Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Transformation Of Nick Gehlfuss From Childhood To Chicago Med

Since 2015, stage and television actor Nick Gehlfuss has been portraying Dr. Will Halstead across Dick Wolf's successful "One Chicago" franchise. A lead character in "Chicago Med," the attending physician in emergency medicine has also appeared in 20 episodes of "Chicago Fire" and 17 episodes of "Chicago P.D." (via IMDb). Before landing his break through the supporting role, Gehlfuss nabbed multiple-episode arcs in "The Newsroom," "Shameless," "Murder in the First," and "Longmire," to say nothing of his impressive stage and off-Broadway credits. 

It's easy to forget that the actors behind the characters with whom we grow so familiar over the years don't simply "appear" on our television screens one day after being cast in a given role. For most young actors, the road to even a single-episode appearance in a primetime series is paved with potholes, rejection, disappointment, and a determination that grows increasingly difficult to maintain with each passing opportunity. This is as true for Gehlfuss as it is for any actor, but as a deep dive into the star's journey reveals, his willingness to fail, and desire to put himself out there anyway, played a major role in his eventual success.

As a kid, Nick Gehlfuss was anything but shy

Even as a child, it seems the "Chicago" franchise actor was destined for stardom. As he told The Detroit News in a 2015 interview, "I was not shy. As a child I would go up to anybody ... I guess I just wanted to connect." It's the search for and embrace of that connection that drives his passion for acting. "It forced me to connect," he said of his craft, adding that "in a world with technology and a lot of stuff going on, it re-affirms the power of connecting with someone." 

Gehlfuss never had "a core-group of friends," he revealed, and was happier "[jumping] around to all different types of cliques," even in college, where he "wasn't in a fraternity or anything." The former "Shameless" star was born and raised in and around Cleveland, Ohio, and didn't move to New York to pursue acting until after he'd earned both a BFA in theatre and an MFA in acting. The star studied theatre at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio, where, as he told WTAP, his "appreciation for acting ... became very serious," in part thanks to "the type of one-on-one" attention and instruction the smaller school was able to provide. 

In 2010, Gehlfuss  graduated from the Master of Fine Arts in Acting program at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, an experience to which he owes much. As he revealed in an interview with his alma mater, his instructors there "were always willing and available to dissect the work and help deepen my understanding of it." Over time, Gehlfuss says he "went from being afraid to fail, to expecting to fail," an approach that now "informs everything" he does (via UMKC).

For Gehlfuss, the path to stardom started with Shakespeare

Following his time at UMKC, Gehlfuss made the obligatory big move to the Big Apple, where, in 2012, he made his NYC theatre debut playing the lovestruck Lysander in the Classic Stage Company's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." In his review of the production, Charles Isherwood called Gehlfuss' and costar Jordan Dean's (Demetrius) performances "memorable for the ferocious zeal with which they assail each other when both find themselves smitten with the formerly scorned Helena" (via The New York Times). The production starred veteran film and television actors Christina Ricci and Bebe Neuwirth and earned the fledgling actor the $3500 Rosemarie Tichler Fund grant (via Broadway World).

Though Gehlfuss had (some) money in his pocket and went on to star alongside Amber Tamblyn and Shawn Hatosy (of "Animal Kingdom") in the L.A.-based Geffen Playhouse's 2014 production of "Reasons to be Pretty," a successful off-broadway career doesn't necessarily translate to an influx of finances. To make ends meet while establishing himself as a stage actor, Gehlfuss turned to his musical skills, which, as fans will recall, were on full display in Season 2, Episode 8 of "Chicago Med."

Gehlfuss relied on his guitar and before landing roles in television

As Gehlfuss told The Detroit News, his early days in New York were all about pasta, pubs, and pinching pennies. "This Italian restaurant," he shared, "had $1.75 spaghetti on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I went there for dinner." The other four days of the week, the future primetime veteran opted for Irish instead: "Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday," he says, "I played my guitar and sang for money at two Irish pubs and a couple restaurants. And they secured meals for me there. So I had all my dinners." Despite having to literally sing for his supper, Gehlfuss looks back on the most uncertain time in his career with nostalgia. "The romance and struggle you find in all that," he told the outlet is part of why "most people say that was the most exciting time in their lives." 

The actor would later tell Starry Mag that (eventually) nabbing the role of Dr. Will Halstead marked a major transition for him. "This is the first time that I, as an actor, have been able to lay roots," he said, before revealing how the show changed his life. "It's the first time in my career that I've had a consistent job on this level," he explained, adding "when I got the call for this show I was building furniture and delivering it in Los Angeles." Whether he was playing guitar in Irish pubs or acting as a one-man IKEA, prior to his time in the Dick Wolf franchise, Gehlfuss had always had a side job. Being cast as the good doctor not only allowed him to leave that behind, it also created opportunities for the actor to volunteer for a variety of nonprofits. 

Chicago Med brought Gehlfuss back home

Not having to hold down a demanding side gig meant the actor could pursue other passions, including those that allowed him to help better his community. "I'm a part of Big Brothers/Big Sisters here in Chicago," Gehlfuss told Starry Mag, "and I mentor a boy named Mekhi." In addition to his work with the more than 100-year-old charity (via BBBS), the fictional doctor has participated in the Wounded Warrior Project's Soldier Ride for many years. The annual Soldier Ride is a three-day bicycle and riding event that seeks to help veterans build "confidence and strength through shared physical activities and bonds of service," and it "empowers warriors to find solace, healing, and strength through movement" (via WWP). 

The freedom and time to be a part of his newfound community is important to the born and bred Midwesterner, who says that while Chicago was never a part of his career plan, "it's been a wonderful place to be." His wife Lilian Matsuda was "able to go to school (in Chicago) and get her degree in Public Health and Policy," he told Starry Mag, and the ability to drive home to Ohio to see his family doesn't hurt either. Though Gehlfuss only plays a doctor on TV, two members of his own family — his mother and sister — are in the medical field. "Now," he joked, "I'm accepted into the family."

Gehlfuss' wedding was a surprise to many

Further growing his own family, his May 2016 marriage to Matsuda came as a surprise to his castmates, but as People magazine reports, the fact that his Ohio wedding was kept largely under wraps until after the fact had less to do with secrecy and more to do with logistics. 

"I wanted to invite a lot of my cast mates," the actor explained at the PEOPLE & Entertainment Weekly's Upfronts Party, "but, because we're a franchise, I would have had to invite the entire 'Chicago' franchise. I started on 'P.D.' and I went to 'Fire,' and now with 'Justice,' it would have been crazy." Gehlfuss posted photos from the wedding on his Instagram, and was perfectly happy to share details about the celebration. "It rained that day in the morning," he revealed, "which is good luck. And then it was perfect after that. And it was on Friday the 13th, and the next day it dropped twenty degrees and then Sunday, blizzard, snowing on the way here." 

Thus far, the happy couple's good luck appears to be holding. While Matsuda landed "a fantastic job" in Chicago (via Starry Mag), Gehlfuss' IMDb page reveals he's slated to star alongside Diane Kruger, Nick Offerman, and Susan Sarandon in David DuBos' upcoming biopic — about "A Confederacy of Dunces" author John Kennedy Toole — "Butterfly in the Typewriter."