By Emma Sarran Webster | May 23, 2017 | People
If starring as badass firefighter Stella Kidd on Chicago Fire was Miranda Rae Mayo’s only job, we wouldn’t blame her—we feel safe saying that’s a plenty demanding career. But Mayo, who joined the NBC hit show’s cast last year, happens to also be a killer musician, and has taken to working on her music and performing around Chicago during her Fire downtime. Here, Mayo talks to us about both sides of her career, her favorite Windy City spots, and another passion project she’s taking on.
Miranda Rae Mayo as Stella Kidd in Chicago Fire.
Stella Kidd is a strong female firefighter. Have you been able to learn from real female firefighters to inform your role?
MIRANDA RAE MAYO: Yes, we are fortunate enough to get to work with firefighters from the [Chicago Fire Department] every single day. But even when we are filming at the real firehouse, when we have firefighters on set, I have met two [women] who are on duty. And I have asked them, “What’s it like to be completely surrounded by men most of the time?” And it’s what you would think: They say, “You have to prove yourself. You have to be able to hold your own.” Which is why the women who continue to succeed and thrive in their profession, when they don’t necessarily have a lot of other females around to support them, is so impressive.
Do you personally identify with Stella at all?
MRM: Absolutely. Number one, I really identify and love that she’s not afraid of hard work. She works two jobs and one of her jobs is very physically demanding, and I love that about her—that she is a hustler. I also love how optimistic she is. She’s optimistic and she’s supporting the people around her. I love her relationship with Severide [played by Taylor Kinney] right now, and how even though they’re not together, there’s a connection there. But I love that she is so genuinely invested in his happiness and there’s nothing malicious in how she interacts with him. I love that about her and I like to think that I’m very similar, where I try to have an unconditional love in my relationships with my family and my friends.
Being a firefighter is so physically demanding, and so is playing one. How do you stay fit? Do you have any favorite workouts?
MRM: It’s hard after a long day at work to still get your butt up and go to the gym, so classes are the best motivators for me, or if I have a trainer. I had a trainer for a while and that was cool because you just show up and they tell you what to do. I really love yoga. I love the mindfulness of it, where not only are you exercising your body, but you’re also building that mind/body connection as far as being aware of every movement—what your body’s doing, how your body’s feeling.
In addition to the acting, you’re also a singer and songwriter. Which came first?
MRM: My mom tells me that when I was three or four, we lived in this house that [had] a tree stump out in the front yard, and that I would go out in the early morning and stand on top of the stump and just sing nonsense—sing about the trees, and about the sky, making up songs. So I guess singing came first. I honestly didn’t know that I wanted to act until I was probably 12. There was a dinner theater in Fresno [California], and before the actual production, there was this group called the Junior Company. They would sing and dance and do a medley of 10 songs that were part of a theme that had to do with the main show. I auditioned for that, and that introduced me to my local theater community, and from there I was always in theater. I was always in shows—mostly musicals—but that was kind of where I discovered that I wanted to act.
What’s in the pipeline for you right now, in terms of your music?
MRM: There are so many things already happening this summer, but the next step for me is to record my songs and release them. I did a show here in Chicago where I performed, and everybody from the cast came, Michael Brandt (one of the Executive Producers and creators of the show) came, and I just felt a lot of support and a lot of love. It was beautiful and it was great to do something live. I have musicians now here in Chicago, and venues where I can do live shows, and I hope to do that, [but] I feel like the next step is to record the songs and put them out online. Hopefully we’ll get that done before the summer’s over. And then I have a concept for one of the songs for a music video that Monica [Raymund] and I are talking about having her direct, and her girlfriend Tari, who is the first camera operator on Chicago Justice would shoot it.
Miranda Rae Mayo on the red carpet.
Have you gotten a feel for any favorite spots to perform here in Chicago?
MRM: I haven’t performed enough, but I sang with Concert For America at the [Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University]. That venue was gorgeous and I’d love to do something there sometime, but that’s like a concert hall. I had my show at Davenport’s and they were so lovely. But I’m still scoping it out and finding places. There’s a place in Evanston where Monica actually performed a jazz set—which was incredible—called SPACE. She and I might talk about putting something together for that space, which would be cool. Long story short: I’m still learning. I’m still going to as many live shows as I can, and meeting the musician community out here, and just going from there.
You also sang the national anthem at a Bulls game recently. Have you gotten into Chicago sports at all?
MRM: Oh, yes. I was never into baseball before the Cubs nation hit me! Getting to be in Chicago when the Cubs won the World Series was one of the most magical experiences I think I’ve ever had in a city. Chicago’s cool like that, though. L.A.’s not like that, where there’s just an overwhelming amount of support for your city’s sports, or organizations, or shows. It’s kind of incredible how much of a community there is here.
What is it like shooting a show here versus L.A.?
MRM: It’s cool. I feel like there is this culture that exists in L.A. as a result of people moving there by the thousands with the pure intention to be seen and discovered. That creates a certain kind of environment, a certain kind of atmosphere. In Chicago, I feel like since the industry is such a new thing, we don’t have that yet. And it’s not that it’s a negative thing. There are so many working-class people in Chicago; so many more people who just live here because they’re born and raised in Chicago and I like that. Whereas in L.A., you just have a lot more people who are involved in an industry that is all about image.
Do you have any favorite spots here, maybe your own Molly’s where you and the cast like to hang out?
MRM: Bordel is a really cool speakeasy. It’s upstairs from this tapas bar called the Black Bull. That’s a really sweet little spot. You go in through a door that looks like it’s part of the wall—there’s a painting or a mural over it—and you walk up the stairs and all of the sudden you’re in this magical, dimly-lit room that looks like the 1920s exploded in there. They have burlesque shows; it’s really cute. Dove’s on Damen is where Yuri [Sardarov] and I meet up for brunch a ton. And MAD Social is another brunch spot I meet up with Joe [Minoso] and his wife, [Caitlin] Murphy [Miles], there a lot. Best waffles I’ve ever had in my life.
Anything else coming up for you we should know about?
MRM: I’m really excited; I’m working with this organization called the Holistic Life Foundation. They’re based out of Baltimore, Maryland, and their mission statement essentially is to provide kids with mindfulness tools so that they are able to create inner peace in a world where there’s so much outward chaos. They work with inner city schools, public schools, and are in the midst of creating after-school programs specifically for mindfulness, yoga, and breathing. And it’s incredible the effects that they have had on their community in north Baltimore, which is the equivalent to south side Chicago. I just met with them last week and I'm really excited to be working with them on expanding their programs to the south side of Chicago, and talking, and connecting, and building programs with teachers here in Chicago.
Photography by Parrish Lewis/NBC (Chicago Fire still); Elizabeth Morris/NBC (red carpet)
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