There’s something eerie in the air. Apple TV+’s new crime-drama series City on Fire transports viewers back to 2003, when a blackout famously left New York City without power for nearly 30 hours. The series stars Chase Sui Wonders (Bodies Bodies Bodies, Generation) as Samantha, an NYU student who is mysteriously shot in Central Park on the Fourth of July during the blackout.
Per Apple TV+’s official description: “As the crime against Samantha is investigated, she’s revealed to be the crucial connection between a series of mysterious citywide fires, the downtown music scene, and a wealthy uptown real estate family fraying under the strain of the many secrets they keep.”
In addition to Wonders, City on Fire stars Wyatt Oleff (It, I Am Not Okay With This) as Samantha’s friend Charlie, who “is struggling to cope with the death of his father on 9/11 two years earlier, [and] stops at nothing to unravel the mystery of what happened [to Samantha].” Other cast members include Xavier Clyde, Jemima Kirke, Nico Tortorella, Ashley Zukerman, Max Milner, Alexandra Doke, Omid Abtahi, Kathleen Munroe, and John Cameron Mitchell. The series was created by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage (Gossip Girl, The O.C.), who serve as executive producers alongside Jesse Peretz and Lis Rowinski. Peretz also directed the first two episodes and the final two episodes.
The eight-episode series is based on the 2015 bestselling novel of the same name by Garth Risk Hallberg. Unlike the show, the novel takes place in the 1970s.
The Nerds of Color was able to chat with Wonders and Oleff ahead of the series premiere. They discussed getting into character, the relationship between Samantha and Charlie, and more. Check out the full interview below!
THE NERDS OF COLOR: 2003 was obviously a different time in many ways. How did you mentally prepare to transport yourselves back to that era?
WONDERS: I did not use technology for a year [laughs]. No, I feel like my entry point was definitely the music. I listened to LCD Soundsystem and The Strokes all the time on the way to set. But I think just naturally, periods have that kind of ease in a way where you put on a costume or the prop cell phone you have is, like, a tiny Nokia this big [gestures]. The setting is different and production design is different. So, it really just situates you in the period naturally.
OLEFF: For me, as someone who was born in 2003, just getting the personal accounts of everyone there. Most of the crew was from New York. Just being able to talk to them and [listen to] their personal experiences helped fill out my idea of 2003. And again, yeah, the set design and everything that went into the writing — the props and the costumes — all helped.
Something that’s really interesting to me is that you both have backgrounds in horror. Would you say that shaped your performances here at all?
WONDERS: Yeah, I’m definitely used to the corn syrup blood, so that helps. Cold shivering, wet and sticky-
OLEFF: Classic horror filming.
WONDERS: Classic horror. Nothing gets you in character like being so physically uncomfortable [laughs]. No, I think it helps. That feeling of suspense … this one — [to Oleff] I don’t know if you felt this way with IT, but there’s something eerie about the energy that just makes you scared of not only yourself, but like, it [was] scary to be in Central Park when we [were] shooting these scenes at night.
OLEFF: Absolutely. I agree.
Lastly, how would you describe Sam and Charlie’s relationship?
WONDERS: I feel like they’re like long-lost soulmates. Jesse Peretz, the director, was describing it this way the other day, [and] I think it’s so beautiful. They both love each other so much, but in ways that are a little different from each other. … It’s like they want to be there so badly for each other. And in so many ways, and so many alternate universes and realities, they would be perfect for each other. But it’s just, like, that one degree off that hurts them so badly. But yeah, I think they help each other grow a lot.
OLEFF: It’s also interesting because they kind of almost have a mentor-student relationship as well, with Sam teaching Charlie all these things, and Charlie being able to learn from her. And I think, to an extent, Sam also learns from Charlie in different ways that Charlie isn’t aware of. But there’s this sort of guidance Charlie gets from her. Maybe [it’s] a little fabricated with her trying to act cooler than she is or whatever, but there’s an interesting mutual relationship going on that’s like, unspoken.
WONDERS: I think they both help each other be the coolest versions of themselves.
City on Fire premieres on Apple TV+ on May 12.