“There’s Going to Be Chaos”: 9-1-1 Breakout Oliver Stark on Ryan Murphy’s Outrageous Procedural

TV Features 9-1-1
“There’s Going to Be Chaos”: 9-1-1 Breakout Oliver Stark on Ryan Murphy’s Outrageous Procedural

9-1-1 returned last week in all its outrageous, over-the-top glory. The Fox drama, now in its sophomore season, follows L.A.’s firefighters, police officers and emergency dispatchers as they encounter an onslaught of crazy crises. (Last week, it was a shark on the highway. They’ve also had a baby trapped in a wall and a head stuck in a tailpipe.)

British native Oliver Stark stars as Buck, the fire department’s newest recruit, who often likes to act first and think later. As the first two seasons have progressed, Stark has emerged as a fan favorite, and Buck has become much more than the firehouse stud. [Editor’s note: The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.]

Paste recently had the chance to talk to Stark about what’s coming up on the series, creating his alter ego, and just when Buck might get over Abby.

Paste: So what can viewers expect in this back half of the second season?

Oliver Stark: I think we’ve got eight very big episodes ahead. With only eight episodes to go, it was very important to make sure the story moved fast and moved in exciting ways. I feel like each episode really brings a lot of story with it, but also a lot of action and a lot of set pieces. Really, there was no holding back.

Paste: That’s saying a lot, because every episode of 9-1-1 is pretty intense and larger than life. The show is already at a level 10.

Stark: I think it’s just in a different way. We’ve already had big action set pieces and big emergency calls to go on. I feel like the personal drama is now also going to be at 10 for everybody’s lives. Wherever you look on the show, there’s going to be chaos. There’s going to be heartache. It’s just going to be an emotional end of the season.

Paste: Tell me a little bit about creating Buck. Because on paper, he could have been a TV character we’ve seen before: a good-looking guy who gets all the ladies. But he’s become much more than that.

Stark: I wouldn’t say I did any more than what was on the page. I think they wrote this part that was very much three-dimensional. He had this journey to go on. By starting him in the pilot episode in this place, it was a foundation, so we could move forward from it. It’s a real joy to get to play, because I honestly don’t feel like there are many characters where in one moment he gets to be the swashbuckling hero and then in the next he gets to be really sensitive and really vulnerable.

And I think that’s really important to show young people that you can be both at the same time. You can be confident and have a certain swagger and you can also be really emotional and cry and that’s all okay to be in one person. It’s really something of an honor to play this character.

Paste: Not to put too much on the show or on your character, but I think in our current cultural climate, a character like Buck is more important than ever.

Stark: The show is an action show in one sense, but to me that’s just the hook, that’s to get you to watch. Once you start watching, there’s a lot more at play. It’s a social commentary. Buck gets to be a character that’s the opposite of toxic masculinity, which is ripe in the culture that we live in.

Paste: 9-1-1 is this unique blend of over-the-top rescues combined with rather nuanced story telling.

Stark: There’s an episode coming up which I think is one of my favorite episodes we ever filmed. Episode 215. When I read it, I immediately texted [executive producer] Tim Minear and said, “What I love about this episode is I can’t imagine any other show doing this episode.”

Paste: How do you begin to relate to Buck?

Stark: For me, it’s the huge heart that he has. He’s always willing to put himself out there for other people. And he’s kind of guileless. He’s just a puppy dog. He is the puppy at the fire station. It’s been really lovely to try and get into that headspace, and actually I felt like the more I get to play Buck, he’s kind of sneaked back into me as a person. It’s this weird kind of symbiotic relationship, where I think the more I play him, the better a person Oliver becomes… It’s been really lovely to just grow together. I had just turned 26 when I got the part, so I’m still finding out who I am and forming who I am as an adult. It’s this weird thing where we’ve kind of been able to grow and go on this journey together.

Paste: Have you had a chance to see your real life counterparts in action?

Stark: Kenny Choi [who plays Chimney] and I we went on a ride-along. We spent six, seven hours at a fire station and went on all their calls with them, and then we’ve also done things where we’ve gone to fundraisers. Any chance that we can get to hang out with real firefighters, because you know there’s a technical side that is important to learn, but we also have great people around us on set to make sure we are doing that right. What is harder to capture is just the kind of mentality and the way that they are with each other. Any chance we get to hang out with them and observe, we take.

Paste: What did you learn from the firefighters?

Stark: For me, it’s the kind of lightness that they bring to everything they do even when it’s a really dark call or something has gone wrong. Once they get in that car, they kind of make light of it, and it’s not out of any disrespect. It’s because they see so much darkness that if they don’t try and bring some humor to it they would be crushed under it. I think it’s a very human reaction to make light of things because it makes it easier to deal with. For me, it’s that kind of jovialness that they always have… so they don’t go crazy.

Paste: The stunts on the series are outrageous. How much of them do you get to do?

Stark: My thing is, I always have my stunt double come in and then I try to get him to not work. And they’re very good at letting us do the majority of the stuff. We are quite an athletic cast in general, so we are able to, which I think is a big part of it—because it sells that it’s real. We do whatever we can. I would say the majority, a good 80, 90% of it. But we always have such a good stunt crew. They make it safe for us so that we’re never in any real danger. The work that goes into that behind the scenes, we as actors don’t get to see very much of it, but we do know that it’s there to make it as believable and real as possible and in a very safe manner.

Paste: Let’s talk about Abby [played by Connie Britton, who departed the series at the end of last season]. Buck has spent the majority of this season pining for Abby. I felt like someone needed to tell him that she’s now on a Bravo series. Will he get a new romantic interest before the season ends?

Stark: [Laughs] I think it was important to carry the Abby storyline on for as long as it went on even though she wasn’t there. She had such an impact on him. It would have felt weird to have just dropped that. I think it’s hard, especially at first, because viewers became really invested in that Buck and Abby relationship. They weren’t going to be willing, too quickly anyway, to accept another love interest. At the moment, there are little murmurs of something creeping in, but nothing concrete yet. We’ll see. We’re still shooting episode 16, so we have a couple episodes left this season.

Paste: Jennifer Love Hewitt joined the cast this season as Buck’s sister, Maggie. What has it been like working with her?

Stark: I think having that sibling dynamic really brought something new to the show, and working with her has been really lovely. I think she started when she was nine, so she’s a true professional. One of the things that really surprised me about her and has been really lovely to play opposite her is that she just doesn’t take herself at all seriously. She wants to have fun. She wants the work to feel light and enjoyable, and that’s been a real nice thing to get to be around.

Paste: How hard is it to get Buck’s American accent right?

Stark: It’s the third time I’ve done an American accent, so it’s becoming easier. And I’ve lived in America for three years, so it’s getting to the point where it’s maybe something of second nature. However, some days I just forget how to do it. There might be a phrase that I struggle with. All that means is that I’ll annoy everyone in my personal life because I’ll spend the two or three days before shooting just repeating it over and over again just to get my mouth used to it. But for the most part it’s kind of become second nature, because I don’t want to be thinking too much about it. I want to be thinking about what the scene is.

Paste: What was the audition process like?

Stark: I hadn’t worked in a year. I had been auditioning quite a lot, but I hadn’t been having any success, so I was getting to a point where I thought, “Maybe I’m not meant for this.” Then I auditioned for this, then I met with [executive producer] Ryan Murphy and Tim Minear. They were all really nice, and then about four days later and they called me up and said, “Listen, there’s no one else for the part. It’s yours.” When you get parts and they are right for you, the process always feels a lot smoother than the ones that you don’t get. The whole thing took six, seven days. I went from not having worked in a year to, “OK, great, I have this job starting in three weeks.”

9-1-1 airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Fox.

Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .

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