As Howard 'Chimney' Han, 9-1-1 star Kenneth Choi has been with the show for six seasons, but in season six episode 14 fans saw him sent back to the Academy after Captain Bobby Nash (Peter Krause) suggested Chim needed to get out of the rut he was in.
The push was a much-needed reality check for Chim, who remembers his own experience and skills can be helpful when teaching the new recruits - and it also allows him to reconnect with former probationary firefighter Ravi Panikkar (Anirudh Pisharody) and bring him back to the Station 118 as a full-fledged member of the team.
Chim finally came to a realization about his own strengths, was this something you'd been keen to delve into after six years?
I hadn't been calling for this specific experience but there's a part of me that has always wanted Chim to evolve. As an actor, you want to play many different colors and notes, and I always felt Chim was perpetually stuck in this ambiguous, ambivalent relationship with Maddie and at work.
But the writers are very bright and in real life you don't just get over your traumas, you have to identify and deal with the trauma, then you can move on.
When I read this episode, the first reaction I had when Bobby was sending Chim back to the Academy was literally, 'What the [expletive].' I didn't understand it. Then when I got to that point where he realized, 'Oh this is why Cap sent me here,' and it came full circle almost to that 'Chimney Begins' episode with all the trauma. I had no idea that this was something that was troubling Chim so it was also a wonderful 'A-ha!' moment for myself as an actor as well; it was a lovely thing to experience it as Chim was experiencing it.
Will we see Chim step further into the mentor role?
I hope so because I think that Chim did a great job with Ravi.
True fans of the show will know that saying, 'You've got to hand it off.' He also said it to the other recruits, and that comes from his experience with Eli Cobb, who initiated Chim into being a paramedic [in 'Chimney Begins'] so it was lovely to have that call back because what you learn from others you pass on.
Self doubt can be so crippling but Bobby saw this and of course, being the incredible Captain that he is, doesn't want to explain it to Chim. He wants Chimney to be able to walk through that fire himself.
Anirudh Pisharody is back in this episode, and he said working with you is like 'a masterclass'. Have you been giving him acting advice?
I'm laughing because he has become our official little brother and we love him dearly but we tend to give him a lot of guff. We take the [expletive] out of him and let me tell you, he takes it on the chin! We're doing what firefighters would do!
As for Ravi, now there's a bit of cockiness, some sexy swagger, there's sarcasm and sardonic humor that he's never had before and it actually fits. But psychologically, people who usually walk around acting a little bigger than themselves, as he does at the beginning of this episode, it's usually because there's an underlying insecurity.
When Chimney clocks that, he realizes something must be afoot, and I love the way that the writers wrote this entire arc for Ravi and Chimney.
Personally, it's not something [I do] giving acting advice, and because he said such a nice compliment, hopefully he's been absorbing. But we have a cast of incredible human beings, and incredible actors so I learn from them every day.
Are there other characters you'd like to see Chim interact with?
I would love to have more scenes with Mr Peter Krause because I love the man dearly. Working with him as an actor is a treat. He was one of the most exciting factors for me to join the show and we always get to do some fun stuff.
There was a Valentine's Day episode from season one where it was just Bobby and Chimney and I had such a wonderful time; he was messing with me within the scene and we kept ebbing and flowing with each other.
But I'd also love to work more with Ryan; Ryan Guzman has been doing some very detailed, very nuanced work this season, and especially in this episode. I think he was hilarious in the date scene. When he finds out from his Tia Pepa that she's sending him on a blind date, and then when he finds out that she was married previously for two years!
Every little thing he does, there is not only a reality to it, but he turns the dial to make it funny as well. The scene where he's supposed to give Bobby the evaluation and he kind of tries to get out of there as swiftly as possible? I was in stitches the entire time.
Are you given freedom as actors to bring little details into a scene or are there specific directions?
It's always how you interpret the text. The lines are written a certain way where you have to get from point A to point B but how you get there, you're free to move.
For Eddie in that moment, the way that Ryan backs out of the office and you see fear and trepidation but he does it in a way that you can laugh at. I think that's brilliant acting.
Ryan has this sort of natural talent and ability and when he really locks into it… I always tell him: 'You're a star.' He has the charisma, but he can be as goofy as anyone, and he is heroic and charming. He basically can fill every role.
Chim's relationship with Maddie has become such a staple of the show, how have you built your chemistry with Jennifer Love Hewitt?
I was a fan of hers before the show started, but I am such a big Jennifer fan now, getting to work opposite her. She has this ability where I can just learn my lines and come to set, then I just watch her and react because she brings so much heart to her character, so much pathos.
She has this emotional availability that is staggering so I can just bounce off of her.
You recently joined social media, have you been surprised by the love for Chim?
I am because when you don't have that feedback constantly, you just don't know. I had a sense that people liked him through my colleagues; every now and then Oliver [Stark] would say, 'Kenny, people really love you, they want you on social media, they want to interact, they think you're wonderful.'
So when I actually go on social media, it is lovely to experience that. But on the other hand, you always have to keep a distance from it. Anybody who's very successful and steps into the limelight and starts to believe their own press is in danger. You want to try to keep a modest level head and I'm someone who is rooted in midwest values, and my mother and father are always in the back of my head talking to me.
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