9-1-1's Oliver Stark takes us inside that Buck-centric episode
The character's backstory was at the forefront this week, as we learned more about his difficult upbringing.
Admit it. You've always wanted to watch an episode of 9-1-1 focused mostly on Buck (Oliver Stark), right?
Well, on Monday night, fans of the reckless, fun-loving firefighter got their wish when the fourth episode of the current fifth season of the Fox first responder drama, titled "Buck Begins," delved into the character's backstory, from his early days as risk-taking kid to his slightly wilder days — and many, many careers — as a teen and beyond.
Buck was also reeling from the knowledge that his parents and sister, Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) had been keeping a secret from him his entire life. As we learned at the end of the previous episode, Buck and Maddie once had a younger brother, Daniel, who died of leukemia at a young age. Buck was left feeling unloved and like a failure, when he realized that despite being conceived in the hope he might be a bone marrow match for his brother, Daniel nevertheless died.
All that, plus a pretty nasty fire, saw Buck risking his life to save a woman trapped in a burning building, before his 118 family showed to help. It was an episode combusting with emotion to say the least, so we chatted to Stark about the big moment for his character and where everyone's favorite firefighter goes from here.
EW: How excited were you when you found out they were going to do a Buck backstory episode?
OLIVER STARK: I think my first feeling was that I was a little bit intimidated because I've spoken to Tim [Minear, EP] in the past and he's said to me, "Don't worry, I'm sure we'll give you a begins episode at some point." I feel like all the begins episodes in the past have been so brilliant that there's such a high bar and I always played it like, "Oh, it's fine. I don't know if we need a Buck begins episode." I've always thought the pilot was a little bit of that anyway, because he was still relatively new. So it was done under the consensus that we would only do it if there was the right story to tell. When he came to me with this, I was like, "Okay, if there is a thing that you've settled on, then it must be good. I'm excited to get my hands on it and get stuck in."
Before you got the script, how much did you know of Buck's past?
Tim was really excited when they first came up with this and he called me across the summer while we were still very much in lockdown and not knowing when we were going back to work. He's like "I've got it. I've got this idea." He told me, and my first response was, that makes everything that we have done so far feel like it makes so much sense. It was a really brilliant idea because it connects so many dots. Then my second emotion was, "Hey, I don't even know if we're going back to work. Will I get to go back and make this thing? Because now I know the story's there and I want to get a chance to tell it."
At the end of the previous episode, we found out the family secret: Buck and Maddie actually had a younger brother who died. Before you knew that was the secret, what were your guesses?
I kind of knew where it was going. I did start to wonder, though, because I'd heard about it so long ago and quite often you hear about these upcoming storylines, and by the time they make it into the plot, they've changed. When I had read episode three, which is where Maddie first gets on the phone to our characters' mother about this secret, I, along with most people, seem to have fallen down the rabbit hole of he's adopted. That could have been interesting as well because, even in the name that he uses, "Buck," being a Buckley is so much of his identity, so I think we weren't wrong to go in that direction and then be quickly steered in another one, as they quite brilliantly do so often.
I also tried to do the math and work out if Maddie could be his mom at one point.
A lot of people seemed to be guessing at that! I saw Jennifer Love posted an Instagram story the other day, and she was like, "Why do people think this?" It's just that thing of people trying to see what's coming in from left field; what could be the thing that we're not expecting? I did see that being thrown around a little bit. That would have been a difficult one to play through because she's not that much older.
Also, I love their brother/sister dynamic and wouldn't wanna lose that.
Yeah! Because even if it had been an adopted storyline, they would've still shown that we're still brother and sister, no matter what. I think that bond is so strong that being blood is one thing, but they're siblings, no matter what.
Right, and they do seem to be in a good place by the end of this episode?
Yeah and I think that's such an important part of the show as well. Ever since she joined, that sibling dynamic, where they truly, truly, truly have each other's back, has been such a lovely addition to the show that you don't want to lose that for too long.
If you had to pick one of Buck's many jobs we learn about in this episode and do a flashback episode just on that, which one would it be? I'd watch a spin-off about bartender Buck.
The bartending one was a difficult day for me. Ever since I read it, I was going to the head of makeup, head of hair, head of costume, saying, "I wanna look ridiculous. I really want this to have been a phase." Then once I got it all on, I thought, "I have made a huge error. I feel ridiculous."
You didn't love the puka shell necklace?
[Laughs] That was my favorite part. The leathery tan, the hair. Tim called me the other day and was like, "Is that a wig?" I'm like, "Nope, that's me." But I think cowboy Buck would be the one, on the ranch. I think that would be fun to see, just from a personal point, because I'd just get to ride around on horses. To see him in such a different setting, around different people, still doing a relatively physical job, that would be fun. Even when we took that picture, I put the clothes on and I was like, "I think I might have just found my identity. This was who I've always wanted to be." So I took the cowboy hat home. I haven't worn it, but I look at it every now and then and that's enough for now.
Okay, so, maybe we've just found a spinoff, just Buck in the wild west.
There you go: 9-1-1 Wild West.
Hmm Lone Star might be mad. It's a bit close.
Oh, yeah, they have the Texas aspect.
When you were playing Buck in his early twenties, was making your voice higher like that your creative choice?
My thing has always been, if I was 60 and they wanted to make me 30, makeup has lots of tricks, but going from my late twenties to my early twenties, I was like, "What do I have here? What kind of tools can I use?" So it was absolutely the pitch of his voice. It's a little bit more wide-eyed and there's a bit more spring in his step. It was trying to work out the little things, because even if you look back at season one, I'm probably about 15, 20 pounds heavier now — I like to think in a good way — than I was in season one. So trying to then play five or six years before that... Usually, we're going into costume fittings and being like, "alright, take the arms in tighter," this was like "no, no, no! Baggy!" to try and hide it.
The postcards Buck sends Maddie were kind of hilarious. Was it fun to record the voiceover for those?
I put a lot of pressure on those kinds of voiceovers because you're trying to tell so much story and part of your instrument, your physical being, is not there. So it's something that I always like to spend a lot of time on and because of COVID regulations, we're not going into sound stages to record this stuff, we're doing it at home. It actually worked out quite well, because it meant I could do however many takes I wanted without looking over at the sound engineer who's thinking, "I wish this guy would just say what he's meant to be saying." I got to spend a whole day and go over it and I did it once and sent it off and then Tim had some notes. It was nice to get to take the time, rather than feel rushed in it because as I said, I put a lot of pressure on myself.
It's been a couple of emotional episodes for Buck. Are those more draining in some ways than the really physical ones?
Yeah, I mean, it's different. I've always really loved the physical aspect of our show. It's always been something that I love being able to throw myself into. So to take a break in some sense — though "Buck Begins" was relatively physical as well — and get to jump into that emotional side, for me, was just such an opportunity to dive into something different. Even though there have been flashes of it before, I got to show a different side to Buck and to myself as an actor. So it was a blessing to get to do that, but I do think the emotional and the physical have to combine because that's when you end up really caring and really believing the danger of the situations.
Where do you think Buck goes from here? Is he going to feel better, having that understanding of why his parents are the way they are?
I think there's some healing to be done, but I do think he started down that path. I think it's almost a case of, it's better to know what you have, so at least you know what you're battling against, rather than just a huge unknown in his life. He can start to understand why he has always felt the way he has, why his relationship with his parents has always been strained, and, once he has that knowledge, those wounds can start to heal. He can start to find his place, knowing now that he's on sturdier ground, knowing where he's come from. I think it's only going to be a good thing, but it's not necessarily going to be a quick growth. We already know that he's in therapy so he's taking the right steps, which I think is a really cool thing as well for the show. It's the beginning of a better Buck, for sure. I still think he's going to be putting himself on the line and trying to be the hero, but he's just going to do it a bit more consciously and know where that comes from. His intentions are going to be from a much better, sounder place.
Anything you can tease about what's coming up for him next this season? Any love interests?
In the first part of the season, he needed to learn a bit about himself, so he's going to put himself out there — not necessarily with the most success, but, hey, dating is hard!
Dating is hard. But he'll probably be a natural when it comes to being an uncle.
We've always seen him with kids and he just gets this burst of energy and lights up whenever he's placed around children, so I'm really excited for that. We've not got far enough for me to have any of those scenes yet, so I'm excited to read what they will be. That said, whatever it is, he's going to be a protective, loving uncle and I think this baby is going to be very lucky to have these people around him or her.
He's also going to be the fun uncle for sure.
Oh, for sure. How could he not be?
After this big episode, is there another one coming up you're really excited for people to see?
I actually love the following episode, episode six. What really sets 9-1-1 apart is that it has this real quirkiness to it. It's fun, as well as being serious. Episode six just feels like a classic, quirky episode that we all had so much fun making. I'm really excited to see how that all comes together for all of the characters.
9-1-1 airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.
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