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Rob Lowe on fighting fires on 9-1-1: Lone Star: 'It’s just a really good, romp adventure'

Ruth Kinane

Things are heating up down in Texas!

The 9-1-1 spin-off, 9-1-1: Lone Star kicks off on Sunday night and  Rob Lowe‘s firefighter Owen Strand is in for quite a ride as he adjusts to life in Austin, having left behind a long-held position at a New York City firehouse. The new emergency-services Fox drama sees Owen and his son, and fellow firefighter T.K. (Ronen Rubenstein), head down south after T.K. goes through a tense moment that scares his dad into believing they need a fresh start.

Since the Austin firehouse has recently suffered the loss of most of its staff in a devastating fire, Owen is enlisted to put together a new crew while settling into quite a different way of life in Texas. Luckily, there are some friendly faces in the vicinity to welcome the Strands to town including Liv Tyler‘s chief paramedic, Michelle, and soon enough they’re line dancing down at the local bar and, of course, dealing with some crazy-intense emergencies.

Forty years after he made his television debut, Lowe’s career is still on fire. We talked to the 55-year-old actor about starring as a first responder on the new drama.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What excited you about this series?
ROB LOWE: Ryan Murphy wrote Nip/Tuck for me and my agents never gave it to me. How about them apples? [Laughs] I had lunch with him and told him how much I loved Nip/Tuck and he was horrified as well [that it didn’t work out]. It’s one of the great Hollywood stories! For 15 years, we’ve been trying to find something [to do] together, but I’ve always been unavailable for the most part. I’m a big fan of what he, Brad [Falchuk], and Tim [Minear] did with the genre. I love action; I love a good procedural, but that kind of special sauce they throw on it makes it not only really interesting to watch but really, really interesting as an actor. In any given episode, I’m playing comedy, I’m playing a leading man, I’m playing action, and I’m playing really raw emotion. You just don’t get many opportunities as an actor to go to the kind of places that you can in Ryan, Tim, and Brad’s shows.

Tell us about your character, Owen, a New York firefighter who moves to Austin.
Ryan’s original pitch to me was, “He’s an athletic, adventurous, rugged, brave firefighter who cares very deeply about skincare.” That was the pitch! Like I said, I’ve known Ryan forever, and Brad and I are very close friends — his wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, is the godmother to one of my sons — so they know me too well at this point. I will get entire scenes and I’m just going, “Oh my God, he’s just writing me!” It’s also this great dichotomy of a traditional action-oriented first-responder character who also has a streak of larger-than-life narcissism about him. He fills a room and likes the spotlight, but he’s very, very concerned with justice and people getting a fair shake.

Owen’s putting together a new fire crew — including Natacha Karam (NBC’s The Brave), Brian Michael Smith (Queen Sugar), Jim Parrack (True Blood), and newcomer Rafael Silva — when he arrives in Austin. How important was it that the group was inclusive and represents all corners of society?
Anytime you can tell stories of people who are historically underrepresented is great for the culture. The notion of having a trans firefighter is a story you’ve never heard. We get to answer that in a really organic, non-woke-police way. This is the 2020 iteration of a show like this. They were never going to do those stories on Emergency!

Does he experience some culture shock moving south?
Yes, he kind of brings a new way of thinking into areas that are very, very entrenched in good-old-boy networks. That’s great for the storytelling. I kid you not, all of our stories are true. We’re doing an explosion in a plant that was storing multi-million-dollar cow seaman — they’re the highest ends balls; they’re the studs. That only happens on a Ryan Murphy procedural set in Austin, Texas. You can’t make this up. It’s edgy and sort of funny. It’s just a really good, romp adventure.

Did you talk to firefighters to prepare for the role?
Unfortunately, California has had so many wild-fires and floods. And my home area of Santa Barbara has really been through it. Through that, I’ve not only had so many firsthand experiences with losing people in my community, I’ve also become very, very close with the [firefighters] in that area. And I did some training down here with the L.A. Fire Department. I even hosted a bunch of them [at my home] during the fires. There’s always somebody on set to tell you what equipment you would use and what you would wear. But for me, the most important thing is, What makes someone want to do that job? What do they love about it? What are the pitfalls? What are their fears? I’m lucky to have actual friends to rely on for that sort of stuff.

You’re also an executive producer on the show. Why was that something you wanted to be part of?
I’ve just come off of writing, directing and starring in a remake of The Bad Seed and I’ve produced a bunch of stuff over the course of my career. I find that I get bored a lot as an actor. I’ve been doing it a long time and I love it, but I have more clubs in my bag than just being an actor and if I don’t get to use them — if I don’t get to help write and pitch stories and sort of build the world I’m going to live in — then I’m not as invested in it as I would like to be.

How’s working with co-star Liv Tyler?
We were so excited to get Liv. When that idea came up we were really pumped. It felt really fresh. There are some actors that you just know are going to make you more interesting when they stand next to you and Liv’s one of those people. It’s just a function of her energy and who she is. She’s very unique. She’s gorgeous in a very unique way. She’s got a body of work behind her that’s kind of iconic, and weird, and extraordinary and you also don’t see her all the time. It’s been great. It’s a really good part for her because it’s really different from anything you’ve seen her do before. She plays a very focused, super-capable paramedic. It’s an unbelievably physical role for her so her natural ethereal, otherworldly qualities that make her who she is are really cool because you don’t really see that mixed with this super practical, go-getter girl.

What’s been the biggest challenge?
There’s an emotional side to playing Owen. My character is the only guy in his New York firehouse who survived 9/11. That informs every decision and how he views life. It’s been very emotional and fraught, wanting to honor it in a way that doesn’t feel like we’re “using” it. Then the physicality of the role: I broke a rib last week, and this week I have to rescue someone who’s drowning in a grain silo. There’s no rest in sight. This is one of those shows that will kick your ass both mentally and physically.

Does that go for the viewers as well?
Yes! You’re going to go on a propulsive journey that is emotional as well as physical. You better fasten your seat belts, because it is coming at you.

9-1-1: Lone Star will premiere on Sunday, Jan. 19 at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT, followed by another episode at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Monday, Jan. 20 (its regular time slot). Watch the clip above.

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