Sometimes some of the best storylines come in unexpected ways, and this is precisely what happened with Charlotte Sullivan’s character of Anna on Chicago Fire. When she first arrived this past fall, it was not clear how long she’d be sticking around; now, she’s appeared in a significant chunk of the season. Her relationship with Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney) has progressed, and after battling cancer, undergoing a bone-marrow transplant, and temporarily moving back to Springfield, she’s back in the Windy City to see what the future holds with him.
Unfortunately, we got the sense on this past episode that something was off with her. She took off in the middle of a dinner with Severide and her father, and the story left off with the future of their relationship in jeopardy.
So where do things stand now for the character and the relationship with Kelly? We spoke with Sullivan on those subjects and more leading up to the show’s return Tuesday night on NBC.
CarterMatt – After doing another long-running show in Rookie Blue and a number of other things, what eventually led you to this role?
Charlotte Sullivan – What the weird thing was [here] was that it was an audition that popped up, and I recognized one of the director’s names because I had worked with him not only on Rookie Blue but on Blue Bloods. I was like ‘oh I know him,’ and that made it a little more enticing because I felt comfortable and I really liked him. So, I put myself on tape.
I think I freaked them out — my character was dying, so I went for it and I put a lot of makeup on and made my eyes look like I was really ill. I sprayed myself with a lot of water to make it look like sweat. They called back and they were like ‘maybe don’t look so sick?’ (laughs). So I redid it looking a little bit healthier.
After that, they responded, and a couple of days later I was in Chicago. It wasn’t this big ordeal where I had to go screen-test or anything. It was a really simple procedure, and I think it was based on the fact that I had worked with that director before.
One of the interesting things about watching you on this season has been that there’s this feeling of nervousness at almost every turn, not knowing if we’re about to see your last episode or not. Did you have a sense upon joining how long you’d be around for?
I had a vague idea, but they kept adding episodes. It was originally supposed to be just a little portion [of the season], but they changed it and kept asking to do more and it was so beautiful. It’s such a big cast, so it’s not like I would be in every scene. I can just fly in for a day, shoot my scenes, and then go back.
They didn’t tell me anything [about the story]. I had my suspicions, but I didn’t know where it was going or what they were going to do with it. With that, every time I’m there it’s kind of like ‘okay, I don’t know if this is my last time’ (laughs).
These people [on the show], they’re so nice. it’s almost mind-blowing. I don’t think I’ve ever been this welcomed before on a show. I walked in with this preconceived notion that they would all be like ‘oh, here’s this new person,’ and it was going to be really hard to feel like I belonged. It was such bulls–t, because they were the most gracious people I’ve ever worked with. It’s really been a nice surprise gig.
I know you’re not too active on social media, but have you gotten a sense of some of the popularity of both the Anna character and the ‘Severanna’ relationship among some of the show’s fans?
The weird thing is that I don’t typically get recognized [all that often], but people are really invested in this show. Airports are always really interesting, going through customs and people are like ‘oh, what’s going to happen!’. I just find it so funny. They love the show, and every time they talk to me all they want to talk about is how Taylor [Kinney] is a babe and that just makes me so uncomfortable. I’m always just like ‘okay, he’s great, he’s a wonderful actor — he’s got more than just his looks going for him’ (laughs). It’s all people want to talk about. Even guys! It’s not just girls. They totally love him.
Honest to God, he’s been such a great partner to work with. He really truly cares about the work and the art form of it.
How did you prepare for some of those early episodes in general? I assume that those were rather challenging since you were spending so much time in one location in bed, having to play a character in such a tough position.
That’s what I really like about what I do, because in the past year alone I’ve played a really weird range of people. In preparing for this one, I was delving a lot into what it’s like for people to have a bone-marrow transplant. There was a lot of time spent online researching and listening to people’s cancer stories, which are so varied. There are some positive stories, but then also some [with] negative and hard aspects to them.
That was how I approached it, and then as she got better I didn’t have to do that anymore. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and and there was so much I didn’t know [about her]. At one point I was like ‘oh, she’s a nurse! I didn’t know that.’ I would often discover things just as you would watching it.
Is that exciting to learn that sort of stuff as you go? Do you like to formulate backstory in your head, or just leave that until you find out about it in the script?
I think you do try to create a backstory, but often I’m pretty wrong with it (laughs). You do your best and try to figure out your arc for your character, but this wasn’t really my story on this particular project. I just went with the flow. That cast, they’re really talented and you want to be prepared and do really well.
I have really bad stage fright, and because they’ve been doing it for so long, it appears for them like it’s so easy. For me, I feel a tremendous amount of nerves and pressure anytime they go ‘rolling’ and I always think I’m not ready. My stage fright, I hate it!
The last we saw Anna on the show, she left in the middle of dinner with Severide and Benny and there were certainly questions about what was going on with her. How much information were you privy to at that time as to what was going through her head?
I was very privy at that point, and it was exactly what my suspicions were — the one time I was right, actually (laughs). A lot of people have been asking me about that dinner, but it had nothing to do with Benny. I can’t divulge too much, but that dinner had nothing to do with him and whether or not she accepted him or if she was disgusted by his younger conquest. That had nothing to do with it.
So, without giving away too much, where are we going to find her when the story picks up?
I think Anna’s really angry. I remember the first scene that I did with the Severide character — it was a really angry scene.
One of the questions that I’ve gotten a number of times over the past month or two is about whether or not you could go on Chicago Med and we could see more of Anna over there down the road. Depending on what happens with this story, is that something you’d be open to?
That would be beautiful! Chicago as a city is exquisite, so if I got to spend more time there I’d be a pretty happy chick. The same goes for the people. It’d be an amazing experience so I couldn’t say no, but that’s something you’ll have to ask [executive producer] Derek Haas about!
So what else do you have coming up? Like you said, I know this has been a very busy year for you in between this and Mary Kills People and [some other things].
I shot an independent film called Radius last summer. It was such an interesting experience because there was a married couple directing it. It was wonderful! You had two people doing a task that is really difficult for one person to typically do.
I’m also doing a miniseries in Newfoundland called Caught and I have a little bit part in The Disappearance, a miniseries directed by my husband [Peter Stebbings]. I play a junkie — my husband’s always filming me in roles like burn victims or prostitutes. I’m always like ‘when am I ever going to play anyone normal?’ (laughs). Those are things that I have coming up but I’m just not sure when.
We’re also still waiting on a Mary Kills People pickup. (Note: For those who want to check out this series in America, it airs on Lifetime Sunday nights.)
Further Chicago Fire news
Thanks of course to Sullivan for giving such an in-depth look at Anna and her work this season. Given that this is Chicago Fire, you can count on some more emotional stories ahead! You can read more on the subject of the show now over at the link here. (Photo: NBC.)