Lou Ferrigno Jr. Talks Return To 9-1-1, Tommy's Past & New Romance

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Tommy Kinard returned to 9-1-1 in a way many may not have expected.

The firefighter, last seen during 9-1-1 Season 2 Episode 16, was part of a much different 118 than we're used to. And he moved on from the firehouse right before it truly became the close-knit, found family that's captured the hearts of so many.

Tommy's return during 9-1-1 Season 7 Episode 3 came during a nail-biting rescue, which saw Tommy flying over treacherous waters to help save the day alongside firefighters from his past and firefighters who would soon become a part of his immediate future.


Lou Ferrigno Jr., an actor with a series of credits to his name, including S.W.A.T. and Outer Banks, has played Tommy since his introduction during 9-1-1 Season 2.


Returning after a five-season gap between appearances, Ferrigno Jr. was ecstatic to return to a show he loved working on.


"It's always fun to rescue a cap-size cruise liner," Ferrigno Jr. told me when we met up on a Zoom call to discuss a multitude of topics revolving around his return to the current darling of network television.

"It's tough, dangerous work, Whitney, but someone's got to do it. No, I love this show. I have loved this show since I was on it. I loved this show from when it first aired.

"I'm also on a show called S.W.A.T., and it came out right before this one, and no show made me concerned. I was like, 'S.W.A.T.'s much better.' But this was always just a great, great, great show.

"I love the crew. The last scene in Bobby Begins Again, we shot it when we were driving on the freeway. And I remember that day I was just so sad because I thought to myself, I'm not coming back.

"And it was the only show I've ever felt good about myself afterward for a myriad of reasons. But I am beyond thrilled to have been asked back and in the capacity I have been.


"I'm just excited for what's to come."

Coming back during 9-1-1 Season 7, Tommy was initially shown to be an old acquaintance helping during an emergency, but his appearance was never envisioned as a one-off.

"I met Tim Minear briefly during 9-1-1 Season 7 Episode 3, and Tim's always been just incredible," Ferrigno Jr. remarked when asked about what those talks surrounding his return were like.

"He communicated to me that he is a big fan, which is amazing. I am a Scorpio. He's a Scorpio. He called me up, and it was no big deal.

"So, it happens in phases. My manager said 9-1-1 called, and I was like, 'Cool.' And then he is like, 'All right, well, they called for an arc.' And I'm like, 'Four episodes? Cool.'


"Then I had to talk to Tim, and Tim just called me. He had my number and said there would be a make-out, kiss scene, whatever, what have you. But everything was kind of contingent on that.

"And I understood that that was the love angle they were trying to go for. Admittedly, it was a challenge for me. It was something I hadn't done. It was absolutely nothing I couldn't do.

"It was just a matter of what was the right role for me. And the more we talked about it, the more Tim built Tommy to be the coolest guy who's ever lived. This guy, he does everything and saves lives? And I love when Buck's like, 'Is Tommy cool?' I mean, he flew into a hurricane on the belly of a cruise ship.

"You have to admit, it's pretty cool. It's fucking cool.

"And so I couldn't say no. I had no idea that it was going to be the hundredth episode and the Bachelor crossover, but I knew that given this context, given the player that I've already established myself as, which is, as far as anyone is concerned, a guy's guy of a firefighter, I knew it was going to come as a tremendous surprise to a lot of people.


"And I believed I could do it convincingly. There was a fear and trepidation of whether I would be able to artistically come through. And I knew that I would never grow as an actor or a person if I didn't take this risk or take a risk.

"And given the situation and how Tim was writing it for me, he believes in me; God bless him; that's the nicest thing I've ever heard anyone say. I was not going to let Tim down and he's thrilled.

"He texts me and tells me he's thrilled. And I'm like, 'I'm just doing my job, man.' But this is very unique, and it's proven to be very unique.

"People are talking about T.V. history and stuff like that, and I can't really recall another character like Tommy and/or a situation such as this."

Television history is far from an overstatement, with Evan "Buck" Buckley's storyline and the evolving relationship between Buck and Tommy garnering much acclaim from fans and even those new to the 9-1-1 Universe.


With social media, television shows can garner a much larger audience via clips and edits making their way to people who may not be familiar with the series.

Ferrigno Jr. sees the conversations.

"It's incredibly humbling," the actor told me when discussing what it's like to be involved in a story of this magnitude.

"I don't even know what I did. It had to be believable, and I'll die before I do bad work. So, I'm still at the start of the race, being like, 'So, you guys liked it or not? Was it? That looked? No. Okay, cool. All right.'

"I'm still concerned. Is this real? I don't know.


"It's just fascinating because honestly, it was something I would say I wouldn't have done, but it was really out of fear. But what matters is if it's right for the role, if you're right for the role, if it's right for the time, if it's right for the performance."

When approaching this storyline, Ferrigno Jr. looked to one of last year's most memorable television episodes.

The Last of Us Season 1 Episode 3 was a masterpiece of an hour, and it profoundly impacted the actor and his approach to the closing moments of 9-1-1 Season 7 Episode 4.

"I saw that, and I was blown away," Ferrigno Jr. says of The Last of Us episode. "Because it had nothing to do with them, it was two souls connecting, and so many analogies ran through my head. He's learning to walk, but it's this love.

"Chad Lowe, who directed the episode, brought that up, and he said it was a smart decision for me to do just because it's like I'm doing superhero stuff, I'm doing cop stuff.


"I mean, I've kicked so much ass, Whitney. It's time to just be a tender, vulnerable guy. And I was working on Tommy, connecting with Buck in a real moment, similar to Nick Offerman in The Last of Us.

"And honestly, it was beautiful, and I think when people watch it because I've been watching a lot of these reaction videos and a lot of love has come from this episode, and a lot of positive response has come, and that's what I'm most grateful for.

"It doesn't matter who has sex with whom; it's no one's business. And it's just unfortunate that we have to be in a society where people want to be mean and want to be cruel and whatnot.

"So to be able to tell the story of someone who happens to be on that side of the spectrum, of the L.G.B.T.Q. Spectrum has been such a blessing and gift because it shows I can do these things and connect, and I love what I do so much.

"I feel like this is the first time people see that I love it.


"I thought the way they structured it and let us play it out was great.

"It was supposed to be a full make-out, but then I told Tim, 'Look, I don't like to watch anybody make out on screen or have sex on screen.' I'm like, 'It takes away from everything. It doesn't add to the story.'

"And then I'm always thinking, 'Oh, tongue,' because you're not supposed to do tongue. It's just a distraction. So, as it was written, and also because Tommy shows up and Tommy is really hanging out with Eddie, hanging out with Eddie, and then Tommy comes over to the house, and then he makes a move.

"It's like he doesn't want Tommy. And considering I'm older than Oliver, he didn't want Tommy to seem predatory. So, we had to finesse that because I'm not the most approachable human being.


"It's a character, it's an actor, it's a craft. And who would I be to turn this down for something that's not even some bullshit? It's been such a treat, and there's a sensitivity to this badass that I have yet to be able to handle in terms of people not writing that for me. I can only do so much. But no, it's been great."

During that gif-worthy scene, Tommy appeared surprised by Buck's interest in him, which I questioned Ferrigno Jr. about.

"Tommy genuinely had no idea," he responded when asked whether Tommy may have had a clue Buck had been trying to get his attention all along.

"The way I created Tommy is that he was from an unstable home. He never really had brothers. He had people that he related to, but nothing really stable.

"I don't think he sensed that from Buck, but he is hyper-aware. I feel like he knew the tension was there, and it's not the first time he's gotten it where people are like, 'Oh man, Tommy,' and he's just like, 'This is what Tommy does.'


"Cool people are cool because they're themselves. It is like they're not looking at everyone else. Am I cool? I am cool now. It's like, no, you're just cool, be yourself.

"I figured Tommy figured something's going on with Buck and Eddie. I don't know if it's a bromance. I don't know if it's more serious, but then I realized when it does come to blows, I'm like, 'Things were great before.'

"And Tommy and Eddie have always talked about Buck. Christopher talks all the time about Buck. Everyone's very clear.

"Buck is the one that kind of becomes a little like…and I don't blame him though. We're doing all this cool shit, and I thought it was funny, but he's like, 'Yeah, big unification bout,' and Tommy's like, 'Yeah, yeah, it's the best fight to go to.'

"And I'm trying to downplay it. I feel bad. I feel bad because I like him a lot. And I'll give you another one. What if he's not my type, really? And I wouldn't have thought that.


"I'm sure you've been in a situation where someone's into you, and you're like, 'Wait, really?' It's almost like, 'Oh, shit.'

"And Tommy's a smart guy. He got what that meant, enough to take the risk."

Tommy had a checkered past at the 118, under the rule of Captain Gerrard, a close-minded and profoundly ignorant man. It was a different time in the 118, and Tommy was in the thick of it.

Ferrigno Jr. was candid as he opened up about Tommy's past and his evolution into the man we're re-meeting in this current season.

"It's my job to make sense of everything," Ferrigno Jr. declared. "Tommy, there was nothing about his sexual orientation when we first did this.


"I also look back and remember when Sal makes that joke. Tommy's like, 'I don't even know what that means.' He's like, 'It means you're gay.' Tommy's like, 'I'm not like that.'

"I did that in a very bro-y way, not knowing. But now, when I go back to that, the truth is Tommy, similar to Buck, was always trying to fill that void in him. He had a very hard upbringing.

"There was no real stability. And I think with Captain Gerrard, because he was the figure in place, he was just going to go with how the 118 goes, and he just adapts to his superior.

"It wasn't until recently, after he left for the 217 and started flying, that he discovered that he doesn't need to. He knows what's right, and he knows what's good, and he doesn't need to go with the flow.

"Yes, there was plenty of ignorance, and Sal, too -- like, Sal would never talk to Tommy again.


"And Tommy did not plan to have anything with Buck, necessarily. Tommy doesn't make it about sex. It's about connecting. He's had a hard time growing up, and it was the first time that a man was kind to him, Captain Gerrard. So, he just thought that was the way things happened.

"You can see that with Hen. It was just veneer, really. When we didn't like her, it was because she was a female and because she was, I guess, black, but let's play that, though, because it was very much like white boys.

"But Tommy was always receptive to Hen when she was talking, and she was always willing to learn. And when Chimney saved Tommy then…he really didn't know. I feel like he genuinely didn't know because he has a good heart.

"And also, who would've thought that Hen would be as capable as she is? She's an incredible fucking firefighter. So for a guy like Tommy, it's like, 'Well, if you're not going to pick up your slack, then...'

"But he's learned, I think maybe through Hen, that women are fucking badass and women they can be depended on in a do-or-die situation. With Chimney saving his life, that broke everything down.


"That's when I think Tommy opened up to them rather than Captain Gerrard and created that. Because you could tell in the beginning of the scene, in Bobby Begins Again, with the betting thing.

"He's found a place with these people, and then Bobby comes in, and Tommy didn't want to start anything, and you could tell right when Sal began turning back to Bobby, you could tell, because Tommy, he doesn't want confrontation.

"He is afraid to fuck up in a sense. And that's how he was raised because he'd just get chastised. I mean, that's how I've justified why he likes flying. He gets to get away. He gets to be free.

“If he dies, he dies. But it's like he's free as a bird. And all the high-octane, high-adrenaline stuff. He's just a badass dude. I think that he's learned, grown, and really just discovered who he is and what makes him happy."

One thing currently making him happy is his newfound relationship with Buck, which is very new but progressing in an interesting way.


9-1-1 Season 7 Episode 5 saw the two go on an awkward first date after a run-in with Eddie and his girlfriend, Marisol.

Things went so south that Tommy cut the date short.

"I thought it was a little premature because Buck's a hottie, and he's a good firefighter, and he is a good person," Ferrigno Jr. replied when asked whether or not he thought it was the right move for Tommy to cut things off there.

"Given the circumstances, we just kissed. There's something there. We go on a date, and then Eddie happens to show up because there's only one restaurant, I guess, in L.A., and I would totally understand if he was nervous and whatnot.

"Tommy doesn't give a shit if anyone else knows or whatever. And that's what's so beautiful about him: it won't change things. That's why he's like, 'Eddie!' He's like, 'Oh, great.'


"I wasn't sure if Buck confided to Eddie. I don't think so, or if he was going to. But yes, I thought it was a bit premature, considering I'm very aware that these are murky waters if you're not sure.

"Unfortunately, a lot of society hasn't evolved, but no, also, I think Tommy doesn't want to get hurt. Tommy doesn't want this to be another blank, which was somebody who basically put on the show and hurt me. I'm at the point now where Tommy wants to find something special.

"Tommy's at the point now where he wants to find something special."

When Ferrigno Jr. asked me what I would have done, I jokingly replied I'd never talk to the person again. He responded, "I know, right? With the Lyft coming up. I had to justify that, too.

"I just get up and go. But see, Tommy, I think, he's so used to saving lives and fighting fires and all this stuff where it's like, if it's not great, I got to move on. It's almost like a very A.D.H.D. trauma thing with Buck, and for him to just get up and go is like, 'Well, at least we didn't share too many secrets and get hurt.'


"But honestly, on the flip side of it, respect to Tommy. He doesn't want to put up with someone who doesn't know who they are, and he's not shaming him for it. He didn't shame him for it.

"He knows what he wants. You know what you want, Whitney. If you want a salad with kidney beans, you go get some kidney beans. And they're like, 'Oh, we only have potato salad, which has mayonnaise in it. That's the only salad we have.' It's like, 'No, no.'

"You know what you want, and you're not going to have that. And I think relationships are the same way. It's like I dated a vegetarian one time, which was challenging, and I think life just adds a little focus to that camera, and that's where we're finding Tommy is past that, but Evan is kind of putting things into focus."

The future for Buck and Tommy is decidedly unclear, and Ferrigno Jr. is also curious to see how things could shake out between the pair.


"I have no idea," he explained when asked what the future could hold for the duo. "If the writers do choose to extend this storyline and make it into its own thing, I am very unfamiliar with anything similar. The novelty alone would garner some attention, but I'm just as excited as you are to find out."

One final tease he did have about Tommy, as it pertains to his role as the season continues:

"If you like him now, you'll love him even more by the end."

***This interview has been edited for length and clarity.***

You can watch 9-1-1 on Thursdays at 8/7c on ABC.



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