‘Chicago Fire’ bad guy used to respond to trouble, not cause it

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The big, bald guy on the bridge who violently lashed out at paramedics Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett) and Sylvie Brett (Kara Killmer) on Tuesday’s “Chicago Fire?”

That would be Addison actor MJ Carey, a former bouncer and martial arts expert who looks so intimidating, his side eye could send you to the E.R.

It’s no accident he’s often cast as the bad guy.

But in real life, the 45-year-old father of three has more in common with the NBC drama’s heroes. Carey spent 13 years as a firefighter/paramedic with the Des Plaines Fire Department.

A work injury resulted in multiple surgeries, Carey said. He ended up going on disability and leaving the department in 2008. And looking for a new career.

“I miss it,” Carey said about his days as a first responder, adding that it was strange to film a scene where he was the one on the gurney getting wheeled into the ambo instead of the other way around. “Being a fireman was my identity. You don’t choose that job; the job chooses you.”

After hanging up his helmet, Carey decided to give acting a go. He signed with Gray Talent Group in Chicago in 2009 and has landed bit parts in a few movies and locally shot TV series, such as “Mob Doctor” and “Chicago Code.” He played a bodyguard on both.

His biggest break came on “Crisis,” the NBC drama starring Gillian Anderson and Dermot Mulroney that ran for 13 episodes last season before it was axed. Carey did a turn as one of Mulroney’s henchmen. He wound up getting choked to death with handcuffs by Lance Gross.

“I’m always the mean guy,” said Carey, who took acting classes at Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston and studied improv at iO. “That’s OK because villains have more fun.”

Carey also spent some time on television before he became a firefighter. In the early ‘90s, the Niles’ Notre Dame College Prep grad put guys in headlocks and did elbow drops in the ring on Windy City Pro Wrestling shows under the moniker Skull Manson.

He reprised some of his Skull Manson moves on “Chicago Fire,” when Mills had to slam a belligerent Carey into the Franklin Street bridge rail in River North.

“He barely touched me but I made it look like he bulldozed me into that thing,” Carey said.

He also broke out of his hand restraints and tussled with Mills in the back of the ambulance.

“That’s where wrestling comes in handy: I can make it look real without really hurting you,” said the bare-knuckle karate blackbelt. “Charlie [Barnett] sent me a nice text after, saying it was nice doing that scene with you. You really have to trust someone in a scene like that.”

RELATED: ‘Chicago Fire’ filming scene with nearly naked guy on bridge in River North

Carey had previously auditioned for a role on “Chicago P.D.” He didn’t get it.

He read for another role on “Fire.” Didn’t get that one either.

“Then this one came up,” he said. “They wanted a bald, tattooed, muscular guy in his underwear. As soon as I saw that I thought, ‘I know I’m gonna get this part because I don’t want it.’”

Carey didn’t mind playing a belligerent maniac. He just wasn’t pumped about having to do it in a pair of tighty-whiteys and cowboy boots.

“I didn’t want to be on national TV in my underwear,” said the actor who had less than a week to shed a few pounds and get into tip-top shape so as “not to disgrace the family name.”

“I was wearing my sweats when we went out on the bridge to shoot and they’re like, ‘OK, strip,’” he said. “As soon as I did, a tour boat went under the bridge and blew its horn. People were pointing and waving and taking pictures. I was so embarrassed.”

That’s not to say he wouldn’t do it all over again.

“Work is sort of sparse in Chicago and I fit a really small niche,” he said. “It’s tough to make a living as a tough guy actor.”

Follow @lorirackl


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