Five years after Rescue Me ended its seven-season run on FX, the firefighter drama had a reunion Friday at the ATX Festival in Austin, and it was as foul-mouthed as the show tended to be.
“Aaron Sorkin can kiss my balls,” co-creator Peter Tolan said almost right off the bat in reference to the fact that he, co-creator/star Denis Leary and executive producer Evan Reilly wrote a vast majority of the show’s 93 episodes. Right on cue Leary quipped: “You know what? Aaron Sorkin has kissed my balls.”
Such was the kind of banter between the cast and crew of a show that always walked the fine line between humor and drama. The show takes place post-9/11 and deals with the effects the terrorist attacks took on the surviving firefighters of FDNY and their families.
“This was really about not forgetting the first responders who died that day and their families and anyone else who was touched by that tragedy,” Tolan said.
Leary said the idea for the show originally came from an idea for a film. His cousin and friend both became firefighters at the same time. “So I had these two firefighters and their crews in my life and my cousin was killed with these other firefighters in a terrible fire in Massachusetts in 1999 and that was in me,” said Leary, who played FDNY veteran Tommy Gavin. “I’d been through that experience, and I was going to write a movie about that.”
He explained that after 9/11, his friend’s crew all came out alive. “At that time they were all hanging around us, and that’s when [Tolan] said to me, ‘You know what? We shouldn’t be thinking about it as a movie — we should be thinking about it as something that deals with a crew of guys after 9/11,” because we were watching [my friend] and those guys go through that.’”
Holding nothing back, Leary added: “Some guys were drinking their way through it, some guys were f*cking their way through it. Some guys were falling apart. Some guys were resigning and getting out of being an active firefighter.” He said it was ultimately Tolan’s idea to do the show, adding, “He said, ‘This is f*cking interesting if we do these guys every week.’”
Despite the often provocative nature of the show, the actors who were present all praised the environment on set, which they felt was fun and secure. Asked if there was anything she was asked to do on the show that she felt she couldn’t do, Callie Thorne — who portrayed 9/11 widow and Tommy’s flame Sheila Keefe — said, “It was more about if I feared something, I knew that if I came to you guys and said I can’t do something — this was very important I think — that there would be a discussion, and you guys treated us as peers.”
Tatum O’Neal, who played Tommy’s sister Maggie Gavin on the show, seconded these sentiments. “I was terrified too, but you get to set [with] Denis and Peter and Evan Reilly, you just fall into their arms of security, love and you know the talent is so big that you can rise to that occasion,” she said. “It was the best experience of my life working in film and TV.”
The panel also featured castmembers Andrea Roth (Janet Gavin), Michael Lombardi (Mike Silletti), Larenz Tate (Bart Johnston aka Black Shawn), James McCaffrey (Jimmy Keefe), Lenny Clarke (Uncle Teddy), Adam Ferrara (Chief “Needles” Nelson) and John Scurti (Lt. Ken Shea).