Chicago Fire’s Jeff Lima previews Leon Cruz’s return in crossover

Jeff Lima returns as Leon Cruz in the upcoming Chicago Fire crossover. Photo Credit: Courtesy of R. Couri Hay PR.
Jeff Lima returns as Leon Cruz in the upcoming Chicago Fire crossover. Photo Credit: Courtesy of R. Couri Hay PR. /

Jeff Lima returns as Leon Cruz in this week’s Chicago Fire-Chicago PD crossover, and spoke to One Chicago Center about joining Chicago Fire season 7.

Jeff Lima is the latest Chicago Fire alum to return to the series. When Fire has its crossover with Chicago PD this week, he’ll reappear as Leon Cruz, the brother of firefighter Joe Cruz (Joe Minoso).

Leon hasn’t been seen since last season, when he returned to Chicago to surprise Joe during his birthday party. So what brings him back to town this time? How is he involved in the crossover? And how much has he really changed since his difficult beginnings?

Get the answers to those questions and more by reading our interview with Jeff Lima below. Then look out for him during the Chicago Fire crossover with Chicago PD, this Wednesday starting at 9 p.m. on NBC.

One Chicago Center: What was your reaction when Chicago Fire wanted to bring back Leon one more time? Were you surprised to get the call?

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Jeff Lima: Definitely surprised. [You] always want to be invited back and [with] the direction in which the show is moving right now, it’s not something I anticipated. So to hear that the producers wanted to invite the character Leon back…it was definitely a breath of fresh air and it was such a great way to start the year.

OCC: Why is he coming back this week? How big of a role does he play in the crossover?

JL: We’re not allowed to give the details, but I will say this. We’re not used to seeing Leon in this light. When we saw Leon last [in season 6], he’s not in gangs anymore and he’s really cleaned up. But this time around, it’s cleaned-up Leon amplified. He’s actually warning others against evils that he sees coming. This is something we haven’t seen Leon do yet.

OCC: Before he appeared last season, we hadn’t seen him on Chicago Fire in a few years. Were you ever thinking about what was happening to him off-screen?

JL: We do know that Leon is getting some sun out in Florida, where he lives now; he’d been sent off to Witness Protection. As far as the day to day for Leon, it’s something that I think about every now and again. I think it’s just super-important, even if I don’t know with certainty that I may be on this season or next season, to be reminded that this character is human. That every day Leon is living.

We want to make sure that Leon is consistent and that the character’s consistently growing. Reza [Tabrizi] directs this particular episode, and while we were on set shooting, it was great that he even reminded me of the nuances in Leon’s life. It brings out a certain truth that we won’t get if we just kind of play what’s on the page. We do have to dig much deeper into what Leon’s life was like in the past, and more importantly what Leon is like outside of those pages and in between episodes or instances in which we don’t see Leon for a long time.

OCC: Leon’s life has changed drastically from gang member, to undercover with Chicago PD and now this. How much have you had to change playing him now compared to back then?

JL: It’s actually a very scary thing because not being on set all the time, I may forget a few things about Leon. In seasons 1 and 2, he is this very hard and tough character and sometimes he’s stoic. He’s so hard that I think at times he was numb from his own emotions. And I definitely want to make sure his character is consistent.

But a couple seasons later, when we see him again in season 6, he’s completely cleaned up and moreso in season 7. I definitely want to play that big transformation but it still has to be true to Leon. Even though Leon is this cleaned-up person, you’re never going to see Leon skipping down the street. He’s not that happy-go-lucky. There’s certain truths we have to remain loyal to and I hope that I’m doing that correctly on set.

OCC: One thing that’s never changed is his love for his brother. How did you form that bond with Joe Minoso and what’s it like for you to work together, especially since you don’t get to do so regularly?

JL: When i first went to Chicago, Joe welcomed me like we almost knew each other our whole lives and nothing has changed. We live in different cities but he’s extended himself to me professionally so I definitely take refuge being around Joe and I think that translates to our on-camera chemistry. Even though we’re not in each other’s space, those moments in which we get to coexist are golden and magical, and I hope that we bring that aesthetic to the screen.

OCC: Any other Chicago Fire characters you’d like to see Leon Cruz interact with more?

JL: I would love for Leon to have an exchange with [Stella] Kidd. When we see Leon in season 6 he’s just struck by Kidd. He finds her gorgeous. But Kidd has been in a relationship with Severide; Leon didn’t stand a chance. I would like for that awkward moment to play out between Kidd and Leon—see what that looks like.

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OCC: What has Jeff Lima been doing when he’s not filming Chicago Fire?

JL: Tisch School of the Arts [at New York University], they now have the Jeff Lima Production Award, which is a $10,000 grant that is bestowed on a student of the graduate program for their thesis film. That will be granted every year.

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