Taylor Kinney—one of Primetime’s newest heartbreakers—might be a self-proclaimed “T-shirt and jeans guy,” but his taste in women is far less conventional. The 31-year-old actor is perhaps best known as the on-again-off-again (and currently on-again) boyfriend of one Lady Gaga (who featured him in her video for “You and I”), and for his stint as werewolf Mason Lockwood on The CW’s immortal drama The Vampire Diaries. But that’s about to change with the debut of Kinney’s new NBC drama Chicago Fire, in which he plays Lieutenant Kelly Severide, a “ball-buster” firefighter doing battle with flames and personal demons.
You arrived here before me. Are you always this punctual?
A reputable director once told me, “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you’re fired.” It was something that stuck with me. People should just be on time for shit, you know?
Everyone’s late in Los Angeles because they feel like they can just jump into their cars and be wherever they need to be in 20 minutes.
I don’t think I’ve had a car in 10 years. I’m usually on a bike or a motorcycle. I can’t stand sitting in traffic with smoke coming out of my ears. You can’t live here and bitch about traffic.
Motorcycles can be dangerous.
I grew up on them. Dirt bikes, too. You have accidents, but…
I read somewhere that you surf, too, which is also risky because you have this greater force that you’re riding on. Do you like the challenge?
Anything to keep me occupied. I need constant stimulation. I don’t like sitting still very much. I guess you learn to be more patient as you get older, but I’ve never really been a big fan of it.
Which is more challenging: playing a werewolf on The Vampire Diaries or a firefighter on Chicago Fire?
As an actor, playing a werewolf was so much fun and liberating because you can’t really fuck it up. There’s no handbook on how to play a werewolf. It’s a lesson in creativity and letting your mind explore a character. There’s no template or anyone to tell you what isn’t proper protocol. But if you’re portraying a firefighter, there are definitely ways not to do things.
You want to do the firefighters justice.
Yeah. But since it’s entertainment for TV, you have creative license in some respect to tell a story, so not everything will be perfect. There might be a medical procedure that gets overlooked or something that is enhanced for effect, or there might be a stunt, like a building jump, and a fireman might say, “We wouldn’t do it like that.” It’s a give and take.
Did you get to train with any actual CFD firefighters?
Yeah, it was great. We went there a few months ago to film the pilot in March and we shadowed firemen within the city. We went to three or four different firehouses. The local community and firefighters were giving us a hand and showing us the ropes of the city and the districts, where they worked, and the differences between the rescue squad, the truck guys, engine guys, and paramedics. I really saw the camaraderie between these people. It’s in their blood to be able to go and do these things on a daily basis, to put themselves in harm’s way, and then to let go when they leave work. They’re a special breed of people.
Do you feel honored to be playing a firefighter?
It’s a privilege. I like blue-collar workers; I grew up in a blue-collar family. I like working with my hands and I like to sweat while I work. I like to see results from what I do, so to be able to have an effect and impact on people in that medium is an honor.
Kelly is kind of a ball-buster and very competitive. He knows what he wants. Do you share any of those traits?
Yes and no. I’ve played characters before where I was always the one asking questions, so it feels liberating to not be the one asking questions all of the time. My character is confident in what he does and the way he does it. If he fucks up, he’ll hear it from his boss but other than that, he delegates responsibility and jobs for the guys that work with him and under him. That type of strong character is someone that anyone would want to play. It’s a dream job. I can’t think of any other job that I’d want to have on TV right now. We use the firehouse as a catalyst to bring these characters together and to tell stories within that. It’s not necessarily a “fire of the week” type of show; it’s a character-driven series with an ensemble cast.
Your feature appears in BULLETT’s Romance Issue. Do you have a sensitive side?
I think everybody does.
Are you romantic?
Yeah, I am. I like romance. I like doing special things for my girl or for loved ones, of course.
What’s the nicest thing that you’ve done for a girl recently?
You can never go wrong with flowers.
It’s old school, but we like it.
Yeah. I spray painted a billboard for a girl once, too.
You’ve never done that!
I have! It was maybe six years ago and it was in Hollywood.
What did you spray paint?
“I love you.” It was one of those things, like, a guy fighting for a girl’s affection and attention. It was a desperate attempt. I think the billboard was on Fairfax and Melrose. I had an accomplice; we dressed in black and had a few beers—it was maybe 4am—and we used our cell phones on speaker as walkie-talkies. He hoisted me on his shoulders to a ladder. It was a big bank billboard, so it was in all white.
It was huge. The girl worked on Fairfax, about a half mile away. I texted her that morning and said, “Drive up Fairfax and look up.” I don’t know how romantic it was but she dug it and I got her, so it worked.
Would you approach a girl first?
I have, but it’s not like a singular thing that I always do.
Do you have a favorite love song?
Any song by Al Green.
I like “Let’s Stay Together.”
Yeah, that song is beautiful. I love his stuff. I also love old-school country, like Johnny Paycheck, Kris Kristofferson, Highway Men, and I’m a huge Waylon Jennings fan. Some of those love songs—those honky-tonk, love-gone-wrong type of songs—I love it. They don’t necessarily set the mood for a romantic evening, but they’re good love songs and speak the truth.
Have you ever had a really bad date?
I don’t even know what constitutes an actual date. I don’t think I’ve ever been on one, in terms of a set-up like, “We are going to go on a date.”
Are you more like, “Let’s hang out?”
Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever hung out with someone where it went horrible wrong.
I don’t have any horror stories with that. I’m pretty laidback.
What are some red flags that you look out for?
One of the worst things that someone can do on a first date is give off a negative vibe or talk about an ex. You don’t want to hear about that kind of stuff when you’re first getting to know someone. When you first meet, be in the moment and have a good conversation and a good time. If someone can reciprocate that ease and confidence, that’s a good date. A bad date would involve drama or a bunch of baggage.
Have you ever had a really bad breakup?
Sure, I think everyone has. They suck.
How do you get over it?
Sometimes I go surfing. Everybody has a breakup story. It’s all relative to the individual how they take it and how it affects them. I think the biggest thing is what you take from it and what you learn from a breakup and how it can help you approach your next relationship. It’s also important to acknowledge if something wasn’t right and to not go back. I think a lot of people do that, too—go back.
It can be hard not to.
Let’s say you have a friend—and I know you do—who fell for a guy and she keeps going back to him, and you keep saying, “That guy is horrible.”
And then she goes back, and then calls me crying. Every time.
See? It’s one of those “love is blind” situations. It’s easy to forgive someone when you love him or her. It’s hard to realize that they aren’t serving you well as a person.
Sometimes you forget all of the shit they’ve put you through.
It’s hard. After a breakup, you need to give yourself time and space. You need to have a clear vision of why you’re in that spot.
Have you broken any hearts or had your heart broken?
Fourth and fifth grade was pretty rough. I was killin’ it back then.
You were already dating?
No, I was just breaking hearts. [Laughs.]
Were you girl-crazy?
I was! You know, I just had a conversation with someone about how awful the high school experience is…
It’s so awkward.
The way kids act and interact in those circles. Honestly, I think kids should, maybe after middle school, go into the workforce and get some hard labor under their belts. Then, when they’re around 18 or 20, they can feel prepared to experience high school or pursue higher education. I couldn’t concentrate when I was in high school—I wanted to make out with my 70-year-old English teacher! I didn’t give a shit. I could find beauty in any woman.
Who was your first crush when you were younger, besides your 70-year-old teacher?
They’re not all senior citizens! Maybe Niki Taylor from my mom’s magazines or something. I also always wanted to hook up with Peggy Bundy from Married With Children. My father watched that show all the time. I didn’t understand why Al never wanted to sleep with her. I thought she was beautiful.