The Season 8 premiere of “Chicago Fire” concluded with the death of Otis, who succumbed to injuries he sustained working a fire at a mattress factory.
Played by Yuri Sardarov, from the beginning Otis was not only one of the primary first responders at the fictional Firehouse 51, but a reliable source of comic relief.
Sardarov is among a small handful of actors on the show with Chicago bona fides. His teenage years were spent in Northbrook, where he graduated from Glenbrook North High School. In college at the University of Michigan, he took a semester off to perform in TimeLine Theatre’s critically lauded extended 2009 run of “The History Boys.” He returned to school, “which nobody thought I was going to do,” he said, “but it was very important to my parents. So I went back to school and I finished up.” From there, he moved to Los Angeles, which is where he was living when he was cast on “Chicago Fire.”
“Yuri had a sharp, puckish energy from the moment he walked into the audition,” said showrunner and co-creator Derek Haas. “He could handle dramatic turns within scenes — from comedy to drama and back again — effortlessly. (Co-creator) Michael Brandt and I had worked with him on a movie before and were excited when we found out he was available. We thought about making him the candidate originally, but he just nailed his audition and so we asked him if he would like to play Otis. He jumped on board.”
When I reached him last week, Sardarov and his partner Madeleine were driving home from a road trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This is the first time in seven years that he has been able to get away for an extended period in the fall. “We were up in the UP just enjoying retirement,” he joked.
We talked about his experience playing Otis, the impetus behind character’s exit and what he plans to do next. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Q: Did you watch the season premiere?
A: I did, I watched it with my younger brother Nick, who goes to DePaul, Madeleine and Miranda Rae Mayo, who plays Kidd — she’s like my sister — so we all sat on the couch and watched. And it was difficult. But I’m so glad with how they handled it.
Q: How was the conversation broached that this would be Otis’ end?
A: In many ways, it was time. I got this show when I was 23 and I’m 31 now. I was a boy when I started and in many ways thanks to the cast and thanks to guys like Christian (Stolte, who plays Mouch) and Eamonn (Walker, who plays Chief Boden) and David (Eigenberg, who plays Herrmann), I got to walk away a man.
Derek (Haas, the showrunner) and I are very close and at the end of last season he came and did one of his visits to Chicago. (Haas and the writers are based in LA.) We hadn’t gotten picked up at that point for Season 8 and I said, “I don’t know what’s happening next season and I don’t know what’s happening with my character or the show, but I want to say thank you so much for everything because this has been incredible. I don’t know where my head is at concerning the show and I don’t know where the network’s head is at concerning the show. But I just want to give you a big hug and say thanks.”
Q: That sounds like you had started to think it was time to move on.
A: You know, I’ll put it this way: My family and I, we’re refugees.
My parents came here from Azerbaijan with nothing. I’m the first-born (Sardarov was 2 when he came to the U.S.), and in many ways I’m the oldest child in our large community of Russian and Armenian immigrants — my brother Nick is 11 years younger than me — and I’m not supposed to be an actor. I’m supposed to be a doctor. Or a lawyer.
We came here with nothing. Being Armenian in Azerbaijan at the turn of the ’90s was not a very welcome situation. We had to leave everything. My parents were musicians. My grandfather was a musician, my grandmother was a singer. And they had to give all that up to come to America. The only constant my parents ever had to deal with in their life was change. And that’s sort of how my family has gracefully has operated for a long time.
So I started getting this inkling of: Man, it’s been nearly eight years of doing the same thing. And this is casino money that I have (laughs). I mean that sincerely. This is house money that I’ve been playing with for nearly a decade. This was never supposed to happen.
Q: It’s unique to reach that kind of financial stability and it allows you to make decisions.
A: It gives me so much latitude to do whatever I want.
And going into Season 8, we’d done 180 episodes of television and you need a kickstart — you need something that will get the audience reinvested. And what better way than to get rid of a beloved character who is in many ways the character that nobody would expect to go, the comedic relief?
So Derek gave me that call and said, “Look, this is what we’re going to do (write the character out). How do you feel about it?” And regardless of whether I saw it coming or not, it was a shock because I would be saying goodbye to people who are like my family at this point.
After the shock subsided, I felt this really unnerving calm where it was like: OK, it’s done, the Band-Aid’s been ripped off. Now what do I do? Now what’s going to happen? Do I get to come back and wrap this character up? Do I want to come back and wrap this character up?
And about a month-and-a-half after that, Derek called me and said, “This is what we want to do: We’re gonna kill him.”
And at first it felt like a bit of a betrayal killing the character. And I spoke to my people and I was like, “I don’t know if I want to do this. I don’t know if I want to come back and deal with it.”
Q: Because of the emotional toll it takes?
A: Exactly. The human toll on me that it would take. And the response that I got back from people I trusted was, that’s exactly why you should go do it.
And I’m so happy that I did. I filmed for five days in July and everyday it was like going to war with my emotions. There’s not a single person on that show that I don’t love and care for deeply and that I couldn’t call up on a minute’s notice for advice or just to chat.
And then the last scene that we shot on the last day was the death scene with Cruz at my bedside. And it was really, really hard. And I’m supposed to be catatonic and I’m just trying to keep it together for three seconds so they can cut together a feasible death scene.
Q: And now you figure out what’s next.
A: I think we’re going to make the move to LA. Chicago’s my home and will continue to be — I have an apartment here that I plan on keeping for the rest of my life, I love this city — but I think LA is the best option at the moment.
But it’s this weird “I am free, I can do whatever I want” feeling. I have to honor that opportunity. For the past few years I’ve been on-and-off writing. All kinds of writing, whether that’s film and television or maybe a book in the future. That’s always been something that’s tugged at me.
As an actor on a network television show, the uncomfortable truth is that you don’t have a lot of control. So having the ability to have a little bit of control now, it’s intoxicating. I’m really looking forward to whatever lies ahead.
Q: Otis provided a lot of comedic energy to the show. You posted a video on Twitter of you talking about leaving the show and it’s hilarious because you do the whole thing in a British accent. It made me wonder, do you have an interest in doing full-on comedy?
A: That’s exactly the dream. I love film and television and books that seamlessly blend comedy and drama, because that’s what life is in many ways. I call it the cosmic joke of it all.
I started doing these classes at Second City because I was free and my partner Madi was like, “You’ve got to get out of the house, otherwise you’re going to go crazy.” So I started doing Second City improv and the funniest stuff in improv is when you’re just watching people exist on stage — they’re not trying to be funny, they’re just living a life.
And I had this epiphany of: Life is funny as long as you’re the audience. So why not write about what I would consider my greatest tragedies but make them funny and allow an audience to laugh? It’s really the quintessential way of communicating with someone, allowing them the cathartic laugh. So I would love to do an all-out, balls-to-the-wall comedy. That’s kind of what I’m trying to write.
A lot of what I want to deal with — and frankly therapy has been helping an immense amount — is whatever modicum of fame I’ve attained and how funny that is. And how ego-driven it can make you and how funny that is. How hilarious it is to watch someone who thinks they’re very important deal with very human issues. To me, that’s the kind of stuff I want to plumb. I love high status idiots and I’ve definitely been one in my life (laughs), and that’s the kind of stuff that I would love to deal with. And, you know, sprinkle in some daddy issues here and there … (laughs)
It’s a bold undertaking. I’m not sure I’m ready for it, but that’s what I’m going to try to do.
Q: By the way, I noticed on Twitter you spell your first name as Yuriy, rather than Yuri, which is how you’re listed in your professional credits.
A: My grandfather on my father’s side was a jazz musician — he’s Armenian but he traveled all over the world — and his name is Yuri, so I was named after him. He’s a very big influence in my life. We have matching Cyrillic tattoos, if that tells you anything.
His name is spelled Yuri. So to differentiate myself as a child, I started adding another “y” at the end of my name. That’s not my legal name but that’s the name I sort of chose for myself and I got the nod-wink from my grandfather that it was OK.
Q: You have some pretty significant Chicago ties, but you got cast on the show when you were living in LA. That’s pretty ironic!
A: Yeah, it’s very funny. I got an email from Mike Brandt and Derek Haas, who are the creators of the show; we had done a film together called “The Double” (from 2011) when I was still in college, it was a Richard Gere action movie. And maybe two or three years later I get an email from them asking if my parents still have a house in the Chicagoland area because they need local actors for this television show they’re putting together.
So it was an incredible stroke of fortune.
And funny enough, I got that email on my birthday. My 22nd or 23rd birthday and I was rip-roaring drunk at the time. So I got the email and proceeded to have my birthday party and the next morning I wake up and I’m just over-the-moon excited and I can’t remember why. I honestly didn’t remember. I was like, "I guess that was the greatest birthday party of all time!” It was legitimately eight hours where I went out and got breakfast with my friends, we recounted all the stories from the night before. And I was like, I didn’t (hook up) last night, why am I so happy? It took me the entire day to open up my mail app and be like, oh yeah.
Q: Do you remember how Otis was described in the first script when you auditioned?
A: I think Otis — and I’m not kidding — I think he was supposed to be a 6-foot-5 black guy. They had descriptions in mind, but they were going to mold the characters to the actors they chose. They always say that because TV writers have to write so many episodes, they write to your strengths (as an actor) so in many ways Otis evolved towards the strengths that I had as a 23- and 24-year-old.
So it’s me, but it’s a hyper-exaggerated version of all my strengths and weaknesses. It’s the wry sense of humor. It’s the interest in all the quote-unquote “nerdier” things in life like science fiction and fantasy. And there’s a fair amount of humor.
I had just gotten through theater school and I had been doing Noel Coward and Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. And because Eamonn Walker is a through-and-through Brit — like a British, classically trained actor — in the first couple seasons, Boden and Otis had this throughline of quoting Shakespeare at each other and it was this tongue-in-cheek way of the writers being like, “We get it, you just got through theater school and you’re really gung-ho about Shakespeare.” I loved that stuff.
Q: The character’s real name was Brian, but everybody called him Otis. Remind me, how did that nickname come about?
A: So, I guess every firehouse has an Otis. He’s the guy that carries the elevator key and Otis elevators make up like 90% of the elevator industry. So he has the keys to operate the elevators. I guess a lot of the calls these guys go on are people trapped in elevators. So yeah, he’s the Otis, the guy that carries the elevator keys.
Q: The Molly’s scenes are shot on a soundstage, but in your off time would you ever go to Lottie’s Pub, which is the bar Molly’s is based on?
A: (Laughs) I’ve definitely been to Lottie’s before.
I think it’s an awesome bar and I love the connection we have with it. I’ve met the management there, they’re wonderful people. And it’s such an institution. I’ve definitely frequently Lottie’s. And maybe I’ve shaved my mustache before walking in the front door ...
Q: So you wouldn’t be as easily recognized?
A: I think the Three Musketeers thing that I have going on (in terms of facial hair) makes me pretty recognizable, wouldn’t you say?
Q: I was going to ask if you were planning to shave the mustache, since mustaches are commonly associated with firefighters and you’re moving on to your next stage in life. Are the mustache and soul patch going?
A: Yeah. It’s really freeing knowing that as soon as I shave my face nobody knows who I am. Honestly, I don’t think anybody has recognized me without the goatee thing. So yeah, I think they’re going to go for a little while. But then 48 hours later they’re back, so I’ll have to keep a razor by the bedside table.
Q: Are there moments from your time on the show that stand out as memorable?
A: I’ll remember some of the funniest things, like Jesse Spencer (who plays Casey) having to catch a baby from, like, the fourth floor of a building and whiffing time after time. It’s this super dramatic moment and he can’t catch the baby — it’s this plastic toy — and it’s raining and he can’t catch it and we’re supposed to be looking at the building with great concern and we just couldn’t stop laughing.
There was a moment between Taylor Kinney (who plays Severide) and I that was supposed to be really serious, where we’re talking over the bar at Molly’s and his sister, who was also my girlfriend, has been kidnapped and some great tragedy has befallen the kidnappers and we’re like, “Oh no, is there some vigilante justice going on?” And Taylor looks at me and I look at him and I give him this all-knowing smiling that was like: Oh, has Otis killed these guys? And we can’t stop laughing. We did that for a half hour, where we were supposed to just look at each other seriously and one of us would keep cracking up and we couldn’t get the shot.
Just the endless jokes between me and Joe (Minoso, who plays Cruz) and Stolte and Eigenberg.
And waking up at 5 a.m. and having to go to the lakefront in February and it’s -50 and my clothes are frozen and it’s like, what are we going to do? OK, let’s go eat another doughnut. Like, the only reprieve is baked goods.
There’s so much. And they’re just going to keep popping off like an aneurysm in my head until the day I die.
Everybody who watches the show, just know you’re in good hands. And you may see some Otis in the future, that’s all I’ll say.
Otis on 'Chicago Fire’ is gone. Yuri Sardarov, the actor who plays him, talks about life after the NBC series? ›
Otis was a beloved character on Chicago Fire for the show's first eight seasons. Chicago Fire fans will never forget the fateful moment when Otis Zvonecek (Yuri Sardarov) tragically died after sustaining injuries from a mattress factory fire at the beginning of Season 8.Why did Otis on Chicago Fire leave the show? ›
Otis was a beloved character on Chicago Fire for the show's first eight seasons. Chicago Fire fans will never forget the fateful moment when Otis Zvonecek (Yuri Sardarov) tragically died after sustaining injuries from a mattress factory fire at the beginning of Season 8.Who is the highest paid actor on Chicago Fire? ›
Taylor Kinney is the highest-paid actor on Chicago Fire.What disease did Otis have on Chicago Fire? ›
On a recent episode of “Chicago Fire” on NBC, one of the main characters, Firefighter Brian "Otis" Zvonecek was diagnosed with ITP.Why did Dawson leave Chicago Fire? ›
In the interview, Raymund explained why she decided to leave the show. “I'm not sure the exact moment when it happened, but I knew that my six-year contract was coming to an end and I felt like I was hungry to explore a different role, a different story,” she said.What does Otis say when he dies? ›
His team rescued him and rushed him to the hospital, where he died by the side of his best friend and roommate Joe Cruz (Joe Minoso), after telling him in Russian that "Brother, I will be with you, always." It wouldn't be until three months later that Cruz learned the translation of Otis' last words.Who replaces Otis on Chicago Fire? ›
Alberto Rosende as Firefighter Candidate Blake Gallo, Truck 81 (seasons 8–present). Firehouse 51's latest recruit on Truck 81, replacing Brian "Otis" Zvonecek after his death. Gallo became a firefighter after he lost his entire family in a house fire.Are any of the actors on Chicago Fire actual firefighters? ›
One of the stars who's been on the series since the very beginning is a real-life firefighter — Anthony "Tony" Ferraris, conveniently also named Tony on the show. Outside of his role on the series, he's assigned to the very real Chicago Fire Department Squad 2.Who is the highest paid city of Chicago employee? ›
In 2020, the city's highest-paid employee was Chicago Police Sgt. Raymond Pierce, who made $430,854.Why did the cast of Chicago Fire leave? ›
Taylor Kinney, who portrays Kelly Severide on “Chicago Fire,” is stepping away from the NBC drama. A source close to production confirms to Variety that the actor is on a leave of absence to deal with a person matter. Kinney has led the Dick Wolf series since its debut in 2012.
Otis' final words were to his best friend and roommate, Joe Cruz, and they were spoken in Russian. They were: "Brat, ya budu s toboy vsegda." That roughly translates to "Brother, I will be with you always." This is a message Cruz would only come to understand three months later.What actually happened to Otis? ›
The episode flashes back to show Shane sacrificed Otis by shooting him in the leg and leaving him as bait for the walkers while he escaped with the medicine.Why did Casey leave Chicago Fire? ›
But Spencer's life priorities changed with his 2020 marriage to neuroscientist Kali Woodruff Carr and the birth of the couple's first child. “I got married and had a toddler. So things shifted in my life,” says Spencer, who left for personal reasons after his 200th episode, but still lives in Chicago.Do Casey and Dawson ever have a baby? ›
The unborn child was a failed pregnancy between Gabriela Dawson and Matthew Casey. The child is conceived by accident in the episode I Am the Apocalypse, in which the two had sex "to relieve the stress of the day".What happened to mouch on Chicago Fire? ›
Mouch was hit by stray shrapnel during the gunfire. Herrmann rushes to Mouch's side after he saw the blood and yells that Mouch needs an ambulance fast. Mouch is rushed to the hospital for his injuries, and the firehouse is eventually alerted that Mouch is alert and recovering.Does Severide leave Chicago Fire? ›
Where did Severide go on Chicago Fire? Severide left the Windy City to attend an arson investigation program in Alabama. We were under the impression he would return once he completed the program, as was his wife, Kidd (Miranda Rae Mayo), but it looks as though he had other plans.Did Severide leave Chicago Fire? ›
Where did Severide go on Chicago Fire? Severide left the Windy City to attend an arson investigation program in Alabama. We were under the impression he would return once he completed the program, as was his wife, Kidd (Miranda Rae Mayo), but it looks as though he had other plans.