'9-1-1' preview: Peter Krause talks the drama and demands of Ryan Murphy's first-responder series

Connie Britton, Angela Bassett, and Peter Krause in 9-1-1. (Photo: Mathieu Young/Fox)

Per usual, it took just one great meeting with Ryan Murphy to get a trusted, veteran TV actor fired up about his latest project. That’s how it happened for Parenthood‘s Peter Krause, who joins Murphy regulars Connie Britton and Angela Bassett in 9-1-1, a new Fox series premiering Jan. 3 that revolves around first responders — an emergency operator (Britton), a police field sergeant (Bassett), and a fire captain (Krause) and his squad. “Given Ryan’s history and the way he described it, I knew it wouldn’t be the standard type of emergency show,” Krause says. “It felt new to me. And, as described, it would be something that I would enjoy watching as well.”

Krause spoke with Yahoo Entertainment to give us the scoop on the “biggest” TV production he’s ever been a part of. Read on to find out why the fiftysomething actor wishes he’d booked this gig at 25.

What excited you about this project and ultimately made you sign on?
Ryan Murphy and I sat together for quite a while. He laid out what his vision for this series and the character was. I’ve always enjoyed doing a wide variety of things as an actor, and this was something I had never done before. As described to me, the character was equally as rich as Nate Fisher on Six Feet Under. The tone of the series was going to include a lot of adrenalized action on top of a lot of psychological investigation and introspection of the characters. And there was also going to be a fair amount of comedy, albeit gallows humor. I thought that the ingredients of the total tone of the show were very appealing.

I have interviewed many actors now as they have joined Murphy’s troupe of go-tos, and they all basically said what you said — that it all starts with a very good meeting with him. What is it about him and his company’s shows that speaks to actors so intensely?
I can only speak for myself, but I get to do my job. And by that I mean, looking all the way back to my first day of graduate school at NYU, the head acting teacher, Ron Van Lieu, told us what our job was. He was very succinct and said, “Your job is to illuminate the human condition.” There are plenty of entertainment products out there where you really don’t do that. That’s the highest calling of an actor, and you get to do that on Ryan Murphy shows. Along with getting to do cool things in emergency situations, you deal with great scripts and you get to explore what it feels like to be a person in these circumstances or investigate what is motivating a character and people for that matter. Ryan’s interests are always pointed in that direction. That’s very appealing to an actor.

What kind of research did you do for this part?
I continue to learn a lot about it. We have some wonderful consultants — firemen, medical, and so on — on the show. I talk with them daily. As we deal with the content of each episode, we ask them if they’ve faced this, and then they’re constantly giving us notes about how they would deal with this situation. Sometimes, we have to do things that aren’t exactly accurate in order to tell the story. So it’s learn as you go. I think of it as the Nike school of production — you just do it. We’re always figuring things out on the fly. I think I can speak for everybody that we wish we had more time. This is the largest TV production I’ve been a part of. These are big major motion picture-sized things that we’re trying to do in much less time.

It certainly seems to be more physically demanding than your past gigs on Parenthood and Dirty Sexy Money.
I’m physically exhausted. I’m emotionally spent some days, but I’m having the time of my life. There are some days where I think it would be nice to be sitting behind that anchor desk on Sports Night rattling off Aaron Sorkin’s wonderful dialogue. Every day I think, “Well, here’s something I haven’t done before.”

In the pilot alone you are climbing ladders, wielding heavy machinery, running, and you even make a point to the rookie that he should simply focus on how heavy his pack is. Are they making you guys really carry what real firemen carry? Or is it lightened up and you’re using fake hoses and such?
It depends on the scene. Generally speaking, it’s all real. Obviously, if I am wielding an axe in proximity of somebody else’s limbs, we’re substituting it with a rubber axe. But usually we’re carrying around what we have to carry. We carry the heavy packs, climb the real ladders. They do have lightweight versions of things in case we have to be doing it for hours on end.

I definitely worried about your backs.
It forces me to get up and go to the gym. Every day I work on the show my respect for what first responders have to go through deepens. They are really, really difficult jobs. These are jobs that people can feel really good about. They’re serving the greater good. And I think these jobs are good for an individual’s ego, even though they’re really difficult and you have to deal with tough emotional situations, again and again on the job and at home. That constant adrenaline rush and emotional tension gets to a lot of them, and that’s why many of them are addicted to something, which we also deal with on the show.

Krause in action. (Photo: Fox)

There will be blood and guts and other bodily fluids and gross-outs undoubtedly. Are you squeamish?
Not particularly. Although having never handled a 12-foot python before [as I do in the pilot], I will admit that I was sweating like Albert Brooks on Broadcast News [during filming]. When the snake handler told me that it was a female snake and that I should let go if she starts to fight and constrict, I thought to myself, “Don’t worry, buddy. I will let go. I will be out of that room so fast.”

Can you tease an upcoming case that you think is particularly cool or crazy? In the first episode, you save a newborn stuck in toilet pipes, lose a jumper, and battle with a giant snake, so it already sounds hard to top.
The whole world and journey of emergency response — from the time the 9-1-1 operator gets a call to the time, at least on the fire department’s side, we hand somebody off to doctors at an emergency room — is fascinating to me. Having to let go of this person that you have been trying to save for 20, 30 minutes, or an hour and a half, and immediately move on to the next, wow. I also think that people will really enjoy exploring these characters behind the emergencies; who they are and what they’re about. But in terms of one particular thing, I can say burning buildings, plane crashes, floors dropping out from beneath us — those are a few things that come up.

Oliver Stark and Krause in 9-1-1. (Photo: Fox)

When your character, Bobby, jokes about being 50 and taking the elevator while the rookie Buck (Oliver Stark) half his age wants to run the stairs, I thought, “Oh, they aged Peter up.” Then I realized you are actually 52 in real life. And then I thought, “Wow, someone in Hollywood who is OK with their age being highlighted on TV.”
I’m perfectly comfortable with when I appeared here on earth. It doesn’t bother me that they use it in the script because I think that it helps explain the relationship between Bobby and Buck on the show. This is a guy who’s twice his age and he’s still doing this. It’s not as easy as it used to be. Personally, I’d love to have played this role half my lifetime ago when it didn’t hurt so much. But I’ve had a really nice career since I’ve started back in 1990, particularly since I did Sports Night in 1998. For the last 20 years, I can’t really imagine a better life in TV. Not everything has been a home run. Dirty Sexy Money was problematic. The Catch had some issues, too. But this is one where I think everybody’s in agreement about what the show should be. I experienced that on Sports Night, Six Feet Under, and Parenthood. So I have a good feeling about 9-1-1.

Yes, but acting your age and admitting it is still an issue in Hollywood, especially for actresses. Although that’s another selling point of Ryan Murphy shows — he employs people of all ages and types and skin colors.
I think that that’s a weird aspect of Hollywood — that obsession with youth. I haven’t thought about it that deeply, so I don’t think I’m going to say anything particularly wise about it. I think if you can gracefully accept it and embrace it, you will be happier. It’s also a part of illuminating the human condition. It happens to all of us eventually. Rather than try and hide the fact that you’re aging, just be open about it. Certain things get harder as you get older, and other things get easier.

Most days you couldn’t pay me to go back to being a twentysomething.
I was at the Laugh Factory a long time ago. There was a comic, I can’t remember who it was, up onstage who announced that he’d just turned 40. There were some women up in the front area. They exclaimed, “Oh my God, you’re 40?” He looked at them and said, “How old are you?” Very brightly [one] said, “26.” Then he got real close to her and said, “Don’t blink.” And it’s true. It goes by really fast. I mean, sometimes I feel like I was doing, Sports Night a couple years ago. It will actually be 20 years ago in 2018.

As the saying goes, life is short and it goes very fast.
Yeah, the last 20 years especially. When we first started Parenthood, Craig T. Nelson asked me how old I was. We established that I’m 21 years younger. He has a cigar in his hand. He took a draw, looked at me, he said, “Pete, the next 20 years are going to go by real fast.” And even that was, gosh, 10 years ago. We just gotta appreciate every day.

9-1-1 premieres Jan. 3 at 9 p.m. on Fox.

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