Denis Leary may be done with “Rescue Me,” but he learned pretty quickly that the impact of the series will likely never be done with him.
After seven seasons as star, co-creator, executive producer and writer of FX’s tragicomic series focusing on New York firefighters grappling with life in the aftermath of 9/11, Leary’s first indication on the lingering impact of the series came during filming a climactic scene in the final episode (which airs tonight).
“I was trying not to cry because there were about 350 firemen on set that day,” Leary tells PopcornBiz.“We were shooting in a church. Peter [Tolan, who co-created and executive produced the series with Leary] and I had to do a speech because we had to thank the crew and everybody for working on the show, so we wanted to be funny and we had to keep shooting that day. So we tried not to cry, but the girls were breaking down, and a couple of the firefighters – who are very big, tough guys – started to get teary-eyed and we were like ‘Uh oh, this is going to get bad real soon.’”
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“It wasn’t until we were editing for a long time and had to do a brief re-shoot that we really started to think that you’re not going to see these people again, at least not on a daily basis,” he continues, “so it made it a little difficult. But it’s better than doing nine seasons and having everybody say ‘What the f*ck did you do those two extra seasons for?’ That’s what I always think.”
Leary says he’s grateful for such a lengthy run on a series that allowed him to flex just about every creative muscle he has. “It’s very hard to imagine,” he explains. “I got to do action, comedy and drama, which is unheard of, all at one time, and with a group of people that I really loved going to work with – the cast and the crew. I would hate to put that weight onto anybody else’s project because I don’t think it will ever happen again. It was great. It was in New York. Peter is my favorite guy to write with. [Co-star] John Scurti is one of my oldest friends. A lot of the guest stars that came on were old friends of mine that I’d always wanted to work with. You don’t really get that opportunity.”
“It made me a better actor, a better writer and a better producer, just by virtue of how much work it was and the nature of it,” Leary adds. “I don’t know if it made me a better person. I’m still pretty self-centered, greedy and angry. It didn’t save me, but it taught me quite a bit.”
Beyond the personal impact “Rescue Me” had on him, Leary says believes the series also left a mark on it’s audience. “I would hope the thing that it changed was people’s perception of firefighters in general, but specifically the FDNY,” he says. “I think people are really aware of what those guys do, and are aware of the fact that, in any given circumstance, as first responders, they’re actually on site before the military is, in terms of defending our country. For the firefighters I know in New York, the thing they hope for most out of this 10th anniversary [of 9/11] is to remember the 343 guys from that day, but also to just remind people of who they are and what they do because people do tend to forget.”
The final episode of "Rescue Me" airs tonight at 10 PM ET on FX