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The Real Reason Charlie Barnett Left Chicago Fire

Fans couldn't believe it when actor Charlie Barnett exited Chicago Fire in 2015 after just three seasons on the hit NBC series. He had starred on the show since it premiered in 2012, playing rookie firefighter Peter Mills, whose firefighter father was killed in the line of duty. At the time, viewers questioned whether Chicago Fire could ever fill the void left by Barnett's Mills.

Chicago Fire — part of the One Chicago franchise that also includes Chicago Med and Chicago P.D. all on the same night — rides along with the firefighters and paramedics who work at the Chicago Fire Department's fictional Firehouse 51. But the action-drama isn't just about saving lives; it's also about getting to intimately know each of the characters as if you were part of the squad.

For the three years Barnett starred on Chicago Fire, Mills proved to be a compassionate, determined, and skilled member of the team who was hoping to honor his late father, who was killed after he and Chief Boden (Eamonn Walker) rushed into a burning building against orders. During season 3, Mills decided to leave the firehouse to work at his family's restaurant in North Carolina. The revelation took fans by surprise.

While the departure left viewers bewildered and bereaved, behind the scenes there was a concrete explanation for Barnett's sudden exit. Here's the real reason Charlie Barnett left Chicago Fire.

Charlie Barnett was written off Chicago Fire to make room for new characters

The move to send Mills packing came as a surprise to both Chicago Fire fans and Barnett himself. In fact, soon after leaving the show, the actor told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that the news came completely out of left field.

"It was just a normal day of filming," recalled Barnett. "I hadn't heard anything about it and then [the writers and producers] pulled me into a room, sat me down and apologized. They expressed that it wasn't about me or myself as an actor or my personality ... But they felt that Peter had reached a plateau and the writers didn't know where to take him because he'd done so much already."

It wasn't just that Chicago Fire didn't know what to do with Mills, either. The decision to cut Barnett also had to do with the introduction of new characters to the show.

Chicago Fire executive producer Matt Olmstead told TV Guide at the time, "The hardest part of this job is when you feel it's the right time to make cast changes. [Losing Barnett] was solely based on bringing in new people for new stories. Otherwise it turns into a clown car. You have affection and admiration for [your cast], so you keep everybody, but it's at the detriment of being objective and making some tough calls in terms of storytelling. So, we wanted to shake things up and bring in a new character ... and here we are. It was an extremely tough decision to make, but we feel good about it."

Despite the surprising turn of events, Barnett doesn't hold a grudge when it comes to the decision.

"I was definitely stunned," he said. "I wasn't mad. I got so much from the show, the connections, the family we created. It is beyond special and will never go away. I learned so much about myself as an actor, about the business and what direction I want to go in, so it will always be a part of my backbone."

What Charlie Barnett has been up to since leaving Chicago Fire

Once the initial shock of being written off Chicago Fire subsided, Barnett turned his attention to exploring new acting opportunities — and he's been steadily working ever since leaving Peter Mills in the rearview mirror.

Barnett has mainly stuck to TV, appearing on several high-profile shows, beginning with a starring role on the second and final season of the ABC mystery series Secrets & Lies in 2016 — just one year after leaving Chicago Fire.

Barnett then starred on the short-lived CW military drama Valor before landing a role on the critically acclaimed Netflix series Russian Doll, which premiered in 2019. The Emmy-nominated series follows a party-goer named Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) who repeatedly dies and relives the same night over and over, leading her to find Barnett's character, Alan, in the same time-loop situation. The series was renewed for a second season but has no release date yet.

In addition to Russian Doll, Barnett appeared on several shows in 2019, including the 10-part Netflix miniseries Tales of the City and the streaming service's psychological thriller You, starring Penn Badgley, which has been renewed for a third season.

In 2020, Barnett portrayed John Diggle Jr., aka Deathstroke, on the CW series Arrow, which ended its run that same year after eight seasons. The guy's been pretty busy.

Will Charlie Barnett ever return to Chicago Fire?

So far, Barnett has not returned to Chicago Fire since leaving the show in 2015, and there are no current plans to see him again at Firehouse 51. That doesn't mean it can't happen in the future — especially since in 2020 NBC renewed the series for a ninth, tenth, and eleventh season. For what its worth, Barnett has said he'd welcome the chance to reprise his role with open arms.

Chicago Fire showrunner Derek Haas once told TVLine that he hoped to invite Barnett back one day, and Barnett admitted to TV Guide that he has had "discussions" about a potential return. "I would love to [return] but I haven't had the opportunity," he said. "There's a lot of things going on in the show so I don't know where they'd fit me in ... But I would absolutely be open to returning."

One way Barnett could wiggle back into the One Chicago franchise, he joked to TVLine, would be via a spin-off with Mills' on-screen crush Gabby Dawson, who was played by Monica Raymund before leaving the series in 2018 at the beginning of season 7.

"I've known Monica since I was 12 years old, strangely enough," said Barnett, "so she's more like a sister to me, even though we had to make out on TV. [Laughs] I love her to death and we have joked about building our own little Chicago spinoff, where Dawson and Mills find their way to Puerto Rico and start their own firehouse down there — Chicago Puerto Rico!"

All joking aside, Barnett is dead serious about a return to Chicago Fire some day, saying, "I would be more than happy to return. I love the show, it brought me everything I have. It was an incredible window in my career."