‘9-1-1’: Tracie Thoms on Hen & Karen’s Flashbacks and Being in Middle of the Action
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for 9-1-1 Season 6 Episode 6 “Tomorrow.”]
In the episode “Tomorrow,” Karen ends up in the middle of the action, helping the 118 through the major emergency only to collapse once outside; it’s revealed there’s a piece of shrapnel in her side. What’s more: Hen nearly loses her in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. But don’t worry, Karen’s going to be fine. And Hen’s going back to the 118.
Thoms takes us inside the episode, including those flashbacks to Karen and Hen meeting.
I was getting worried about Karen. I was like, please tell me they didn’t give us Hen and Karen’s origin story just to kill Karen off.
Tracie Thoms: They would do that, though. That’s something they would do. I was reading like, am I gonna make it? Am I gonna live? I didn’t even know.
Speaking of that, because this is such a wild episode and we do see Karen in the middle of the danger, talk about reading the script.
I think my mouth was open the whole time I read the script. I couldn’t believe it. Because usually I’m there to support my wife, I pop in and out, and I got this script and I was like, “Wait, what? I’m — wait, what? I’m in this whole thing? Oh my God, I’m in an explosion?” It’s one of those things where you hope for a storyline and then it happens and you’re like, “Oh wait, OK, here we go. Let’s strap in. Can I step up to the plate and deliver this episode?” And it’s so many emotions. I was overwhelmed. I was humbled. I was nervous. I was like, “Can I do this? Can I actually do this?”
And then I was so humbled by the fact that everyone at 9-1-1 believed that I could deliver this episode. They put a lot of faith in me and I had to really be focused and really be locked in to be able to tell the story the way that they needed me to. And our director, Joaquin Sedillo, was so wonderful in his accessibility to me and we talked a lot about it and where we wanted to go and what story we wanted to tell. It felt so thrilling actually to be able to be this involved in an episode.
Talk about filming it, because like you said, there’s the explosion and Karen’s interacting with the members of the 118 in a completely different way from what we’ve seen.
Yeah, I know, and in addition that Karen seeing what they do at work, I, Tracie, was seeing the cast members at work in a way that I never have. I watch the show and I see what they do onscreen, but I’ve never actually been involved in the work they actually have to do, all the technical work they have to do in these turnouts and these masks. And I was so impressed by the cast of 9-1-1. They’re just amazing, what they have to do every day. I don’t do any of that. I’m just always at home like, “Oh, Henrietta, how was work?” The things I get to do are very simple compared to things they have to carry. So I was very impressed by everyone that I got to play with on a completely different level.
We got to see Karen at work, and I always love every time they bring up that she’s a literal rocket scientist.
I know. It comes up every now and then. I’m like, “Wait, what? I’m a rocket scientist?”
The lab was a cool set.
Oh, it was. What they do is incredible. We went to a place in Valencia where they actually make parts for rocket ships. It was amazing. The set that they created for our actual lab was on our lot, and I went in there and I was like, “You guys are brilliant.” Our crew is brilliant. I understood it. It was one of those things where sometimes they’ll put you in a set, you’re like, this doesn’t make any sense. But they put together an entire working lab and it made sense to me, the different rooms and the hallways and everything. And then when they destroyed it, that made sense. There’s fire, there’s smoke, there’s all this health and safety stuff we had to go through. But it made it very, very easy to act because I’m like, that’s actual fire, but in a very safe and controlled way. So I always felt safe, but I felt very immersed in the story because of what they created for me to be able to play with. It was amazing.
Then you had those flashbacks, which, first of all, excellent song choices during them, I have to say.
I like that Karen and Hen’s meet-cute wasn’t entirely cute, but I also loved that it was all Chimney (Kenneth Choi).
All Chimney, I know!
What was it like filming those scenes and playing that side of Karen that we saw?
It was really fun to be able to really dive into who was Karen before she met Henrietta. I’ve talked about it before, in the episode where Karen talks about how she feels old and how she never really got to have fun because she was always very, very serious about her work. So to be able to dive into that, to live it was really fun because I had that reference of me talking about who I used to be before I met Henrietta. Once we figured out this straight hair look and this conservative costuming, it was really like, “OK, I got it. Heels, straight hair, button up suits, got it.” It’s also fun to play with Aisha because Aisha and I have actually known each other for 20 years so we just could play on our friendship. It’s just really fun to just play with her.
Is Karen going to be as bad at bedrest as it sounds like she will be? Will we see that?
I hope so. I can’t really see Karen being any good. She’s a scientist, so she knows she can’t do too much, can’t rip stitches and cause herself more pain because she knows she has to be well enough to be a part of this family. But I know it’s gonna be very, very difficult for her because she needs to do things. Karen’s very much a type A, keep her family together person because Henrietta has a very stressful job and firefighters, as we know, have a lot of overtime and they work really hard at what they do. And because Henrietta has decided to go back to work as a firefighter, Karen’s gonna get back into her rhythm of taking care of this family and holding down the fort when Henrietta’s away.
That’s why also Karen called to say that they weren’t fostering anymore. Because Hen was surprised by that in this episode. But that was just Karen trying to take care of something, right?
Of course. Because Henrietta’s been burning the candle at both ends and she can’t think of all those things and Karen’s very much like, I think of everything. So Karen had to be one step ahead of Henrietta through this whole process to figure out her life. Her life was completely about to change in ways that Henrietta can’t foresee because she’s in the muck of it. She’s in the weeds of learning all this information and studying for her medical exams. Medical school is all encompassing, so Karen could think of things that Henrietta can’t think about. She doesn’t have the mental space or the bandwidth to think about. That’s why they work so well as a team, because Karen can see the blind spots that Henrietta can’t see.
The other relationship I love seeing full circle in this episode was Karen and Denny [Declan Pratt], from the flashback when Hen tells her about the pregnancy to their moments together in the present.
I’m like, “Absolutely not.” And then I’m like, “Wait, hold up. There is a baby. OK, cool.” And then there’s Denny. I know. It’s so fun to see how the whole Denny thing came up because it’s one of those things — my first scene on this show was us at the playground with Denny and Henrietta brings up Eva and I’m like, “Well, what about Denny? We can’t let her anywhere near Denny.” We’ve been filling in the blanks all these years and kind of reverse engineering it and it’s exciting for me as a cast member to see how it actually came up at the beginning. The inception of it was thrilling, just as a fan of the show.
What was your favorite scene to film from this episode? You had action scenes, emotional ones… It was everything.
It was everything. This episode required me to use almost every part of myself except singing. You have to be funny, you have to be sad, you have to do action, you have to do everything. I guess I would say the explosion scenes were really exciting because it was new for me. And all that action stuff, being in the middle of an actual emergency was really exciting because it was something that I’ve never done before. I don’t really get to be in trouble often in my career. So it was very fun to be like, Karen’s in trouble and get to explore what that feels like to be vulnerable in that way.
I would’ve loved to see you sing in this episode.
Like suddenly I just break out singing. Let’s write in a karaoke scene, right?
9-1-1, Mondays, 8/7c, Fox