Okieriete Onaodowan has been one of the standout performers so far on Station 19 and for good reason. As Dean Miller, the Hamilton alum gets a chance to play someone who is fun-loving, charismatic, and really appreciates being a firefighter and all that goes along with it.
Yet, things are starting to change for Miller now. This is a man who has caught feelings for someone new in JJ (Brenda Song), which has caused him in turn to look for real advice in a relationship and to start breaking down some of these walls. It’s a chance to shake things up for the character, which could mean that there are many different emotional highs and lows coming up.
In our interview with him, Onaodowan discusses some of the ins and outs of the character to go along with the reaction to the series so far and his hopes for season 2.
CarterMatt – When I first visited the set it was before the premiere had actually aired. Since that time, how has the reception been to the series on your end?
Okieriete Onaodowan – It’s gone really well. People seem to be invested in the show and really excited about it, which is great. The Grey’s fans really love it and I think it’s important that we’re also getting new fans and not just people who are in the Grey’s Anatomy fanbase. There are a lot of people who have not seen Grey’s who have checked in to the show. That’s really cool. We want to establish our own fanbase and not just ride off of the coattails of Grey’s Anatomy.
When you first were cast as Miller, what did you think about the role?
I don’t know. It was easy to be indifferent because it’s all laid out as time progresses. I’m from the world of theater where everything is laid out already. The play’s already written and you just know the arc of the character. There were a lot of question marks and things could have gone a lot of different ways, but I think the writing staff continues to make interesting choices with him and make a really three-dimensional character.
Do you like being a part of that collaborative process and getting to develop and hone this character as you go?
I do! There’s collaboration in everything; just different forms of collaboration. I do like being able to go on a journey and actually have a say in the development of how a character functions. How this character is and how they feel about things. If I’m interested in something or feel a certain way about something, the writers try to [include] that in part of his backstory. They work with some ideas I have and that’s really cool.
What’s cool about this character is that he’s a guy who has so much confidence in himself and loves so much of what he does. Yet, he now has this new person (JJ) in his life. What is like for him to have to question things and have them not come easy for him for a change?
It’s awesome. As an actor it’s great to have genuine internal struggle in a character. I think one of the reasons why people enjoy films and like going to the theater is because sometimes, you watch a character go through an internal struggle and come out on the other side and it inspires them to figure out how they can do it. I love having a character who is going through something like that because I think I’m helping someone go through something.
What does Dean Miller see in JJ that is immediately special about her?
I don’t think he really knows. I think he is a guy who really seems to go off of his instinct — he trusts his instincts, but also acknowledges when there are things that change. He knew that there was something there but didn’t quite know why. He just knew that there was something about this person that he wanted to see more of.
What did you think about the scene with Miller and Pruitt, where you are working with Miguel [Sandoval] and getting some advice from him about how to open up?
It was a lot of fun. Miguel’s great. It was a lot of fun playing a character who doesn’t always ask for help and then tries to find a way to do that. It’s so important for people to ask for help when they need it.
On the firefighter side of things, what’s coming up over the remainder of the season?
There are some moments, but I can’t say what they are! There are a couple of interesting things that were a lot of fun that we were working on, and there were a lot of surprising things. I think what’s great about the show is realizing all of the calls the firefighters respond to, and they respond to a lot of different things that you don’t think they would respond to.
I know I’ve been surprised by some of the things I’ve seen firefighters do on these sort of shows.
Some of the stories surprise me. We work with actual firefighters on set and we have active-duty firefighters as some of our background actors. If they’re not working, they come to work with us on the weekends and then they still do their shift. The challenges are eye-opening, understanding just how far they extend themselves. Firefighters really extend themselves and you have to have a wide range of skills. A lot of them are carpenters or architects, since you have to understand what buildings are made of and the structure of the buildings. They have a lot of information to keep on their end.
Have you started to get a sense of your character’s overall backstory, and has [showrunner Stacy McKee] started to give you a sense as to what that could be?
They’ve filled me in to a bit of it, but a lot of it is just the essence of who he is. Where he is now is what I try to focus on, and from there we can then figure out what his past is that brought him here. We can start where we are and then go back and be like ‘okay, he has these idiosyncrasies or he feels this way about this.’ We can then explore why that is. It’s almost like working backwards, if that makes sense.
Are you hopeful right now to get a second season of the show?
Yeah. I would love to come back and do another season. This season is short. Everyone’s just starting to get their toes wet and finding their footing. Midway through we’ve started to get feedback which is awesome. This is in a lot of ways like a preview version of what a Broadway show would be. We would get feedback and then tweak it. Season 2 would be like the proper opening, where we’ve gotten feedback and we really know what we’re after.
Grey’s Anatomy does these huge 24-episode seasons and the idea of that is very much exhausting. Does your theater training prepare you for the grind of something like this?
Yes. Theater definitely prepares me for something like that and I’m excited. I’m excited to work on TV in front of the camera for that long. It’s something amazing to do, to be able to explore something and have the time to do that. Theater can be three hours and you have to pack a lot in there, but the idea of having 23, 24 episodes to flesh out a human being, I’m really excited about that.
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