Playing The Field

Whether he’s a baseball player or just a playa, Daniel Sunjata has all his bases covered this summer. First at bat: a new season of Rescue Me, as the 35-year-old star of the hit firefighter drama douses more blazes (and deals with old flames). Then he’ll step into the cleats of Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson in ESPN’s The Bronx is Burning.

MF: You’ve got an upcoming miniseries in July, The Bronx is Burning.Give us the quick pitch on why readers should tune in. Your 30 seconds start right . . . now!

DS: New York City in 1977 was an interesting place and time: the horrible Son of Sam murders, Studio 54, that crazy guy with homemade climbing equipment scaling the World Trade Center, riots, blackouts. And in the middle of all that we have the Yankees winning the World Series.

All right, our TiVos are set. Was it harder to play a real person like Reggie Jackson, as opposed to a role you created from the ground up?

Yes, because there are all kinds of things that you need to be aware of to be accurate. You have more responsibility to be specific when you’re playing a real person. I unfortunately didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Mr. Jackson, so I had to rely on firsthandaccounts from people who were on the team with him, biographies, and stock footage of his post-game interviews.

Now that you’re a baseball player—or at least playing one on TV—you need a theme song. If you could have a musical intro each time you walked into a room, what would it be?

Wow. That’s a great question, because you’re talking to a real lover of music, so I have a hard time narrowing down genres, let alone specific songs. I’d definitely have to go with something by Bob Marley. I would say “War.” Its sentiment is something I can aspire to.

Speaking of songs, is there one in particular that gets you most pumped up at the gym?

Not really, although I’d have to say, growing up in the ’80s, “Eye of the Tiger” gave me a rush of adrenaline. But it doesn’t seem to work the way that it used to. [Laughs] Now I just feel kind of corny when I hear that while working out.

Rescue Me returns June 12. Your character is sort of the ladies’ man of the firehouse. Are you anything like Franco Rivera?

Well, if I were, would I say it in an interview?[Laughs] Am I like Franco— no, I sure hope not. Luckily, I’ve never had to issue that disclaimer. People can get a vibe when they actually meet me that I’m not at all like my character.

First it was Ashton and Demi. Then it was Franco and Alicia (Susan Sarandon). What is it about an older woman that attracts younger guys?

It sure seems to be the trend. It’s good to see the double standard shattered. For so long it’s just been pot-bellied men chasing 18-year-olds in the south of France. I don’t know, older women tend to be more self-assured and have less of an agenda. And I would assume—if practice makes perfect—that they could teach guys a thing or two in bed.

Firefighters are some of the fittest guys out there. And they’re working out not so much to look good, but because people’s lives actually depend on it, right?

Absolutely true. They have to save lives with their bodies. The workout regimen that I and the other [actors] do is probably not as rigorous as what an actual firefighter has to do. These guys are in exemplary physical condition. Even the ones who might not look like it are deceptively fit when the time calls for it.

What have you learned from hanging out with firefighters off set?

I’ve been out for drinks with some of the guys. What really surprised me is how much they care for each other. Even if they may jokingly throw what some would consider politically incorrect language in each other’s direction—racial or otherwise—at the end of the day, they look out for each other. Four guys go into a building; four need to come out.

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