Michael Lombardi, from Rescue Me
Michael Lombardi plays Mike Silletti, the young probationary
firefighter on FX's gritty late night dramedy, Rescue Me. Created
by the artistically fearless Denis Leary and Peter Tolan, Rescue Me
takes a no holds barred look inside the lives of FDNY firefighters. The
storylines are not for the faint of heart and Denis Leary does little
to edit the dark and dysfunctional personal lives of this fictional group
of New York City firefighters. The characters' romantic relationships,
families, finances, sexuality, substance abuse
every issue is up
for grabs and no detail is left untouched in the lives of these characters
who are heroic in their profession, yet profoundly flawed in every other
aspect of their lives. One dynamic that remains constant is the strong
bond these characters share, evident by their overly familiar gestures
and ribbing toward one another. Perhaps the character with the most to
prove is Michael Lombardi's character, Mike Silletti. As the "probie"
or probationary firefighter in the firehouse, Lombardi's character is
on an endless quest for the admiration and respect of his peers, most
importantly, Denis Leary's character, Tommy Gavin.
In the third season of Rescue Me, which premiered
on FX on May 30, 2006, Michael Lombardi has his work cut out for him,
as his vulnerable character Mike "the probie" Silletti grapples
with being low man on the totem pole in his firehouse and a storyline
that draws his character into a spin cycle of sexual confusion. In this
interview, we discuss his character's ambiguous sexuality, the responsibility
of portraying a New York City Firefighter and some of the more questionable
storylines from Rescue Me that have cast a darker shadow on men
that have otherwise been regarded as America's heroes.
I think Rescue Me is genius. It's neither drama
nor comedy, in the traditional sense; the dialogue is real and the characters
are neither heroes nor villains. Some of the language in this interview
is graphic, but necessary within the context of my discussion with Michael
Lombardi about the complexities of what is quickly turning into one of
the most controversial, yet impeccable shows on television.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): They sent me a bunch of episodes
of Rescue Me last week and I was shocked at the kind of content that you
guys get away with on FX!
Michael Lombardi: Yeah, FX has been a great vehicle for
us because, you know, Denis [Leary] is a pretty edgy guy and I don't think
the show would work on any other network. We can do or say anything but
the F word. So it's good stuff (Laughs).
PR.com: I thought that they sent me a gag reel at
Michael Lombardi: Really??
PR.com: Because some of the stuff I saw, I was like
"No way!" Because I know that FX is owned by Fox. And I heard
the male C word and I'm watching simulated sex and I'm like, "This
is a joke." I thought they were playing a joke on me.
Michael Lombardi: Laughs.
PR.com: But that's the way the show is. It's an edgy
Michael Lombardi: Yeah, it's an edgy show.
PR.com: I guess they want to accurately portray how
Michael Lombardi: I think so. They're showing these guys,
not only at their job at the firehouse, but the stuff that goes on in
their personal relationships with their wives or girlfriend. There are
a lot of dark doors that these guys have to open. It's pretty intense,
a lot of twists and turns.
PR.com: Is it because the job is so traumatic? Do
they wind up with a lot of vices because it's a very stressful job?
Michael Lombardi: I think so. I think being in a fire
is sort of like going to war. And you're not going to come out unscathed.
And also, these guys live together and it's like a boys club. It's like
a fraternity. I guess all of that mixed in with the stress level that
these guys face, day in and day out, they definitely have their vices,
PR.com: What did you know about New York City Firefighters
(FDNY) before you got the part on Rescue Me?
Steven Pasquale, Michael Lombardi & Denis
Michael Lombardi: I went to Randall's Island, which is
a Proby School (training school for firefighters), to train for this part.
It's here in New York and a guy took me to the training facility, and
he's been to over a hundred fires. This guy is basically like a living
Popeye. He was a really hard nosed and intimidating, blue collar guy.
His lungs were really badly infected in 9/11 and he comes from a long
line of firefighters. Two of his brothers died in 9/11. He took me to
the main training facility and in the main building there are the pictures
of the firefighters who died, plus two of them were his brothers by blood.
He looked up at them and he said, "Those are my brothers." Tears
came to his eyes and he said, "But these are all my brothers."
It was just like, "Wow!" Just to see the sensitivity that this
hard nosed guy had and the feelings that he had about this and the brotherhood
that he shared and how much they cared about one another. I have the utmost
respect for these guys. I went from that to going to various firehouses
in New York. We also have a technical advisor on set everyday, Terry Quinn,
who's a real FDNY guy. He makes sure that we're doing everything right,
and Denis [Leary] holds the fire department so close to his heart with
The Leary Firefighters Foundation. He raises a lot of money for these
guys and he knows a lot about them, so he pulls a lot of the stories from
PR.com: What made Denis Leary become so involved with
firefighters and start The Leary Firefighters Foundation?
Michael Lombardi: His cousin died in a fire in Worcester,
Massachusetts years ago. And to date, it was the worst fire and the worst
loss of any fire department. There were six guys who went down in a big
warehouse fire, one of them being his cousin. He started The Leary Firefighters
Foundation for them. At first, it was just to help the Worcester Fire
Department. Then as it grew, they started helping Boston. Then post 9/11
he's raised millions of dollars, and he's the second charity
out of all charities post 9/11 to actually give the money to the families
of the fireman who perished in 9/11. He's still constantly raising money.
We're constantly doing charity events
PR.com: Many people probably think that he started
that foundation after 9/11. So it was actually before 9/11. Did you go
through Proby School, or did you just observe everything?
Michael Lombardi: I went through it. I didn't go through
the hardcore stuff. I went to a smoke house. My first day ever being exposed
to any sort of fire, I was the third guy on the line, which is the hose,
and I would feed the hose to the guys and make sure that there weren't
any kinks and pull it back if they needed it or give them some slack if
they needed it. I was in the hallway crouching down, feeding them the
line and these guys came up who were going up to the third floor and they
trampled over me, because it's so smoky and so dark that you can't see
anything, and it's so chaotic. You quickly learn to keep your back against
the wall when you're feeding that line. Even us as actors, with our bunker
gear and our tools and it's fake fire and fake smoke, it's still really
chaotic and scary.
PR.com: And Denis Leary discovered you?
Michael Lombardi: I worked on a show, The Job
on ABC, with Denis and Peter Tolan, co-creators of Rescue Me. That
was how I met Denis. I play ice hockey and he's a huge ice hockey guy,
so I maintained a friendship with him. When he wrote Rescue Me,
he had me in mind for "The Probie," so I went in and read for
Fox and FX and Sony and I got the part, and here I am.
PR.com: Have you visited any firehouses in New York
Michael Lombardi: Yeah, I have. I haven't recently because
our shooting schedule has been pretty crazy. But I have visited firehouses
and I intend on visiting more, if they'll have me. They always seem to
accept us with open arms.
PR.com: What's been the feedback on the show Rescue
Me, from actual New York City Firefighters? Have you guys gotten phone
calls or letters from them?
Michael Lombardi: Yeah sure. We've gotten all that. I
think some of the aspects of the show have bothered them a little bit,
because they're not always put in the best light on the show. But I think
at the end of the day all the characters have redeeming qualities, and
I think it doesn't change the fact that they're running into these burning
buildings when everyone is running out. I have the utmost respect for
them and the whole cast does. We just try to portray the fire stuff in
the most real and true to life way. The rest of the stuff that happens
on the show, in their personal lives, that's life. We're human beings.
We deal with stuff.
PR.com: A lot of the characters on the show are extremely
dysfunctional in their personal lives. Is that an accurate portrayal?
Michael Lombardi: I would say what that is, is TV; entertainment.
You know what I mean? It's television. I think they have to deal with
all these dark doors and all these twists and turns in order for it to
be entertainment. But I also do think that whether you're a firefighter
or a cop or a nurse or an accountant
these are some of the things
you have to deal with. It's life. I think it's true to life in a lot of
ways and I think the writing is so fantastic that it's pretty easy for
us as actors to come in and do our job.
PR.com: Do you think it's that much more fun to play
characters that are dysfunctional?
Michael Lombardi: Yes! I absolutely think it's so much
fun! I'm constantly challenged as an actor, not only morally at times,
but also artistically. When I got this last storyline, when I read the
because I didn't even know until I read the script, and that's
how it goes with Denis
PR.com: Are you serious?
(The latest storyline shows Michael's character, Mike
"the probie" Silletti beginning to experiment with homosexuality.)
Michael Lombardi: Yeah. So we shoot two episodes simultaneously
and I read the script and I saw where my character was going. I had a
meeting with Peter and Denis. We talked about where the storyline was
going and I think that it really told the story, and I think it's for
the shock value for the show. I think that there are going to be people
who can relate to that story; as twisted as it may be.
PR.com: Your character is the probie on the show;
you're the probationary firefighter, the least experienced. You're kind
of being hazed as it is
Michael Lombardi: Yes.
PR.com: The way your character is developing this
season, is that he's confused about his sexuality. It's going in the direction
where they're showing that he's gay. As an actor, you get hit with that
script, are you thinking, "I want to do the best job I can do and
I'm just going to go full force with it," or is there a part of you
thinking, "I don't want to do too good of a job because I'm a little
Michael Lombardi: That's a very good question, and here's
my take on it. I try to do the best possible job I can do to portray that
character and what he's going through. When I got the script, or in certain
moments, I have been like, "Wow, you know, people think you're your
Steven Pasquale, Denis Leary, Diane Farr, Jack
McGee, Daniel Sunjata, Michael Lombardi & John Scurti
Michael Lombardi: I have let what people may think creep
into my head at times. But at the same time, I've done so much with this
character already and the show is so wild, that there's no real cap. So
in the context of the show it's fine; it's safe. And as I've said, the
writing is so good and it's so funny. I think what's happening is, it's
very dramatic to the [character], so to viewers it can be funny. That's
what's really cool about the writing as well. I've been playing him for
three years, so I'm a little protective of him, and I think the writers
are as well. That's one of the discussions that we had, was that they
need to protect this character. He comes from a point of view of constantly
wanting to prove himself to the other guys, and prove to them that he's
the guy that they're going to want next to them in a life or death situation.
So after striving for the respect and admiration of these guys for three
seasons, he's just tired. He's tired of being "the probie,"
he's insecure, and he's not getting love or admiration or respect not
only from the guys, but people in his personal life. He's had some really
sort of crazy relationships.
PR.com: In your interpretation, does your character
know that he's gay and he's trying to come to grips with it? Or he's still
in denial; he still is really convinced that he's not gay?
Michael Lombardi: My character does not think he's gay,
no. You'll see that dealt with over the course of the next few episodes.
Obviously this is a gay act that's happening (oral sex with his male
roommate). But there's no, like, kissing
He's getting serviced by this guy.
(That expression cracks me up. We're not talking about
an oil change.)
There's a funny act that Denis [Leary] and Peter [Tolan]
have. They talk about baseball and blowjobs. Like if you were dating a
guy, or being gay, it would be so much easier, because you wouldn't have
to deal with all the stuff that you have to deal with in a normal relationship
with a woman. So it's sort of touching upon that thing too. I think obviously
getting blown by a guy is gay, but the probie's not gay, in the sense
I really think that he's really sensitive and he's caring and
he found this guy who may be, as things play out, manipulating him as
PR.com: This is your character's roommate on the show,
and he is gay.
Michael Lombardi: Well, yes he is.
PR.com: That I can tell you with 100% certainty (Laughs).
Michael Lombardi: That's absolutely right. But my character
does not know that. He thinks it's the first time this guy's ever done
anything like this.
PR.com: Right, because the guy puts on like he's experimenting
also. Like he doesn't know what's going on either, even though he knows.
Michael Lombardi: Exactly!
PR.com: And then I like when your character says,
"it's just blowjobs and that's not even considered sex anymore. So
we're definitely not gay."
Michael Lombardi: That's right. And the guy's like, "So
would you do it to me?" And I'm like, "No, never dude!"
"I'm saying never!"
Michael Lombardi: Yeah, "No, I'm saying never!"
So he's like, "Are you saying I'm gayer then you?" And I said,
"Dude, if I'm not gay at all, then
"then how can you be gay?"
Michael Lombardi: And then we end up fighting
PR.com: That was hilarious!
Michael Lombardi: Funny stuff
PR.com: Was that paying homage to Bill Clinton? The
fact that oral sex is no longer considered sex?
Michael Lombardi: You know what? I didn't even think
of that. I'm sure it was. Peter Tolan's a genius! (Rescue Me's
co-creator) I'm sure he incorporated that in there.
PR.com: I said, "Oh, they're paying homage to
Bill Clinton, under the umbrella that oral sex is no longer considered
Michael Lombardi: Good Point.
(We both laugh.)
Michael Lombardi: Some of the future scenes about it
are really funny. The last thing I'll say is, most of the guys in the
firehouse find out. So I have to deal with that.
(How's this for a smooth segway?)
PR.com: What's it like working in an ensemble cast
where you have many different storylines going on at once?
Michael Lombardi: The cast is so strong, and you'll hear
Peter and Denis, they'll tell you themselves that they can go anywhere
with either comedy or drama, which is a really special thing. I have so
much respect for all the guys and I think that there's not a weak link.
I think that everyone does such a good job that it's amazing, and I'm
honored to be on a show with this type of cast. Also, we have become so
close and we get along so well that
I don't know if it's due to
playing firefighters who have that brotherhood, that band of brothers
and that fraternal relationship, or I think that that definitely adds
to it. We hang out, we go out to dinner together, and we go to events
together. We're all really close, so it's a blast.
PR.com: Are you a native New Yorker?
Michael Lombardi: I'm from an hour north of the city
near Danberry, Connecticut. I've been [in New York] for ten years though.
PR.com: And you guys shoot on the streets of New York?
Michael Lombardi: We have a studio in Long Island City,
Queens which is like, a block away from where they shoot The Sopranos.
But, we shoot on location all over Manhattan. We shoot up in the Bronx,
in Harlem a lot, like the old tenement buildings. We shoot in Brooklyn,
PR.com: Is the firehouse built in a soundstage, or
do you shoot in an actual firehouse?
Michael Lombardi: The kitchen is a soundstage. Where
we park the trucks is a stage but not in the studio. They built what looks
like a firehouse from the outside. That's in Queens.
PR.com: There was an episode of Rescue Me this
season, and I actually Googled it, and a lot of major newspapers have
written about it. It's the scene where Denis Leary's character rapes his
soon to be ex-wife.
Michael Lombardi: Yeah, it's a heavy scene. It just happened
in episode four, which is the last episode. In the [New York] Post today
there's a huge article on it as well. Here's what I have to say about
that. I think obviously, rape is wrong. I think the thing about that scene
is there's going to be a lot of twenty year old kids who may walk away
thinking that they can force themselves upon their girlfriends or whatever.
Hopefully not. I think people are smart enough to know that it's television.
But I think if you really understand the dynamic of the relationship between
these two characters, how flawed they are and what they've been through,
then that scene makes sense.
PR.com: I've only seen a few episodes of the show.
I'm not familiar with past seasons. I've been watching it this season.
And to me, it made sense, even though I only know a little bit about their
back story. But it was interesting, because I saw something about it in
The Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
it's really gotten a lot of coverage and the common denominator in every
one of these articles was that they said it was very disturbing that it
was obviously a rape, but that the actress, Andrea Roth who plays Janet,
that it started as a rape and then she seemed to enjoy it. That's what
made people get up in arms. You know what I mean?
Michael Lombardi: Tommy's (Denis Leary) brother, when
Tommy and Janet (actress Andrea Roth)
their son died and Tommy's
brother came in to help out and take care of Janet and he ended up now
sleeping with her and being with her. So Tommy finds out this season.
That smirk when Tommy leaves (after the rape) it was like he one-up'd
his brother. His brother disrespected him so badly. He got his girl back
in a way, you know? She liked it and enjoyed it, and what really proved
that was how she covered it up at the end as well.
PR.com: Did you watch that episode?
Michael Lombardi: Yeah.
Daniel Sunjata, Michael Lombardi, John Scurti,
Denis Leary, Steven Pasquale & Jack McGee
PR.com: Ok, here's what disturbed me. What disturbed
me was that it was fun to watch, because it was kind of a turn on.
Michael Lombardi: I know.
PR.com: And I'm like, "I shouldn't be liking
this, this is a rape scene
Michael Lombardi: I know!
PR.com: I'll be honest with you, I was like, "This
is a hot scene!"
Michael Lombardi: I love that honesty. Yeah, I was turned
on too, and I work with Denis everyday. It was a hot scene. A lot of people
feel that way, but aren't bold enough to admit it.
PR.com: I turned it off and I felt bad that I liked
watching it and maybe that's what really disturbed people
Michael Lombardi: The show makes you uncomfortable, which
is good, I think. It's like watching in through a window, sneaking in
and watching some stuff go down. It's so real. You're uncomfortable. You're
laughing, you're crying... you don't know what to feel about certain things.
That's good television to me.
PR.com: Absolutely. I wasn't aware that FX provided
this kind of content. We're a lot more sophisticated now as a society
and privy to a lot more information about the world. I feel like a lot
of the programming they have on the networks, it just doesn't cut it.
Michael Lombardi: I completely agree with you. [FX] isn't
scared. They go for it. They tell it how it is.
PR.com: A lot of press has also accused the creators
of Rescue Me (Denis Leary and Peter Tolan) of adding shock just
for shock value's sake. What's your take on that?
Michael Lombardi: It's television so I think there are
things that need to be added, because the show would be boring if they
didn't have the shock value. But I think everything is done in such a
real way and it tells the story in a truthful way. It has artistic integrity,
and it works for each character. So it doesn't bother me that it needs
to be done for television. And you see from episode to episode where these
characters could possibly go, and maybe they don't. They go somewhere
completely different, but that works even better at the end. I think things
are thrown in because it's television. It's entertainment and it has to
be done. But it's done so well, and it's so real and the writing is so
good, that it doesn't bother me at all.
PR.com: How did the show attract such incredible guest
stars this season? You have Susan Sarandon
Michael Lombardi: Susan Sarandon, Marisa Tomei will be
I think what's attracted these actresses to come on is the quality
of the writing. It's the quality of the show. I think they have a lot
of respect for Peter Tolan and Denis Leary and I think that they think
we're doing good stuff, so they want to be attached to it. There's a lot
of people who have approached Denis and want to be part of Rescue Me.
PR.com: And Tatum O'Neal plays Denis Leary's sister
on the show. Has she been on from the beginning?
Michael Lombardi: Tatum O'Neal came on, I think, at the
end of last season and she's been on, obviously, this season.
PR.com: I thought that was excellent casting
Michael Lombardi: Excellent casting, right!
PR.com: And I was happy for her
Michael Lombardi: I know, from being an Oscar winner
when she was just a kid, and then not working and going through what she's
gone through, I think she can bring a lot of life experience to the part.
Yeah, it is great casting and I'm happy for her too. She's great.
PR.com: Tell me about the movie you did for the Oxygen
Michael Lombardi: Between the second and third seasons
of [Rescue Me], I shot a movie called Banshee with Taryn
Manning. She starred in the movie Hustle and Flow.
PR.com: I love her.
Michael Lombardi: She's awesome. I love her! We shot
up in Montreal for six weeks and internationally it's going to be released
in movie theatres. I don't know to what degree, but that's what I've been
told. It premiered this past Saturday night on the Oxygen Network. It's
their first action thriller. I'm sure they're going to play it a bunch
more [on The Oxygen Network]. For me, it was great carrying a film, and
it's also a very different character then the probie.
PR.com: Oxygen is Oprah's network, right?
Michael Lombardi: Yes it is.
PR.com: I thought that The Oxygen Network would wind
up going in the direction of Lifetime Television, and it seems like it's
Michael Lombardi: This movie is definitely very edgy
for The Oxygen Network. For me, coming from Rescue Me, it's not
at all, but for The Oxygen Network it is.
PR.com: I have another question to ask you and you
have to choose A or B.
Michael Lombardi: Ok.
PR.com: Which is a better line for picking up girls
if you're in a bar or a club?
A. I'm on television
B. I'm a New York City Firefighter
Michael Lombardi: B. I'm a New York City Firefighter.
PR.com: (Laughs) Why?
Michael Lombardi: Because I have so much respect for
those guys. I mean, as an actor, I'm so lucky. There's so many fantastic
actors out there. I caught a good break, and I'm on a great show. I don't
like to take myself too seriously. I mean, it doesn't hurt that I'm on
a television show
PR.com: You know what. It's a toss up between the
Michael Lombardi: Laughs.
PR.com: It's definitely a toss up. If I was somewhere
and both of those people came up to me, it would be a toss up. I swear
Michael Lombardi: (Laughs) That's funny. You make
"Rescue Me" airs Tuesdays at 10pm EST/PST
on FX. Check local listings or go to