Everyone’s favorite Chicago paramedics are entertaining us in a new season of Sirens, which means that we’ll all get to see more of Hank. I was happy to speak with Kevin Daniels about playing Hank, his specially-made role on Modern Family, and how Sirens has been the bringer of even more representation on television.
Sirens, which is in its second season, airs every Tuesday at 10/9c on USA.
What first got you into acting?
I was in Texas and my grandmother used to fly around…to New York[,] London[,] San Francisco. She’d go to all these places that seem shiny and new and she’s bring back little gifts, trinkets and books. She’d read all these cool stories and poems to me when I was a kid and I just thought…I wanted to do that.
I started to read anything I could get my hands on, and I ended up in this program in high school where we could compete against other kids doing monologues and scene studies. I competed in poetry reading. I ended up going to [the] state [level] and I got second place[.]
I found another group called the Junior Players, which taught me more theater games and we talked about voice and speech[,] body and movement and all that kind of stuff. I ended up doing a part with the Shakespeare Festival in Dallas. I got to play Cornwall in King Lear…it was a lot of fun and I ended up applying to drama school in New York because I wanted to see what New York was like, and I got into Julliard. From then, the rest is kind of history.
I’m a fan of your character Longinus on Modern Family. What’s it like to play this character, especially since he was written specifically for you?
You know, it was pretty dope. I’d gone in to audition for…four or five episodes over the course of the pilot and the first season. Every time I’d do something, they were like, “Oh we like this, you’re very funny.” The last audition I had, the writers and director were like, “Don’t worry Kevin—we’re not going to use you for this, but we’re going to write something for you.” I was like, “Okay, sure.” [laughs] They had mentioned Longinus in the pilot and they decided to make him one of the friends, and that’s what happened. I was shocked because they actually came through because people will say that stuff all the time but when you actually have it come through, it’s kind of great…It’s always fun to go in and work with those guys. It’s like hanging out with your richer, cooler, more famous family [laughs]. It’s great.
I’m sure with how great the show has been, you’re ecstatic to be a part of this show which has not only been successfully critically and with audiences, but it’s helped change people’s minds about gay marriage and gay people in general.
What’s great about both these shows [Modern Family and Sirens] is that I get to play two openly gay characters who are so comfortable in themselves and their sexuality and…they just want to be. My job as an actor is to present them in the best light or the most three-dimensional way possible, and you’ve got two guys on two ends of the spectrum of different types of behavior when it comes to style and what they do. Hank is hyper-masculine, ex-military, stereotype-defying guy who’s gay, and he’s like, “I dare you say something to me.” Longinus is more into fashion and style and he’s very “sassy”—I think that’s the word one of the writers used for him…It’s just great that people can see themselves and be represented. I’m just happy to be a part of that.
That goes into my next question. Hank’s sexuality isn’t a big deal on the show, so how you feel about the fact that they don’t make it a big joke or anything?
I love it. Bob Fisher and Denis Leary, our creators, have written the show…as a little microcosm of what the world is[.] You look at this show, and it’s like, this is actually Chicago—you got a black guy, you’ve got a gay guy, you’ve got an asexual character, there’s a Puerto Rican guy. It’s not just a few token characters…it’s like a real spread of people, living their lives, enjoying their relationships. You get to laugh, you get to hang out with them, you get to experience their heartbreak, their joy, and all the goofy stuff they do. It’s really fun to be a part of[.] I love that it doesn’t suffer from this weird thing of”Oh, there’s a gay guy! There’s a straight guy! They’re friends! Get your mind around that!”…We don’t do any of that and I love it for that.
I don’t think this was brought up in some of the interviews I’d read about you and Sirens, but this is also one of the few black gay male characters on TV right now.
It’s usually the white gay character we see on TV, but the black gay experience usually isn’t shown, so it’s like this is another layer of good things with Hank.
It’s so true! I had never seen it before [Brooklyn Nine-Nine]. We’d already shot this before Brooklyn Nine-Nine came to air, but I think what Andre Braugher’s doing is the closest I’d ever seen in mainstream television. I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And [his character] is very non-stereotypical as well…It’s just great. There are black gay men in this country, and I think it’s cool that, as a show, we get to help people move past their biases and these cultural, generational bigotries that we don’t have time for. And it’s fun for people to enjoy it and laugh and say, “I like Hank. I want Hank to be my best friend.”
It’s shows like that probably helped pave the way for my home state of Alabama, the last place I’d expect to get gay marriage—
Yeah, the Supreme Court just paved the way! I was like, “Oh cool! They can get married!”
I had never thought that my friends could get married like my straight friends can, so I was excited.
It was beautiful to watch this morning. I was like, “All right, go ‘head then.” And it’s only a matter of time before the Supreme Court makes it the law of the land because it’s shifting. Love’s love.
We’ve talked about the groundbreaking part about Hank, but what’s something else you love about him? What attracts to you this character?
I love his sense of humor. I love how point-blank he is. He doesn’t have a filter, he always speaks from the top of his mind. He’s always giving his advice to someone. What I really love to play is that they cal him the rock of the show and he’s always grounded…but when you see something test that in him and you see him unravel, like when he’s facing a spider or he’s in the gym and [someone’s] attacking his vanity—when you see him unravel, that’s so much fun to play. I just love how complex the guy is. He’s just a blast.
It seems like you’re also good friends with your castmates, Kevin Bigley and Michael Mosley. What’s it like working with them?
We got really, really lucky. It’s like we captured lightning in a bottle. All three of us tested together here in L.A. Kevin had already been cast and Mike and I didn’t know that, but we all read the scene together and you could feel it in the room. There was a great energy that bounced off each [of us].
When we finally got the job and we got to Chicago to shoot the pilot, it’s like we were three working-class actors who had done everything—we’ve done theater, we’ve done a bunch of different guest stars on stuff, Mike had done three or four different seasons on shows — and we were like, “Okay, let’s see what we’ve got.” We formed this bromance, which was great. And the addition of Josh Segarra, who is spectacularly funny—he’s one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met— Bill Nunn, who’s like this genius legend…we’ve really become family. And we spend a lot of time together too.
What’s the fan response like?
It’s been great! We’re really active on Twitter, so we go out and see what they’ve been saying. We’ll favorite them or respond to them when we can…but everyone’s been blown away. They’re like, “Oh my God. This show’s low-key funny! Why has nobody ever told me? I love it!” They’re really loyal and they’ve been with us. That’s been great.
The season’s currently airing; what can fans expect?
A lot more of the same [laughs]. I think we found the groove of the show by episode 5, Season 1. [Now], we really [know] what the show was, so we picked up from there. People are more into their characters, the rhythms are tighter…the stories are funnier and there’s more depth. You’ll find yourself laughing and then you’ll realize that on the surface it seems…a little juvenile humor, but then you listen, and you’re like, “Oh!They’re talking about life stuff!” [We’re] taking about what everyone’s looking for—how to be understood, how to be loved…and then you’re like, “Oh wow, that’s really moving.”
I really like the storyline between Voodoo [Kelly O’Sullivan] and Brian [Bigley] this year. She’s asexual and he’s fallen in love with her, and he’s trying to convince himself that he can change his own sexuality to be with her. It’s hilarious where they take him, but there’s this really beautiful scene at this diner, and she says, “We can’t do this because it’s going to lead to heartbreak for both of us eventually and I just want you to be my friend.” It’s so sweet. You’re like, “Aww!” I love that the show can play both [dynamics].
With asexuality being a part of show, like you said earlier, this is the first time I’ve seen a show that has a character that says, “I’m asexual.”
I’ve never seen it. And people’s response to that has been off the map. They’re like, “Wow, there’s a character that just like me on television!” And they don’t make a joke of it. They handle her like a real person. And that’s a credit to Denis and Bob, because they’re all real characters. We don’t have any buffoons. Even Josh’s character [Billy], who is lovably dumb and dim [laughs], but he’s not a buffoon. I’ve been following his path with him and May…and him trying to be the best guy he can be for her. It’s just great. It’s also deeply, deeply funny.
That’s what I like about Sirens-it seems like more shows are realizing this, too-that the show reflects everyone. I’m excited about everything going on with Sirens.
Thanks! That means so much. I love people responding to it and telling their friends about it. Netflix is huge for us—we’re a part of Netflix now. People have been binging and they’re like, “I love this show! How can I see more!” And I’m like, “Well, guess what? You’re in luck—we are now playing USA!”
Do you have anything you’d like to say to the fans?
Other than thank you, thank you, thank you, tell your friends. It’s going to be worth it.
(Photo credit: Scott Schafer, Chuck Hodes, Matt Dinerstein/USA)