Tuesday, April 16

‘9-1-1′ Stars Arielle Kebbel And Oliver Stark Dish On Their Characters’ Budding Relationship

For five seasons, 9-1-1 viewers have seen Los Angeles firefighter Evan “Buck” Buckley, go through some changes: from borderline sex addict to one-woman man, for example. But recklessness in pursuit of a save has remained a signal characteristic for Buck (played by Oliver Stark). Obviously, all of Buck’s firefighter colleagues are also brave and have faced danger in the course of doing their jobs, but if someone needs to volunteer to risk his life, or ignore direct instructions from superiors on the scene, that someone is going to be Buck, rescuing a stranger now and accepting disciplinary consequences for it later.

Buck has been, hands down, the most hardcore firefighter 9-1-1 viewers have ever seen…until now? In this week’s midseason premiere, firefighters from the 147 joined Buck and the 118 to extract a family from a truck rigged to explode; while Buck takes barely a moment of hesitation before leaping from the firetruck to the bed of the truck with the bomb in it, another firefighter beats him to it: the 147’s Lucy Donato, played by Arielle Kebbel. Later, Buck and Lucy are the last two left at a bar after a firehouse hang, and though Buck is happily coupled with Taylor (Megan West), there’s just something about Lucy he can’t resist. Maybe opposites don’t always attract!

By the end of the episode, Lucy has come on as the newest addition to the squad at the 118, so last week I talked to both Arielle Kebbel and Oliver Stark about everyone who makes 9-1-1‘s incredible rescue sequences happen, what their characters’ romantic future might be, and whether they’re thrill seekers offscreen, too.

DECIDER: Arielle, how did this role come to you?

Arielle Kebbel: I read the script last November, and as I was turning each page, I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is like Speed. Oh my gosh, I love this.” Speed was one of my favorite movies growing up, so immediately, I was hooked. I’ve been aware of this show — I had no idea how passionate the fan base was — but I was very excited to come play in the 9-1-1 world. I thought it was such a fun way to introduce my character, Lucy — not only to the show, but to bring her into the 118. And I love playing characters where there’s stunt work involved, and there’s so many big action sequences: jumping off the fire truck, jumping on the truck, all the things we had to do in the desert on night shoots. I just really loved that.

With this character, there was going to be a lot of opportunity for action, but also a lot of opportunity for humor. And I think that’s really important in these shows: those are the moments, when you have a break from the drama, that you get to kind of fall in love with these characters, through those funny one-liners.

I assume this is the first time you’ve played a character who’s introduced in the middle of an intense action scene. How did you prepare for that?

AK: Well, it’s funny. In the past, I’ve played an assassin on one TV show [Midnight, Texas], and I’ve played a a cop-turned-detective in another TV show [Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt For The Bone Collector]. So I thought I had a pretty good foundation. And then I actually realized, once I got on set, that this is by far the most high-energy, action-packed show I’ve ever been a part of. I thought I was prepared, and I realized that you can never be too prepared. Oliver can tell you, and he has really helped me. With the gear that you have to wear as a firefighter, and then add that to the stunts and the scheduling, I’ve learned there’s really no amount of preparing you can do. You just kind of throw yourself into the fire, as they say, ha ha.

Photo: Fox

Oliver, you have experience onboarding people into these action scenes, since you do this all the time. How is that process for you, bringing in a new person?

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Oliver Stark: I really love it. One of the most rewarding parts of it for me is to watch the newer people, whether it be Arielle or Anirudh [Pisharody, who plays Ravi] or Bryce [Durfee, who plays Jonah/”Monday”], who is also new to the show. I get to watch them grow into it. Take 1, there might be a sense of them finding their way into it. And then by Take 3 or 4, you get this feeling where they’re like, “All right. I want go again. I want to hit it harder.” So it’s really cool for me to get to see that: it’s growth happening right in front of my eyes. You’re right in saying that I have been through it a few times on the show, so I try to offer some guidance and steer people if I can. But more than anything for me, it’s just about encouragement: “Trust me. I know it’s scary. Once you do it, you’re going to say, ‘Can we do it again?’ because it’s going to be really fun.”

AK: That is one hundred percent true. Oliver was there at the end of our night shoot. It was, like, 5 or 6 in the morning. It was the first time I had to jump off of a truck onto another truck, and I was scared. He was right there talking me through it and cheering me on. And after we wrapped, I realized that it makes the stunt that much more meaningful when you have the cast support and collaboration. I think that also translates into the episodes: the more support you get behind the scenes, it just fills the moments on screen. I have been very thankful for Oliver’s support and behind-the-scenes guidance.

OS: She’s crushing it.

Oliver, have you worked with the same stunt double throughout the run of the show?

OS: Yeah, unfortunately, because I don’t really like him. No, he’s one of my best friends. In the pilot, the stunt coordinator comes up to me — a coordinator called Mark Maslow — and he kind of sizes me up and was like, “Yeah, I think I got a guy.” So they bring in this guy, Skyler Millicano, and we’ve built a really strong rapport over the seasons. He knows that when it comes down to it, I’m usually going to want to do it. So the way it tends to work is, they’ll set it up with him and he’ll probably run it five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten times and make sure that it’s safe. And then he’ll be like, “This bit’s a little bit sticky.” “Watch your hands when you’re grabbing onto this.” He is great at getting in there and prepping it and making sure that I can look as cool as I like to think I will once it comes to it. And then, funnily enough, I actually bought a house like five minutes down the road from him. So he would come over and work out at my gym and our bonds just kind of grew over the years. So yeah, I kind of feel like I’m stuck with him at this point.

Photo: Fox

Seeing those kinds of relationships must make you feel that much safer as a new person on the set, Arielle.

AK: Absolutely. It is the most safe set I feel like I’ve ever walked onto. Set safety is so important to me. I feel very lucky: Shauna Duggins, who is their stunt coordinator, also directed this episode. So I felt like it was a double win for me: I was getting to walk onto this new job with a female director who I felt had my back, not only with the acting, but also when it came to all the stunts, because she’s going to know the best camera angles and the best way to shoot it for a woman to look like a badass. And then, also, Jessie Graff was my stunt double. She’s, like, the original American Ninja Warrior winner, so I completely nerded out in front of her. I’m learning a lot from both of them and I feel really, really fortunate to be surrounded not only by such a supportive cast, but also such a truly professional stunt team.

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OS: In terms of her coming onto the show — I don’t know if this is how you felt, Arielle — but I feel like it could be a thing that’s perhaps somewhat intimidating. We’re a very tight-knit group and we always try to be welcoming, of course, but I can imagine that there’s a kind of new-kid-at-school feel. From our point of view, it never for a second felt like that. Arielle immediately felt like one of the gang and there was never a step missed. She fit right in with us. I think we all got really lucky in that sense.

AK: Aw! I’m blushing!

OS: Yeah, I take it back.

Photo: Fox

The action scene is one thing, but you two also have a make-out scene. How do you prepare for that?

AK: I mean, that’s for sure the worst part of the job.

OS: I gotta go. Bye!

AK: No. Well, first of all, that was my first day of filming. I was on set at 5:00 AM. And my first scene was with the 118, celebrating after our big rescue. So that was definitely intimidating, but in a great way, because I felt like, “Oh, I can use those nerves because, Lucy would be feeling that too. She feels great hanging out with them, but it’s still a bit new.” And then we went straight into the make-out scene. Again, Oliver was so wonderful that first day. I think we met in the makeup trailer, and he introduced himself and introduced me around, so immediately I felt welcomed in a way that I wasn’t sure I was going to. Season 5 of a show, you really don’t know what you’re walking into in terms of set politics or dynamics. But to immediately feel so welcomed, and by him especially — that helped make things a little bit more normal so that hours later when we were kissing, it was fine.

OS: Being an actor is really weird.

AK: Yeah. But, also — I mean, Oliver, tell me what you think. There was salt all over our faces. Our characters were drinking. I feel like there was this funny stuff that happened throughout the day that just kind of makes things less awkward.

OS: One hundred percent. Yeah. I think this is a thing that happens: when you spend a day and you start at 6:00 AM, pretending you’re at a bar getting drunk, there’s some kind of placebo effect where you kind of do take that on a little bit and you do get overly silly and find things funny that shouldn’t be funny. And, I feel like there was a real kind of chemistry built even in the early hours of that morning, so by the time we got to that scene, we were good to go.

Lucy and Buck obviously have a lot in common. They are attracted to each other, but could a relationship between two impulsive hotheads like this really work?

AK: I turn that right over to you, Oliver.

OS: Thanks so much. I don’t know. From my point of view — and listen, we don’t really know as of yet where the story is going, to be honest with you — but there is certainly something that I enjoy when I think about the characters’ relationship. Lucy has kind of reawakened Buck and brought him to life in a way that kind of was left to fall dormant — not necessarily his kind of crazy playboy side that we used to see in Season 1, but just an aliveness and a wild side that can be beneficial. I don’t think Buck is looking to immediately get into any kind of relationship with anybody new or anything like that. But I do think he’s certainly going to enjoy and benefit from having Lucy around him.

The show has been off since December. Of course it has to return with an extremely gnarly save. Does the show still manage to shock you, Oliver, five seasons in?

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OS: I think the thing that shocks me about it is, oftentimes I’ll read something in the scripts and I’m like, “Man, we’re not going to be able to pull that off.” And then you turn up on set and there is a man and his kneecaps are hanging out and it looks totally convincing. That’s the aspect that shocks me more — just the relentless pursuit of “No, no, no, we are going to do this for real. This is going to be practical, at least to some degree.” We are really there and there are really two kneecaps poking out of this man’s legs.

That was one of the few times I’ve had to turn away from the screen. It was brutal. So: well done!

OS: It was. There’s something really cool about that: we open with that. No waiting, no hanging about. No “Let’s get to know these new people.” No. Bam: kneecaps in your face. We’re back. I think that’s a really bold choice. And I think that’s what makes good television.

The ATX Festival will be back with in-person panels this summer, and Arielle, you’re a member of the festival’s advisory board. How did you get involved?

AK: I have been involved since its pre-birth. [Co-founder] Caitlin [McFarland] and I met on John Tucker Must Die and we kept in touch. I just always believed in her as a businesswoman and as a friend, and she came to me with this ATX Festival idea. At the time there was nothing like it, and I just was such a big fan. Here we are 10 years later! I’m so proud of both Caitlin and [co-founder] Emily [Gipson]. I do whatever I can to support it. And I’m very, very, very excited and grateful that, after these two tough years, we are back to doing an in-person festival, in-person panels. I know everybody needs human connection so bad.

The reason people love television is because we’re in your homes once a week. There’s something that feels very familiar about sitting down once a week and watching a show that you get to know almost like family members. So I think that’s part of what makes the festival so special: the people going are really, truly fans of the work that goes into TV, on both sides of the camera. I mean, I would love for 9-1-1 to be there, but wink wink wink. I don’t know. We shall see. It’s a great time. And it’s one of the few festivals where there’s not a hierarchy. Everyone really just hangs out and it’s good Austin vibes. I can’t wait to get back.

One last question. When you’re not jumping off trucks on set, what’s the most high-adrenaline activity you engage in?

AK: I’ve been a hunter jumper since I was a child. So my happy place, both physically as a workout and also emotionally, is riding and jumping horses. It’s pretty dangerous, but I love it.

OS: That’s so crazy, I was going to say the exact same thing! To be honest with you, when I’m away from set, my adrenaline goes in the opposite direction: nice and low. I like a slow uphill walk with a dog on my side or a little bit of gardening. I get my adrenaline thrill when I’m at work, and the rest of the time, I’m my either asleep or doing something that doesn’t involve moving too fast.

Television Without Pity, Fametracker, and Previously.TV co-founder Tara Ariano has had bylines in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Vulture, Slate, Salon, Mel Magazine, Collider, and The Awl, among others. She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great, Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place), Listen To Sassy, and The Sweet Smell Of Succession. She’s also the co-author, with Sarah D. Bunting, of A Very Special 90210 Book: 93 Absolutely Essential Episodes From TV’s Most Notorious Zip Code (Abrams 2020). She lives in Austin.


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