L.A. transplant Annie Ilonzeh finds a sweet new home on the set of Chicago Fire.
Annie Ilonzeh of hit TV show Chicago Fire (Photo by Kennedy)
When Annie Ilonzeh was searching for digs in Chicago, it wasn’t a scenic view or big kitchen that sold her on her South Loop residence. “They showed me the gym, and I was like, ‘Sold!’ There’s a half-court in there,” says the Chicago Fire actress and onetime college basketball standout. “It’s everything I need to unwind.”
In fact, the Dallas native says that in a way, moving to Chicago from L.A. feels like coming home. “When I was a kid, I’d watch game film of all the greats with my dad: MJ, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr. Always the Bulls,” she says. “I guess I’m going back to my roots.”
The 35-year-old actress, who previously spent time here filming a recurring role on Empire, is a new addition to the One Chicago ensemble, playing paramedic Emily Foster. Ilonzeh isn’t new to the screen—she’s had roles in Person of Interest and Entourage, was one of the angels in the short-lived ABC reboot of Charlie’s Angels and recently starred with Jennifer Garner in the action flick Peppermint—but nothing prepared her for the One Chicago community. “Everybody is so close. I walked in on my first day, like, ‘OK, guys, I get it. Thanks for making this seem glowy and sparkly, good bit.’ And then week two, week three, week four came, and it was like, ‘Oh, they really love each other,’” she says. “They love Chicago, they love the fans and they love Dick Wolf, and that’s refreshing, because other shows aren’t like that. The business ain’t like that.”
Ilonzeh’s casting came with something else not easy to come by in Hollywood: job security. “As an actor, usually you’re doing [a few] episodes here and there. This is my first where I get to stay for 20, maybe 22, episodes. I can breathe,” she says. “And working on a Dick Wolf show, it’s epic. It’s an understatement to call these people professionals. Everybody is doing it right. To come in and see the machine working—everybody is in a rhythm. It’s like a no-look pass every time.”