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The Truth About One Chicago's Background Actors

Going strong since 2012, NBC's One Chicago franchise chronicles the often turbulent lives — both on and off the clock — of the everyday heroes in the Windy City: police officers (Chicago P.D.), medical first responders (Chicago Med), and firefighters (Chicago Fire). Investigators and prosecutors had their own stint on Chicago Justice, but it was canceled after one season. Character crossovers between shows help the franchise's version of Chicago feel like as much like a living, breathing place as the actual city, but there's more to it than just clever writing. All of the situations that the various heroes encounter, whether it's a building set aflame, or someone in need of medical attention, seem so authentic you'd be forgiven for forgetting you're watching television. 

Much of that authenticity has to do with one simple fact: many of the background actors are real-life versions of the characters you know and love.

One Chicago strives for authenticity

Beloved fan favorite Tony Ferraris of Chicago Fire, who drives Rescue Squad 3's truck, is one such actor, essentially playing himself on the show. As the firefighter said in an interview with Wolf Entertainment, "I didn't know what to do, but everybody just told me to do what I normally do on the incidents and things like that." Acting has never come naturally to Ferraris — he still thinks it's tougher than actual firefighting, or is at least modest enough to say so — but he believes it's gotten easier with time.

Even easier for Ferraris is when the show's writers and producers bring him on as a consultant. Being someone with field experience, he's able to advise on some of the more technical aspects of the job. "They'll ask me things like, 'Hey, if you're forcing this door open, how would you do it?'" he stated in the same interview. Ferraris is equally happy to sprinkle in some firefighter lingo from time to time as well, livening up character dialogue in the realest way possible.

Steve Chikerotis, who portrays Chicago Fire's District Chief Steve Walker, is also a real firefighter, retired though he may be. Hired on as a technical advisor (though he has served as an occasional associate producer and even a writer on a few episodes), he ensures that the details of firefighting, on the show, are true to life. Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med have people who play similar acting/technical advising roles, which is only natural when NBC sends out casting calls to the real deal.

Learning from one another on One Chicago

Simply having actual professionals on set, to dole out wisdom, isn't enough to complete the picture, however. The actors and actresses of One Chicago also go through rigorous, ongoing training, to put the advice they get into practice before they're on camera. Chikerotis oversees much of the Chicago Fire training regiment, which includes using the powerful jaws of life tool to wrench open car doors, and simulating actual fires — smoke and all — for the thespians to navigate. Of course, firefighting is about more than just dousing flames: it's about the people behind the hoses and steering the trucks. That's why many of the actors and actresses hang out with firefighters off the set, and why Chikerotis insists on introducing "new recruits" to a wall covered with plaques of the fallen, reminding them that they're portraying not just people doing a job, but heroes.

Jesse Spencer — or, as Chicago Fire fans know him, Matt Casey — doesn't think it's a one-way street, though. Though only a passing comment in a news interview back when the show first aired, he made an interesting point: "They're teaching us about firefighting and ... we're teaching them a little bit about acting." In fact, it makes sense how firefighters could use acting skills to put on a brave face when saving someone from some great inferno. It's a dangerous job, so it's wonderful to hear that the firefighters get along with their onscreen counterparts.