.
Stacy: Talk about bad-ass, this one. I can’t even.
Jaina: I know, I told my Mom. I actually came home and I said Mom, how much do you weigh? And she was, I forgot what the weight was and I was like, I told her, you need to be at least 165 pounds so that I know, I can drag you out of a building because that was part of the test, dragging a dummy that was 165, and it’s hard, it’s really hard.
Boris: Well I wanted to be a part of the show from the first episode as well. And unfortunately, that didn’t happen. So I had to wait patiently in the wings until it was possible. Code Black was canceled on a Friday and I think I met with Stacy on a Monday and it was pretty much done Monday night.
Stacy: We were ready to pounce.
Boris: I was ready to pounce. No absolutely, first of all, Shondaland is a universe that I wanted to be a part of ever since [Shonda Rhimes] appeared on the horizon. And for some reason, it never worked out so that was a huge draw for me as well. And then meeting Stacy and Betsy [Beers, Shonda’s producing partner] just did the trick. I love writers and I love great writers and to sort of put myself in the hands of someone like Stacy is an absolute pleasure and honor really, because you know that every single episode – and I had that experience once before but this really tops it – where you don’t think it can get any better and then you open a script and then the script is better than the script that you read before, and that’s always an amazing surprise and it’s so much fun to go to work because not only do you get to speak these words but also work with people like Jaina and people who have been so embracing of me.
And this is such a great atmosphere and (to Stacy) that speaks to what you bring to this universe because it starts at the top and then it sort of trickles down all the way to everybody else and I’ve been part of sets where it wasn’t the case where there was a lot of negativity and people just not happy to be there and this is just a pleasure to be a part of, every single day.
Stacy: That’s so good.
Boris: It’s true.
The scenes look so real, all those inside the building and the fire all that. Can you tell us how much is real and what is set?
Stacy: Sure, basically our main [set] is a fire station set which is so cool. I think you guys are gonna go see it a little later, it’s amazing. The interior of it is all on our stages. The exterior is all shot on location in Seattle. So when you see those exterior scenes, we went to Seattle, we shot all of those actually there on location. As for the incidents with the fires and stuff, it’s sort of a combination. We have both practical fire that we do a lot on our burn stage. We have a stage that we sort of dedicate to burning things up. But we also then supplement and add a lot of CG fire as well. So it’s both a combination of computer-generated, really crazy fire and then some practical stuff that we can use that’s still safe for everybody to be around.
And it’s been a real learning process. I mean, I’m used to working on a hospital show where all we have to do is like pretend we’re doing surgery on like a piece of meat or something. And the scope of this is so different that it’s been a real learning curve for everybody, (to Jaina and Boris) just even the physicality that you guys have to go through, just even wearing the turnouts. Some of the sweat and the exhaustion that you see on these guys’ faces, oh it’s fully real.
Do you actually wear the weight of the firefighters uniform and gear?”
Boris: Yeah we do. It’s the real stuff, even the tanks, even the oxygen tanks on the back. We have fake ones and we have real ones. 40lbs of gear.
Jaina, it’s really impressive that you actually took the Firefighters test? Boris, did you have to do it? Did you do any real training with real firefighters to prepare?
Boris: OK look. (to Jaina) Why are you laughing? Are you just waiting for me to answer? Look some people don’t have to take the test. [LAUGHTER] No look I want to take the test at some point. I haven’t been able to take the test yet but just for scheduling reasons. But I’m looking forward to dragging some hoses through the mud or whatever we need to do. We have Brian who’s a retired captain who was here every day and he’s sort of my go-to guy because I play his position basically.
And he’s been very helpful and sort of enlightening me and telling me what needs to be done when and how, but I’m a stickler for details so at some point, I’m gonna do one of those boot camps. Why are you doubting me? In my last show, I did it too. I shadowed surgeons at Los Angeles County so I want to do the same thing here, definitely.
Stacy: You guys did do a bit of a boot camp though, to get used to putting turnout on and off and quickly so that everything feels fairly natural when you watch it.
Jaina: We did like a 2-day boot camp this season.
Did you volunteer with firefighters and see how that affects their lives?
Stacy: Yeah in fact, almost every story that we tell is inspired by something that we’ve heard from or heard about from a first responder. We have a lot of firefighter consultants and paramedic consultants both in the Los Angeles area and in Seattle because some of the specifics are regional and so we wanted to make sure we could be as authentic as possible. And again, because I always tell a story from a character’s point of view first, I always – when we’re talking to people – I always as the tough questions, like what was your toughest call? What’s the one you’ve never been able to forget? What’s your most inspiring call? What’s the one you can’t forget for an amazing reason?
So yes, all of these things are inspired by stories that we’ve been told and scenarios that we’ve been told and it’s really fascinating like we really want to try and honor the people that we’re representing. It’s important to us so we try to tap into some of the things that maybe as a layperson, like I don’t have first responders in my family so I might think, Oh, the thing you remember the most is the biggest fire but it’s usually not the case. It’s usually like the smallest fire that had the biggest effects because of the family that it was affecting or something. So to me, those pieces are story are more authentic and that’s our wheelhouse, that’s what I want to tell.
Have you had any difficulties either in developing your character or dealing with the costumes, some of the different kinds of stunts that you’re doing?
Boris: Honestly, surprisingly or not surprisingly, it’s been amazing and it’s all due to these two ladies and everybody else because they set the tone and it just trickles down, it’s contagious and everybody’s just upbeat and positive and we understand what we’re doing here. We’re not brain surgeons but so you have to put all this in perspective. We’re very lucky, we’re very blessed to be in this position, to tell these stories and to go play make-believe every day. So I never forget that so every time I step on the stage, I feel blessed, I cherish every moment despite her.
Have you talked to the writers about using German?
Boris: It’s a good question because in general, I think it’s important to tap into an actor’s tool box, to try to bring some of these things to life that are real and authentic because it helps the character and it helps us as actors because we can associate with so many things much better when there’s a real experience behind it.
We talked for hours and hours and language is definitely one of the things that [my character is] probably pretty good at and maybe we’ll find some other things that are personal that can be…
Stacy: For sure we will and that is important to me, to find the pieces of each actor that are unique that we can showcase and then sometimes embarrass them with…
I know you’re acting but you use real stories. Does it ever get emotional when you’re acting this out and you come to the end of the scene like do you ever choked up and is it like a real moment for you and how do you handle it?
Boris: Absolutely. I mean we, the writers as well as actors, you try to heighten the stakes as much as you can. Absolutely, we’ve been in situations that are similar and we’ve been in situations that we can associate with that apply to that moment and absolutely, that’s the goal. You want to feel it, you want to be authentic in that moment and sometimes you have to transport yourself back to when that happened. And it’s a challenge that not every actor embraces because it can be tough and painful and all of that because all of that stuff comes back up but I definitely look for it, absolutely.
Jaina: You have to have empathy I think because at some point in time, someone has gone through that same circumstance, that same situation and to kind of relive that experience, it’s terrifying but also invigorating in way…I enjoy that because our normal lives are just normal but when we have to play these characters and tell these stories, they are exciting and we get to transfer that.
A new episode airs tonight, so be sure to watch. You can catch new episodes on Thursdays at 9|8c on The ABC Television Network and catch up through streaming or on the app. I had so much fun on the set tour. We were able to walk through the houseboat and visit the fire station. Jaina Lee Ortiz and Boris Kodjoe were our tour guides. I enjoyed visiting with them about the show and learning more, as well as getting to know them.
The interview was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed getting to know these three more and learn more about the show. Be sure to watch the new episode, “Last Day On Earth” tonight. Just when Ryan agrees to talk it out with his dad, Greg Tanner makes an unexpected visit to Station 19, leaving Ryan and others confused. In an effort to connect with his crew, Captain Sullivan enlists the help of an unlikely source for some bonding tips on ABC’s “Station 19,” THURSDAY, NOV. 8 (9:01–10:00 p.m. EST), on The ABC Television Network, streaming and on demand.
Here are some more pictures from our BTS tour!
The show is great and packed with emotion, action, humor and everything else you want in a great series. If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to catch it tonight.
Watch this “Meet the Captain” featurette about Boris Kodjoe’s role as Captain Rober Sullivan:
“Station 19” follows a group of heroic Seattle firefighters as they put their lives and hearts on the line. The latest series from the executive producers of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder” takes us inside the tough, tight-knit and sometimes heartbreaking world of the city’s bravest first responders.
Season 2 of “Station 19” will return with answers to all of our burning questions. With a massive skyscraper fire raging, can Andy (Jaina Lee Ortiz) lead her team to safety? Will her former flame Jack (Grey Damon) and teammate Travis (Jay Hayden) survive after an explosion sends them both into jeopardy? And when the dust finally settles, who will win the race for the captain position at Station 19?
“Station 19” stars Jaina Lee Ortiz as Andy Herrera, Jason George as Ben Warren, Boris Kodjoe as Captain Robert Sullivan, Grey Damon as Jack Gibson, Barrett Doss as Victoria Hughes, Alberto Frezza as Ryan Tanner, Jay Hayden as Travis Montgomery, Okieriete Onaodowan as Dean Miller, Danielle Savre as Maya Bishop and Miguel Sandoval as Pruitt Herrera.
STATION 19 (airs Thursdays at 9|8c on ABC; also available streaming and on demand)
https://twitter.com/Station19 (#Station19 + #ABCTVEvent)