When he was out and about in a pre-pandemic world, actor Daniel Kyri often would be recognized by “ChiHards,” a legion of dedicated fans of “One Chicago,” NBC’s popular franchise consisting of “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago P.D.,” and “Chicago Med.”
His character, firefighter Darren Ritter, a gay Black man, has a voice on “Fire,” one of the most-watched series on TV. The show resumes new episodes at 8 p.m. Wednesday on WMAQ-Channel 5.
“You make assumptions that there are certain demographics that the show might hit due to its working-class, first-responder world,” said Kyri. “People from all walks of life — they tune in to the show, which is another reason that I’m excited to play Darren Ritter, because I think there’s more opportunity for people to see themselves reflected on the screen. I’ve been pretty well-featured on the show beforehand, so I’m excited to learn and grow, and really put my money where my mouth is and show up for this underrepresented community.”
When he was a kid, Kyri says those opportunities to see people he could identify with were few and far between in movies and TV series.
“With anything, once we begin work, it doesn’t mean that the work is over,” said Kyri. “There’s always more work to do. There’s always more representation that we can be pushing for. I think the largest thing that I feel is gratitude. I didn’t see queer, Black dudes on TV, and if I did they were usually a joke. … Now we see it across many, many shows and I think that it’s indicative of a positive change that is being reflected in the ‘Chicago’ shows about first responders. It’s an honor for me — I love it.”
Kyri credits his mother for instilling a love for the arts, and keeping him busy during his South Side upbringing, despite the fact she worked multiple jobs.
“She made sure that the things that I was interested in, I got to do them,” said Kyri, a South Shore native. “She bought me the books and made me audition for the After School Matters program here in the city when I was 15; that was my first ever audition as an actor — I caught the bug, man. … There was a part of my upbringing that was within the same six blocks; I didn’t really go outside of it.
“Of course I have the memories of flipping off dirty mattresses in the back alley with the neighborhood kids and running around trying to get home before the streetlights came on. Once I got older and began to get curious about what existed outside of my six blocks, that’s when I began to see other parts of the city and began engaging in art more — art was always first. Doing After School Matters, finding the theater, and then sticking to it. My world really opened up.”
Outside of Kyri’s “Chicago Fire” role, he’s a veteran of the city’s theater scene as he has starred in productions at Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, Chicago Shakespeare and Goodman theaters. He was most recently seen on stage in “Ms. Blakk for President.”
But since the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, Kyri says he has made the adjustment in how he approaches his craft — and he says he never stopped working.
“There are a lot of theaters that I’m associated with in Chicago, and beyond that, I’ve had the fortune of being a part of new plays that are being written or workshops, so I’ve done a ton of those,” said Kyri. “I’ve been hunkering down on my own creativity during this time, and really getting more clarity with my own artistic voice. I’ve been coping pretty well, man — all things considered; I feel really blessed.
“I think of anything that this pandemic has taught us in the realm of career orientation is that a focus on diversifying your skill set is something that will always benefit you. For me, it’s like: ‘How can I get better at screenwriting? How can I get better at making music? How can I get better at facilitating other artists and build a community?’ Those are the new approaches that I’ve been engaging in because to have the world stop the way that it did, I had to reorient myself and figure out what I’m doing next.”