‘9-1-1: Lone Star’s Brian Michael Smith on Paul’s Romantic Leap of Faith & What’s Next
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 1, Episode 5 of 9-1-1: Lone Star, “Studs.”]
It was all about love — and in some cases, lust — during the latest episode of Fox’s spinoff series 9-1-1: Lone Star.
In “Studs,” while the first responders handled a batch of emergencies, some of them were exploring their romantic sides, including Paul (Brian Michael Smith). After connecting with a woman named Josie during an emergency to a strip club, he explores a relationship until she walks away upon learning he’s trans.
Despite the setback, things ended on a relatively promising note. Below, Smith breaks down what’s next for Paul and his fellow first responders.
Paul had a lot going on in this episode. What was your initial reaction to his storyline for this week?
Brian Michael Smith: At first I was excited because I got to learn a little bit more about the character as well, since they don’t give you too much information ahead of time on these shows. So, I liked how my character was introduced. You kind of got to see that even though he may have had a rough go in a few departments during his time in Chicago, he was still a really good firefighter, he still had a lot of passion for the job, he enjoyed himself. And then he got down to Austin and he started to really connect and feel a deeper sense of being a part of the team.
But there wasn’t too much about his personal life that had been explored in those first episodes. So when the door was open on this one, I was really excited and it was nice to have something that went beyond just a discussion because I think from the earlier drafts of the script, it was like the character was just sort of explaining what was challenging for him as a trans man who might be dating. And when they revised it, I liked the way that they changed it so that the audience gets a chance to walk in this person’s shoes.
I feel like the audience understands it on an experiential level in a way that they wouldn’t if they hadn’t just taken a ride with us. So I thought it was a really beautiful way of sharing the side of the trans experience that they hadn’t seen before.
Did you have any say when it came to the script and your role?
Yeah, what I absolutely love about this production is that they brought people in who they believed could bring something to the roles, and they’re open to what we all have to bring to the roles from our own experiences and ideas. So they spent time with us after we were cast, [and] they started to write a little bit more towards who we are as people and what they were seeing in us. And the doors have been opened.
So I had a really great meeting with the writer’s room and I shared to them my own personal experience, and just as someone who’s been involved in the community outside of my own experience, just talking about what things I would want to see showing or what things I wish that I had seen coming up. And they were very open to that. I think it’s been a really beautiful creative relationship.
Was it fun exploring Paul’s romantic side in this episode?
It was really, really fun to be honest. Because the other characters I’ve played, I haven’t got a chance to do a romantic [story] and I haven’t seen any romantic comedies or romantic films that involves a trans masculine character in this way that didn’t end in tragedy or something like that. So it was really fun to do the meet cute and to take the ride with the character.
I thought it was cool for someone who hasn’t had that experience. Paul hasn’t opened himself up to something like that in awhile. And to have fun in a way that doesn’t involve physical danger where his life’s on the line, but just a different kind of danger in terms of vulnerability … [it] was great.
Speaking of vulnerability, Josie rejected Paul after learning that he was trans. Will Paul become more open moving forward or is he going to recede further into himself?
It would make complete sense for Paul to shut down after that, and I think he wanted to. But what was really cool about the episode was that he [may have] found some rejection on the romantic side, but it deepened his friendship and relationship with T.K. (Ronen Rubinstein) and with Carlos (Rafael Silva).
I thought that was a really beautiful twist for this particular episode where he may have struck out in this place, but he feels more supported so that even if he does try again, which he might be more open to it, at least he doesn’t feel like he’s going at it alone. And I think that is something that he hadn’t really got a chance to experience, just finding the space in the queer community. I don’t think Paul was really involved in the queer community during his time in Chicago. So finding this place where he could completely be himself with people that he trusted, I think was huge for him and will keep him on a path of being more vulnerable.
Will we see their friendship grow onscreen?
I feel like in the earlier episodes and just been kind of based off what was happening organically between us as actors, I feel like T.K. and Paul just kind of clicked there and they have a really good working relationship. They have that unspoken thing where it’s like I kind of know what he’s going to do and I can back him up or he knows what I’m going to do and he’ll back me up. And so we just ride that chain.
I loved that after I had that meeting in the writer’s room, I talked to them about that rule of three thing, where I’ve learned in my own life that if I do have a conversation with one person about my trans experience, my history, they will tell somebody else, so it is like telling three other people.
It’s just something that he’s come to expect and know, but at least now he knows that he can trust who he’s with and that Austin and the community that he’s in is a lot safer than he was allowing himself to believe up until that moment. So I think he’s definitely going to be able to be more open and they’re are going to be some moments where you see the deepening of their friendship.
What else should we expect from Paul this season?
I think, just seeing Paul getting more comfortable, taking on more challenges or taking on deeper roles in more challenging rescues. And his sense of humor starts to sort of pop out a little bit more. So you can look for that.
Your character tackles a lot of emergencies — has there been a favorite?
The concept of what happens in “Studs” with the bull factory, I mean, it’s just projectiles of canisters raining down and it felt like we were in a war movie. But that was really fun because I always wanted to be in a war movie. That’s the closest I’ve been so far. So I feel like we got some training — if there’s any war movies coming out, I’m ready [Laughs].
You’ve played a first responder more than once in the past on shows like Homeland, Girls and Blue Bloods. How has your approach to this role in 9-1-1: Lone Star differed from those past experiences?
I’ve hit the first responder trifecta, I’m very excited. Because I started out playing cop roles and then I got to be an EMT in Homeland and I did a firefighter role and I was really excited. I’ve enjoyed doing a little bit of each. A firefighter was something that I was really looking to do just because of the physicality of the job and even though it’s fake, things are very practical on this set. There are some CGI effects, but a lot of it is practical.
And I guess that one of the differences is in the police roles that I’ve played there’s been a lot of interpersonal [material] — people get caught up in the arrest and all that kind of stuff. And my role in Queen Sugar, it’s usually me kind of wearing more of a counselor hat than getting really physical. So it’s been really cool to play the other side of a first responder’s life.
9-1-1: Lone Star, Mondays, 8/7c, Fox