The ninth series of Chicago Fire is currently screening but for a generation of women, David Eigenberg will also be known for his iconic role as Steve on Sex and the City. Turns out, he’s just fine with that. The actor talks to Emma Clifton about the sense of responsibility that comes with playing first responders, the difference in starring in a distinctive Chicago show versus a distinctive New York show and why he think Jacinda Ardern would have fitted in with the female powerhouses of Sex and the City
When you interview actors who are very well-known for previous roles, there’s an unspoken rule I’ve always followed: don’t mention that role until they do. You can never know how people will wear their most famous characters; I’ve had people beam with the very mention of it, I’ve had people curse and ask me not to say that title again. David Eigenberg is up to season nine of the drama Chicago Fire, a series about a group of first responders in Chicago, but to a generation of fans, he is so well-known as Steve from Sex and the City that I have to write “DAVID, NOT STEVE” and circle it on the top of my notes. However, I’m less than five minutes into my phone interview with David, when he hands me a gift. Fifteen years into doing phone interviews, I’ve watched as the Kiwi Topic All International People Want To Talk About has morphed from Lord of the Rings to Jacinda Ardern and David is no exception, bringing her up in the first minute of the phone call.
“I like her, I like her a lot,” David says of our Prime Minister. “She’s got a lot of heart and a lot of gumption and strength.” We then move onto to discussing Chicago Fire when he jumps back with this pearler.
“I have a footnote – and I don’t mean this in any kind of disparaging manner, but the character and the depth that your prime minister has, she reminded me so much of the characters from Sex and the City,” he says. “I’m not wanting to open up a can of worms here, but she would be wonderful on a show like that, where the women were always portrayed as being strong and capable and independent. She’s a great model for that. Anyway,” he laughs. “Back to Chicago Fire.”
Glad that the Sex and The City silence has been lifted, I venture that because of Jacinda’s age and the fact that she briefly lived in New York, back when the show was still airing, she’d probably be thrilled to hear that. David is relieved. “I know that with Sex and the City, people can be disparaging about it and I’m not insinuating anything other than the fact that I thinks she’s a wonderful human being.”
It’s easy to tell from the extremely loving way he speaks about the show that there’s absolutely no bad blood to be found there. He’s always been drawn to playing working class guys, he says, because it’s his nature, “I was a foil, in a certain sense, on Sex and the City because I grounded Cynthia Nixon’s character, Miranda, and because of Steve’s working class ethics and heart, it was a good choice to bring in a character like that.”
The nature of a show like Chicago Fire is very different but David says it comes with a terrific sense of responsibility when it comes to playing the very high stakes, high danger lives and careers of first responders. The show has a very close working relationship with real-life cops and firefighters, David says, noting that – Covid-19 notwithstanding – he normally tries to do a couple of 24-hour ride along shifts to make sure the show is capturing the reality of the situations these workers deal with every day. “They see things that nobody should have to see and they go headlong into,” David says. “They face tragedy the minute after it happens; they’re on the edge of life and death in their actions. They’re incredible people and it’s been a privilege to spend time with them and learn from them.”
Chicago Fire is a beloved part of the city itself and before that, David obviously was known for starring in a very iconic New York show as well. Is there a difference when it comes to representing both cities? “Chicago is a gritty, deep city that has a sordidness to it, but then its own beauty, because of that,” David says. “It has a history of corruption and it’s also just a tough town , but it always rises up to the task in front of it and delivers really funny, big hearted people.”
Because of the content of Sex and the City, he laughs, it was a “racier” show to be a part of. “People have always been very nice to me [in either city] but there’s a difference, you know, if I walk down the street with Chris Noth, who played Big… because he is big, and he has a very distinctive face, and I think I also do, to a certain extent, but there’s just no comparison,” David laughs. “If I walk down the street with Chris, 90% of the people are going to be like ‘Oh, it’s MR BIG.’ And then“ – he starts laughing harder – “they miiiiiight be like, ‘oh, look. It’s Steve…’” He says he’s well aware that he tends to get cast as more of the everyman character, “and I like that!”
The filming of the tail-end of season eight of Chicago Fire was disrupted by Covid-19 and David admits that at the beginning of the pandemic, he, like so many of us, underestimated what was coming next. “I was a little bit dumb at the beginning, that ignorant thing of ‘oh, everything will be okay,’ and then unfortunately I had friends die in New York early on and it got serious pretty quickly.” The cast eventually reunited to film season nine but David says they were very aware that they wanted the show to be escapism for its viewers, so even though it still has the trademark high-intensity parts to the plot, “we just wanted to be caring and sensitive to the times.” Even with vaccinations now taking off across America and things looking brighter for their summer, there’s still a lot of pressure on everyone, he says.
“My son said to me – he’s 11, and he had this dour look on his face, and I said, ‘You all right?’ and he said, ‘I just need a minute, Dad. I’ve never been through anything like this before.’ And I was like,” – he chuckles – “’Well, buddy, none of us have.’” The events of the past 14 months brought out the best in people but also brought out the worst in others. “It’s a mixed bag. I want to look at the good side, but either way, humanity never fails to surprise. It’s great to see the beautiful and you’ve got to learn from the ugly.”
Chicago Fire screens on Universal TV, Wednesdays at 8.30pm. All seasons of Sex and the City are on Neon and Sky Go.