'Vampire Diaries' Alum Steven R. McQueen: 'Chicago Fire' Role Is "Completely Different" From Jeremy

"He's the guy that takes control when he needs to, and I found that to be an appealing quality," the actor tells THR.
Elizabeth Morris/NBC

The Chicago Fire writers know how to craft an entrance. Just ask new recurring player Steven R. McQueen.

"I was half-naked and wrapped in toilet paper, and I had some writing on my face," McQueen tells The Hollywood Reporter of his first scene. "I don’t think there's a better way to break the ice than that."

It's safe to say McQueen isn't in Mystic Falls anymore. The former Vampire Diaries star, who played Jeremy Gilbert on the CW series for six seasons, makes his debut in the season-four premiere of Chicago Fire playing Firehouse 51's new candidate, Jimmy Borrelli.

"For me, you've always got to put a little bit of yourself in it. But Jimmy is a completely different character than the last one or anyone that I've played so far," says McQueen. "He's a hardworking cadet. He has a strong moral compass and is an all-around good guy. Not that my other characters weren’t good guys, but it's a different dynamic. He takes charge."

The same is true of McQueen, who wasted little time after his last episode of Vampire Diaries aired looking for his next gig. "For me, when I'm at work, that’s when I'm at my happiest," he said. "I got back to L.A. and started reading a lot, and Chicago Fire came up, and I just lit up. I got excited. Who wouldn’t want to play an American hero?"

Although McQueen admits he "didn't know much about firefighters" beforehand, he had the physical aspect of the demanding role down, thanks to an extensive training routine that includes martial arts, Jiu-Jitsu and kickboxing. He also visited a firefighters' academy and talked with the real men behind the uniform to prepare. "I talked to the writers, and they talked about possible storylines and this and that, but I wasn't 100 percent sure," he says. "I just showed up and made sure each script was 100 percent prepared with my coach, and they've been writing incredible stuff for me."

After six seasons of fighting vampires, witches and werewolves — oh my! — McQueen was particularly excited to dive into more grounded territory. "[Jeremy] was strong in the way that he continued to stay sincere and wear his heart on his sleeve, even though he'd been through stuff repeatedly and the world put him in these situations that were out of his control," he says.

"Being a human being surrounded by a bunch of supernatural creatures, you're going to feel weak at times, and you're going to feel like these monsters have control over your life, and so, somehow, he found a way to stay sincere through that and not let the world callus him, which is great, whereas Jimmy is a little tougher. He's a hard worker, and he's the guy that takes control when he needs to, and I found that to be an appealing quality."

But like McQueen's Vampire Diaries character, Jimmy also will have some familial issues to deal with. Jimmy's older brother, played by Andy Ahrens, also happens to be a firefighter. "We butt heads a little bit," says McQueen. "Family is one of the most important things to a lot of people, especially to my character, Jimmy, but family sometimes has problems."

Thankfully, Jimmy will have an easier time with his fellow firefighters at Firehouse 51. "Any time there's a candidate, they're going to bust your balls, and they're going to hassle you, which they do a bit, but the thing is, he's such a promising candidate and a hard worker. Pretty fast into it, he holds his own," says McQueen. "He's trying to soak everything in and take everyone in as a mentor. But [Casey] really takes him under his wing, and then there may be a potential love interest coming up."

But how will Jimmy's character get along with the members of Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med? McQueen is game to find out. "If they invite me, I'll be there. I talked to them about possibly coming over to P.D. for an episode or something, and we'll see if that happens," he says when asked about potential crossovers. "I know firefighters and police officers out here have a boxing tournament against each other. I know Jon [Seda] boxes a little bit, and I box as well. I was trying to pitch the idea to get us to box each other: cops vs. firefighters."

Although he's busy making a new home for himself in the Windy City, McQueen hasn't forgotten about his first family back in Mystic Falls. "We shot the pilot when I was 19. I grew up with those people. They're my family," he says. "They left me alive, and if they invited me back to come say hi to everybody, I would be honored to."

Chicago Fire's new season kicks off on Tuesday at 10 p.m. on NBC.