For Nico Tortorella, making the new series City on Fire was similar in some ways to how it might feel for audiences watching. “It got very big very quickly,” the actor says of the story, which is adapted from Garth Risk Hallberg’s epic novel about crime, money, power, grit, rock music, and family (among other things) in New York City. “Even though a lot of the storylines are insular, it felt gigantic.”
That’s no surprise. The series, which spans eight dramatic episodes and is produced by Gossip Girl helmers Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz, follows a variety of storylines—all loosely tied to one attempted murder in Central Park—and stars a cast including Jemima Kirke, John Cameron Mitchell, and Chase Sui Wonders. Tortorella’s character, William Hamilton-Sweeney, is the wayward scion of a Manhattan real-estate dynasty, the erstwhile front man of a legendary downtown punk band, and a rising star on the art scene—all of which is complicated by his drug addiction and habit of casually breaking the law. (The series is set in the early aughts, a slight shift from the book, which took place in the 1970s.)
“He's a mess, but he’s the unlikely hero here,” Tortorella, who previously starred in Younger, says. “I loved his raw ability to create, whether it’s a song, something on canvas, or his performances. Every good actor can work in a dozen other artforms… when I met Josh and Stephanie, I had been holed up in my basement working on these canvases and it just made sense to me. I wanted to bring a character to life who had those different boxes to check.”
Here, he shares his photos from set with T&C:
"In this picture, I had just jumped into the East River for a shot. It was an idyllic moment, it was a warm night and the sun was just setting, so it really couldn’t have been a better moment, but I was playing it up for the camera."
"My character is a shape shifter in so many ways, and as actors our job is to bend and shift. So, I do that in my own life and had to bring as much of myself and my own comfort in changing things up. I’m very used to figuring things out on the fly, so what was different about this project is I got to go back 15 years to see where this character began and to bring him from prince to pauper."
"This was the first day I worked with John Cameron Mitchell, who plays my arch nemesis on this show. But in real life, he’s such a foundational character in terms of the work he’s done for the community and the iconic art he’s made. It was my first day at work and I knew I had to get a picture with John, and then the next three hours were us just being awful to each other in this scene."
"We were shooting one day at the top of Central Park, and this was a prop truck that was in the shot, it’s not an actual NYPD truck. I got in and pretended to drive it, which I was not supposed to do, but we got the picture!"
"Max Milner and I spent a lot of time with our shirts off outside of our trailers just to get in character. There’s nothing like shooting in New York City; I’ve been doing this for so long that you think I’d be somewhat jaded, but when you’re in a trailer parked somewhere in the greatest city in the world, there’s nothing like it."
"This is my hat, but there’s a whole Rangers storyline throughout the series. One of the characters predominantly wears an old Rangers jersey, and we were in the playoffs when we started shooting, and a year later we’re back. There’s nothing like that community when the boys are doing good!"
"The costume designer and I met about a month before we started production to figure out who this character was. The source material in the book was set in the 1970s, which meant he was a different version aesthetically from the character we were creating. I wound up bringing a lot of my own pieces to set, which is a wardrobe stylist’s worst nightmare; all the jewelry I have on is my own. I grew up in an antique store in Chicago and my grandmother was a jewelry hoarder extraordinaire, so a lot of the pieces are hers."
"What a great wig! I can tell what episode we were filming based on what facial hair I have. For half of the season, I had a fake beard. This is for an episode when we do a ‘90s flashback and were trying to figure out what to do with my hair. We kept trying all of these different things, but at the end of the day just ended up using what I already had on my head."
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