'Rescue Me's' Denis Leary, Peter Tolan Spill Secrets About Series in Candid, Funny Conversation

Peter Tolan, left, and Denis Leary
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The co-creators reveal to THR how the FX show -- whose series finale airs Wednesday night -- was almost a Toronto-filmed comedy on HBO, their hopes (and fears) for the legacy of the show and what's in store for the bickering pair.

As the FX series born from 9/11 reaches its conclusion after seven seasons, Rescue Me co-creators Peter Tolan and star Denis Leary have much to reflect on: seven years, seven Emmy nominations (with one win for Michael J. Fox's guest turn) and 93 episodes mixed with high comedy and heavy drama. A conversation intended to be Tolan interviewing Leary revealed how Rescue Me was almost a Toronto-filmed comedy on HBO, their hopes (and fears) for the legacy of the show and what's in store for the bickering pair.

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Denis Leary: In the past couple of days, as I get ready for the finale premiere in New York to raise money for my Firefighters Foundation, I've come across some of the guys from the past, including the two guys I based Tommy Gavin on. I basically stole elements of their life, and all of a sudden it struck me that these guys are finally happy and they finally sort of gave in to the present instead of living in the past. They're happier than I have ever known them, and I knew them long before 9/11. I realized just how much like Tommy Gavin these guys were 10 years later.

Peter Tolan: Well, that would be really interesting if either of these guys had a subscription to The Hollywood Reporter. But I think for the rest of the readership, we've started off on a tremendously long, boring note.

Leary: You know, if you're going to get bitchy with me this early in the interview, we're not going to have many places to go except to more bitchiness.

Tolan: Why can't it just evolve into mudslinging?

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Leary: That can happen at any moment.

Tolan: After 10 years, it just goes to shit in the pages of The Hollywood Reporter.

Leary: Well, if we're going to do that, Peter, then we should do it for charity and it should be an underwear mud-wrestling event. … I'm just telling you a true fact about two guys who you happen to know who surprisingly are extremely happy now.

Tolan: OK, I was not aware what their personal situation was, but that's very interesting. Now I have a question for you, Denis Leary …

Leary: Is this about Spider-Man? [Leary is in Sony's 2012 superhero movie.]

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Tolan: No, it's not about your career outside of Rescue Me. I know that's shocking to you. Many people say, "Where did the idea for this come from?" I always say, we were shooting [short-lived ABC series] The Job on 9/11. I was directing an episode in Jersey that day, and you were in lower Manhattan. And after all these years, I'm actually starting to question my memory. I'd like to think that I actually said to you, "This is the show that we should be doing." I never said anything beyond that, and then you were considering making it a movie, right?

Leary: Here's what I remember. No. 1, that I must have hated you from the beginning; No. 2, how I then loved you and it was a love-hate thing; and then No. 3, yeah, you're right about the movie. It was after my cousin [a firefighter] was killed in '99 and I had thought about making a movie about a firefighter who dies in the line of duty. But it was way too close to his death and I didn't want to write it in my hometown. So you and I started talking about doing Rescue Me the movie, and then you said, "Hey, this would be really interesting week to week."

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Tolan: Here's the thing that I really don't remember: Was FX the first place that we went to? Did we go to HBO?

Leary: What ended up happening was that HBO came back and said they had notes and they preferred it as a half-hour comedy. Plus, they wanted to do it immediately, 13 episodes, but they wanted us to do half in New York and half in Toronto, which makes it hard to do because we knew that New York was a character. FX was a dark horse, but when we went in, they were incredibly smart with their notes and they introduced us to their marketing people in the first meeting. In everything I've done, I have never had a marketing person in the first meeting say, "This is how much money we spend on marketing, and this is how we go about selling the show."

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