‘9-1-1’: Corinne Massiah on How Athena’s Confidence in May Helped Her Succeed

Angela Bassett and Corinne Massiah in '9-1-1'
Spoiler Alert
Jack Zeman/ FOX

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for 9-1-1 Season 6 Episode 8, “What’s Your Fantasy?”]

May (Corinne Massiah) might have chosen to leave the dispatcher center and go to college on 9-1-1, but she has to use the skills she learned on the job in the latest episode to save her boyfriend.

After meeting a high school friend’s roommate, something doesn’t sit right with May, and upon reading his “manifesto” — it’s disturbing stuff, including “KILL THEM ALL” and rants about the “female conspiracy” — she turns to her mother, Athena (Angela Bassett). But May’s boyfriend Darius enters the house before she can stop him, and it becomes up to her to talk Erik down and save him.

Massiah talks about May’s success in “What’s Your Fantasy?” and looks back on the call centerfire from Season 5.

The way that May handled the Erik situation and you played it — well done!

Corinne Massiah: Oh my gosh, thank you. I’m just looking back, and I’m like, if that were me, I’d be freaking out, crying. I don’t know how May did that.

It was so easy for May to slip back into her dispatcher role. Is she having second thoughts about leaving the call center?

I don’t necessarily know if she’s having second thoughts, but she even mentions how she had such great training at the call center that it was so easy for her to put that hero cap back on. Like you just said, it was so easy for her to slip back into that role, be cool, calm, and collected, [and] keep her emotions separated from deescalating the situation in order to deescalate the situation, which I think just proves how resilient she is, which I admire.

Angela Bassett and Corinne Massiah in '9-1-1'

Jack Zeman/ FOX

Especially with Darius in danger.

And I think having her mom there as well helped ease a little bit of her nerves because it showed she wasn’t in it all by herself. I think she can lean on her mom a little bit to handle some parts of the situation. She just knew that her job was to get Erik away from Darius or give Darius an out, which she succeeded at. But yeah, I think she handled the situation so well. I was so proud of her reading the script before we even shot. I was like, “oh my God, she’s a badass.”

Athena has the line about how Erik is talking to someone with training.

She had so much confidence in May. I think May sometimes lacks that confidence herself, but just seeing her mom have so much trust in her reassured May that, “OK, I have this handled.”

But on the other hand, it seems like we’re actually seeing May enjoy being a normal college student, especially with her relationship with Darius. How much does she need that after everything she’s been through?

Yeah, I think it was a step in the right direction to have May go to college and act her age. She went through a lot of traumatizing things and heard a lot of traumatizing situations while being a dispatcher, which might be hard on her and especially what Claudette [Vanessa Estelle Williams] said to her in Episode 16 last season: May’s so young, she has so much potential, is she sure that she wants to still be a dispatcher after hearing all of these traumatic stories? She has so much life ahead of her. I think May definitely took that to heart, which was a big deciding factor in her decision to go to college. It’s refreshing to have her worries only be going to class instead of saving someone’s life.

She has options. She can go to class, she can step in if she needs to.

Yeah, that’s the perfect way to describe it. She can step in when she needs to, which I think is really cool.

What I love about the May and Athena relationship is how far that has come over the years. We actually see them as colleagues in a way with this episode.

Especially in this episode, you can see them as colleagues. And I think, again, it goes back to how much trust Athena does have in May, and she was saying how much training May has, she has this handled. Yes, May knows that she can always go to her mom, and that’s the first thing she did when she took Erik’s manifesto. She called her mom, like, am I overreacting? But I think Athena also handled it in such a great way to not try and mother May, but to treat her as a colleague, which I thought was really amazing.

Angela Bassett and Corinne Massiah in '9-1-1'

Jack Zeman/ FOX

With this episode, we see all the layers of that relationship.

You can see the character development and how May and Athena’s relationship really developed. In the first couple [of] seasons, it’s just all domestic scenes between May and Athena — having family dinners, carving pumpkins together. But after Season 4, I think May and Athena, as you said, become colleagues in a sense. After Athena was attacked, May was like, “I need to make sure that someone has eyes on you when you’re in the field.” I think that’s where the switch was in May’s head of, “I wanna help people, and I wanna help my mom at the same time as well.” You see their relationship develop work-wise, and I think that also builds their connection more as mother and daughter because now they really do have each other’s backs, which is inspiring.

Talk about working with Angela on that.

I can’t even stress to you how amazing it is working with her. I’m a sponge when I’m around her. The way she handles scenes, the way she moves, the way she uses props around her, she’s a genius. She’s also given me confidence when it comes to scenes. When I forget a line or something, she’s so quick to take her line before mine and give me a cue. It’s such a well-oiled machine now working with her and her facial expressions in scenes, I’ve just soaked all of that in, and I start doing things like her. And she’s given me confidence on how to play with words in a scene and just to really take control of these scenes as an actor and not necessarily just listen to the director. It’s like, do what’s best for the character in your mind.

Going back to last season, talk about filming that call center fire because that episode is one of the best episodes of 9-1-1.

It was exhilarating filming that episode, and I had one of the best scene partners, Vanessa Williams [as] Claudette. It was so fun shooting that. I just adore Juan Carlos Coto, who wrote and directed it, and I was just so thankful that he trusted me enough to have such emotional scenes. I think it also was a turning point in May for not only her career but just her life, and the deep conversations she had with Claudette just made her realize, do I really wanna do this job for the rest of my life? It was also just traumatizing to see how she and Claudette escaped that situation, but then Claudette ended up passing away, which I think probably gave May some sort of PTSD when it comes to dispatching. I just think that was a really formative time in May’s storyline, and she might still be dealing with a lot of that later in seasons.

You can’t blame her. There were the fire scenes, the emotional scenes … that scene at the end, where she says she has two dads was a nice moment.

Right? Yes. Everyone loved that scene. And I loved filming that too with Peter [Krause]. We were just thinking, yeah, this is gonna be the scene. This is gonna be all over Twitter.

And also just seeing May with the entire 118 when they were digging them out because we don’t really get to see that.

That was so fun too. I was telling Oliver [Stark] and Kenny [Choi], “I never work with you guys. This is so fun.” It was so cool seeing them all suited up. I was like, “oh my God, this is so badass.”

Was there anything you wanted to do or explore as May over the years that you then found you got to do?

Ever since Season 3 Episode 2 with the tsunami, I think it’s so cool seeing May so hands-on. And that’s what we saw again in Episode 516. I loved being in the dispatch center, but it sometimes felt like we couldn’t really see the fruits of our labor. But we saw that in Episode 516, where May and Claudette did escape together. I loved doing that, and I would love to see more of May doing that as well.

What else would you like to see May doing going forward?

I have full faith in the writers when it comes to May’s storyline, but I wouldn’t be opposed [to it] if May went to nursing school and wanted to be a nurse or something. It would be totally cool.

9-1-1, Mondays, 8/7c, Fox