I’m not here to be the hunky guy on TV or to be the guy that always takes his shirt off to get money or fame. I’m here just to grow. That’s the sole purpose in anything I do—to grow.

If you’ve been watching FOX’s top-rated drama series 9-1-1, you’ll know that the procedural continues to go off the walls in the way most Ryan Murphy shows do in its second season—that’s not a diss but an endearment. Maybe you were worried that 9-1-1 would dial down the crazy. Maybe you were convinced there’s no way they could possibly raise the outrageous stakes witnessed in Season 1. Remember that bouncy castle full of children floating off a cliff and into the California sky like some technicolor bird? Maybe you thought that. You were wrong.

Formerly a show about Connie Britton’s emergency dispatcher answering phones is now a show about Jennifer Love Hewitt manning the switchboards. Revolving around the rescue attempts made by first responders in the Greater Los Angeles area—with Angela Bassett, Peter Krause, Oliver Stark, Aisha Hinds, and Kenneth Choi playing police officers, firefighters, and paramedics—each episode starts with the show’s signature opening phrase, “What’s your emergency?” Along with Hewitt, 9-1-1 also introduced Ryan Guzman’s Eddie Diaz, a handsome rival to Stark’s Buck, to the firehouse this season. The war vet firefighter is thrust into the kind of bonkers situations we’ve all become accustomed to—from an earthquake that rips apart most of Los Angeles (this season’s centerpiece catastrophe) to an attention-seeking YouTuber getting his head stuck in a microwave before sinking to the bottom of a pool—all the while trying to repair his broken marriage and reintroduce the mother of his son back into their lives without incident. It’s business as usual.

With the many absurd things that have occurred in Season 2, and the many more absurd things to surely come with the season finale fast approaching, we present to you Anthem’s conversation with one of the show’s newcomers. Guzman is best known for his roles in the Jennifer Lopez thriller The Boy Next Door and Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! The 31-year-old, Mexican-American actor’s previous TV credits include Notorious, Heroes Reborn, and Pretty Little Liars.

9-1-1 airs Mondays at 9PM ET/PT on FOX. The series is set to return for a third season in 2019.

Are you still filming episodes as we approach the season finale or is everything in the can?

We actually filmed everything already, and there are two episodes left to air.

I started binge-watching Season 2 right around the time episode 14 aired.

Nice, nice. Yeah, binge-watching is the new thing. I’m doing that right now with Billions. I’m doing it for quite a few shows. But yeah, I’m glad you’re watching ours. You’re enjoying it, right?!

It’s so much fun. There are a lot of things that I’ve been curious to ask you, but could you first tease the season finale? Are we heading in the direction of another seismic catastrophe or more in the direction of melodrama—draining the emotional dam again, as it were?

That’s kind of what the show is. Whether its character-driven or plot-based, there’s always gonna be that extreme drama. As we head on to the end of the season, I think we’re gonna see some things that test the characters, and the character within the characters. We’ll see them react to certain downfalls. It’s hard to say specifically because I don’t want to give away too much, but my character has something huge happen to him in the final two episodes. It’s going to be a structural issue for Eddie: How does he react when the foundation is pulled from underneath him?

Maybe it hasn’t aired yet, but what was your favorite emergency of the season?

My favorite emergency was probably the earthquake because we got to rappel and stuff. They pretty much built a penthouse where it would tilt 30 degrees on a two-story gimbal. So we were doing the lines and acting like real firefighters, climbing up stairs that were burning—again, on a 30-degree tilt. Maybe not as much as Oliver Stark, but I’m definitely into the action part of this show, for sure. I love every bit of what we get to do on this show.

That was an impressive set piece. The show also took a jab at Harvey Weinstein in the earthquake story arc. You’re afforded those self-referential opportunities because it’s set in L.A., and this is a very topical show to begin with. The writers are pretty relentless when it comes to taking the pulse of current events and just running with it in outrageous directions.

Yeah, there are quite a few things on the show that kind of emulates real life. To be honest, a lot of the stories are taken from real life. The producers and writers have gone on the record and said, “We get our stuff from either Miami or China—headlines from all around the world—and base them in L.A.” The fact that we touched on Harvey Weinstein in the earthquake episodes was just serendipitous, I guess. Again, it’s just another aspect of the show that I love. We tackle all these issues and try to highlight them as much as we can without being overbearing. With the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement and everything, I’m glad we got to show this sleazeball character abusing his power with a smile on his face, which is really off-putting because that happens on a day-to-day basis. It’s never this obvious, evil villain that you see out there committing heinous acts. It’s usually the guy that’s smiling the most, making you feel the most comfortable, and they manipulate you a little bit.

It’s so insidious. I actually called Oliver when he was filming on set towards the end of Season 1 and I was surprised to hear that when he first auditioned for the show he didn’t know what project he was going up for. FOX was being super secretive about that. What’s your story?

I was actually on my way to doing another film. I had just previously done maybe two or three auditions for television, and I usually try to stay away from TV. But I auditioned for this one TV show where I wasn’t really connecting with the people creating it and putting it on. Having said that, I remember going in there and testing for it and feeling really good about my audition. Two or three months later, someone at FOX apparently remembered my audition for that television show and said, “We want him on one of our shows,” and I was offered a role on 9-1-1. Honestly, I didn’t know how big 9-1-1 was at the time because I don’t watch too much TV. But as soon as I did my research and after talking to quite a few people in my family—I told them I got this show called 9-1-1 and they went crazy—I realized that it’s a phenomenon. I’m very, very lucky that, apart from being on the show, the people I work with are incredible, from Angela Bassett to Peter Krause, from Aisha Hinds to Oliver Stark, and Kenneth Choi. The list goes on and on. They’re all people that I truly love and it shows on the show.

So you play Eddie, or as your TV mom calls you, Edmundo. Eddie is Mexican-American, as you are in real life. I really appreciate the inclusiveness of 9-1-1, and it goes way beyond this idea of diversity hire. The writers have handled stories involving race and sexuality with such affectionate care. That must’ve been very attractive to you coming in.

Yeah, race to me has always been a hot-button issue, but not for the fact that it affects me so bad—it usually affects everybody else. You never know how other people are going to react to the race stuff. I’m so proud of my Mexican heritage and how I’ve become who I’ve become, and the fact that Mexicans are a diverse people. It’s not just the stereotypes that everybody’s used to with the mustache and the brown skin. You go to Mexico and you see guys with red hair and light skin, and guys that look whiter than actual white guys in America. So I love the fact that they hired me for that simple fact in speaking about race and how they’re breaking down these stereotypes. We also have Aisha Hinds playing a lesbian, black firefighter and see her struggles, alongside Kenny Choi’s Korean-American character coming into a white, male dominated job. We all kind of add the flavors to this show that I think America and everybody else watching need, you know? It’s not about highlighting these things so that you feel so much for these people—it’s more so about inclusion. We really want to make them a part of these stories.

Eddie is also a war veteran who toured Afghanistan. It’s not addressed too often on the show, but it’s implied that he saw some shit over there. Yet, he’s really level-headed and easygoing, which is only magnified next to Buck’s often volatile persona. I think the writers could’ve so easily painted Eddie as this dark figure with PTSD. What kind of conversations do you have with the writers about who he is?

The writers are pretty much in control of everything. The writers are heaven and earth to the show so we try to do our best job to emulate whatever they want. That being said, I’m very happy about what’s happened so far in Eddie’s storyline. I’d played army veterans and people from the service before. I’d explored extreme cases, and sometimes not so serious cases, of PTSD. There’s someone in my family who was in the military with PTSD. There are degrees of it. I think Eddie’s PTSD is more introverted. A lot of these firefighters that are coming off of being in Afghanistan or whatnot go into that job or the police academy because they need the adrenaline rush. They’re not producing enough endorphins just living their day-to-day lives so they need something that simulates what they went through and that’s why they seek out such extreme jobs. I think that’s what Eddie has done. He came back from the war in which he had to save his own convoy. It’s not easy to integrate back into civilian life. He needs something to calm his nerves. With him, it’s the action that calms him the most, I think.

You became a father this year—a huge milestone. That must color your performance, right? Did it feel remarkably different playing a dad on the show after your son was born?

Everything is different now that I have a son. My life took on new meaning after my son was born. Even when he was in my girl’s belly, it was this transition into a life that amplified everything I was doing. When I was doing scenes with Gavin [McHugh], who plays my son Christopher, I was envisioning my own son. There was this specific scene—one of our first scenes together—where I drive him to school, and as I was dropping him off, I was thinking about my son and started tearing up. For the first time in however long, I kind of lost it. It was a knee-jerk reaction to something that I’d never felt before and that’s what having my son feels like all the time. These new feelings surfaced while I was acting because of him—a point that I never could’ve trained myself to get to before. So it’s a new thing. I’m in a state of bliss with my son, and with the show.

That’s transformative, Ryan. I also want to talk to you about Eddie and Buck’s dynamic on the show. What I found most interesting is that, from the very first time they meet, Buck’s temperament is totally contingent on how Eddie behaves around him. There was a worry at the beginning of this season that Buck may have reverted back to his old narcissistic ways, but Eddie defuses that when he turns out to be such a nice guy and not the rival that he had initially suspected. Fans have since rallied around their bromance. It’s that Bucky/Captain America kind of bromance we don’t see very often, but when it catches on, it’s incendiary. I often wonder about the exceptions that are made for bromances in pop culture, especially from male audiences, in our world that’s still quite homophobic.

I think there’s still a bit of a taboo quality. I don’t think certain individuals in America or around the world are accepting of two men having emotional ties to each other. But that’s what true bromance is. The bromance that I see in Eddie and Buck is like an older brother/younger brother relationship. Other people might associate their relationship with something else. Oliver and I definitely have fun with that. We definitely enjoy all the posts that fans give us on social media—it’s pretty amazing. We share those all the time, actually. That being said, again, I think having two men being in tune with each other is pretty rare to see because, even though a lot people want to see it, they’re afraid to ask for it or venture out. But now the culture has changed and we’re more accepting of it, I guess. I like the dynamic between Buck and Eddie. I actually started to realize as I was filming that there’s this dynamic between Peter Krause’s character Bobby and Eddie, and between Buck and Bobby, as well. Speaking as Eddie, there’s this father/son thing going on between them so Bobby is more someone that they can really trust and rely on. There are a lot of qualities in this show that make you realize the bromance is ingrained in it already. I think the fans and whoever else watches this show lean more so on Buck and Eddie because they’re the younger guys and they cancel out the stigma.

I can’t recall whether you shared any scenes with Jennifer Love Hewitt this season, but was there a comfort in knowing that you would start at the same time as newcomers, coming into an existing TV family? I’ve been told that can be a little tough, like transferring to a new school, if you like.

Yeah, it can be. But this is not my first rodeo, and the same goes for Jennifer Love Hewitt. We kind of knew what to prepare for. It’s that kind of prepare-for-the-worst-but-hope-for-the-best type deal. I’ve been on TV shows where the cast didn’t really get along and just acted like they were friends and family or whatnot. With this, I didn’t know what to expect. The only thing that I’d heard as a rumor was that they wanted to haze me—they wanted to do something to me—so I was kind of preparing for that. [Laughs] But as soon as I got there, literally the second I landed to do promos with everybody, they were just welcoming and so inviting the whole time. I was like, “This is nothing like what I expected. They actually do have a great cast on this show. It’s not just the industry talking.” These guys actually have conversations. They actually listen to you. They actually want to be a part of it. To me, that was amazing. I can’t speak for Jennifer Love Hewitt. I didn’t have any real scenes with her this season, but we connected off set. She’s delightful. She gave my son gifts when he was born. She had done plenty of other things for my birthday. She’s just a very, very warm-hearted person. Hopefully, maybe later on, we’ll have more scenes together.

There were other life chapters leading up to the one you’re currently in as an actor on this hugely popular TV show. I know you used to model. You trained to become a UFC fighter. You had aspirations to play in Major League Baseball. So where do you place acting? Do you keep the trajectory of your life’s work somewhat open-ended or does it feel like this is it—acting is now and forever?

Never, never. No, I’m definitely not a person that likes to stay in one place for too long. I think the opportunity of life is to take advantage of it and try new things. For me, the biggest thing in life is to go after the uncomfortable, so whatever that is, I try to conquer it and grow and learn from it because that’s the only way I can get to a different level of life. Right now, I’m thinking about quite a few things. I’ve been tossing around the idea of directing, writing, and producing for the past five or six years now. I still train to this day in the ring so I definitely want to hop back in the octagon a couple more times at least. My dream is obviously to make it to the UFC at some point in time. There are quite a few other things. I hop into music, I paint, I draw—I do so many different things to just stay active and to always test myself and grow. The driving force behind that initially was me just wanting to outdo my last accomplishment, but now it’s more so about my son. I can’t tell him that he can do everything his heart desires if I’m not doing everything that my heart desires. So it’s to be a good influence on him. The stars aren’t as far as you think. You can reach out and grab them in time. You just have to work towards it.

Now I’m wondering how you got interested in acting in the first place.

My first acting job was Step Up Revolution. I kind of had to learn on the run, and then as I was doing it, I started to feel in tune with something that I’d never felt in tune with before in my life, which were emotions. As men in certain areas of the world, we decide that we have to hide our emotions for the betterment of whatever job we’re doing because emotions get in the way. This job made me tango with and tackle them at the same time. As I was doing that, I started to learn more about myself and become more introspective than I’d ever been before. To me, acting isn’t so much about “Can I get that next role? Can I get bigger? Can I make more money?” None of that means anything to me. I’m more so in it for “What can I learn about myself?” For instance, there was a scene that I did not too long ago where somebody passes and I got to revisit a certain point in my life that I had been so afraid to even touch upon. As I was doing it, I felt release. It was kind of my own little therapy. I learned something about myself yet again, so these are opportunities. I’m not here to be the hunky guy on TV or to be the guy that always takes his shirt off to get money or fame. I’m here just to grow. That’s the sole purpose in anything I do—to grow.

Can you tell me more about the personal film project that you brought up earlier?

It’s a role I’m doing that I wrote. I’m also producing and directing it—I’m trying to wear all the hats at once. I’m taking bits and pieces of what I’ve learned throughout the years, like things I’ve learned by watching Richard Linklater work and just everybody that I’ve ever worked with. The basis of my story is about a man who has lost all memory due to a drug, an over-the-counter drug given to him by a big pharma type company. It was to erase memories that he wanted to repress. Now the only way to get those memories back is to have concussive blows to the head so he has to actually fight his way towards that. As he’s doing that, he starts to realize that the thread he once pulled goes a little deeper. The thing I’m doing that’s kind of influenced by Richard Linklater is that I’ve been filming this over the past five or six years, so the changes in the character and the face of the character will be evident. It’s not through make-up but actually me that I look that many years younger. It’s also my niece six years younger and what have you. So it’s happening incrementally. Whenever this does get released, I hope it does as I good I as hope it does. I hope it’s as good as I wish it could be.

And where are you in your talks right now about coming back to 9-1-1 for Season 3?

Season 3 is up in the air. I have no clue what’s happening or what’s even being written. All I know is that I’m super excited and pumped that we actually have a Season 3. I just got a house so thank you, Tim Minear and Ryan Murphy, and everybody that watches the show. [Laughs] If I have any influence—I’ve pitched out quite a few ideas—I would love to see some MMA. There’s this thing called Badge vs Badge where firefighters go against police officers. Who knows? Maybe that might get integrated into the show. There are quite a few things to explore. There’s still so much story to be told with all of the characters. We’re just kind of getting into it now.

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