Joining the cast of a hit series can be a nerve-wracking situation for an actor. You don’t know how the cast will treat you and if you’ll fit in. But, for Daniel di Tomasso, it’s just another day in the park.
Coming off two seasons with the long-running TNT series Major Crimes, Tomasso was able to transition from cop to firefighter with ease. Daniel plays Zach, a Hazmat officer who happens to be involved on a call that the fine men and women of Firehouse 51 are on as well.
Besides Major Crimes, Tomasso has also appeared in series such as Timeless, Grimm and Good Girls Revolt. Some of you may remember him from the cult Lifetime series Witches of East End.
Today, we sit down with Daniel to talk about his new role on Chicago Fire, what fans can look forward to with his character this season, his thoughts about his time on Major Crimes and why he thinks Witches of East End still has a following after being cancelled.
Pop Culture Principle – You recently appeared in your first episode of Chicago Fire. What can you tell us about your character Zach?
Daniel di Tomasso – It was one of those auditions where they really didn’t have a description of the character. I didn’t know what to make of it, so I just went with what was on the page. Zach is very professional, he wants to help out where he can and as far as I am concerned, he may be unaware of the effect that he has on women. 😊 He’s a solid guy who is smart and it will be revealed a little bit later that he got his chemistry degree from Georgia Tech. He loves fighting fires because it is his calling. He’s a down to earth guy who takes a liking to Stella Kidd.
Pop Culture Principle – What types of research and training, if any, did you do to prepare for the role?
Daniel di Tomasso – I actually wanted to be a firefighter when I was a little kid, true story. I kind of veered off that path when I discovered theater in high school and continued theater in college and that was that.
I should really start by saying that my cousin is a firefighter. She is a bad ass firefighter. She’s strong, she’s smart, she’s an amazing person and decided to be a firefighter as a career. I have the utmost respect for the men and women who fight fires, who show up for car crashes or any type of distress. Often times, the first people on the scene are firefighters and as I said, I have the utmost respect for them.
I definitely gave my cousin a call and gave her the good news. She was probably the third or fourth person to know about the booking. We kind of chatted about the character and the job.
Pop Culture Principle – We get the hint that there may be some romantic sparks between Zach and Stella. Will we see more of this relationship as the season continues?
Daniel di Tomasso – Definitely. I don’t think I’m ruining anything by saying that Zach likes Stella. He asks her out and I think they hit it off right off the bat. Zach does not know the history between Stella and Severide. But, he’s a smart guy and I think he put 2 and 2 together pretty quickly, but as you can imagine, anytime there is a triangle, there is tons of room for awkwardness and confusion and drama.
I am sure there are probably some very loyal fans to Stella and Kelly. I am sure there is a ship name going around. But that is half the fun when you come on a show and throw a little wrench in that relationship. So, we will see how the fans respond and hopefully they will enjoy the ride. It’s interesting, because it’s not like either of the guys are possessive of her, it’s really her journey and her thing to figure out. She’s a really strong-minded individual and she ultimately knows what she wants and she kind of gets there.
Pop Culture Principle – This is the second large ensemble cast that you’ve joined that has been together for a while. Was it easier this time to quickly get acclimated to this cast having been through it before?
Daniel di Tomasso – I have to say, both groups were very welcoming to me and just good people to work with and I’m not just saying that. I have been lucky in that respect because every once in a while, you hear horror stories about things like that, so I got lucky.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t nervous. Obviously, you join a show that’s been on the air for a while, take Major Crimes, for instance, there is a formula that they are working with and the chemistry they all have has been working really well. Suddenly, you bring in the new guy and it can be nerve-wracking, but as a testament to everyone on the show, by the second scene I was comfortable and these actors where a great group to play with.
Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with your character on this season of Chicago Fire?
Daniel di Tomasso – You can look forward to some whirly ball. Initially, I didn’t know what it was and I had to do some research on it. It’s a sport that is very popular in the Midwest and Zach is really into it. You can look forward to Stella experiencing whirly ball for the first time with Zach. 😊 You know what, I don’t want to say much, I’d rather let the audience go for the ride because I think they are going to be questioning where it’s going to go and I think they should, so I don’t want to give away anything that leads them one way or another.
Pop Culture Principle – In the final season of Major Crimes, it seemed like Wes Nolan showed more of his personality and seemed to know where he fits into the squad. Would you agree with that?
Daniel di Tomasso – Absolutely and I appreciate you mentioning that. His first season, he was coming out of the world of being undercover and it was a really tough adjustment for him to go from following his own instincts to having to work within a group and also take orders and report to people and it just wasn’t his speed.
In the final season of Major Crimes, Wes is slowly starting to find his footing in the group and they bring in a new character Camila Page and Wes having just been through that, takes her under his wing and kind of guides her a bit. When you are on a procedural, the days where you have some of that fun banter, a little bit of that humor and that personality coming through, those are the great times on set and I wish we had another three or four seasons to explore that because as the series progressed, the writers kept giving me more and more stuff to work with. The character began taking on more colors and that was an absolute pleasure.
Pop Culture Principle – We just began to scratch the surface when it came to Wes Nolan’s backstory. Do you wish there could have been more of that in the sixth season and where would you see the character had the show continued?
Daniel di Tomasso – Absolutely! I never actually had a discussion with James Duff about his backstory before his undercover stint. Every minute of that time was brutal and he was in deep, so he didn’t have much of a personal life. He certainly doesn’t have a significant other.
Who was Wes beforehand? What possesses someone to go undercover? Again, we never talked about it, but there are certain clues about Wes that were given to me just by the stuff that was on the pages of the script. We know that he was pretty quick to pull his gun. I think that’s partially because he spent so much time undercover and he had to survive on instincts, he went with the impulse. If he felt threatened or challenged, Wes would probably be the first person to pull out their gun and take care of business. Where did that come from? Did he have a rough childhood? Did he have any mentors in his life?
I always imagined that he probably didn’t have anything handed to him and had to work very hard for everything that he got. He didn’t have a positive role model or father figure in his life that put him on the straight and narrow. He had to figure that out himself and that’s partly why he comes up against authority and challenges authority. Also, him wanting to do right and feeling like he wanted to make a positive impact on the community and in his mind, that was becoming a member of the LAPD.
Pop Culture Principle – If the series had continued, it seemed that hints were being dropped about a possible relationship between Wes and Camila Page. If true, do you feel that would have made for an interesting storyline?
Daniel di Tomasso – Absolutely. I think it’s always fun when you kind of layer in as many personal relationships as possible. You’ve got to hand it to James Duff for writing such rich characters in a procedural style show. I got twenty episodes and Jessica got about thirteen episodes and that wasn’t a lot of time to develop those characters and I think moving forward, it would have been really a lot of fun to see who these people were and who they were to each other.
I think Wes noticed her and immediately took a liking to her and wanted to help her through her transition into the unit. Finally, he got the courage to ask her out and we never got that taco! I’d like to imagine somewhere down the line, Wes and Cami are enjoying a couple of beers and tacos.
Jessica Meraz is an amazing person and a wonderful actress and someone who was really easy to work with. It was always a pleasure to spar with her on set and I really liked what the writers were doing with the flirty kind of banter that was going back and forth. You really didn’t know where she stood really, but you got the sense that there was a genuine kind of spark and care between them and I think that was the intention and I’m glad that you mentioned it because I think that is what the writers were going for.
Pop Culture Principle – One of the big controversies with the fans was the death of Sharon Raydor. Some felt the death did a disservice to the character. When did you find out that Sharon Raydor would be killed off from the show and do you feel it was the right decision?
Daniel di Tomasso – Right before the script was passed out, each member of the cast was called into the office to speak with James Duff and Mike Robin. Those two men are two of the classiest men that I have ever worked with in my life. I think they spoke to everyone because they didn’t want people to feel like they were blindsided with what was going on because the initial response would be very emotional.
Let me first say that I’m not privy to any decision that is being made for the show whether it be what I say as a character or what character lives or dies. My understanding is that once they knew that the series was ending, I think they wanted to take control of it and I think they wanted to tell a story that required the passing of Sharon Raydor.
I will also add that my understanding is that James, Mike, and Mary had been in discussions about this for a while and I think they were waiting to know if the show was ending. They wanted to give the audience a story that would have the weight of losing such a meaningful character. I am totally sympathetic to the fans that were very saddened by it and I think that was the intention for them to feel that loss. I think the fact that so many people felt the loss as intensely as they did, it’s because of the brilliant work that Mary McDonnell did and the amazing writing that James Duff did and that collaboration was incredible.
I feel it man. We’ve all had our favorite characters killed off shows or leave shows and there is a knee-jerk response to it and trust me, I’ve been there. But, it also opens things up for a more meaningful and intense experience as the story moves forward. I have to say, Mary was incredible and one of the things you don’t usually see in procedural style shows is the emotional depths that Mary was able to go to given her storyline and I think that was some pretty smart storytelling and it allowed her to go out with a real showcasing of her amazing talent. Also, Tony Denison’s work was amazing and I feel the entire cast was able to tap into a more meaningful and authentic place when faced with that tragedy in their circle.
Look, I wish we were on the air for another couple of years and we were being led by Sharon Raydor, but the show was taken away from us and it was ended on the terms of the people that gave birth to it and I think that’s appropriate. I have tremendous respect for both James and Mary and I feel very fortunate to have been on the Major Crimes ride with them.
Pop Culture Principle – You also starred in the fan favorite Lifetime series Witches of East End. Are you surprised that the series was canceled almost 4 years ago, there is still a big fanbase for the show?
Daniel di Tomasso – Hmm, am I surprised? Yes and no. It’s always extremely flattering and wonderful when you get a Twitter message or Facebook message from a fan who has just discovered Witches of East End. I think as a genre show, it really had so much potential and I am not surprised that there are still people who love the show.
They put together a really great group of actors. It was a show that was led by fierce women that were all so talented and so engaging at a time when this business is hopefully having a truly reflective moment about how are we treating our women and how are we portraying women. I don’t know too many shows that have their top four billed actors are women. I don’t know of a show that is centered around fiercely independent women, but at the same time are 100 percent committed and supportive of each other.
Witches of East End was a special show. Throw in the supernatural element which seems to be very popular and it’s the type of show that fans find. It’s the type of show that over time, fans will find it and with all the ways that you can watch television series now with streaming and things like that, people that are interested in that type of storytelling and that kind of show, they eventually find the show.
It was a huge blow that Witches of East End didn’t get renewed for a third season. There were so many loose ends that needed to be tied up and it’s so unfair canceling the show with cliffhangers. The show had so much potential and there were so many stories that you could tell. It’s just too bad that they didn’t have the opportunity to tell a few more before they pulled the plug on us because our fans were incredibly loyal and supportive.
The fans of Major Crimes have my respect because they are unbelievable and Chicago Fire has a fantastic fan base, but Witches of East End, those fans were off the charts enthusiastic.
I think part of the challenge of this business is being able to accept things and move on. So many variables are out of our control and things that we have nothing to do with. Sometimes, you just have to accept and move on and just know that you got a valuable and wonderful experience and just bring that with you when you move forward.
We’d like to send a big thank you to Daniel di Tomasso for sitting down with us for the interview. You can catch all new episodes of Chicago Fire every Thursday night at 10/9c. If you would like to keep up with all of Daniel’s latest news and projects, you can follow him on his official Twitter account @danielditomasso.
**Main photo courtesy of Kei Moreno Photography**
**Chicago Fire photos courtesy of Elizabeth Morris/NBC**
**Major Crimes photos courtesy of TNT**
**Witches of East End photos courtesy of Lifetime**