It’s a Stella-centric, life-and-death episode of Chicago Fire tonight when a mysterious caller who is in danger relies on Stella Kidd (Miranda Rae Mayo) to help save her and her brother even though it is a matter that should be turned over to the Chicago P.D.
But when the caller convinces Stella that calling the cops would mean the death of her and her brother, Stella, Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney), and Chief Boden (Eamonn Walker) see it through.
“Oh, my God! Literal terror comes up in Stella’s body [when she gets the call],” Mayo tells Monsters & Critics in this exclusive interview. “She goes to a place where it’s fight, flight, or freeze, and she freezes, but she doesn’t because she continues to move forward. But emotionally, at first, it’s overwhelming. It’s like, ‘I have to help this girl. I have to get her out.’”
The call comes as Stella is preparing to take the lieutenant’s exam, and, as we’ve seen, Stella has been studying for months, so she knows the material backwards and forwards, but still there is a niggle of doubt in her mind.
“She’s put in the work,” Mayo continues. “She’s ready. She just doesn’t know that she is, and that’s part of why she is. Does that make sense? She has gone over the book 100 times. She knows what to do. She knows the stuff in her bones because of her experience, but there’s a part of her that’s really scared to fail.”
But there’s also a part of her that is afraid to pass, because she might have to transfer to a different firehouse as 51 already has its quota of chiefs, captains, and lieutenants.
“Yes, she might,” Mayo admits. “That’s definitely part of the whole soup of emotions she’s feeling.”
At this point in time, Stella does have the support of Severide when it comes to moving ahead career-wise after his unfortunate decision earlier in the season to back off and give her space so other firefighters wouldn’t think she is getting special treatment because of Severide’s relationship with Chief Grissom (Gary Cole). So, at this point in time, she is happy with things just the way they are. No planning for the future.
“I don’t think Stella wants to get married; I think she just wants to be with Kelly,” Mayo says. “I think if Kelly proposed to her, I think, because it’s him, she would take it on board. As far as, ‘Want to get married!’ No!”
Mayo also chatted with Monsters & Critics about Stella’s growth since joining the cast of Chicago Fire in season 4, being mentored by Boden and how she pays that forward with Girls on Fire.
Monsters & Critics: Stella reveals some of who she is in tonight’s episode. It isn’t giving anything away to say that she tells the guys, “I wasn’t into Easy Bake Ovens,” so who was she as a little girl? Is that where she learned to climb trees?
Miranda Rae Mayo: She was running around with all the boys. She was really active. Honestly, I very much pulled from my experience when I was 7 or 8.
My dad was a football coach for high school football and I wanted to be a linebacker when I grew up, but my dad said, “You can’t do that because I want grandkids,” which is kind of sexist looking back at it, but also, he was caring about his daughter and her body. I get that, but that was me, the only girl, so he let me join flag football. I was the only girl on the flag football team, so I think that’s very much who Stella is.
M&C: One thing that we can say about Stella is she has had so much growth from seasons 4 to 9. Do you think that’s a result of her being on the CFD, or do you think some of it has to do with her relationship with Severide?
Miranda Rae Mayo: I think it’s both. There’s a woman by the name of Lola Wright, she’s from Chicago, and she has a quote. She says, “Intimacy is the final frontier,” and I believe that about people and about relationships. Intimacy, our most intimate relationships, that’s the place where we grow most.
Intimacy happens in all shapes and sizes, but I think that there is something to be said about the person that you are romantically intimate with. You’re connecting on a level that you’re not connecting with anyone else, so I definitely think that some of that growth is from her relationship with Severide, but more than that it’s 1,000 percent the firehouse, who her chief is, the people that she is surrounded by, the way they work, the way they love each other, the way that they go to bat for each other, the way they argue and have their disagreements, and still come back together.
That’s true intimacy. And for Stella, she didn’t have family when she was coming up. In season 4, we established that her parents were gone by the time she was a teenager, so she was living alone in Milwaukee at 13.
M&C: When we met her, she had that bad boyfriend?
Miranda Rae Mayo: He was an addict, and they were married. He was there for her when she was in the depths of her own drug addiction. That’s where she came from, so, I think, deciding to be a firefighter after a major accident, where she almost died, firefighters helped her, so she said, “that’s what I want to do. I want to help people.”
It’s the culture of being a first responder, people that she works with, and it is who she is most intimately relating with, it’s all the above. And, I think, too, it’s the experience of succeeding in a world that’s designed to keep you out that’s going to grow you.
M&C: The chief is such a great mentor for Stella, especially for someone who never had anyone to tell her how special she was growing up. Is that what Girls on Fire is for her? Her way of paying that forward?
Miranda Rae Mayo: Oh, my gosh, yes. I don’t think that she really even consciously realizes it. She is just coming from a place of passion. That’s what I love about Stella. Basically, she saw these girls, I want to say they were Black girls– they were definitely girls of color, which to her, is a big deal, helping out not just girls of color, but all girls because of her background. She’s mixed.
So, she saw them doing a drug deal and she was like, “This is so dangerous, no.” That is what sparked her wanting to create the program. She saw that something could be better and was, “Okay, I can do that.” It wasn’t anything as grandiose as, “I want to make sure that there are more women in the CFD.”
Even though that’s how she feels, she’s not a PR person. We saw that. We saw that they were trying to put her as the face of the department because the CFD was saying they needed to be more progressive and show all the women that are in the CFD and they wanted to have Stella talk and do the PR, and she’s, “No! No! Absolutely not! I just want to do my job. Leave me alone.”
I think it comes from a really authentic place of just wanting to give girls in her community an outlet, a safe place, and a place where they can build each other up.
Chicago Fire airs Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. ET/8c on NBC.