A 2008 Juilliard graduate, Monica Raymund is all about drama and classical theater: Shakespeare and Chekov, that kind of thing. But for now, her day job is as the tough paramedic-turned-firefighter on NBC's hit series "Chicago Fire," filmed on the streets of the Windy City itself. We grabbed a few minutes with Monica at Allium in the Four Seasons Hotel to talk life in Chicago, motorcycles and her favorite sound dens.
Part of the deal with taking on the role on “Chicago Fire” meant moving to Chicago. What did you think of that?
I was pretty excited when I found out I had to move to Chicago. I’d never really spent any time in the Midwest before. I went to college and had an apartment in New York and then lived in L.A. for about four years, so that was my experience … So I was a little nervous and excited and very open to a new experience.
How do you feel now, three years in?
I think Chicago is not only a city full of art, culture and diversity, but people are very kind here and that’s very rare to find that kind of hospitality in a city that’s booming with growth and progressivism and challenges and economic difficulties. It’s a very happening busy city, and I was very surprised by the amount of passion and welcoming feeling.
Did you find a neighborhood you liked?
Originally I was in Bucktown, which I really liked, I love Bucktown. And then I ended up moving to Lincoln Park. I think I’m there to stay for the duration I’m here—ideally I’d really like to live in a big loft on Fulton or something, but I’m a little too lazy to move again. It’s cool, though; my townhouse feels like it’s out of Italy—brick and wood floors and butcher block kitchen.
So you’ve done some exploring?
I have. I’m not done yet. I haven’t gotten to the Institute, I haven’t gone to the Planetarium … but I’ve done the architecture tour, I’ve been to Hyde Park, I’ve been really far south, I’ve been all the way north to Evanston—went to check out the Baha’i temple. It was beautiful. I went over to the lake and no one was at the beach, and it was slightly overcast and the water was a brilliant blue—it was an idyllic day. I’ve been to … all kinds of theater. That was the first thing I did when I got to Chicago.
What theaters do you go to?
I live about two blocks from Steppenwolf, so I’m there all the time. I see a lot of stuff at the Goodman. I have a lot of friends who come through and do shows at the Goodman, so I’m there all the time. Chicago Shakes[peare Theater]—I love what they do—Timeline, Lookingglass, all of them.
You’ve had some involvement with theater youth programs; any in Chicago?
I just met with a performing arts high school located down south of Hyde Park … I went there and spoke with the students and they honored me in their Hall of Fame, which was really sweet. And then Northwestern University, they want me to do a master class. I teach a lot around the country. I have a nonprofit organization called the Performing Arts Project, a school that I founded with some of my colleagues. We’re entering our fourth summer. We’re based out of Wake Forest University and offer 8 to 10 scholarships, it’s extremely selective … It’s a three-week intensive, they bring in faculty from New York University, Juilliard, Carnegie Mellon, Broadway stars—people come in and they teach and work with the kids. That’s something I’m very involved in.
You attended Juilliard, right?
Yes, I graduated with BFA in acting in 2008 and I really love classical theater, it’s kind of my jam, it’s what I do. I think it’s very cool. A lot of Shakespeare, Chekov. I’d done a few plays after I graduated and then I booked a series in L.A. early on, and for whatever reason, I’ve been doing TV ever since—I don’t even know what TV is—I’m still figuring out how to be in front of the lens. It’s a very new medium for me. I don’t understand it very much
We saw on your twitter feed that you were getting your motorcycle license.
Ah, yes, I did.
Anywhere you want to explore?
Yes, I want to ride up the lake and go way north. There are special bike routes outside of Chicago that are private roads that are safe, not a lot of cars go there. I’m not really into city biking a lot. I’m really into safety. So, I mean, I want to look cool, too, but I want to survive so I can look cool. So I’m going to take it slow and see how it goes.
Any restaurants that you like to go to?
My favorite restaurant in the city is Ada St. I go there so much, I’m friends with the head chef and her wife.
You're busy shooting—and what you do to keep grounded and calm?
I recently started working out a lot, something I’m very disciplined about because it’s really the only time I have to myself.
What’s your workout?
I do at least 45 minutes of cardio and I’m doing weight training, trying to get stronger. I have to carry a lot of heavy tools on my job—I transition from paramedic to firefighter this season … and a lot of the tools we carry are real—we carry about 50 pounds of weight on top of bunker gear. It’s fun, but I have to be in better shape for it. And hot yoga, always yoga … I love Core Power.
Has your family been to visit?
They have been to visit once—they’re overdo to visit. I’m a little weird with my family coming to see me at work; it’s not the most comfortable, but I will invite them again. My aunt and uncle came and we saw Praire Home Companion—I’m such an NPR geek—I just went to Moth Stories at Haymarket. When my dad was here, we went to the top of the Hancock, we did an architecture tour. When my mom was here, we walked around the city and went shopping—I really love the architecture history here. I think I had just finished up reading “The White City” when I got here, so I was excited to see it.
Any other thoughts about being a Chicagoan now?
I watch hockey, which is weird. I never watched hockey before, but I really like it, so I’m a big Blackhawks fan. I did not grow up with sports, so I’m starting to understand the sport culture a little bit, which is fun.
I bet it’s fun to go with friends who are into it.
Yeah, I go with local friends who understand the game, and I just make them explain it to me. The only sport I follow is UFC [ultimate fighting championship].
Where do you go out at night?
I don’t go to the hot, trendy bars, that’s not really my scene, but I listen to a lot of music. I go out dancing to some of the gay bars, like Berlin, which is super fun and a great time because it’s not too crowded, but a strange scene with good music—I like to find the weird, quirky bars with eccentric people and really good sound, I’m really into good sound…. I go to Double Door a lot, Empty Bottle, a lot of great jazz too.
Any sneak peeks at the season?
Casey and Dawson continue to see each other, but she eventually becomes a firefighter, and we get to see how that changes their relationship and how that impacts the house.
Do they find an apartment together?
Yes. They’re having some technical difficulties behind the scenes, but we found one.
Do they say what neighborhood it is?
But it’s really in the studio?
Yes, anything you see that’s an interior with a consistent environment is always on a stage; the interior fire stuff is all on a stage. It gets a little dangerous too. A lot of it is real fire you see … We do have stunts, but when you see a close-up of one of the guys walking through a fire, that’s them.
My Perfect Day
5 am—Punching the Clock
Head to work to film a rescue scene for “Chicago Fire” and save some lives! This usually lasts all day, but on my perfect day…
9 am—Rev Up
Wake up and grab a latte from La Colombe on Randolph Street. Best in the city. Then walk or ride along the lake!
11 am—Power Up
Work out! I hit the gym and balance cardio and weight lift training. Now that I'm a firefighter on Truck 81, I'm really trying to get more definition and lean out so I can keep up with those strong boys!
12:30 pm—Lunch Break
Lunch at my favorite daytime joint, The Little Goat. Get the chickpea kale salad—and a beer!
Most likely I get my hair blown out at Dry Bar in Lincoln Park. I'm Latina with naturally curly hair and, while I love my curls, girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. Okay?
6 pm—Wind Down
Dinner with cast from “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago PD” at my favorite restaurant in Chicago Ada St. Chef Zoe Schor is literally one of the most talented chefs in the Midwest. I cannot get enough of her food!
8 pm—Curtain Call
Theater. I see anything and everything, but I love seeing theater at Steppenwolf.
11 pm—Night Moves
Music. If I want some jazz, I hit up Jazz Showcase in Printer's Row, a legendary hot spot for the greatest acts in town. If I want some rock ‘n roll or EDM, I check out The Empty Bottle or Double Door to see who's playing. It's all about high quality sound system. Rock On!