David Eigenberg on his long journey to 'Chicago Fire'

Luaine Lee, Tribune News Service on

Published in Entertainment News

Actor David Eigenberg may be fighting fires on NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” but he’s been burning all this life. “I was just an angry young kid. I think I was a little bit on fire,” he admits. “As you come into life as a young person it’s frustrating and you don’t understand it. And I think as you come into adulthood the contradictions of people’s behavior and the hypocrisy of people’s behavior is hard to understand, and irony hasn’t been learned yet, so you can’t file it anywhere.”

Eigenberg, who plays the entrepreneurial Herrmann in “Chicago Fire,” struggled to find that file for a long time. But the journeyman actor was thrust into prominence with his touching performance as Steve Brady, Miranda’s persistent significant other, in “Sex and the City.”

“I had a very long, long time coming to ‘Sex and the City,’ he says. “I had 15 years of really grinding it out with day-jobs to get to decent employment, which I always wanted to get.

“‘Chicago Fire’ was the same — things were a little bit rough between ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘Chicago Fire.’ But — it sounds pretentious — but I'm not adverse to going through hard times. They come. And my wife and I, we’ve rolled through them. Hearts break and things happen and not so much about acting work, life rolls on us, and we have to learn to adapt and learn from that.”

The 57-year-old digested that lesson early on. “My family was lovely, but they had quite a few problems and me personally I got mixed up in alcohol,” he confesses.

“So I was a young kid — and I think in that era it was a heavier drinking thing — and it cost me a lot of problems. It took me quite a while to turn that cart around. I ended up getting sober when I was in my early 20s. I don’t blame the alcohol, but I found solace there and also had the disease from a young age — so I just got into trouble. And I had a mouth on me. It wasn’t until I got in the Marine Corps that I learned how to shut that mouth.”

It was by example that Eigenberg managed to get straight. “I’d had a roommate that wasn’t around and had gotten sober. He was a dear friend of mine, and I knew something in his world worked. And I said, ‘Maybe I should just go to one of those meetings and see,’ because I didn’t think I was an alcoholic. And then I found out that I was,” he says.

“The catalyst for me was a moment of realizing that my anguish in life that was being quelled with another substance was kind of a joke. And as much as I thought I was growing toward being a gifted and talented actor, I was thinking that if I ended my life early through the abuse of substance that it wasn’t going to be a sad ritual at my graveside.

“No, that people were actually going to be disappointed in me and (think) that I wasted it ... In my imagination’s eye, my realization was that I didn’t see tears in the eyes of those that cared about me.“

The New York-born actor takes no credit for his any of his accomplishments — personal or professional. “For me, it was a lot of grace that landed on me. Sometimes things happen in a way that go beyond explanation, and it may just occur because things fall together,” he says.

One of those things that fell together was meeting his wife, Chrysti. “We met right after 9/11,” he recalls. “She’d been activated from (Army) reserve duty and was doing homeland security down in Virginia,” he says.

For him, it was love at first sight. “I met her; it just hit me. That had never happened to me before. It just hit me at the core. Meeting my wife was something that I never anticipated and turned my cart from — I wouldn’t say narcissism — but definitely self-involvement to that outside myself; that I wanted to commit myself to being engaged with somebody else — except just myself. All is bliss for awhile, then you get down to the real work,” he says.

The “real work” included the tragedy of a miscarriage. “We lost a baby at 16 weeks. And my wife said, ‘You know, children are a gift, no matter how long they are in your life.’ That changed me. It was a life and it was gone. So we had to find our way through that.”

They did, and are the happy parents of a son, 12, and a daughter, 7. About that, Eigenberg says, “My children are the gift that I never dreamed of happening.”

“Chicago Fire” returns for its new season on Wednesday.

Avatars win the day

Fox is outfoxing itself with its new singing competition show. If vocalists camouflaged by bizarre costumes isn’t enough as in “The Masked Singer,” how about performers reimagined as avatars? That’s the premise of the new “Alter Ego” premiering on Wednesday.


Using motion-capture technology and CGI, real people are turned into what looks like creepy characters from a video game. These avatars are designed according to the singers’ desires who, apparently, are afraid to appear as themselves on a stage.

The good thing about this iteration are the judges which include Alanis Morrisette and the savvy rapper-producer-songwriter will.i.am.

“You know, when a person puts on makeup, or a hat, or a beanie, or a scarf, or glasses, that's expression,” he says. “That is fantastic. When you go out and you put on a costume for Halloween or cosplay at Comic Con, that's fantastical ...

“And when you see your favorite artist on stage: Billie Eilish, she has as an awesome seamstress and stylist ... Beyonce, that's fantastic. And now, we have hit a threshold to a different level of fantasticness, and that is cutting edge technology with facial recognition to bring everyone's imagination to the next fold. This is beyond makeup,” he says.

“This is beyond a hat and glasses. It's beyond freaking tailored suits that fit you perfectly. This is your spirit tailored. This is your passion tailored. This is putting makeup on your spirit. Wow, that's what I'm talking about. This is, like, the next level.”

‘FBI’ goes international on CBS

The maneuverings of the FBI are already depicted on CBS with two shows, “FBI” and “FBI: Most Wanted.” The third, “FBI: International” bows on Tuesday endowed with a European flair for the dramatic. The executive producer of these shows, Dick Wolf, is best known for his super successful “Law & Order” franchise. He insists that each of these shows about the FBI are unique in their own way. “All three of the shows have very definite identities that are quite different,” he says.

“’The "FBI’ is set in the New York office exclusively. It's two special agents that are paired and teamed, and there are several other teams in that office.

But it's — I hate to draw generalities, but it's a classic two-handed cop show, if you will. ‘Most Wanted’ is a different dynamic because they go wherever they have to in the United States to chase violent felons. That the idea that everybody they go after is one of the 10 most-wanted that's in the post office, is inherently interesting and gives you different storytelling modalities to explore.

"’International,’ is a whole different cup of tea or kettle of fish. It's set overseas. It doesn't have them as THE FBI, they're visitors in foreign cities and cooperating with authorities. So very different storytelling dynamics.”

Michael Caine back as cranky author

Fans will be happy that Michael Caine is back in front of the camera for the new film, “Best Sellers,” which is playing in theaters and on-demand now. He portrays a cantankerous author who hooks up with a woman (Aubrey Plaza) who inherited her father’s sinking publishing house, and needs a hit to make it sound again. She learns that he, a former successful writer, owes her a book. And when she calls in the debt, all sorts of surprises occur.

Though he started in the theater, Caine says he was always enamored with film. “I loved the subtlety of the cinema and loved to bring acting down to behavior,” he says.

“In cinema it's real life, a tree is a tree, so there's no actors. You should be a person. Try to bring it down to behavior, behavior, behavior, and make it as small as possible so that no one can see the giant cogs going around,” he says.

“If you make them small enough no one sees what you’re doing. They just know that they're interested and they're watching a real person. They forget you're an actor altogether. That has been my life's work.”


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