Chicago Fire interview: EP Derek Haas on mattress factory fire death

Chicago FireOn tonight’s Chicago Fire season 8 premiere, the NBC series delivered as much of an emotional gut-punch as you’re going to get in premiere season. How else can you describe the departure of a beloved character? (Warning: Spoilers from the first episode ahead.)

In the end, there’s no getting around it — Otis is dead. The beloved character, played by Yuri Sardarov, did not survive long following the mattress factory fire and passed away in the hospital. It’s a heartbreaking loss, but one that was done for a specific reason and not one that the production team took lightly. This is something that executive producer Derek Haas expressed carefully to CarterMatt as he went through the decision to kill this character off.

New Chicago Fire video! For more discussion of the Chicago Fire premiere, watch our reaction video below. Remember to subscribe to CarterMatt on YouTube so you don’t miss out on our video coverage on the show this season! You can also view our One Chicago playlist for some other discussions of all three shows.

CarterMatt – When you created the cliffhanger at the end of season 7, did you know what would be on the other side?

Derek Haas – No. I drew up the cliffhanger, and I knew that I wanted to do a mattress factory fire because I had read a newspaper that said that the three worst fires were a tire plant, a mattress factory, and a lumber yard. I was like ‘oh, that would be cool,’ and I knew I wanted to get everyone into trouble in the basement since basements are even worse. Then, I wanted to have the two paramedics and Chief Boden up above, where the boiler was about to explode.

That was as far as I had. Then, over the hiatus I was talking to my two head writers, Andrea Newman and Michael Gilvary and we were talking about how the show has to have teeth. There have to be real ramifications to the dangers, since otherwise the audience wonders if the danger is even real? So we just started spitballing ideas, including ‘what do we do if Otis dies?’. We kept talking about it and I called Dick Wolf and I probably talked for him and [EP] Peter Jankowski for an hour. Dick draws on such a wealth of experience that no one in Hollywood has, I remember him saying ‘if the writing is honest, the audience will go with you.’

After he signed off, I called Yuri [Sardarov] and talked him through it. He was nothing but professional and gracious and excited because of the creative ramifications. He’s a writer himself and understands these kind of things. That was a hard call to make.

That scene at the hospital crushed me. Were you on set for that moment?

I didn’t see that one. I saw the ambulance one before that. When I was writing the episode, I was thinking about four scenes. First, the ambulance, where the paramedic opens the shirt and Cruz realizes that this isn’t one of those that you come back from. Joe Minoso, when you’re writing for him, you can imagine what he will do and he exceeds your expectations. That moment I knew was going to be incredible, so I was there for that.

Then, you have that scene in the hospital where he has to say ‘save a place for me up there’ to his best friend. It’s amazing to get to work with this talent, and I feel sorry for the people who don’t know what we’ve got going on over here on Wednesday night. If they don’t watch, they’ve made up their minds on what the show is and they have no idea of the talent level we have. I knew that scene was going to wreck me, which it did.

The third one was Joe talking with Boden at Molly’s. The inspiration for that one was when my father-in-law passed away, who I was really close to. For a year after that, you’d see something or someone would send you an email and you’d think of him. This wave would go over you, and I knew what that feeling was, so I just wondered what it would be like for Joe, three months afterwards, sitting at Molly’s, and this wave just hits him about how he is going to be remembered and who is going to remember Otis and it’s just a picture on the wall.

Finally, we had that last scene with Boden explaining what the words were in Russian. Those were the four scenes I was excited to write, shoot, and see.

While I know there was some closure following Otis’ death in this episode, will this continue to play a role in the stories to come?

Yeah, we were super-conscious of the fact that these things don’t resolve themselves quickly within anyone’s emotional state. I know that sometimes, the audience feels like you shortchange reactions to death, but we’re not seeing every moment. We’re conscious of it as writers — let’s slow down and realize how the death of a major character who we all love would impact people in different ways and different time-frames.

With Brett, you committed to this story with her away from the team. How long do you intend to play this story out? By the way, I didn’t see the Hope appearance coming, even though I should have.

You’ve talked to me enough times to know how much I value surprise within a script — and how you’ve got audiences who watch our show and have expectations, but they’ve also watched a million shows and they think they know what’s going to happen. When you have a finale like we have and you have a main character say ‘yes’ to a proposal and move away, you think ‘oh, they’re going to just reset that. She is going to come to her senses.’ We were like ‘nope!’. The surprise is that she’s gone, she’s in Indiana, and she’s planning to get married.

And yes, you picked out why I was most excited to write it because I get to have Hope come back (laughs)! As you know, I love to bring the foils into the show.

You love to stir the pot.

I love the pot-stirrers!

So what’s the overall theme for the season moving forward?

It’s definitely dealing with this loss and how different people get over things. I don’t know if you ever really get over it, but you deal with it emotionally on different levels and in different times. You’re going to see that play out over the first half of the season, if not longer.

I know Alberto Rosende is joining the show, and we’ve got a lot of big Shadowhunters fans on the site. What can you say about that character?

First of all, I love him. From the audition to what I’ve seen on set, he is a guy who will jump into whatever scene we ask him to do, whether it be funny or action-packed or suspenseful. He brings a level that is on par with all of our core actors. Talk about an instant kick for the show. The character is the same — the name of the second episode is “A Real Shot in the Arm,” and we were looking for a real shot in the arm for the firehouse because of the energy being rocked. He’s like a junior Severide / junior Casey rolled up into one.

Related News Be sure to get some more coverage of the Chicago Fire premiere and the big death

What did you think about the Chicago Fire premiere, and the big decision on Otis?

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