Five years into playing Stella Kidd on NBC drama Chicago Fire, it's safe to say that Miranda Rae Mayo isn't ready to put away her firefighting gear any time soon.
Joining the show in 2016 at the age of 26, the Californian native had mostly been doing supporting work on beloved shows like Pretty Little Liars and True Detective but at the time, she says, that lack of commitment felt freeing.
Now, Miranda acknowledges that she has realized that commitment itself has actually given her more freedom - and that the support and trust of her co-stars has helped facilitate that.
Joining an ensemble show midway through its fourth season has to be hard for anyone.
But Miranda made it work, coming on to the show as a new love interest for Lieutenant Kelly Severide (played by Taylor Kinney) and immediately becoming a fan favorite as she bonded with the other girls, and refused to be cowered by firefighter Christopher Hermann's claims that he was the best bar manager in town, leading to an epic Bar Olympics.
But with rumors that Severide may be leaving the show after the season nine finale, there may be some major changes in Kidd's future.
Miranda has hopes for where the firefighter will go next, though, and over Zoom HELLO! sat with the actress for our exclusive Spotlight interview and talked all things finale, season ten, and the power of a platform.
WATCH: Miranda Rae Mayo as Stella Kidd in Chicago Fire
How have you found these final few weeks of filming season nine?
It's been emotional.
There has been a lot of really great stuff in the episodes we are filming, especially for Stella, but it's been an emotional rollercoaster so it's been involved and I will be happy to take the break.
You've been on the show five seasons now, do you have a ritual when it comes to the final weeks of filming?
I just like to get back to the factory settings, and to set down Stella's story for a little bit. Every year is different, but the older I get the more I value a ritual and taking time to actually study myself and be curious, to ask: 'Huh, what would be the most graceful thing for my nervous system?'
And that's just for practical reasons as well - I am getting older, I have to take care of this body!
Let's talk Stella - what was it about her back in 2016 that made you say yes? Did you audition?
I auditioned, and in 2016 I had a few shows under my belt but a job is a job!
There were few things I would have turned down of the magnitude and calibre [of Chicago Fire], but I sent in an audition tape and then the next call was that I had booked it which is unusual!
Did you have any concerns coming into a big ensemble show? Do you remember who welcomed you first?
When I got to set everyone was so warm and approachable and loving. Steve Chikerotis is the technical advisor - we don't have a show without him - and I met with him to do training, and Eamonn [Walker] and Jesse [Spencer] met me there and we went through drills.
I dragged Jesse just to show off and that was great, he was very supportive - 'wow, you're going to be great!' - and after that, it was Yuri [Sardarov] who was the most 'let me show you around Chicago!' Yuri was my best friend, and when I first got there… I miss him so much all the time.
He was the most genuine and loving [person], but everyone was kind. Monica and Kara were very kind.
No pranks for the new person on set?
I do remember when I first met David [Eigenberg] I wanted him to say my name, to say 'Hey Miranda' and pretend I was Miranda from Sex and the City!
It's clear that Stella and Kelly were always going to have a romantic storyline due to the canonical history we get a hint of in her first episode - how much input did you and Taylor Kinney have over the years in their trajectory?
I don't know how much input Taylor has had - he has his own relationship with the showrunners and producers being one of the foundational elements of the show - but I do believe though, that if he really hated working with me, it would be very easy for him to ask them to get me off the show. And he hasn't done that which I am very grateful for!
But I haven't had any input and I don't expect to. I take what they give me and run with it and just speak to the writers to make sure I am understanding the picture they want to paint, and at times I will offer my perspective but it really is their vision.
How did you build that connection with Taylor?
I didn't spend any time with him at all - it was sink or swim at first.
I showed up, not really knowing him and only knowing him from the show, and just tried things in the scene. But he is very present in our scene work, and so it was like a tango and I let him lead.
Stella is now taking the lieutenant exam - how do you see this changing her arc? Where would you like to see her in season ten?
I would like to see her get a position as a lieutenant at another house, and I would love to see her learn what it means to be a leader not in the place where she came up - that is really what I want to see for her. How she confronts those challenges, of what works and doesn't work, confronting her past trauma and her childhood, her parents not being around, I would love to see that.
I would love to see more Girls On Fire, more of the character Aaliyah and how Stella, Kylie and Aaliyah interact, to see Stella navigate her imposter syndrome, and watch her find her space, find her boundaries.
But there is something to be said - if you're a leader there are things you can't be doing, right? So watching her discover that - is that hard, or heartbreaking for her? Is that relieving for her? That's the stuff. And I trust the writers and they love her, so I trust them that it'll be fun.
One of the main complaints fans often have is that due to the large cast and the nature of this ensemble storytelling, certain storylines get pushed aside. As an actor how do you handle that lack of follow-through with arcs?
I think that a level of detachment is necessary in this job, because it's not my show. And there are certain things I just don't have control over, and so gratitude is my antidote for all stresses.
I have my own emotions about [loose ends] and have a safe space to express. I have my people that I can call and vent, but then to bring it back around, thank God I am on this show and work with the people I do.
Several years ago, you said that before Chicago Fire you 'hadn't held a job longer than ten months nor a relationship for longer than three years and that commitment felt suffocating'. Now that you've been somewhere for over five years, how do you feel about commitment and freedom?
At this point in time in my life, I really believe commitment is a facilitator of freedom, and that commitment provides a bed of trust, whether in a relationship or a practice.
With my own self, if there is trust I feel more free to try things and ask for things and play because I know the commitment is there, and there is a sturdy solid foundation.
So commitment at this point in my life is really important to me, and it's important to be a person of my word - and I am not perfect at it - but it's something I am mindful and intentional of; if I tell you I will be there in ten minutes and I see seven minutes have passed and I won't be there I will reach out because I know how good it feels to rely on someone else.
I want to tell the people in my life, whether work or a friendship or a romantic relationship, no matter what, you can trust me. And I have the cast and crew of this show to thank for that, especially Eamonn and David.
They have made so much space for me in their lives and in their hearts, so I have learned a lot by seeing the type of men they are with their families and the people they work with - that is who I want to show up as, I want to be in that company.
You grew up in Fresno, did you always know you wanted to move to LA and pursue acting?
I grew up in a small town called Visalia until I was 11 and then we moved to Fresno, and once we were there I was more involved in musical theatre programs and the arts, and that was when I wanted to run away from home and join the circus!
But I had this vision of 'I can be on TV, I can sing, I actually can do this,' but before that, I wanted to be a linebacker because my dad was a football coach, and I wanted to play basketball in college.
And when I was really young I wanted to be a mailman, or mail lady. I loved our mailman, and the idea of putting the letters in the box felt very satisfying to me, that's the perfect job!
You use your platform for activism, do you see it as your responsibility to use that outreach to share with others?
No, I don't feel like it is my responsibility. I think there have been times when I have looked at it like that, to speak on these things, but right now in this moment that perspective feels like it comes from a place of ego and a place of obligation, and I personally don't believe that moving from a place of ego or obligation is sustainable.
The seeds you sow are the fruit you bear. So right now it's my practice to share and move from a place of authenticity, and passion, and a place of enthusiasm because [for example] Black Lives Matter is something that benefits everything!
If oppression can happen to us it can happen to you, so I speak on things and share things that move me, authentically, and I don't expect anyone or everyone to get it, but I am at a place where I think, 'well, you're all following me and so this is what I have to say and this is what is important'.
Showrunner Derek Haas recently confirmed the final ten minutes of season nine are crazy - what's your take on those final minutes?
It wouldn't be Chicago Fire if we don't end with a cliffhanger, so it is… it is… it's very big!
It's very big and I send my prayers to all the fans and advise them to have some ashwagandha ready, or something that will ease their nervous system, have a glass of wine, a nice bath ready, y'all are going to be needing it.
It is comparable, for sure, to past finals. Absolutely comparable to what we do every season which is to leave fans dying [for the next season].
Derek praised you recently for the season nine Stella-centric episode - 'When you have an actress like Miranda who you can give gut-wrenching emotion to as well as comedy and physical presence and romance - she nailed it' - How does that make you feel?
I will probably cry about that later to be honest, I just want to hug him, wow.
Thank you for seeing that in me and for trusting that it is what will come forward when you present me with an opportunity, because I really do believe we are powerful creators, and that is what he calls forward in me and so that is how I show up.
Photography by @alexhazelstudios, Hair: Jada Richardson - Jada D LLC, Stylist: Sal Yvat, Creative Direction: Ashton Easter x 13 Publicity
Chicago Fire airs on NBC Wednesdays at 9/8c