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SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from “With So Little to Be Sure Of,” the sixth episode of the final season of ABC’s “Station 19.”

Boris Kodjoe is ready to start his next chapter. Since wrapping production last month on the final season of ABC’s venerable firefighter drama “Station 19,” the 51-year-old actor — who rose to fame in the early aughts in the Showtime drama “Soul Food” — has set his sights on broadening his horizons.

Chief among them is working more behind the camera. After directing his wife (and former “Soul Food” costar) Nicole Ari Parker in the Lifetime movie “Safe Room,” Kodjoe expressed an interest in helming an episode of “Station 19,”  and his wish was granted midway through the show’s final 10-episode run. It was the ideal training ground for Kodjoe, whose exacting nature earned him a special nickname on set.

They called me ‘Germanator,’ because I knew exactly what I needed and what I wanted, and I raced through the day,” Kodjoe, who is of German and Ghanaian descent, tells Variety with a laugh. “I got everybody home by five o’clock, and they appreciated that, so that was fun.”

Shot over eight and a half days, this week’s episode finds Chief Natasha Ross (Merle Dandridge) going toe-to-toe with Seattle mayor Robel Osman (Emerson Brooks) to save both firefighter Vic Hughes’ (Barrett Doss) job and Crisis One, the program founded by Vic’s late best friend, Dean Miller (Okieriete Onaodowan), to teach firefighters to de-escalate tense calls without police intervention. That contentious fight between Chief Ross and Mayor Osman — whose personal vendetta against Station 19 has only grown after Vic publicly called him out at a press conference in the previous episode — is juxtaposed against a series of flashbacks. In those flashbacks, the audience sees the evolution of a friendship that Vic strikes up with Morris (George Wyner), a homeless Vietnam War veteran whom she met on a Crisis One call.

Barrett Doss, George Wyner
Courtesy of Disney/ABC

Due to her public outburst with the mayor, Vic is put on probation and barred from helping her squad respond to a fire at Morris’ encampment. After her fellow firefighters break the news that Morris was killed in the fire, Vic volunteers to run a debriefing session, during which they discuss what went wrong on a specific call. Shortly after initiating that group discussion, Vic — who has probably endured the most loss of any of the show’s main characters — finally reaches her breaking point, feeling the compounded weight and grief of losing not only her friend but also the program that she used to try to save him.

This episode “is about Vic coming to terms with the fact that despite always taking care of everyone else, it’s OK to let yourself fall. It’s OK to be vulnerable; it’s OK to not be strong. And that has been a long time coming for her,” Kodjoe explains in the interview below. “If you look at this final season, it’s actually been from Episode 1 that she’s been trying to keep it together, so it was a really beautiful theme.”

By the end of the episode, Chief Ross stops by Station 19 to deliver some much-needed good news: Vic can keep her job, and Crisis One will live to fight another day. While taking a break from helping his daughter, Sophie, move out of her college dorm for the summer, Kodjoe discusses his latest foray into directing, saying goodbye to the longest character he has ever played and describes the kind of sports film that he hopes to make one day.

You were given the unique challenge of juxtaposing the present-day storyline with all of these little vignettes that are designed to show the firefighters’ — and especially Vic’s — connection to Morris. What were the most important challenges and considerations that you had in mind as the director of this episode?

The VFX stuff is difficult, because you have to imagine how everything’s going to look, and based on that, you don’t have to stage every single shot and block it. There’s a lot of action [in this episode], and we had a stunt, an explosion, so those were probably the most detailed things I had to really prepare for rigorously so that I was ready for any wildcard that would just appear out of nowhere.

Other than that, the tonality of the show was interesting because, like you said, we had vignettes that took us back to the past. I wanted to set the tone visually, but also make sure that we don’t forget about some of the character traits that we knew from the past when we go back and do these flashbacks. For instance, Sullivan had come a long way from being this grumpy, authoritative, quasi-dictator that he was in the beginning, so I wanted to show that he’s come full circle by really diving into some of the new character traits that we have discovered in the last two years, and really showing the juxtaposition between him now and him then. And that goes for every single character in this episode; we had to make sure that we really considered the arc that each character went through.

Courtesy of Disney/ABC

The emotional climax of this hour takes place during the debriefing scene inside the firehouse. How did you approach shooting that?

First, let me give someone props who really wrote the you-know-what out of this episode, which is Rochelle Zimmerman, who was my partner-in-crime, who was there with me every step of the way. She helped me take care of our guest star and make sure that every single theme really speaks to the tonality that we were shooting for. Rochelle was really the driving force behind this episode.

I’ve got to give Barrett Doss props, because she was the one who carried the whole episode, and she did extraordinary work. She’s an amazing actress with so many different levels, and I wanted to really push her to give herself permission to access all of those subtleties that she possesses in her instrument. I wanted to slowly get her to the brink of the edge, if you will, [but] I didn’t want her to jump. I wanted her to let the audience jump for her. She did an amazing job holding and fighting her emotions, and we could really see that struggle in that [debriefing] scene. And then the bunk scene immediately following the debrief was really about her stepping into a new chapter. It’s almost like a resurrection for her when Travis tells her that it’s OK to be the baby sometimes, and I think that was a really powerful scene.

The two scenes that you’re referring to touch on the idea of being a person of color — and, in this case, a Black woman — who is usually expected to support and champion others, but doesn’t always get the same kind of care in return. It was particularly moving to me to hear Travis tell Vic privately that he will take care of her, that he will be the one to catch her when she falls. Did you give Barrett and Jay any specific direction for the bunk room scene?

I’m glad that you got that from that scene, because that’s what we were shooting for. It was less directing them; it was more about having a conversation with them and giving them permission to explore all of those emotions that you just referred to. You’re right that it is about Vic coming to terms with the fact that despite always taking care of everyone else, it’s OK to let yourself fall. It’s OK to be vulnerable; it’s OK to not be strong. And that has been a long time coming for her. If you look at this final season, it’s actually been from episode one that she’s been trying to keep it together, so it was a really beautiful theme. If there’s one thing that I shared with them, it was to find the joy and the light in that scene because it is about resurrection rather than falling deeper.

Given that the visual language of any show in its seventh season is already so well-established, how much creative freedom did you have as a director? Do you have a particular style of direction?

Personally, I believe in pacing, and I also believe in not overshooting, which means sometimes less is more. We are so familiar with these characters that I don’t have to hold the audience’s hand. By creating these elaborate sort of introduction shots, sometimes you can go right smack dab in the middle of the action or start on a closeup of a character that is so well-established without showing the environment that he or she is in, because everybody knows the show. So everybody knows that when you get really close on a character who is, let’s say, in bed, that they’re in the bunk room.

I took a little bit of freedom and also the liberty of creating my own visual language, because I knew they weren’t going to be able to fire me. The show is over, so I was like, “Hey, what are they going to do? Not use me again?” So I was less concerned with that. But I also know the show and these characters really well. I wanted to be true to that, and honor that while at the same time adding a little bit of my own spice to it.

Three days into shooting the premiere, you discovered that the seventh season of “Station 19” would be its last. But since the crew was already prepping for the second episode, the writers really had only eight episodes to wrap up any loose ends. Are you happy with where we leave Sullivan in the finale?

It’s really hard to give each character a proper sort of sendoff, if you will, because there’s so many characters with so many years of storylines, so many ups and downs. When I met with the writers about my character, I said one thing to them: “Look, guys, I love you, and I trust you.” They’ve known this character as well as I have known him, and I really wanted them to have the freedom and my confidence to send him off how they see fit.

Obviously, the love story between Sullivan and Ross is the main storyline between them. It’s about where they’re going to go with that relationship. Are they going to say goodbye to each other, or are they going to take it a step further and take it to the next level? I’m really proud of the writers, because the way they wrapped that up was phenomenal in so many ways, because they really paid homage to their culture, and they really made sure that we see some of the levels between them that we hadn’t seen before. 

What do you mean by that? What cultural details resonated with you personally?

One of the things that I was really happy to see between them was the joy and the freedom to be who they are and not having to hide behind their shields and pretend and be professional all the time, so I really enjoyed this last season. I really enjoyed Sullivan getting in touch with his playful and joyful side, and for people to see that as well. 

Jaina Lee Ortiz
Courtesy of Disney/ABC

Sullivan is now engaged to Ross, who he met in the military, but there is still a subset of fans who believe Sullivan should end up with his ex-wife, Andy (Jaina Lee Ortiz). How would you contrast those two relationships?

In the first half of the show, with Sullivan and Andy, I think those two came from really traumatizing circumstances in their former relationships, and they fell in love while fighting. There was a lot of fighting going on between them because they hadn’t come to terms with their individual pasts yet. So even though the love was strong, the infatuation was there, and the attraction was there, I think that we found them still in the healing process. I think that’s the main difference between his and Andy’s relationship, and then his with Ross. I think Sullivan and Ross found each other again after having spent a lot of time healing and coming to a place where they’re really at peace with who they are. So when you’re at that place, I think it’s much easier to be open and vulnerable because you have healed. 

To the “Surrera” fans who have been flooding my DMs every single day for the past seven years, I want to say: I love you guys, and thank you for the love and support you’ve shown us, whether it’s for “Surrera” or for Sullivan and Ross. I understand that there’s a lot of people who are upset because they fell in love with [Andy and Sullivan] very early on in the show. But people grow, they change, they adjust to their environment, and they lose each other and find each other. So sometimes, that’s what happens. I hope that they’re not too upset. I personally think that Sullivan and Ross found each other at the perfect moment, and I think Andy also found her purpose at the right moment because her becoming captain was really what the show was about. And to witness that, to follow her and to support her through all those trials and tribulations as she steps into her father’s footsteps, I think, is really a beautiful story. 

How would you say Robert has evolved in the six seasons that you’ve played him?

I think the first half of the series, Robert was angry and afraid, and he was compensating for some of the trauma that he had experienced — losing his wife and going through what he went through [as an Army veteran]. And the second half of the show, I think he was able to let go of some of those ghosts and really step into his light and his power and allow himself to be free and to love again. It was fun to play him constricted, but it was even more fun to play him expanded, if you will. I really enjoyed that.

Looking back, do you have an episode or storyline that you are most proud of?

I’m proud of all of ’em, but [“Get Up, Stand Up”; Season 4, Episode 12] stuck out because we were able to collaborate with [former showrunner] Krista Vernoff at the time. It was post-George Floyd, and we did an episode that really addressed some of the social justice issues that we were going through at the time as a country and as a world. I was really honored and delighted to be able to give voice to some of those feelings that I had at the time — and that’s really another signature of the show. We were never afraid to speak out, and to talk about current issues that were important — to shine a light on things that have been stuck in the dark, to also uplift and give voice to communities that aren’t traditionally heard as much as they deserve to be. So that’s a testament to the courage of the showrunners, the producers, the writers, and the cast to make sure that we continuously raised the bar and stuck to those principles.

You just wrapped production on the series finale on April 19. Did you get a chance to take any on-set mementos to commemorate your time on the show?

Are you alleging that I would steal something from set?

Yes!

Yes, I did. I took my helmet, and I also took my name plate that’s on the back of the turnouts.

Robert Sullivan is now the longest role you have ever played, so it must feel bittersweet to be closing such a significant chapter of your career. What are some of your biggest takeaways from working on this show?

The major takeaway from the show, and the one thing I’m eternally grateful for, is the relationships. I have made some great friends over these past seven years, and I love these people like family, so I don’t regret a minute of it. Even though the cancellation comes as a surprise to all of us — because the show has been doing really well, and it’s been solid for years for [ABC] — I realized that this is business, and this business is fleeting. It is very, very temperamental, so sometimes, decisions are made that you might not understand. 

To me, the significance of the show will probably become more apparent in five or 10 or even 20 years, because each project that I’ve been blessed to be a part of has had a very special part in my life [and] played a very specific role on my journey, so I’m actually looking forward to finding out what that purpose or reason was [for being part of “Station 19”]. But I have enjoyed every single moment on the set of playing this character. We, the cast, are actually having a get-together next week. So we’re staying in touch, we’re staying close, which is really the biggest blessing. Honestly, I am very excited to take this next step and to enter this new chapter in my career — acting, directing, producing, and creating many more amazing memories along the way.

Have you given much thought to what you will do next?

Absolutely. I’m very intentional about things that I want to do. I write down everything that I have planned. I have an org chart. I visualize. I have tons of conversations. I’m in talks right now about four different projects that I’m interested in. So, yes, I am very excited to get on this next adventure, and I won’t put any limitations on myself. I want to do features. I want to do TV.

You’re one of the few high-profile actors I know who actually grew up playing competitive tennis — and you even competed at the collegiate level. Have you seen “Challengers” yet?

I have not seen that movie yet. I’ll watch it, however. I’m very curious to see it.

Well, I was going to ask you if you had any thoughts on the way that tennis was depicted in the film. But as an avid tennis fan myself, I think it’s also no secret that this sport we both love hasn’t exactly been depicted convincingly onscreen in the past.

It always bothers me when sports movies don’t depict the sport in a legitimate way. It just drives me crazy. It takes me right out of the movie.

How so?

It’s just that when you don’t know [a sport], you don’t know how to portray it correctly. That’s what it comes down to. So even though you might have a consultant on board who knows what they’re saying and doing, you’re not the director, because the director and the editor are going to make choices that are completely disconnected from how the sport is played. I mean, sometimes you see people starting the serving motion from the deuce side and they end up in the ad court. Or they’re hitting an approach shot and taking the first three steps towards the net, and then the next frame they’re at the baseline. I guess the general public wouldn’t notice, but I love the sport. That’s been my whole life, so I’m probably a little bit more critical.

I’m sure [“Challengers”] did a good job, and I love Zendaya. I’m a big fan of hers. She’s a sweet, sweet girl. I’ve known her for a long time, so I’m sure she killed it again.

Given your pedigree and experience as both a tennis player and an actor, I hope you get a chance to make a tennis movie one day.

I think there’s an Arthur Ashe movie floating around somewhere, so I would love to do that. [Tennis] has been my life ever since I was tiny.

This interview has been edited and condensed.





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