How “Chicago Fire” actor Daniel Kyri did “justice” to his character’s coming out story

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Having established himself on the Chicago theatrical scene in local productions of “Hamlet”, “Macbeth” and “Objects in the mirror” Daniel Kyri made a successful transition to episodic television, starring Darren Ritter, an openly gay black firefighter, in NBC’s hit procedural drama “Chicago Fire.”

It’s an experience Kyri, who identifies as queer and grew up on the South Side of Chicago, described as “a little piece of magic” in a recent interview.

“In a lot of ways, it really looks like this, because how often throughout history do people like us have the opportunity to tell our stories? he said. “Of course, my story isn’t exactly like Ritter’s, but … it’s so special to me. He holds a place of honor in my life, and I don’t think it will ever end until I will be blessed and able to breathe in this role.

In the summer of 2018, Kyri played the main character in a production of “Hamlet” – which was reinvented by a team of black artists – when he received an audition for a possible recurring role in the seventh season of “Chicago Fire”. With his busy schedule weighing heavily on him, he planned to take a break from his acting career to focus on writing, as he and his writing partner Bea Cordelia had just launched a web series (“The T”) on the relationship between a white trans woman and a black queer man in Chicago. But he still felt inclined to audition for his first TV role, even though he soon found out he was the only black man in the waiting room.

“To be frank, one of the things I remember the most was walking into a room and seeing a guy so different from mine among the other actors and saying to myself, ‘Oh, there’s no lucky I got that, “” Kyri said with a smile. “And quite interesting, it allowed me to play a little more and put all the work that I had done aside. I made a few adjustments as per the director’s instructions and found something even deeper. It was, no pun intended, straight into the fire after that.

Daniel Kyri in NBC’s “Chicago Fire”Lori Allen / NBC

While her arc was only supposed to last two to three episodes, Kyri began to reappear strongly in the firefighting drama for two seasons, appearing in a total of 36 episodes before being promoted to a series regular last August. During this time, he was able to work “organically and collaboratively” with the writers – who, he said, “are so good at finding such a pretty and well-balanced tone between comedy and drama, between everyday life and adrenaline. induce ”- to incorporate parts of their own identity and lived experience into their role of escape.

As the writers continued to write him into major storylines, Kyri found out that his character was going to turn gay at the start of the eighth season. After using his web series to explore the intersectionality of various identities, including his own as a queer black man, the actor immediately understood the seriousness of the plot and felt a certain level of responsibility for doing well. things.

“Because my web series looked like a kind of coming out, and then [with] this historic moment in the context of the ‘One Chicago’ world, for this black male character to become gay in this world of blue collar workers and first responders, I wanted to do him justice, more importantly, ”he said.

Daniel Kyri as Darren Ritter in “Chicago Fire” on NBC.Adrian S. Burrows Sr. / NBC

A Chicagorefers to NBC’s trio of procedural dramas set in Windy City: “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med,” and “Chicago PD.” NBC News and the NBC broadcast network share a parent company, Comcast NBCUniversal.

“Shifting these narratives – of the gay person, the black person, the Asian person, the female character – from the margins, from the margins, and making that the center of the narrative is very important,” Kyri added. “It gives anyone looking – whatever their age, whatever their background – an opportunity to see a possibility for themselves, a possibility of how they might move around the world, and I think it can inspire and empower a lot of people and encourage them. “

The fact that Ritter’s coming out scene – in which the novice firefighter told Lt. Christopher Herrmann (played by David Eigenberg) that he had a boyfriend, not a girlfriend – was a “non-event,” Kyri said, was the icing on the cake. High.

“And by a non-event, I meant it wasn’t supposed to be all this dramatized story about this character coming out with a backlash,” he explained. “All that extra stuff wasn’t there, and it ended up being a very simple and lovely moment. I think about it and I’m really, really proud of it, because I think this scene is so refreshing. It’s like a glass of cold water on a hot summer day.

Since then, Kyri has received many “heartwarming, encouraging and moving” messages from “people who have been touched by the moment and people who feel seen by it”. But as the actor tries not to let any comments sway his portrayal of Ritter, he said he would be remiss if he didn’t mention the backlash he received from some online users who “don’t want to see. two men kissing and all that.

“If I didn’t talk about it, it wouldn’t do a disservice to why it’s so important, because that kind of negative feedback that comes from a place of ignorance and fear, I think, needs to be addressed. at every turn, ”he said. noted. “It’s a growth opportunity for these people, that’s why I’m very proud to represent this and inhabit this story and this kind of representation, because I think it does work to move the needle forward. towards progress and move away from a more toxic and traditionalist worldview.

Since joining the show more than three years ago, Kyri has said that he has gained a growing appreciation for firefighters, who “exist, for me, in a very special sphere and not politics of my life, ”he said.

“If there is a fire, they rush in, they save people, they put out the fire, they do what they can, and then they go home. There is nothing more selfless than that, “he said.” The amount of preparation, the amount of attention to detail, the amount of awareness, that presence of mind that has to occur in the human brain in order to reconnect it so that you can go up in flames – this thing fascinates me endlessly, and it’s just cool and heroic.

Daniel Kyri in NBC’s “Chicago Fire”Adrian S. Burrows Sr. / NBC

For Kyri, who admitted that the process of “physically, mentally, emotionally figuring out how to do the job never stalls,” the perpetual opportunity to learn something new from real firefighters – including Anthony Ferraris, who plays him. – even in the series – was both “difficult” and “humble in the best way.”

“These are human beings who also have to leave things that are happening in their life at the fire station and take action, and even that is sometimes a Herculean effort, depending on what is going on in their life,” he said. Kyri said. “That’s also why I love our show, because we can explore what’s going on in the lives of these firefighters. It’s not just fires; these are not just incidents. It’s heroic and human, which in my opinion is so important because it makes our characters three-dimensional and full. “

As the series enters its historic 10th season, Kyri announced that fans would “see a little more on the romance front with Ritter” after her character rekindled a romance with a travel agent named Eric Woodruff (Curtis Edward Jackson) towards the end of last season. But he also looks forward to the development of close-knit friendships within Firehouse 51, including Ritter’s Beloved Bromance with Blake Gallo (Alberto Rosende)because these strong relationships have become the cornerstone of successful procedural dramas in the 21st century.

“Ritter has a few badass moments that I’m so excited for people to see. We had this streak of trains and a few other things last season, and I just think things are going to be bigger and so exciting,” he said. Kyri said. “It has been a joy to work and solve problems, and I am very happy that people are getting to know more sides and facets of the diamond that is Ritter.”

“Chicago Fire” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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