When Taylor Kinney landed in Chicago in March 2012, he didn’t plan to stay. Instead, the 36-year-old actor — at the time best known for his role on “The Vampire Diaries” — rented a place in the heart of downtown and waited to see what would come of a pilot he’d just filmed here: “Chicago Fire.”
“[This industry] has a lot of uncertainties, and there’s not a lot of security,” Kinney says now. “You never know how long you’re staying; you don’t set up shop everywhere you go. You’re kind of like travelling gypsies.”
But “Fire,” as we know, was a hit right out of the gate. The Dick Wolf-created show premiered in October 2012 and, last season, averaged 7.1 million viewers per episode; the sixth season starts Sept. 28. Locals fell in love with the characters and their stories, and the actors, especially Kinney, fell in love with the city.
“This has exceeded any expectations I had of the success [of the show] or the longevity that I’d be [here],” Kinney says. “Over the years, Mayor Rahm [Emanuel] has done cameos on the show, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook from the Blackhawks have done cameos; I’ve thrown out pitches at Wrigley Field. So the more you get to meet people and people are part of the show, you become a fixture of the city.”
He’s immersed himself not just in sports and TV, but in philanthropy, as well. Kinney has participated in events for the 100 Club of Chicago — an organization benefitting families of fallen firefighters and first responders; he’s jumped in icy Lake Michigan for the Polar Plunge benefiting Special Olympics Chicago. On Sept. 15, he’ll be at the Green Tie Ball — Chicago Gateway Green’s largest fundraiser of the year (see sidebar below) — hosting a karaoke jam session onstage with Lady Gaga’s music producer and touring partner DJ White Shadow. He’ll even bring celebrity guests, like co-star Miranda Rae Mayo and others to be announced, onstage to join in.
But the surest sign that Chicago is now home? Missing it when he’s gone. “I’m on hiatus for two and a half months in the summer, and that’s the only downtime when I might do a movie or
something like that,” Kinney says. “And I’ve found myself [saying], ‘I gotta get back to Chicago.’ So yeah, this is home.” This year, he settled officially by buying a place in the West Loop.
Here, we cement Kinney’s local status by quizzing him on a few essential Chicago topics.
SPLASH: Which Chicago sports teams do you follow?
TAYLOR KINNEY: I’ve been going to a bunch of baseball games. I’ve probably gone to way more Cubs games [than White Sox games]. Last year I went to games three, five and seven [of the World Series]. I got [to Chicago] when the Cubs weren’t doing so hot, and so to see that trajectory and to see the success that they’ve come across — and I know some of the guys now. But that being said, I’m a huge hockey guy, so I love going to Blackhawks games.
S: Top Chicago pizza?
TK: I [could] get in trouble with this, but I’m a Pizano’s [800 N. Dearborn] thin crust guy. I could do a deep dish, but I didn’t grow up with it.
S: What is your favorite neighborhood?
TK: I have been spending a good amount of time in the West Loop. I just like the accessibility of everything. … I don’t have a car, so I do a lot of walking.
S: Do you ever take the L?
TK: Yeah! I was reluctant for the longest time because I just didn’t know the routes, and then I recently started. I [flew] into O’Hare and I get into a cab and the cab driver’s like ‘Oh no, you should take the train, this cab’s gonna take forever.’ So I stated taking the train.
S: What is your favorite steakhouse?
TK: That’s tough. I go to Gibsons [1028 N. Rush] a good bit, and they’ve always been good to us. That’s kind of a treat for myself and [co-stars] Eamonn Walker — that’s one of his favorite spots — and Jesse [Spencer]. The three of us try to get there a good amount.
S: What’s a can’t-miss attraction or cultural institution?
TK: We started going to see TJ & Dave, a local comedy duo that does live improv at The iO. When I first got here they had a theater right beside Second City and they were a big part of opening the [new iO] theater [1501 N. Kingsbury]. … If you’re a Chicagoan and you haven’t seen those two and you’re into comedy, it’s amazing. What they do is pretty special.
One of Chicago’s biggest parties, the 26th annual Green Tie Ball is a 1,000-person fête featuring food from top restaurants like Rockit, RPM Steak, Sunda and Tavern on Rush, live sets by Dr. Bombay and DJ Rock City, casino games for the cause and so much more. Co-chaired by Jacky Ferro and Beth Heller, the event benefits Chicago Gateway Green, a nonprofit that works to beautify Chicago’s expressways by planting trees and gardens.
Time: 7 p.m.-1 a.m.
Place: Artifact Events, 4325 N. Ravenswood
Cost: $175, $400 VIP. For tickets, visit Gatewaygreen.org.
Photos by Maria Ponce | Shot on location at Joshua Kercher Bespoke, 20 W. Hubbard. Kinney wears a leather jacket and suit by Kercher, prices upon request