Chicago Fire’s Annie Ilonzeh talks Emily Foster’s future

CHICAGO FIRE -- "What Will Define You" Episode 707 -- Pictured: Annie Ilonzeh as Emily Foster -- (Photo by: Elizabeth Morris/NBC)
CHICAGO FIRE -- "What Will Define You" Episode 707 -- Pictured: Annie Ilonzeh as Emily Foster -- (Photo by: Elizabeth Morris/NBC) /

Chicago Fire star Annie Ilonzeh discusses Emily Foster’s future at Firehouse 51, comparisons to Gabriela Dawson, and what the show means to her.

Annie Ilonzeh is in the middle of her first Chicago Fire season, and like her character Emily Foster, she’s already made a strong impression.

Before this week’s midseason premiere, One Chicago Center connected with Annie to get the dish on what’s ahead for Foster now that she’s decided to stay at Firehouse 51. There’s a big storyline just around the corner!

She also discussed whether or not Foster feels that she’s living in the shadow of her predecessor Gabriela Dawson (Monica Raymund), and why it means so much to her to portray one of the first responders.

Get to know Annie Ilonzeh a little bit better below, and find out more about Emily Foster. Then be sure to tune in to a new Chicago Fire tomorrow on NBC!

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One Chicago Center: What was it about Emily Foster or Chicago Fire that originally interested you? What made you want to join the One Chicago franchise?

Annie Ilonzeh: She’s a courageous, ballsy, tough, brave woman and I think we need more of those women. Especially women of color that are in positions like that, that little girls of color can see and [that can be a] role model.

I’ve always been a fan of everything Dick Wolf. I legitimately watched Chicago PD and I worked with some of those guys [before]. I worked with Jesse Lee Soffer and Patrick John Flueger and even Sophia Bush, so I followed their careers, and I followed them on Chicago PD and just loved that.

I remember watching Chicago Fire for the first season and being in love with the fact these guys would go in there and save lives and be a version of superheroes. We see superheroes and we see them in the capes and costumes; these are real-life superheroes of the world, and to be able to portray that was a no-brainer.

OCC: The first part of Chicago Fire season 7 revealed that Foster is in an open relationship. How did you react to that character development, because we don’t see that often on TV.

Annie Ilonzeh: I thought that was great. I think we live in a world where we have to quantify and classify who we are by these definitions and these labels. She’s kind of open in not only her sexuality, but just also in life. She’s open to new experiences and figuring out as she goes.

I thought that was really something fun to explore, so when they brushed over it so quickly, I said no, let’s go back. I think maybe they thought I would be a little close-minded to it, how sometimes society tends to be, but it was something was a great honor for me to be able to explore.

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OCC: We saw Sylvie Brett (Kara Killmer) initially struggle to accept Foster and the way she worked compared to Dawson. Fans naturally compared the two characters as well. So how does Emily see the situation? Does she compare herself to Dawson at all?

Annie Ilonzeh: I don’t think she compares herself to Dawson in any way…There’s no filling of shoes or trying to replace or mimic that relationship. It’s a stand-alone on its own. Even in real life, you can never replace a person. It just doesn’t work like that. You honor the relationship, and hopefully you’re supportive of that person’s mourning or loss, and you can be there for them. Eventually Foster wins her over as a completely different person.

OCC: In the midseason finale, Brett took Foster’s advice and asked Kyle to dinner. So will Emily be involved in that budding relationship at all?

Annie Ilonzeh: I do think she’ll give advice. I think really what she longs for is the sisterhood, a friendship, a family with the department but specifically Brett. They spend the most time together and [Foster] lacks a bit of family. We found out that her mother died, so she already lacks one real important mother figure or female figure in her life, and in a way Brett kind of replaces or is able to substitute that relationship. Brett does become a big sister to her and a mother figure in certain aspects.

OCC: Speaking of relationships, there’s romance ahead for Foster as well.

Annie Ilonzeh: She does have a bit of a romantic relationship with a doctor, which I think is really fun. You see a different side of her in that regard. It’s fun to see them outside business and the work life. See their personal sides, and see what they’re doing outside of the firehouse. She has a relationship that takes an insane turn that we don’t see coming. That’ll be a lot of fun to watch, to see how she reacts. The layers of her when twists and turns happen.

OCC: You’ve been a part of some action-packed shows, recurring on Person of Interest and starring in the Charlie’s Angels reboot, to name but two. How does Chicago Fire compare to your other TV experiences?

Annie Ilonzeh: It’s non-stop. It’s like an adrenaline rush. I personally yearn for that. I love even when we’re in the ambo [with] the lights and sirens and we’re speeding down the streets of Chicago. We’re really doing things. I remember one of my first days—[Kara]’s driving the rig and Yuri [Sardarov]’s in the engine and Eamonn [Walker] is in his truck and I’m like wait, you guys really drive these things? You guys really speed down the streets of Chicago in the vehicles? And she’s like yeah, we really do this.

They’re literally trained stunt people and I couldn’t have asked for something more exciting. We get to do, I call them stunts, but [it’s] really more honoring the heroes of Chicago. The guys that really get out there on the front lines and do this every day. For me it’s exciting and I have a smile on my face, but for the cops and the paramedics out there who are really doing this, it’s life or death and the adrenaline is pumping on a whole new level. I try to think of it like that.

OCC: What was the moment where you felt you’d settled into playing Emily Foster?

Annie Ilonzeh: There was a conversation that Foster had with Boden at Molly’s [in the midseason finale]. She says I talked to the doctor and she offered me to come back and finish my residency, and basically quit being a paramedic and come back and be a doctor. The whole career that [she] wanted to pursue in the first place.

She’s having this conversation with him and he says what are you going to do? And she says I’ve already made my decision, I’m staying at the firehouse. She looks at him and she says, I realized one thing, I like myself here.

For me that’s when it clicked. I realized too that I really like myself with these guys. So it was Foster and Annie having the same moment at the same time, realizing this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

I felt her more than I ever had. And it was really thanks to a beautiful scene partner, too, because Eamonn is so giving and so generous with his talents and his heart and held my hand the entire time. That’s when I knew I understood Emily, and she understood me in a way, and the entire existence of Chicago Fire.

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