Exclusive: 9-1-1's Oliver Stark opens up about vulnerability and why it's okay to cry
9-1-1 star Oliver Stark has shared how the Fox show's portrayal of masculinity was one of the reasons he was drawn to the series, laying bare his vulnerable side and revealing why it is okay for men to cry.
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The 31-year-old British actor has candidly expressed men should be able to freely share how they are feeling, admitting this was something he wanted to be able to show the world on-screen: "I wanted to show you can be caring and it's okay to be upset and cry and feel things."
Oliver stars as Evan 'Buck' Buckley, a firefighter who we've seen grown from a playboy, fired for stealing a firetruck to have sex, to going on a quest for love, discovering his found family and growing up. In the very first episode Buck could be considered the poster boy for a machismo that may be found in fire departments. Yet by the end of that same episode, he has been brought down a peg or two by the men in his team.
"Over the years, one of my favorite parts is that I don't think there has been a single male character that hasn't broken down and cried, and put themselves out there for the people they love and the people who are strangers," he tells HELLO! "They've sat down and had deep heart to hearts over the years, and I think it is really important to keep pushing the message that it is okay to be sensitive, and okay to be vulnerable, and in actual fact, it's more than okay, those things are strengths."
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Wearing his heart on his sleeve and drawing on his own personal experiences, Oliver admitted he previously struggled with his own emotions: "As a young man I didn't necessarily understand, and it wasn't because of my father - who is a very emotionally available man - but so much of the media pushes you in one direction and I am keen to push the needle back in the opposite direction.
"I think so many of the problems we find ourselves in as a community are about people not knowing how to express themselves or being afraid of their own vulnerabilities, which I understand, it is passed down through generations. For me, it is important to teach children, however we can, whether through media or education, to be okay with expressing themselves and being sensitive. I think it's one of the most healthy things we can do for the sake of the world."
Oliver wears sweater by Sefr, Tom Ford pants via The Ruby Fashion Library, shoes by Barollo Italy via Maison Privee PR LA
Oliver first began acting as a teenager for, he happily admits, the attention.
"It was cool to be in the play, 'maybe this girl will like me,' it was for very surface reasons," he jokes. "But once I began to get more opportunities to tell stories, and treat it as an exploration of myself, it became more of my focus and an important part of myself."
Looking inward and finding what is important to him has also seen Oliver partner with Re:Wild, founded by a group of conservation scientists together with Leonardo DiCaprio that aims to protect and rewild the Earth "at the scale and speed we need".
"His passion for our work and for doing his part in protecting and restoring the planet are unmistakable," Re:Wild's Arnelle Lozada shared with HELLO! and it's a passion that Oliver himself says is of "utmost importance".
"If we don't give any love to the environment we don't have much of a planet to live on," he says. "Re:Wild is a really incredible organization and I love their philosophy that by restoring the wild the world can take care of itself. It doesn't necessarily need our hand in every pot."
'It is important to keep pushing the message that it is okay to be sensitive'
For his own mental health, Oliver quit Twitter in 2021. "I will sound like such a dating cliché but long walks really clear my head," he laughs, but much to the delight of fans, he remains on Instagram where he posts behind-the-scenes videos from the set and his own travels.
It's a platform he wants to use for good: "Sometimes I feel like I am screaming into the void but I do think anybody that has a platform has a responsibility to make sure the messages they put out are ones of positivity, and are moving the needle in a positive direction."
Six years ago though, and new to Los Angeles, Oliver was at a crossroads in his career.
He spent every day walking past Los Angeles Fire Department's Station 41 in Hollywood and considering quitting acting to join the force. Then Ryan Murphy came calling with a new procedural drama, 9-1-1, which would tell the stories of the men and women working inside the LAFD.
Now 9-1-1 is Fox's top-rated series, was named the fourth highest-rated scripted series of the 2021-2022 television series, and Oliver has top-billing alongside TV icons Peter Krause, Angela Bassett and Jennifer Love Hewitt.
Oliver wears sweater by Reiss, and two-piece suit by Paisley & Gray via Regard Style House
"An important message to anyone in any creative industry is how quickly things can turn around," he says, as he talks about those early days in Los Angeles, new to the city, and unsure of his future. "I was getting to the point when I started to think, 'will this ever happen, and what else can I do?' There was a lot that I was unsure of."
Now he is well known and beloved by viewers, but just like his character, Oliver fondly admits he started out as a "rookie".
"Our journey has really mirrored each other because when we start the show Buck is brand new, he is the rookie, and for me, coming on to a show of this size meant I was the rookie," Oliver shares. "I found my own value as an actor and understood what I bring to the table and my own worth at the same time that the same thing is happening with Buck. I really believe we're on this journey together."
He says had a "connection" with his character upon first reading the script and was cast within a week of his first meeting. "It is funny to describe Buck this way, as it's a very English thing, but there is a certain cheekiness that I read on the page," he says.
"And that was one of the reasons I felt a particular connection going in because even though he was American there was a British wit, and cautiously I say charm, I could bring to the character, that may fit well."
9-1-1 and the character of Buck is another way for him to push an important message
His character has arguably had some of the show's hardest and most traumatic tragedies to play out on screen; trapped under the firetruck when a bomb exploded, caught in a tsunami, sued the fire department, discovered he was a savior child who was unsuccessful, ghosted by a long-term girlfriend and watched his best friend get shot by a sniper.
However Buck, being an eternal optimist, has become a fan favorite which has been a "surreal" experience for Oliver.
He adds: "I try not to think too hard on it because I don't want it to influence any decisions I end up making when playing the character. But the more people connect with Buck or any character, that to me tells me we are doing a good job.
"It could put pressure on me and I try not to view it that way - and it certainly wouldn't be a negative pressure - but people connected because we have made these characters by pouring ourselves into them and the only way to truly get them to keep connecting is to continue to base them off of the way we want to play them and the writers want to write them."
Oliver wears pants and shirt by Ruby Fashion Library, and shoes by Barollo Italy via Maison Privee PR LA
Going into season six, Oliver shares that fans will find Buck at his own crossroads: "He is finding himself pushing a little too hard and too fast, stepping outside of his own lane when it comes to work. He will quickly be shown that it is not the way and, as much as he thinks he has earned it, he is not all the way there yet.
"In his personal life he had the break up with Taylor Kelly so he feels he has a clean slate now, and he is at a place where everything he wants to do in this moment is about furthering his career."
"As people are in real life, Buck is forever changing and finding new layers," he adds.
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Executive producer Kristin Reidel shared earlier in 2022 that her hopes for season six were "more fun" and Oliver says he "absolutely" can see that threading through the first series of episodes already shot.
"One of the strengths of 9-1-1 is the ability to flip between tones. It can be heavy at one moment and then fun and quirky in the next," he reveals.
"Season five leaned very heavily on the darker side of things, but season six feels like it has meshed all the tones together again in our brilliant 9-1-1 style. I am excited for the fun we're having to translate on to the screen."
In season six, Oliver shares that fans will find Buck at his own crossroads
There is also one storyline Oliver would love an entire episode dedicated to - the bunkroom: "The thing I would really love to see is sleeping quarters at the firehouse. How those nights would play out between our beloved 118 and how they interact.
"I'd love to see a version of that. Once the lights go off and they're in their pajamas and one of them - probably Buck - is snoring too loudly. That side of the firehouse had yet to be explored and people love the relationships formed between the characters so that would be a fun addition."
Oliver wears The Ruby Fashion Library shirt with a two-piece set by Barena Venezia
It is those relationships that have led to a passionate fanbase but the show's continued growth and popularity still surprises Oliver even now.
"When we first started, I was waiting to watch the pilot episode with Peter and a bus went by with his face on it, and he said, 'We don't know what this is about to be, we made it in a lab with our friends, and however the viewers interpret it is out of our control.'
"So I tried not to have preconceptions but it is surprising, because a lot of TV for various reasons struggles to make an impact and the fact that we have done this? I count myself lucky."
Photography by Margot Judge, grooming by The Artist Red, styling by Alayna Bell Price, thanks to Fox and Disney.
9-1-1 returns on Fox on Monday 19 September at 8/7c.