Jay Hayden received the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse.
In 2016, Hayden starred in “The Catch”, a comedy-drama executive produced by Shondaland powerhouses Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers. The TV series only lasted two seasons, but the Vermont native obviously made an impression. As soon as “The Catch” concluded, Shondaland and ABC reached out to Hayden about another project they had in development: “Station 19”, a spin-off to the immensely popular “Grey’s Anatomy”.
“They said, ‘There is something coming up that everyone would like Jay to be a part of. We are going to cast it in the early fall. We would basically like Jay to not get a job over the summer. Betsy and Shonda want to remind Jay that it would be a show shot in Los Angeles and it’s already picked up to series. And, they know he has kids,’” Hayden tells ET Canada.
“Station 19” follows the lives of firefighters, both out in the field and off the clock. When Hayden met with the show’s producers and casting director, three male roles were still up for grabs. He immediately gravitated towards Travis Montgomery.
Travis is arguably the “heart of the station,” thanks to his jovial personality and positive attitude. The character is also gay, which meant Hayden felt a tremendous pressure to do right by the LGBTQ community.
“There was a conversation that happened, which was ‘We want to continue to break the mould of the stereotypical gay character on television,’” Hayden says. “‘You know why we love you at ABC, Jay? You are a guy’s guy, and we want to put that in Travis. Let’s continue to break that mould and just show human beings.’ I felt a responsibility for all of my gay friends, who were like, ‘Don’t you dare play it like XYZ. Well, you better do this…’ ‘Ok, I think I am just going to play a human with all these circumstances going on in his life and let him invent himself and be present.’ I felt a great responsibility. I hope I’m doing a good job.”
In addition, Hayden needed to nail the firefighting side of things. After all, there is more to the occupation than merely looking hot in a uniform. So, Hayden and his castmates attended firefighting boot camp where they learned to haul equipment, suit up in the proper gear and react appropriately in dire situations. Furthermore, the 33-year-old actor spoke with everyday firemen.
“You go on the ride-alongs with them,” explains Hayden. “You learn how physically exhausting the work is. Then they put us through our paces. We did almost a week of firefighter training even before we started shooting.
“Also, it’s an ABC-Shondaland show and I’m playing a firefighter that’s gay,” he adds with a chuckle. “I knew I had to be looking good, my man. I was like, ‘My shirt is going to be off a lot, so I am going to be in really good shape for this show.’”
Thursday’s episode, “We Are Family”, finds Travis’ former boss, Battalion Chief Robert Sullivan, going in front of the firefighter board to plead his case regarding his opioid addiction. And while there are still people to save, Travis must put out a few fires of his own. He recently stumbled across his father’s picture on a gay dating app, with the profile headline “Let Me Be Your Daddy?”. That uncomfortable discovery opened up the personal flood gates for Travis.
“Travis and his dad have been battling it out for his entire life,” Hayden notes. “There’s probably been emotional abuse from his dad about Travis being gay and Travis’ lifestyle. This has rocked Travis’ world. You don’t know what to think. This man, who looked down on Travis and was all over him about his life, Travis has found out he was in the closet this whole time. What does that even mean? ‘How could you have said and done the things that you did, but you’ve been gay the whole time?’ You are going to watch Travis’ world break apart and he need to figure out what he’s going to do and what his relationship with his dad is going to be like.
“In the next few episodes, there will be more meet-ups with his dad,” he adds. “Travis is probably going to confront this on his own or by the urging of his best friend, Vic. He’s going to get to the bottom of this with his father. If Travis does have a close relationship, it’s obviously with his mother and this affects her, too. He needs to figure out what is going on in that house.”
Station 19 serves up plenty of drama, but the show, of course, centres on firefighters. Hayden reports he’s honoured to be channelling these heroic individuals.
“You don’t realize the sacrifice that they are giving to do this job,” Hayden says. “You think, ‘Oh, a burning building. I could do something like that,’ as you look at your campfire or your stovetop. When an entire building is on fire, you can feel that amount of heat as soon as you get out of the car on the street. To be able to willingly run into something like that, where you are slowly burning alive, you have to be a hero.”
“And then the daily first responder stuff,” he continues. “When they get called and it’s, ‘Hey, there’s a couple of homeless guys that cut their feet on glass. We need you to go down.’ They don’t know what kind of diseases they are walking into to or if there is going to be violence against them. It’s not the most glorious job all the time, but they do it. I don’t know. I just have the biggest respect for them.”
When “Station 19” headed back to set for its current fourth season, everyone was forced to deal with Covid-19. Special precautions were implemented to film in a safe environment. Showrunner Krista Vernoff even embraced the pandemic by incorporating it into the narrative. In fact, that was the first subject raised when Hayden and the “Station 19″ cast and crew jumped on a Zoom call shortly before production resumed.
“As we came back, Krista said, ‘OK, look. There is going to be a lot of safety protocols, but, also, we have decided we are going to live in the world,’” Hayden says. “‘We are going to show the people what Station 19 is doing in the world of Covid-19. Your characters will wear masks on call. You will do what first responders are having to do out in the world.’”
“It is really tough to arrive at an emergency scene and then quickly put on PPE gowns, gloves, goggles, masks and do all that stuff,” he concludes. “But that’s what the real-life responders are doing, so that’s what we are doing on the show. Technically, it gets a lot harder. If you are coming out and you have a page of dialogue to say to the two people you are saving and talking to the other firefighter about our relationship, but, then also putting on all this new kind of gear to do it… It’s hard to get used to. We did it and got into it. The shooting process itself has become extremely tedious and longer and required more patience, but I think everyone is super-happy to be at work.”