Flame Dweller

Lachlan Buchanan talks shooting his first shower make-out scene and so much more

STATION 19 – (ABC/Richard Cartwright) LACHLAN BUCHANAN

Lachlan Buchanan has worked in Hollywood for a decade, but his career has hit a new high.

The Australian-born actor started out on Ozzie TV, landing roles on popular series like Home and Away and Blue Water High. He came to the US in 2010 and continued booking guest spots on shows such as Pretty Little Liars, Teen Wolf, and Hung. A recurring role on The Young and the Restless followed, which paved the way for his most recent success: a recurring role on the Thursday night ABC drama Station 19, a spinoff of Grey’s Anatomy.

Station 19 sees Buchanan step into the role of Emmett Dixon, the son of the Seattle Fire Chief, and a raging closet case with a female fiancé. When Emmett becomes a firefighter to further his dad’s political career, he quickly runs afoul with the Station 19 team…and develops a strong attraction to Travis (Jay Hayden), the station’s resident out-gay man. Tempers flare and sparks fly as Emmett and Travis must choose between their feelings for one another, their duties at the station, and Emmett’s own constructed life.

We snagged some time with Buchanan to chat about his character and career just as Emmett’s story arc took a surprising turn. Station 19 airs Thursdays on ABC.

I feel a need to ask: how are you coping during this insanity?

I’m good, I’m in Chicago. Long story boring, I have a place here and I was filming something else before all this happened. I came back up for the weekend and got stuck, but in a good way. It’s so cold it keeps you inside. But otherwise, doing fine. I feel like this is a mix of island time and airport rules. You know, no shower until 2 pm and start drinking at 1 pm.

It’s whatever you want to do. I feel like I’ve just sort of sunk into it. But it’s the least we can do to keep everyone safe.

STATION 19 – ABC/Richard Cartwright) LACHLAN BUCHANAN, BORIS KODJOE

Absolutely. So I’ve seen the past seven episodes of Station 19. Congratulations are in order; the show is engrossing and very affirming of LGBTQ people.

Thank you, yeah. It’s awesome that this is network TV.

So Emmett, your character, is a character I find both sympathetic and infuriating. He’s a man of contradictions.

Yeah.

He’s in the closet, but he’s passionate about Travis. He has artistic aspirations but wants to do right by his dad. As an actor, how to you begin to approach a character of such strong contrasts?

One of the things that really attracted me to the role, and what I really love about it, is that all the other characters on the show are professional firefighters. They’re heroes. They have issues, but they’re heroes. Emmett is flawed. It’s refreshing of me to see that, to see him getting panicky in intense situations or screwing things up. That’s realistic to me. Not everyone is a hero, or can be a hero. He’s struggling with his self-identity because of the way he was raised. His dad has kept him in this box, and he’s had to cover up a lot about himself.

To say the least.

Keeping his girlfriend, Alicia, and joining the Fire Academy are just to please his dad. So it’s difficult. He’s struggling to find balance in life. That’s why he has so many contradictions—he wants to do the right thing, but he’s hiding who he is. It’s this back and forth. That’s kind of real.

How so?

Everyone wants to be liked and loved. When you have all this extra crap piled on, it makes that hard.

Well and one element you allude to there that I think makes him more compelling is this idea that he is always living for someone else. He’s living his father’s image of what his son should be.

Yeah.

Do you think that has more to do with his father being a homophobe, or just the need to be a perfect son for his dad?

I think it’s a bit of both. I’d lean more to the idea that he’s afraid of his dad. We’re all products of our parents really. You are how you’re raised. Clearly, he’s been raised in a household where his dad has always motivated him to this one thing. He doesn’t know any better. He’s informed to live one kind of life. It’s been interesting to see the feedback on social media. [People say] “Oh, it’s so frustrating. Why can’t he just man up?” That’s easier said than done. It’s his dad, who he always wants to please. You’re bound to the way you’re raised, so he doesn’t know how to do that. So he’s afraid and he’s trapped.

That makes sense. The fact that his father is a sort of politician, the fire chief, adds so much more to that weight.

Yes. Exactly.

STATION 19 -LACHLAN BUCHANAN, JASON GEORGE

How do you go about approaching a character of fierce contradictions like that? Does it make playing the character easier, or do that make it more challenging?

In some ways, I’d say it is more challenging, but in a good way. I always like to be challenged. I don’t like to get complacent and comfortable with things. It’s been fun, the evolution of this character, and having an idea of who he is. Then I’ll suddenly get the next script and it’s like woah, we’re going there! It’s like an added layer. As many layers as you can pile on, people respond more. It’s fun to play with, to draw from. So I really like it. It’s been difficult, but it’s been a blast.

So how much did the writers tell you about Emmett’s character arc going in?

It was kind of up in the air in the beginning. Talking to [director] Paris Barclay a lot in the beginning, he presented a bunch of different avenues as to where he might be going. It sort of evolved as we’ve gone on, and as they’ve seen me react the character and how I’m playing it. I kind of had a vague idea of what was going to happen, but there have definitely been a few times where I was like oh, but in a way I enjoy. We haven’t followed the substandard mold that a lot of gay characters have of: oh, at some point he’s going to get beaten up. At some point he’s going to have a huge fight. You know, that sort of standard. It’s been nice that there’s a lot of different things happening.

Sure. It sounds like the storytelling evolves very organically in that way. That’s exciting.

Yeah, it does.

So you are openly queer, which we love. Jay, who plays Travis, is straight. This may seem like a silly question, but does that make the love scenes more awkward? Love scenes are awkward as it is…

Well, this is the first time I’ve ever played a proper gay character. I think I did once on something else very briefly. I was a bit nervous coming into it. Very intimate scenes are awkward anyway. Being a gay character played by a straight guy, I did wonder what it would be like. Fortunately, Jay is just a legend. Straight away, he made me feel so comfortable. He was like “We’re going to go for this, right? Let’s go for it.” So I was like, “Ok, touch me wherever you want.” And he said “Same, I don’t care.” So really, because of him, I got very comfortable very quickly. We’re very comfortable around each other.

That’s great.

The very first scene I had shooting was this whole shower make-out scene. So that was scary to walk on a set and not know anybody. And I’d literally met him that day.

Oh wow.

I was thrown in the deep end, but he made me feel very comfortable and wasn’t phased by it. That made me unfazed by any of it. I was lucky that way. I think it would be strange for some people, and I think that’s been the case with some of the previous people on the show.

STATION 19 – (ABC/Richard Cartwright) LACHLAN BUCHANAN, JAY HAYDEN

Sure. That’s encouraging, and speaks both well of you as actors that you can jump in the shower right away.

[Laughter]

It was funny actually. Paris Barclay directed that episode. Shondaland [producer Shonda Rhymes’ production house] is amazing when it comes to this sort of thing. The first day I had a big letter in my trailer that said “Here at Shondaland, we don’t f*ck around. The actor calls the shots. If the actor wants to do a sex scene in a snowsuit, we’re doing it in a snowsuit.” So when I read that I thought it was amazing.

Related: The gay romance on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ was such a hit that producers will continue it into next season

When I got on set, Paris took me aside and said “So you know, this is a closed set. Whatever you’re not comfortable doing, we’re not going to do.” So great, I’m pretty easy going with it all. It’s this little bathroom set, so we’re filming in one direction, and behind us is a wall. We did the first few angles, and Paris said “Pretty good right? Great closed set?” And at that exact moment, the entire back wall just came away, and like 60 people are sitting there waving.

[Laughter]

So it’s like, no fear to be had here. It’s great.

Looking at your resume, I was interested to see that you have a lot of experience working on soaps. I’m not sure Station 19 is considered a soap, but it has some of those elements for sure.

Yeah.

And you’ve done The Young and the Restless here in the US, and a number of Australian soaps as well. When you are working on an evening drama, how is that different from working on a daytime one?

Much slower, and I mean that in a good way.

Really?

God yeah. A soap opera you’re pumping out five episodes per week. Some days on Young and the Restless, I’d get 42 pages of dialogue.

STATION 19 – (ABC/Raymond Liu) LACHLAN BUCHANAN, JAY HAYDEN

Dear Lord.

Nighttime television is much slower. They take their time more, they’re more focused on the writing. And not to sh*t on soap operas—they’re great. But there are fewer episodes of a nighttime [series] and there’s more effort you put in. You can spend a lot more time on scenes and takes. You can try different things and explore more. You don’t just get one take. That’s the biggest thing.

Sure.

And the writing is more interesting. You’re more real world. You delve into a character much more deeply. You don’t have to remind people that it’s been the same day for six weeks.

That makes sense. I want to ask a bit about your work in Australia. One subject that comes up all the time when I talk to queer actors is the different opinions—often unsolicited—from agents, managers, executives, etc. about coming out. They’re told how to behave, what to say, not to discuss sexuality.

Yeah.

Did you encounter that in Australia? What was the reception like?

Look, I haven’t worked there for a bit of time. I’m sure it’s changed a lot, like it has here. But when I started out it was a bit of a taboo thing. This industry is very opening and accepting in many ways, but when it comes to appearing on screen there’s definitely that element of fear that it’s too much for audiences. So I definitely had to hide myself a lot when I was working there. But then, it was the same here. It’s been very similar.

And you think that’s changed?

It’s gotten better and better every year. I does, since I’ve started, yeah. What you were saying about managers and representation…when I first moved over here I had the same thing a lot of other actor friends of mine had, which is your reps telling you “Don’t come out. Act straight. You’ll never have a career.” I definitely took that to heart for a while, and it’s exhausting.

I’m sure.

But year by year it’s gotten so much better. And in Australia, at that point in my life, I wasn’t fully comfortable with who I was either. So I was keeping it to myself anyway.

Well I’m glad it’s gotten better. And you’re out, and you’ve hit a new high in your career with a recurring spot on a prime time network show. So that’s encouraging.

It’s awesome.

STATION 19 – (ABC/Christopher Willard) BARRETT DOSS, JASON GEORGE, GREY DAMON, OKIERIETE ONAODOWAN, LACHLAN BUCHANAN DANIELLE SAVRE, JAY HAYDEN

I know your brother Andrew is also a very successful actor in Australia. This is maybe a ridiculous question, but I’m legitimately curious because you share a profession. Are you competitive with each other?

Not at all. The opposite. I’m so relieved to have someone else in my family that “gets it.” He actually got me started; he’s 20 years older than me.

Oh wow.

He’s very established there and helped me get into the industry. And he’s been nothing but awesome, and I like to think likewise. He’s always championing me. I like to think when I’m home and he’s doing a play or something, I’m always there seeing it. So it is great to have someone else to talk to, that understands what the slog can be like. Or if you have a bad day on set, which is rare, he understands why. All the little ins and outs that my parents or other brothers and sisters don’t get, or just smile and nod because it’s so far out of their realm. He can relate.

So, are you back for next season? What else do you have lined up?

I don’t know. The show just got picked up for Season 4 a few weeks ago, so that’s really exciting. I’m hoping we see more of Emmett next season, but they’ll be figuring that out in the coming months. I was shooting something else, but that got shut down because of the coronavirus. It’s The CW show Dynasty…

Oh sure, wonderful. That’s exciting

So who knows what’s going to happen, but it’s cool. I’ve loved Station 19 so hopefully that’ll keep going. I love this character. The cast is awesome. The crew is wonderful. It’s a rare find in this industry.

Station 19 airs Thursdays on ABC.