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Los Angeles Times

'Rescue Me' in for a Serious Grilling

New York firefighter Tommy Gavin may have been snatched from that burning beach house, but now he's in for a serious grilling as "Rescue Me" begins its fourth season at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday, June 13, on FX.

As fans remember, season three ended on a tense note as Tommy (Denis Leary, also executive producer and head writer of the series) declined Sheila's (Callie Thorne) invitation to retire and live with her in a beach house she purchased with her 9/11 widow's compensation.

Enraged by his rejection, Sheila drugged Tommy and flew into a rage that culminated in her accidentally burning the house to the ground. A volunteer firefighter (guest star Jennifer Esposito) pulled Tommy from the flames, but Tommy's hazy memory of the incident, coupled with his history of violence and alcohol-induced blackouts, has raised red flags with both the insurance company and Tommy's superiors.

"I guess this season is about Tommy Gavin figuring out what he's really about," Leary says. "He's a tough guy, a real he-man, but now he's really finding out what he's about. It's surprising to him, and I hope to the audience as well."

The main agent of that revelation may come as a surprise as well: It's Nona (Esposito), Tommy's recent rescuer, who pursues a relationship with him only to wind up forcing him to confront some uncomfortable truths about himself.

It was something of a dream gig for Esposito, who says she has been a "Rescue Me" fan from the get-go. Like many female viewers, however, she also has been eager for someone to call Tommy on some of his more extreme behavior and attitudes.

"You never really see a woman give it to him and call him on it," Esposito says, "but this character really just doesn't care; she just gives it to him. It's so much fun, and so funny to see. It was just a great character to play.

"I promise you, women are going to stand up and cheer when they see what this woman does to him. I really abuse him in a truly embarrassing way. I get him where he lives. I call him on all the crap, then I kick him to the curb. It was just a blast!"

Leary says he and Esposito's agent had to work out some free time in the actress's busy schedule, but Esposito, a long-time friend of "Rescue Me" cast member Thorne, says she was primed and ready for a guest shot on the show.

"Sometimes you go onto a set and different people do things differently, but we were all in sync," she says. "I went in knowing nothing about this character, and with Denis writing everything on top of playing the lead and being the man in charge, many times we would go in and get completely new pages. You really have to buckle down and just go and be ready to improvise, to get into the trenches and create a character with them. It's not like everything was mapped out.

"I had to find something that made sense to me and I connected with. Basically, it was that [Nona] simply wanted [Tommy], period. It didn't matter how or when -- girlfriend, baby, nothing mattered, I was just going to get him. I just kept going in that direction, and I had to try to figure out why it is that all these women seem to want him. What is so wonderful is that my character wants him in a very specific way, and if he can't give that to me, then he's out."

Elsewhere on "Rescue Me" this season, former ladies man Franco Rivera (Daniel Sunjata) begins to settle into his committed relationship with Natalie (Sherri Saum), although he still is tortured by losing custody of his daughter to Alicia (returning guest star Susan Sarandon).

Chief Jerry Reilly (Jack MeGee) is making good progress in trying to recover from last season's stroke in a bid to return to duty, while Sean Garrity (Steven Pasquale) has his hands full trying to navigate choppy marital waters with Maggie (Tatum O'Neal).

Kenny Shea (John Scurti) is finding himself severely taxed keeping up in the bedroom with his new girlfriend, ex-nun Theresa (Ashlie Atkinson), while Mike "Probie" Silletti (Mike Lombardi) is still trying to resolve questions about his sexual identity.

Inevitably, though, things keep coming back to Leary's complicated Tommy Gavin, who no doubt will find himself haunted at some point by his late brother, Johnny (Dean Winters), murdered last season in a shocking plot twist.

Of course, on this particular show, that doesn't mean you won't see Winters again this season.

"On 'Rescue Me,' when people die, their parts just get bigger," Leary says.

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