9-1-1, Fox Network’s drama about first responders in Los Angeles, starts its second season Monday nights with a rumble and a bang. The Big One earthquake hits L.A., and the police, paramedics and fire departments are worked to their limits.
Aisha Hinds plays firefighter Henrietta “Hen” Wilson, who is best friends with Angela Bassett’s police officer Athena Grant. Hen’s marriage to Karen (Tracie Thoms) had some rumblings of its own last season when Hen’s one-night stand with her ex not only hurt Karen, but endangered the couple’s custody of their son.
Hinds is no stranger to playing first responders – she has portrayed law officers in PRISON BREAK, DETROIT 1-8-7, CULT, KILLER WOMEN, NCIS: LOS ANGELES and BONES. Other roles include Voletta Wallace in the series UNSOLVED: THE MURDERS OF TUPAC AND THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G. earlier this year, a standout turn as Harriet Tubman in UNDERGROUND, recurring turns in THE SHIELD, INVASION, HAWTHORNE, DOLLHOUSE, TRUE BLOOD and UNDER THE DOME, and more.
At a Q&A session for 9-1-1’s second season, someone asked if any of the cast or creative staff had ever had occasion to call 9-1-1 in real life. Hinds stunned her coworkers by describing her own experience: as a teenager, she had been shot.
“I shared this story before, but I didn’t call 9-1-1, but someone called 9-1-1 on my behalf. When I was sixteen years old, I was walking home from school. I was inches from my doorstep, and I heard, like, pop, pop, pop. And I thought that it was someone setting off early fireworks for July Fourth, but something instinctually told me to turn around. So I turn around, and I see this really short guy booking down the street behind me, and his head was ducked. And then behind him, I see a group of guys, and I see this big .45 gun pulled out. So I turn around, and I try to run those few feet to my door. And I didn’t make it. The next thing I knew, I hit the ground. And at the time, it didn’t even register that I had been shot.”
“What?!” chorus 9-1-1 co-creator/executive producer Tim Minear and new cast member Jennifer Love Hewitt.
“Oh, no,” says executive producer/star Bassett.
“You were shot?!” someone else echoes.
“Absolutely,” Hinds affirms. “So the bullet entered through my back. And a lot of people always ask, ‘What did it feel like?’ It felt kind of like a really sharp, sharp stiletto [shoe heel] just piercing, and really, really hot. But I tried to get up, and my legs gave out beneath me. So being the dramatic child that I was, having already gone to La Guardia High School and determining that I wanted to be an actor, I set my whole death up because I wanted the tape to look pretty,” she laughs. “I didn’t want to be like this.” She demonstrates her initial pose when she fell. “So I literally put my hands down, put my face on my hands. And then I just heard people coming out from everywhere, all the buildings, from my building. And people were screaming, ‘Call 9-1-1! Call 9-1-1!” And then a few minutes later, I heard my mom’s voice, and then I was in the back of a 9-1-1 van. Thankfully, because now here I am.”
As to the aftermath, Hinds says, “The man they were trying to shoot ended up dying the year after, and the man who was trying to shoot him died the year after that. And so here I am, the lone survivor of that entire experience, less one kidney. I lost a kidney in it. The bullet grazed my aorta. And so I’m just grateful that I’m here. And truly, I have to give credit to the very fast response of 9-1-1 in my neighborhood at that time.”
“The first time I heard that story,” says Peter Krause, who plays Hen’s firefighting boss Bobby Nash, “I was incredibly grateful that Aisha is with us. She’s a tremendous person, and you realize how fragile life is as you move through the day.”
Obviously, it’s going to be hard for any of Hinds’s work experiences on 9-1-1 (or anything else) to match her real-life incident for drama, but she nevertheless sits down for an enthusiastic one-on-one conversation about the series.
ASSIGNMENT X: You’ve played a couple of first responders by now. What makes Hen different?
AISHA HINDS: You know what? Of course, having done a few procedurals in different roles, whether it’s lieutenant, detective, I certainly was wondering myself, “Why am I going back again to do another procedural?” But it’s different because it’s the Ryan Murphy universe. It’s that team of people who approaches content in a very interesting way. And the reason why I think it’s interesting and unique is because they are people who care about people. And so they craft characters that you can connect to, because they’re people. They peel back the layers of people that we see, so that you can get their humanity. And so that was the thing that drew me to it. When I first got the call from Fox, Liz Paulsen called me and she told me that, “Ryan is looking for this character, this really, really interesting badass black woman.” So I definitely – and she was like, “It’s important to him.” And so I was like, “By all means.” So you do get to see different sides of Hen going forward, and without me even opening my mouth, I think sometimes it exudes a certain power.
AX: Do you still have to do ride-alongs and research for 9-1-1, or have you now played so many first responders that you feel like you have it down?
HINDS: I think it’s helpful, because each person, each individual, has their own individual experience and story and contribution to offer. So it’s helpful. It definitely is helpful to meet as many people, and to just continue to be exposed to it.
I’ve had a few favorable encounters with female firefighters who feel incredibly happy that they are being reflected and represented. I’ve met them, and they come up to me and they are just like, “Thank you.” And I’m like, “For what? Breakfast?” And they are, “Just for your representation of us.” Because I think that the idea – when you say “firefighter,” you don’t particularly default to thinking about women and their presence, and so they are very happy and grateful, which makes me very happy.
AX: When you got the role, were you aware that Hen was going to carry so much of the nighttime soap aspect of it in terms of marital infidelity and child custody issues? Obviously, Athena has marital issues as well, but …
HINDS: Well, I don’t know that I carried the nighttime soap aspect of it. So therefore, the answer would be no, but what I did know was that I was joining an ensemble of amazing people, and I was joining a group of people who have been tried and true in terms of storytelling and engaging audiences, and so I trusted that, and trusted myself to fall into the hands of those people.
AX: Is it helpful to have one of your costars, Angela Bassett, also be one of the executive producers?
HINDS: Absolutely. And it’s also helpful that it is Angela Bassett. Because obviously, as an African-American woman and an actor, she’s one of those people that is the mother of the Holy Grail for me. I’ve grown up watching her work, and I count it an absolute privilege to just sit in her presence and watch her craft articulate itself on this show.
AX: This was a year ago now, but can you talk at all about playing Harriet Tubman on UNDERGROUND?
HINDS: Oh, of course. That’s something that I will always delight in talking about. That is something that will inform my work from that point going forward. I think what’s beautiful is that the connective tissue between Harriet and Hen is that these are two women who both sacrifice their lives to save other lives, who put their lives in danger to save other lives. And so that is something that I think I’m drawn to in characters. So it’s a beautiful follow-up to Harriet.
AX: You also got to do something relatively unusual on television as Harriet Tubman in one episode, which is talk uninterrupted …
HINDS: For a whole hour.
AX: Had you done one-woman shows on stage?
HINDS: I hadn’t. I had seen them done. I hadn’t seen one done on television, but I had seen it done on stage, I’m a fan of the stage, I’m a student of the stage, and so it was something that was absolutely intriguing to me, and challenging to me, something that seemed incredibly impossible, but when I walked away from it, I learned that impossible is incredibly possible, on so many levels. So naturally, I’m drawn to things that sort of turn the trope on its head. And so that program, UNDERGROUND, certainly did something, revolutionized I think television and audiences watching television in a way that has never been done, and probably won’t be done for a long time to come. And so this was a great graduation from that. The amazing Anthony Hemingway was the director of that episode.
AX: Is he a director on 9-1-1? I know he directs other Ryan Murphy-produced shows.
HINDS: They have a very close relationship. [Hemingway] wasn’t on 9-1-1, but ironically, I did another show called UNSOLVED: THE MURDERS OF TUPAC AND THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G. on USA, and he is an executive on that, and he directed a few of those episodes as well. And so it was beautiful that he’s a friend of the Murphy-verse, because trying to work out the schedule to be able to do both things at the same time, it was great that Anthony is who he is, and he could call over and try to make it work out.
AX: A lot of times, Los Angeles is made to look like it’s somewhere else for TV series. Are you enjoying that Los Angeles plays Los Angeles in 9-1-1?
HINDS: I am. Nothing has made me happier. Because Los Angeles is now my home. So nothing makes me happier than being home, working at home, and actually doing a show that takes place here, so that I don’t have to think too deeply about where I am [laughs].
AX: And what would you most like people to know about 9-1-1?
HINDS: That it’s an amazing show, and it’s a tribute to our first responders. I think it celebrates them, their lives, and the work that they do. We sort of take them for granted, but we want them to know that we do not take them for granted. And so hopefully audiences will join us in celebrating the work that they do.
This interview was conducted during Fox Networks’s portion of the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Exclusive Interview with Aisha Hands on Season 2 of Fox’s hit series 9-1-1