Spotlight: Tony Ferraris

You may know him as the lovable Tony on Chicago Fire, but Tony Ferraris, who plays himself on the show, is so much more than what you see onscreen. In real life, Tony is an active Chicago firefighter born and raised in the Windy City. He brings decades of frontline experience to the One Chicago franchise, and after eight seasons of being part of our Chicago Fire family, we couldn’t imagine the Firehouse 51 squad without him. We sat down with him to discuss his real-world firefighting experience and his involvement in the show. Check out what he had to say below. 

Q: How did you get involved with Chicago Fire?
A: A friend of mine received an email from the firefighter’s union saying the show was looking for extras. He asked me if I would go with him to the audition. I went in with him, and I guess they liked me. On the first day of filming, the crew realized nobody in the cast was able to drive squad. Steve Chikerotis, the show’s technical advisor, who I’ve known for years, asked me if I would drive. I said sure, and that’s pretty much how it all went down. I started out as an extra and then Derek Haas (our Chicago Fire showrunner) approached me around episode five or six and asked me to read for him, and then they started writing me in.

Q: How did you prepare for your role?
A: I was never an actor. I had never even wanted to act, so the big thing for me was just trying to get comfortable around a bunch of people. I didn’t know what to do, but everybody just told me to do what I normally do on the incidents and things like that. 

Q: What do your firefighter colleagues say about your role in the show?
A: I’m a quiet individual, so people didn’t picture me acting. There was a lot of ribbing going on, giving me a hard time, but it was all worth it.

Q: Have any of your real life fire-fighting colleagues ever appeared on the show as well?
A: Yeah, besides David (Eigenberg) and Daniel (Kyri), Herman and Ritter, the rest of those guys are actual firefighters. They use a lot of firefighters on the scenes of incidents. 

Q: What do you think is more fun acting or firefighting? 
A: I enjoy both, and I enjoy both sets of people I work with. I’m hopefully ready to retire soon from the fire department, so I would have to go with the show for right now. I still love my fire department job though. There’s nothing like the feeling of—it’s kind of a bad way to feel and to think, because when I’m pulling up and somebody’s house is burning to the ground—but, you have a rush when you’re going in and people are trapped. You get that adrenaline rush, but it’s also a very sad thing for these people. 

Q: How did you get into firefighting?
A: Since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a fireman. I enjoy helping people. Everything is calculated in terms of risk versus reward. I’ve always enjoyed things like that. I was lucky in that I scored very well on the entry test, and I got in pretty quick.

Q: Which is more difficult: acting or being a fireman?
A: Acting! It’s tough, man. I work with some incredible people, and to see them turn it on and off is pretty impressive. But I’m learning. I’m getting better and these guys, Eamonn (Walker), Taylor (Kinney), Jesse (Spencer) and Monica (Raymund) helped me immensely.

Q: Can you share any specific advice they have given you? 
A: Their advice to me is just to be myself. They all say, ‘that’s why they hired you’, because I’m a born and raised Chicago guy. They tell me to just be myself, say things how I normally would, use my mannerisms and all that. It’s still hard. It’s easier now, but in the beginning it was very awkward for me. 

Q: Do the writers and producers ever ask you to consult on storylines? 
A: Yeah, I talk with Derek (Haas) and Michael (Brandt). I tell them if we have a crazy call or things we say, but they ask me a lot too. In the beginning, Derek would come to the firehouse and ride with me when we were working. There are certain guys at the firehouse who always say something funny or sassy to say, so I tell them those type of things. They’ll ask me things like, ‘Hey, if you’re forcing this door open, how would you do it?’ But our job, fighting fires, is stranger than fiction.

Q: How accurately does the show reflect true life in a firehouse? 
A: A lot, because we are friends outside of work and with us (firefighters), like the police, unfortunately any call or run we go on, bad things happen. We have a very dangerous job, and we’re very tight when that bell rings. But when we’re at the firehouse, we’re busting on each other and giving each other a hard time. We golf together; we do a lot of things together. I think it translates onto the screen, and it’s pretty realistic of life at work. When you live with somebody for 24 hours, you’ll learn a lot about them, and you do that for 88 days a year. It’s your second family.

Q: How do you balance having both careers?
A: I go to the gym a lot. But I enjoy what I do at both ends, so it’s not like I’m really working working, you know what I mean? 

Q: What is one thing about shooting the show that surprised you? 
A: When I first started, I would watch stuff go down and then see it on TV and it looked way different. On TV, it looks unbelievably awesome. Our stunt guys and special effects guys are phenomenal. So I’m very lucky and fortunate to be a part of it. 

Q: Is your character 100% based on you?
A: Yeah, pretty much. There are some choices that Tony makes that I probably wouldn’t make, but it’s all good fun. It’s nice to be able to do different things.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a firefighter?
A: It’s a tough job. It’s very fun, but it’s very hard. You’re going to deal with a lot of crap out there. And I don’t mean individually, but in the general stuff we do. You need to be physically fit to do this job, but it’s one of the best jobs in the world.