NEW YORK - OK, so some things about producer-comedian-actor Denis Leary are controversial - his misguided crack about autism in his 2008 book, “Why We Suck”; the byline “Dr. Denis Leary” on that book, although he has only an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Emerson College in Boston; and his much-cited swiping of material from comedians Louis CK and the late Bill Hicks.
But humans aren’t simple animals, and so we also find that his Leary Firefighters Foundation and its spin-off, The Fund for New York’s Bravest, have raised both money for and the spirits of countless firefighters in the wake of 9-11.
He may be a native of Worcester, Mass., but series star and co-creator Leary stays true to New York City firefighters’ lives in his FX series, “Rescue Me,” returning for a 22-episode fifth season on Tuesday. From the set on his last week of shooting, Leary spoke with Frank Lovece.
Q. Last season ended with Charles Durning, who plays your character Tommy Gavin’s reprobate father, dying. Tommy’s a barely recovering alcoholic, he’s estranged from his ex-wife, he has a tempestuous relationship with his kids. Geez, what else can you throw at him?
A. Well, he’s always had an issue with his father in terms of how he was brought up, how dysfunctional his family was. How his father raised him has affected everything in the family. Then, just as he was about to get close to his father, his father passed away and that sets off a whole series of events for Tommy, especially (in his thinking about) what kind of a father he is. And now 9-11 is being revisited through the eyes of this French journalist (recurring guest Karina Lombard), because people are getting ready two years away from the (10th anniversary) to have the documentaries and the books and the TV specials about 9-11, which is really happening in firehouses as well as other places in the city. It’s not quite where Tommy really wishes to go. It’s self-examination, and it’s not what he’d like to be doing. I think it’s interesting for the audience; it’s really rich in terms of writing for the actors.
Q. Speaking of actors, Jack McGee, who was a real New York City firefighter in the 1970s, while he was pursuing acting, left his role as station house chief Jerry Reilly the season before last. He’s described the departure in pretty acrimonious terms. What’s your side of that?
A. My side of that is that there are plenty of actors on the show who are extremely happy, and everything else remains private. Jack McGee, if he’s denying that he sat in a room in my trailer with me and had a long conversation more than once about his behavior and his attitude, he’s lying. OK? That’s as far as I’ll go. I have plenty of people to back me up as to the conversations, and when they occurred and how. So I’m not gonna listen to Jack McGee talk bull. The best way I can answer this question is, ask anybody else on the set.
Q. New York’s Film Production Tax Credit program, which provides a significant tax break for film and TV productions here, ran out of money in February, and there’s been no indication from the governor that it’s being renewed. Your show’s been renewed for another season after this one. How are you managing to keep shooting in New York, when other shows, such as “Fringe,” have left?
A. That’s a big controversy right now. If you don’t give tax breaks in production, productions immediately go someplace else. Not even just Canada; they go to Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island; they’re all building in tax breaks, trying to attract production. The idea of New York not competing on that level is pretty much insane. New York City is a character in the show, so we’ve been lucky that we have the support of the Fire Department, and we have real firefighters working on the show. The mayor’s office, recognizing that, has gone out of its way to help us. But I really think this is something the governor and the mayor have to come together on. Sometimes, they forget how valuable a movie or a television series shooting in New York is, not just in terms of what it puts onscreen but the money it brings into the city in terms of how much work it generates.
Q. Sounds like we’ve gotten Boston out of your blood.
A. I just want to say one thing to the people of New York, the great state of New York, the great City of New York: Go Sox!