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Chicago Fire's Daniel Kyri Talks Favorite Moments And What It's Been Like Losing Jesse Spencer - Exclusive Interview

Daniel Kyri has made quite an impact on "Chicago Fire" since joining the cast in 2018 during Season 7. As an openly queer Black man — both on screen and off — Kyri has subtly helped move the needle toward a more inclusive TV world, one where viewers from all walks of life can see themselves represented onscreen at the fictional Firehouse 51. Beyond that, the young actor has helped breathe life into firefighter Darren Ritter, who brings dry humor, heart, and intuitive insight to the hit show, which returns to NBC tonight after a winter hiatus.

A relative newcomer to the acting world, Kyri can often be seen on "Chicago Fire" hanging with fellow young guns Alberto Rosende and Hanako Greensmith, who portray Blake Gallo and Violet Mikami, respectively. The gang of three repeatedly bring comic relief and youthful spirit to the show that follows the personal lives and professional perils of first responders in the Windy City.

It's a role that Kyri seems tailor-made to play, and one he was more than eager to talk about during an exclusive interview with Looper, where he dished on working with Taylor Kinney, reflected on the departure of longtime star Jesse Spencer, and gave some insight into what it's like walking in Ritter's shoes.

Daniel Kyri thinks Ritter wears 'his heart on his sleeve'

You have quickly become one of my favorite characters in the One Chicago franchise, possibly the favorite. Ritter's just so likable and dryly funny, always on point ... What makes him fun to play, and what's challenging about the role?

Wow, thank you ... It's kind of like the double-edged sword of Ritter. It's what I both love about him and also what represents the most challenge. I tend to say this often, but that's because it's true. Ritter is the kind of guy whose heart is on his sleeve and there is a sense of presence and vulnerability to the way in which he carries himself. Whether it's on the job, in the action, you see moments of him interacting with some of the victims on the show or some of the folks that they're rescuing and there's always a sense of humanity and connection for him. Even in the midst of the bigger job, which is "got to put the fire out, got to save the people, got to do all the things," he always has that moment of connection. That is because he's such a heart-on-the-sleeve kind of guy.

There's a challenge in that for me because, given what they do, given what firefighters see day in and day out when there are these rescues, it can get a bit difficult to protect self, or to even distinguish self from the job. That's a tight rope that Ritter has to walk. I really enjoy being able to play both sides of that.

Let's talk about the humor. It may not necessarily be a defense mechanism for the character, but that sort of dry humor is a way for him to cope with the harder, more difficult parts of the job.  I enjoy playing with that too. He is a totally aspirational character because I wish I was more like him in my real life. [Laughs.]

Life imitating art in Chicago

In real life, you're from Chicago and identify as queer. Do those two things make your role easier to slip in and out of, and how do your real-life experiences influence you or your character on set?

Yes and no. I think the easier part of it is the Chicago part of it all. There isn't a whole lot of extra coating that I have to put on the dialogue or anything like that because being from here, you get it. You get what neighborhoods that the incidents may be in. That gives me a lot of information being from here already, the makeup of the neighborhoods and the local cultural elements that sometimes do end up being featured. I know. That part is easy, but the ways in which I carry or embody my own queerness and that part of my identity is different than Ritter does. Slightly, but they do differ.

We go hand in hand. There's a Venn diagram, if you can imagine, and on one side there's me, the other side is the character and all the things that I'm still discovering about him, and in the middle is where we overlap. Even though there are certain markers for sure, the ways in which we carry and/or present ourselves in real life are totally different. My castmates will definitely tell you, "Oh, no, Daniel's like..." I'm a little more flamboyant. I'm a little more colorful in my real life. People who follow me on social media also might understand that's the truth, whereas I think Ritter tends to be a little bit more grounded. 

I've been doing this job since 2018, so there's this second skin that you can slip on with the character sometimes, depending on the situation. That does make it a little bit easier to step into his shoes.

He enjoys his character's subtle 'eye roll moments'

I've heard your relationship with onscreen buddy Gallo described as a "bromance." Do you view their friendship in that way?

Yeah, I totally do. [Laughs.] The two of them are really fun together and there are moments where they poke fun. I find the most joy and authenticity in representing their relationship in the moments that are, what I call, "the eye rolls" because fundamentally — apart from the job and the things that these characters have to carry within themselves in order to accomplish the job, those are things that they share in common — there isn't a whole lot of commonality between them, other than that firehouse-adjacent experience.

I feel Gallo has done quite a bit of aging up over the course of his time on the show. There's been a really great arc that's been like a slower burn, seeing him sort of mature in certain ways. Alberto does a freaking phenomenal job of this, but do I think that Ritter might be a little more emotionally mature than Gallo? I'm going to go with yes, and I'm sure Alberto will fight me on this later. It leads to these moments where Ritter watches Gallo do something or say something, and Ritter is over it. That's the eye roll moment. There's that line that's there of, "Yeah, we're friends, we're super cool, and I love this guy, but oh my gosh, he's ridiculous." That gives you the bromance element.

What's your real-life vibe with Alberto and Hanako? Do you guys hang out off set?

Alberto, Hanako, and I get along really well, and I'm so grateful for that. I think that my experience has been slightly different than theirs. Coming into the show, from day one, I've always felt really welcomed by everybody, and I know that they have as well, but the difference is, even as part of the younger cast on the show, I have a lot of established roots in the community, in Chicago, being from here that they didn't. 

They would come to me and be like, "We don't want to just work, we want to experience the city." Part of our connection has been me showing them what I call My Chicago, which is a blend of some of the touristy stuff, like an architecture tour or something like that. I also take them to one of my favorite spots, The Hideout, for a poetry slam night or a comedy show. I might take them to see some live music or whatever, to some of my favorite spots.

We've really bonded through me being able to show them my version of Chicago, the Chicago that I know and love. My relationship with them is really great, and it's growing. We are at the point where we're legit homies. It's not just the work connection, we've gone on a couple trips together and done stuff like that. It's a lot smoother. I have a lot less eye roll moments in our real relationship. [Laughs]

Taylor Kinney is 'goofy' on set

What's it like working with Taylor Kinney? Any funny or memorable moments with him?

Taylor is actually a bit of a jokester. I don't know if a lot of people know that about him because on the outside everybody's like, "Oh, sizzle, sizzle." He's the smolder guy or whatever. [Laughs.] I'm over here like, "Eh, no, not a thing." We have a lot of fun. He can be kind of goofy sometimes, which I actually really enjoy.

Taylor being who he is, super down to earth and ready to crack a joke, it's really dope. I'll be on set, running my lines or whatever, and we may have said "good morning" earlier in the trailers or wherever base camp is. Then, totally unsolicited, he'll come by out of nowhere and be like, "Hey D, look at this," and show me whatever epic fail video that he found on Instagram. We're laughing and he'll be like, "All right, nice to see you" and dip off and go to [craft services] and grab something or go shoot a scene. It does happen enough over the course of a season where I'm like, "This dude is so random." I really enjoy that about him.

What's it been like losing co-star Jesse Spencer as Captain Matt Casey, both personally and professionally?

That one's been a little difficult. The thing that I feel like a lot of people may forget, and I feel like I can attest to this ... one of the things that's always important to note is that, as much as we love doing this job and dedicating ourselves to the craft of storytelling and being a part of this show, we do all still have lives that are outside of our work life, as well. There are times when we might have to move on for whatever personal reason. That doesn't make it less difficult for those of us who are a part of what he helped build. Jesse is the consummate professional, but I think what's more valuable than that is that he was such a powerful and caring and intentional leader on our set. 

Yeah, I miss it. I miss having him around and I miss his antics. He's another one, he would whip out a ukulele or guitar and be fiddling around on it. I do miss that element of it too, but it's understandable. He's got stuff he's got to do, and you can't help but say, "I respect you and I wish you well and all the best and we're really going to miss you." That's what's true. It's been an adjustment for everybody, cast and crew alike. He's got big, big shoes.

Bringing back some classics

Hopefully they left the door open for him to come back, which leads me to my next question. It may be him or may be somebody else, but if you could see any past character return to the show, who would it be? Whether you've worked with them before or not.

Well, I've gotten to meet Monica Raymund, who played Dawson, and that was really dope and really lovely. It would be great to have Jesse back, obviously for so many reasons. I would really enjoy having someone like Charlie Barnett back, as Peter Mills, or have him pop in and do a thing and say "hi." I've met him a few times in real life, but I've never gotten the chance to work with him, and I am really a fan of his work. I've been following his career, "Chicago Fire" and beyond, and I think that he's an incredible artist. All the times that I've met him, he's a really warm, sweet guy. Having the opportunity to work with him would be pretty badass, so that would be my vote.

Ritter seems like a pretty open book, but what's one thing about him that fans would be surprised to learn?

I don't know. They have written him in a pretty open way. Maybe this won't be too much of a surprise, but it's always something that I try to remember and incorporate about him. We can sense that Darren Ritter has a great sense of intuition about people and about what they might be going through, and that is because he is a person who has encountered mental health crises in the past, personally, like with his deceased uncle. That actually has a bigger bearing on how he moves through the world than we might be able to pick up on the surface, so, maybe it's not the world's most surprising thing, but it is something that I think is always sort of present.

He thrives on the 'adrenaline' it takes to shoot action scenes

There's a script that just came out, and I obviously can't tell you anything about it, but there is a moment where, as an actor, I look at what's happening and how he's picking up something about someone and sometimes I'm like, "Wait, where is that coming from?" And it's like, "Oh yeah, he has that thing," because as a person who's also been close to people who deal with mental health issues, once you see the signs, you can't unsee them. He has a really great sense of empathy, a kind of intuition when it comes to something that someone else might be going through. That's a huge part of how he operates within the firehouse and beyond. So, [that's] a little tidbit, a little insight into the interior of the character.

What would be your dream scenario on "Chicago Fire"? Where do you hope to see Ritter go in terms of storyline?

I would love to see Ritter in more of some action moments. Selfish, right? I've done a lot of the incidents and all of that, but in the past there's been a few standouts for me that I got to perform and work on, and there's no feeling quite like it. I remember in one instance, the train rescue, the amount of adrenaline that I had to mitigate that day of shooting was incredible. It was so much fun, and it required so much focus and so much energy and all of it, but I really did enjoy it. 

Having him do or be in a scenario where he can be at the helm of some of that action a little bit more is always something that gets me excited. Whenever the writers send something down the pipeline like that, I'm over the moon, I'm thrilled, because it does get to show that heroic side of Ritter, which we all know that he carries. I love it.

Season 10 of "Chicago Fire" returns to NBC tonight, February 23, at 9:00 PM ET, with new episodes airing every Wednesday.