Entertainment » Vol.18

Denis Leary on the Authenticity (and end) of “Rescue Me”

By Patrick Douglas

denislearyrescueme

Denis Leary

While season six of “Rescue Me” is in full swing on FX, it’s clear that Worcester native Denis Leary, 53, has struck a chord with a television audience that just can’t seem to get enough of the show’s mixture of serious and intelligent dialogue and jocular, frequently [very] flawed characters. Leary plays Tommy, the cantankerous veteran firefighter who deals with tragedies on the job as well as a destructive family in his off time.

While many TV shows are axed before they even get a shot at a second season, “Rescue Me” has enjoyed a great run on FX. It’s scheduled to end after the seventh season in 2011, coinciding with the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

There’s a logical explanation behind the authenticity of “Rescue Me” ~ Leary has had a personal connection with firefighters all his life.

“My cousin Jerry, who died in the line of duty ten years ago … he was hell-bent on being a firefighter and he became a firefighter in Worcester,” said Leary, whose character in “Rescue Me” also had a cousin die in the line of duty. “Anybody who knows firefighters knows that when a person in your family gets involved with the fire department, the crew that they get assigned to, they become part of your family. Those guys from the crew were always fixing my mother’s porch or doing her kitchen over or whatever it might be. I was exposed pretty early on to what those guys do and how they do it.”

Leary’s a philanthropist, too. To date, his Leary Firefighters Foundation has raised more than $2.5 million for firefighters in the New England and New York areas.

If you’ve watched any NFL or NBA games in the past year, you’ve no doubt heard Leary’s voice dozens of times in the many Ford commercials he’s voiced over. He’s also the voice of Diego in the much-loved Ice Age franchise (whose following includes everyone from toddlers to grandparents), does numerous characters in college kid favorite “Crank Yankers,” had some star-turn roles in movies like “Suicide Kings,” “The Sandlot,” “The Ref,” “Judgment Night,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” and “Demolition Man,” and is a pretty successful stand-up comedian to boot.

But, it’s his contributions to “Rescue Me,” that has people ~ industry insiders, audience members, and his fellow actors ~ praising his writing and acting abilities. Leary has spent the better part of the past seven years filming in heavy gear, something that makes the job one of the most physical he’s ever endured, but it’s nothing like being a real firefighter.

“It’s way tougher than hockey. When we shoot the fire scenes, it’s a combination of our stunt team and our real actors and our real firefighters,” explained Leary, also a writer and producer for the show. “A real fire, where we would be supposedly, not us because we’re chickens, but real firefighters would be running in to do the job and getting it done in a couple of hours, at most.”

“We’re always surrounded by real firefighters when we’re doing our fire scenes,” continued Leary, a graduate of Saint Peter-Marian High School. “So, those guys obviously make us pale in comparison. I tell you, it really puts you in your place.”

These days, it seems Leary’s place is in prime time.

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