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Ronen Rubinstein On Saving His Fiancé’s Life On ‘9-1-1: Lone Star’ And The Future of Tarlos

Originally Posted: February 14, 2023   |   By: Max Gao   |   Observer

Rubinstein talks about bringing the drama to this drama series in one of the darkest episodes yet, and previews the less dark Tarlos wedding drama ahead.

This article contains spoilers for the Tuesday, February 14 episode (“Abandoned”) of 9-1-1: Lone Star.

Oh, how the tables have turned on 9-1-1: Lone Star. After having survived multiple near-death experiences himself, paramedic T.K. Strand (Ronen Rubinstein) was forced to reckon with the possibility that his fiancé, police officer Carlos Reyes (Rafael L. Silva), might not make it home alive. It’s a cruel twist of fate that Rubinstein and Silva have both been hoping for, because it flips a dynamic set in place during the show’s first three seasons.

“After each season, people—whether journalists or fans—would ask me, ‘What do you want to see from the next season?’ I would always say more Carlos backstory and screen time, and it finally happened”, Rubinstein told Observer in a recent Zoom interview. “I know [showrunner] Tim [Minear] is really passionate about this storyline and about giving Rafa that opportunity to shine and not just be the one that’s worrying about or supporting T.K. It’s an incredible opportunity to see more character development for Carlos”.

Tuesday’s episode picks up a few hours after Carlos was hit in the back of the head with a shovel while searching for clues about alleged abduction of his best friend, Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca). When he wakes up, the off-duty officer discovers that his hands have been zip-tied to a kitchen sink pipe in an old house, and he is being held captive by a serial killer/pharmacist named Darryl (Adam O’Byrne) and his accomplice/middle-aged single mother, Trudy (Bonita Friedericy).

“I truly think episode 4 is not only one of our best episodes, it’s one of those episodes that feels like a cable show”, Rubinstein said. “I think we accomplished that last season with the T.K. heroin flashback episode—that was really dark and something outside of the usual for 9-1-1. Episode 4 is another great opportunity to step out of our comfort zone and this [procedural] formula. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it already. It’s really dark”.

“I think that episode doesn’t work unless the creepy mom and Rafael are bouncing off each other in those kitchen scenes”, he added. “On paper, they’re such simple scenes. But they’re not, and Rafael is tied up for most of it. I love that a lot of it is just his insane close-ups, and you could see the pain, anger and fear, and you can see everything going through his brain: ‘How am I gonna get out of here? Or am I even gonna get out of here?’”

After being unable to reach Carlos, T.K. can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong with his fiancé, so he enlists the help of others. He asks Nancy (Briana Baker) to call the hospital where Iris is being treated, only to learn that Carlos wasn’t there overnight. He calls Grace (Sierra McClain) to track Carlos’ phone, only to discover that it has been disabled. T.K. even pays Carlos’ parents, Andrea (Roxana Brusso) and Gabriel (Benito Martinez), a visit, asking his future father-in-law, who’s a Texas Ranger, to assist in the search.

In the end, T.K. and Gabriel are able to piece clues together and track Carlos down just as Trudy injects him with a potentially lethal dose of morphine—and T.K. is tasked with bringing the love of his life back from the brink. “It’s just so cool to have that dynamic of Carlos’ most beloved men going after him, trying to find and save him”, said Rubinstein, who also relished the opportunity to work with Martinez after having grown up watching him on The Shield.

Below, Rubinstein breaks down the key moments from the pulse-pounding fourth episode and teases what’s next for the fan-favorite couple.

What were some of the beats you wanted to hit in this episode to show T.K.’s range of emotions? T.K. feels helpless but turns out to be surprisingly resourceful as an unofficial detective.

Ronen Rubinstein: Yeah, so he’s now “firefighter, paramedic, unofficial detective”. [Laughs.] [Director] Christine [Khalafian] and I wanted to make sure that there was a consistent build-up to the finale of having to save the love of his life from literally dying. And it was hard because we’re getting these scenes in packet form—we’re not even getting full script sometimes. Sometimes, I’ll get the scene 24 or 48 hours before and not really know where it is in the full linear storyline.

So I relied heavily on Christine [to determine the appropriate] stress, anxiety and anger level, because I think once we start getting further down into the episode, we’re seeing a new side of T.K. that maybe we haven’t seen since [he] punched the guy in the bar in Season 1. T.K. is now getting furious because he’s extremely scared that something might actually be terribly wrong with Carlos, and [then] he knows that there is somebody harming Carlos.

Whose idea was it to use the first selfie you ever took with Rafa as the photo T.K. uses to go searching for Carlos?

I think that was Tim! I was actually using a phone that was interactable, and in the photo library, somebody pulled all of our selfies together. [Laughs.] So we landed on that one, and it was nice and actually gave me something to look at and feel like, “Oh man, this is my guy” instead of looking at a green screen. That was a really sweet touch, and I think the fans are gonna love that because we took that selfie in Season 1.

You were babies!

Oh man, you could see it too. We look like little boys in that photo.

There’s a moment of recognition at the police station when T.K. realizes Carlos could be found dead instead of alive. Why do you think it was important for T.K. and Gabriel to have that heart-to-heart amidst the chaos, and what does T.K. learn from that conversation?

I knew that [scene] was gonna be the one that brings everything into perspective. I think realizing that the person you love the most in the world could not only be in trouble but could possibly be killed, that’s something that’s just so hard to fathom. Playing T.K., I’ve gotten to think about some really dark situations and scenarios, and this was at the very top of the list. Hitting that scene was so crucial because it’s like, “Okay, I now have no idea what I’m gonna find at the end of this search. This actually could end really badly.” We’re very much seeing through T.K.’s eyes. The episode is structured so beautifully to actually make us feel that anxiety and fear for Carlos’ life.

Christine would check myself and Benito. [Gabriel] is this detective, but also a father that’s just as fearful for his son, if not more than [T.K.]. That’s his baby boy. So how does Gabriel stay level-headed and in detective mode and try to calm this kid in front of him that’s frantic? But also deep inside, he knows he might also find his son dead. That was one of my favorite scenes—terrifying to play, but so fun.

How much will we see of T.K. interacting with his future in-laws after this episode?

We’re definitely gonna see more of Roxy, who plays Carlos’ mom, especially in the wedding planning situations. It’s gonna be neurotic Owen [Rob Lowe] and neurotic Carlos’ mom against Carlos and T.K. That’s episode 8!

God help them.

[Laughs.] Episode 8 is a really special episode—it is gonna be our 50th episode, and it’s just such an honor to, first of all, hit 50 on any kind of television show, but [that episode] really focuses on the wedding planning and we get to reveal our tuxes.

At the end of that episode, we actually get a very beautiful scene between Owen and T.K. I think we’re gonna get a lot of clarity on that relationship, because I know there’s been a lot of questions about: Are Owen and T.K. as close as they used to be? Is Owen maybe giving T.K. a little bit too much space to be an adult? I think that scene is gonna give closure to a lot of people. I know it did for me as the person playing T.K., and I think the audience members will really love that situation.

Tell me about shooting the scene in which T.K. finds and resuscitates Carlos. What do you remember from the day you shot that scene?

My blood was pumping so hard, and I just remember feeling my heart beating out of my chest, because it’s these physical scenes where you can’t fake it, and I’m technically giving Rafael CPR in real life. I’m trying not to crush his ribs too hard. But other than that, it’s as real as it gets, and Rafael has to keep his eyes closed the whole time while he has this dude messing with his body and his mouth. [Laughs.] I remember he came up to me after one take, and he’s like, “My eyes were closed, but I could hear it. That take [is the one]”. And I was like, “Oh shit, sick”.

[T.K.] is trying to go into paramedic mode of, “I have to save this person’s life, but this is [also] my fiancé. This is the love of my life. I have to save him”. So it’s this fine line of not panicking and being in paramedic mode and making sure you’re doing everything correctly—and waiting for back-up to come in with the Narcan, which is very, very brilliant.

Narcan is what saved T.K.’s life in the pilot, and I also made sure to stab it in the same leg as Owen stabbed T.K., just to give a little Easter egg for the true fans. [Smiles.] That full circle is so brilliant. I love how they shot it in slow motion with the camera on a low angle looking up. It’s definitely the most stressful save of T.K.’s professional career. Hopefully, nothing tops that. [Laughs.] I hope he doesn’t have to do anything like that ever again, because that was really brutal.

How does this latest near-death experience make their relationship stronger?

I think being with a first responder, you know that that’s a very realistic risk and a possibility, especially in this show where everything is just elevated. We’re not like your regular first responders. What’s beautiful is, there are always parallels in our show, and I think there’s a beautiful parallel between this story arc and last season’s story arc of [how] we broke up off screen for stupid reasons, honestly. It took T.K. getting into a coma for them to realize all of that shit doesn’t matter. “This foundation that we’ve created, this relationship that we’ve created, that’s what matters. Everything else is just noise” And I think that’s happening again this season. Yes, [Carlos] may be upset with [T.K.] about going to see Iris, but it was only with pure and good intentions.

What’s so beautiful about Tarlos is that it is not gonna be this fairy tale relationship, [and] I think sometimes people are wondering, “Why isn’t it like that?” Because that’s not real, and you have to remember, this is a drama television show. [Laughs.] There’s gonna be drama in a drama series! And for some reason, Tarlos gets the brunt of it and gets the craziest drama—which I honestly am super grateful for, [because] it’s the most fun to play.

T.K. and Carlos are, in many ways, still learning [about] each other. They’re so vastly different as people, so it’s gonna take time, and yes, sometimes they’re gonna have misunderstandings or arguments or not see eye to eye, but that is every relationship. No relationship is perfect. And if they think it is, they’re lying to each other. So I think it will only strengthen them and make them realize what’s truly important, and that’s loving each other and growing together. It’s so heartbreaking, but it’s so beautiful.

How would you say T.K. has evolved in the four seasons that you’ve played him, and what is the biggest change you’ve made in the way you approach playing him since the first season?

The first thing that comes to mind—and just because it’s something that we’re dealing with right now in the show, further on in the season—is T.K.’s method of handling very difficult situations and conversations. You look at that famous yellow hoodie dinner scene [in episode 102] that people love so much, when this boy straight up storms out of the house and says [to Carlos], “I’m not really looking for this”, [and compare that] to where we are now. [He’s] able to communicate like an adult, like a partner that is gonna try his hardest to make it work.

People sometimes forget that he’s battling his addiction every single day, and I think addicts think that they don’t deserve the best for themselves and that when something’s too good, it’s too good to be true. That saying is very real for addicts, so he had this bad habit of self-imploding, and we’ve seen that multiple times. People are unhappy with this Iris situation, but T.K. going to Iris—that’s him fighting for it! And it was strictly out of love. He wasn’t there to badger or scare her. He was there to be like, “Hey, I’m telling you this man is everything. You can trust me. I will love him more than anyone. Please sign these papers so we could get truly married”.

One of his greatest evolutions is communication, and I think that’s one of the most important things in a relationship, if not the most important. I’ve learned that myself through therapy. If the two people in the relationship don’t know how to speak to each other or know how each other functions, it’s never gonna work. T.K. has taken a lot of time to learn that about himself and Carlos, and I think you’ll see that throughout the season. We’re definitely gonna touch on that many, many times for sure.