Daniel Kyri talks Chicago Fire, Pride Paley exhibit, and more (exclusive)

CHICAGO FIRE -- "Completely Shattered" Episode 1103 -- Pictured: Daniel Kyri as Darren Ritter -- (Photo by: George Burns Jr/NBC)
CHICAGO FIRE -- "Completely Shattered" Episode 1103 -- Pictured: Daniel Kyri as Darren Ritter -- (Photo by: George Burns Jr/NBC) /

Daniel Kyri sat down with One Chicago Center to talk all things Ritter in Chicago Fire, the Paley exhibit where all Ritter’s gear is on display, and more.

Ritter has come a long way since his initial introduction as a firefighter who didn’t feel like he was really up for the job in Chicago Fire. The emergency situation got the better of him, and it was Herrmann who stopped and gave him the pep talk he needed.

A lot of firefighters would have looked past him after that. Not Herrmann. He saw something special, and now we have a beloved member of Firehouse 51; a man who is willing to do everything he can for his firehouse family. He’s stepped up when nobody else has, and he works in the shadows not looking for recognition. That makes him a true hero.

He’s also the only gay firefighter on the team. This is especially important now as we see so many anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments around the world. We talked to Daniel Kyri exclusively about his experiences playing the role and what he would like to see for Ritter moving forward. We also talked about the Paley exhibition where you can see all of Ritter’s gear on show now until Saturday, July 9.

Daniel Kryi discusses what he’d like to see next for Ritter on Chicago Fire

One Chicago Center: What’s it like bringing not just a gay man on the screen but a gay firefighter?

Daniel Kyri: I’ll level with you. Frankly, it’s iconic. I love Ritter and I love the position that I’m in to get to tell his story. There is some overlap between myself and my character, but there is a world of difference between us as well, so there is a challenge to represent adequately what that must be like in the environment that he’s in and doing the work that he does. I have so much fun with it.

OCC: I feel like we don’t get to see enough of his personal life compared to everyone else’s. Is this a conversation to have to show more of what queer love looks like once this strike is over?

Kyri: I am so hopeful that that is going to be the case. I think that for all the wonderful, brilliant things we do as champions of representation on our show, no one can be complacent, and no one can get by without evolving.

I think one step toward evolution is a deeper examination of what makes this person who he is. We’ve seen who he is now. We know he can stand on his own; we know he’s competent, powerful, heroic, and heartfelt, and all of the things we’ve come to love. Now let’s see what’s a little messier: love. Let’s do a love triangle and let’s authentically champion and center a narrative of queer love. Or at the very least, kind of an examination of what it’s like when queer love gets messy.

I think characters like Ritter deserve the full range of humanity, and I think that would be wonderful to play with, and I know the writers are open to explore more of that. It’s a matter of time and that they’re adequately compensated, and we’ll get to the other side of the strike, and we’ll have plenty of conversations about what’s next.

OCC: Was there any fear of coming in and feeling like he would be a token gay character? And how did you make sure that wasn’t the case?

Kyri: I think the key to not just checking a box with a character lives within the small and specific moments, the nuances of the characterization as well as the writing. The writers do a really good job of writing him true to the character, and I think the responsibility I’ve taken on is to really offer depth and a specific point of view wherever I can.

Ritter is a deeply complex person. Of course, he has been shaped by his experiences as a queer black man. I think it’s led him to empathy and compassion in a very fast-paced career path, so to see how he balances those things, that’s where the nuance comes from. He’s got to be the badass, the hero. He’s got to run into the fire, but his experiences have really shaped him. When I run into the character of who he is, that’s where the specificity and the nuance really shine.

OCC: Speaking of experiences that shape him, we’ve ended season 11 on this huge cliffhanger. Whichever way it goes, it’s going to have an effect on Ritter. He’s looked up so much to Mouch and Herrmann, and I love that he takes their advice, but he also brings his own way of doing things. What would you like to see for Ritter with everything?

Kyri: I think that the writers have already done such a brilliant job of bringing him full circle in so many ways. We get to see Ritter slowly but surely, in his own way, enter into these wise roles, grown-up roles, and dynamics, with his own mentors. We’ve seen him make decisions to care for his lieutenant when Herrmann was going through hard times. We’ve seen the flip of the script where Ritter is trying to help Mouch through some engineering training. I think now with what’s happening with the dynamic of Ritter and Kylie, there’s a new layer.

What I would love is really seeing his earned influences in the firehouse and the ways he has become a proficient member of that team. I would love to see more of that; of him taking charge and knowing what to do and solving whatever obstacle is in his way.

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Get up close to Ritter’s gear at the Paley Center

OCC: I am so excited about the Paley exhibit for you. What was that conversation like?

Kyri: What’s really funny is before [opening night], I wasn’t entirely sure, but then I got to meet the woman who is the brains behind the operation of what Paley Center is. She comes from a family of firefighters, so hearing her own experiences with certain events, including the thing that shaped and changed a nation—9/11—and hearing her so passionately speak about it, I came to understand why she loved a show like Chicago Fire.

I think there’s something so kismet about pride, Will and Grace, and the medium of television to tell stories. Others feel the impact of a character like Ritter during this time. It’s so huge, and it was just the right place, right time kind of scenario. It really is powerful and impactful and I’m super proud.

OCC: It is Pride month. Queer people are facing backlash. I don’t always feel safe, and I’m in Canada rather than the United States. Why is it so important now to have this representation onscreen and at the Paley Center?

Kyri: I think it’s important because we need to learn how to push back, and I think one of the ways in which we can do that is by being unapologetic with who we are; of taking up space and not asking for it. I think so many of our heroes who have even led to this month-wide celebration of queerness, those folks were freedom fighters. It wasn’t just rainbows and glitter. It was stonewalling and fighting back and not letting the prevailing thought of the time define who you were as an individual.

I think the crossover there of what we need now and the power of the moving image, is just that. It’s being unapologetic, it’s fighting back, it’s saying ‘No, look at me.’ A character like Ritter says ‘Look at me. I am here, I exist, and there is nothing you can say or do that is ever going to change that.’ I think that is the power of television, and the more we lean into it, the more undeniable our presence and importance in society become.

What Daniel Kyri is doing during the Chicago Fire hiatus

OCC: We have a lot of downtime right now. Are you doing anything while you have time off from filming?

Kyri: Yes! I am spending time with my family. I am a first-time uncle to my niece, and I’m so excited to spend time with her and reconnect with family. I am choosing to make this a period of investment in myself with writing classes and other fun classes. I’m going to hold onto them myself and not say too much about them.

I’m also working on my first music project. I’m very excited to introduce the world to me in the context of something that has been so important to shaping who I am. It’s music. It’s those standards that have helped me find joy and I hope to help others, so that’s something that I’m working on this summer with my collaborator Danny Classic.

I’ve also got a pair of short films that are doing a festival circuit called Whole and Six Feet Apart, which are just about identity and finding your way to yourself, especially when there’s a part of your identity that conflicts with the environment that you’re in, which is an experience so many of us encounter regularly.

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