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Exclusive Interview: Joe Chappelle Talks Directing ‘Chicago Fire’s’ 100th Episode

The 100th episode of NBC’s ‘Chicago Fire’ airs next Tuesday, and Hidden Remote talked exclusively to director Joe Chappelle about helming the landmark show.

NBC’s Chicago Fire will celebrate its 100th episode next Tuesday, which is a well-deserved milestone for a series that’s not only been successful itself but spawned an entire franchise of compelling drama. One person who’s been around for the entire ride is executive producer and director Joe Chappelle, who was responsible for directing the 100th episode, fittingly called “One Hundred.”

Hidden Remote connected with Chappelle to discuss what fans can expect from the milestone episode, how it was to be in the director’s chair for such a big outing, and how Chicago Fire has grown over 100 episodes and counting.

SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains minor spoilers of the upcoming 100th episode of Chicago Fire.

Keep reading below to get an early preview of “One Hundred” and don’t miss an all-new episode of Chicago Fire tonight at 10/9c on NBC.

Chappelle is more than just a director on Chicago Fire; he’s also an executive producer and has helmed more episodes of the show than anyone else by a wide margin. “The 100th episode is either my 23rd or 24th directing,” he told us, “which is over a season’s worth of directing.”

In short, this is the man you want behind the camera if you’re putting together a benchmark episode – he knows how to direct it better than anybody. But even so, it wasn’t a given that he was going to be directing this particular installment.

“I know I’m going to do on average, six a season,” he explained. “But it wasn’t planned. I drop myself in or drop around our guest directors. Last year I thought to myself that Episode 8 would be the 100th episode, [but] it just worked out that way.”

That put Chappelle and the whole Chicago Fire team in a unique position because not only was it their 100th episode but because of how the schedule fell, the episode was also going to be the show’s last episode of the year – making it doubly important that this one be a major effort.

“Not only was it the 100th episode, it’s our winter finale,” he explained. “The episode airs right after Thanksgiving and then we go on hiatus for a month. Our winter finales always tend to be bigger episodes anyway, but being it’s the 100th episode and the winter finale, we did a big one.”

That’s big in every respect, from the action sequences to the character development. What are some of the things that audiences can expect from next week’s episode?

“The last rescue of the episode was very involved. It took us two days to film it which is a lot for us; it’s very intricate,” Chappelle teased. “If you’re a Casey/Dawson fan, it’s an especially important episode, that’s all I’ll say about that.

“It’s a great episode. If you’re a fan of the show we deliver on all accounts. The action and emotion are all there.”

Longtime Chicago Fire fans will also be excited that “One Hundred” includes the return of Jeff Clarke, the fan favorite played by Jeff Hephner, who will make his first appearance on Fire since becoming a recurring character on Chicago Med.

“It was fun,” Chappelle said of the chance to direct Hephner again. “I was really hoping he would become a regular with us a couple of years ago when he was on the show [in Season 2] but it didn’t work out so to have him back…The scenes he has [are] with Severide, and he and Taylor [Kinney] get along great and the rapport is fantastic.

“They didn’t miss a beat. It was interesting; it wasn’t like there was any getting used to the surroundings again. They had a scene in the firehouse in Severide’s quarters and the guys were like they’d been working for a year straight.”

Chappelle has a unique perspective on the continued success of Chicago Fire because he’s been such a significant part of it. His first directing credit came in Episode 3 (not to mention that he also directed first-season episodes of spin-offs Med and Chicago P.D.) so having been along for the whole ride, how would he say that Fire looks different now than it did 100 episodes ago?

“I would say the actors have gotten so comfortable with their roles. They all know their roles inside and out,” he reflected, “and it’s been fun to watch that because when you’re starting off on a show in Season 1, you’re still searching for who the character is and what their backstories are and how they interact with one another.

“But now 100 episodes, in, it’s almost second nature. There’s just a familiarity. They’re so comfortable with their characters and with themselves and the other characters. The big theme of the show is family; the house is a family. I think these guys feel that way about one another because they’ve been working together for five years.”

NBCUNIVERSAL EVENTS — “One Chicago Day” — Pictured: (l-r) Yuri Sardarov, Taylor Kinney, Christian Stolte, Miranda Rae Mayo, Jesse Spencer, DuShon Brown at the “One Chicago Day” Party at Swift & Sons Steakhouse in Chicago, IL on October 24, 2016 — (Photo by: Elizabeth Morris/NBC)

That feeling extends to the many hard-working crew members who audiences never see but who put just as much heart and soul into making Chicago Fire a success as the cast.

“A sign of a happy show or a happy set is, we’ve had very little crew turnover in the five years,” Joe told us. “The people that have left have all gone onto the sister shows. Like if someone started off as a grip, they’ve gone on to the other shows as a key grip; it’s been a great promoting from within kind of thing.

“To have this crew be with us largely from the get-go, it’s like the actors. Everyone has a shorthand now, everyone is comfortable, everyone’s familiar with each other. It’s a great set to work on.”

Understandably it’s hard for Chappelle to pick which of the two dozen episodes of Chicago Fire he’s directed would be his favorite, but we did ask him to try.

“There was one last year that I felt just kind of captured the show, in terms of like these guys are heroes,” he said. “Fire wasn’t even in the episode, but it was the one where they go into a community center and a sniper is on the roof [“The Sky Is Falling”]. It just showed how brave, how selfless they are. We’re always trying to honor the firemen week in and week out, and I thought that episode did a really good job of doing that.”

He certainly knows what it takes to create good television. Chappelle directed and was a co-executive producer on one of the best shows of all time in The Wire, after which he went on as a director and producer for CSI: Miami and Fringe. If there’s anyone you’d want directing your hour of television, it would be Joe Chappelle, but he says he’s still taken something away through his years working on Chicago Fire.

“In terms of my outlook on life, what I’ve always loved about this show is [that] a lot of shows and a lot of cop shows especially, their view of the human condition is very grim. The subject matter is very tough and it can be kind of depressing sometimes,” he reflected.

“What I love about this show is we deal with tough topics, but there’s a humanity to it,” he continued. “We also show the good and the bad in the human condition. Our guys on the show, they’re heroes of course, but they’re real people. And they’re just good people. They’re doing the right thing and it’s a very positive outlook on the world.

“Seeing these guys go running into buildings on fire to save somebody selflessly,  find that very inspiring,” he added. “We deal with the real firefighters day in and day out and I just find that inspiring. If I feel like I’m having a tough day and I think about what they do, it’s like what am I complaining about? I’ve got nothing to complain about.”

He certainly has plenty to be proud of. As it approaches its 100th episode Chicago Fire has created a franchise and become a cornerstone of NBC. More than that it’s assembled a remarkable cast and crew who are among the hardest-working and most down to earth folks you’ll ever meet on a TV show. If there’s one particular thing worth celebrating next Tuesday it’s that fantastic people from the stars to the crew to ace directors like Joe Chappelle have found this enduring success.

So what did Chappelle think about getting to direct the 100th episode of Chicago Fire? “I’m so glad I did,” he enthused. “It’s a great episode and just everyone, we all knew we were doing it. It’s the 100th episode and it’s pretty special in television. To this day, it’s still a magic number.”

And hopefully here’s to a hundred more.

The 100th episode of Chicago Fire airs next Tuesday, December 6 at 10/9c on NBC.