Hubbub with Maura Tierney

Maura Tierney talks ER, Denis Leary and the (dubious) architectural merits of Boston City Hall.


Photograph by Corbis/Outline

Photograph by Corbis/Outline

After watching her for a decade on ER and five seasons on NewsRadio, we’re all used to seeing Maura Tierney on TV. But when the Hyde Park native reprises her role as a Denis Leary paramour on FX’s Rescue Me — the final season of the hit show starts this month — it should not be taken for granted. Two years ago Tierney was battling breast cancer. Today she’s fine, and free to focus on other things, like the architectural merits of Boston City Hall.

So, as I understand it, you play a Denis Leary love interest who is neither his wife nor his mistress. Is there a word for that? Other mistress? Second mistress? Polyga-interest?
I guess. I’m trying to think of something clever. Tiger Woods probably has a name for it. You can call him up and ask.

Do you prepare for this type of recurring role on Rescue Me differently than you would for, say, ER, where you’re in every episode?
No, not really. This show is really different from the other shows I’ve worked on because it’s highly improvisational. You don’t really rehearse. You’re encouraged to go with it. So in a way, less preparation is a little bit better.

After all those years on ER, have you ever actually said to someone, “I’m not a doctor, but I did play one on television”? Because I would do that all the time.
Oh, yeah, yes. I’ve said it with varying amounts of irony. One of my castmates said she was feeling lightheaded, and I was trying to diagnose her. I caught myself and had to go, “Oh, I’m not a doctor, but I played one on TV.” I pretended like I wasn’t being serious, but I was.

That being said, you just went through a serious medical ordeal. What’s it been like to endure that and get back to work?
Well, it sucked. You know, it was difficult. It’s still hard for me to figure out a way to communicate it in a few words. And I’m sure that will come to me and I’ll be able to feel that I can most effectively discuss it in public. Except for that, you know, I’m lucky. I’m okay now, and everybody should get themselves checked.

Was it strange to have been on a medical drama for so long and then to have had your own health problem?
Not really, because it gets so intense. You know, the thing that was horrible was that the radiologist who first told me said to me, “Oh! You’re Maura Tierney.” And then he started talking about the show. I’m sitting in this darkened room with X-rays and men telling me I have what looks very much like a malignant tumor, and he’s talking about ER. I was like, Are you out of your mind? You can’t tell someone they have cancer and then talk to them about their TV show. But I have a sense of humor about that. It was just really bizarre and crazy.

Your father, Joe Tierney, was a city councilor here for 16 years. Were you around the Boston political scene a lot as a kid?
When I was a little kid we hung around headquarters and stuff like that.

So you got an early appreciation for just what an ugly building Boston City Hall is?
It is, but my sister and I — my brother wasn’t born yet — we just used to have a ball there. We would run around the council chambers when no one was there. We loved my dad’s office, we loved that big plaza. You know, there were concerts there in the summertime and — it is really ugly, isn’t it? I never thought about that. I just thought it was cool.

They say politics is a lot like acting. Do you think you picked up anything from being around all that?
Yeah, I think so. My dad was a theatrical guy. He wore a scuba suit one time because he said so-and-so was in the tank with the mayor. He didn’t really care what people thought, so he was able to put himself out there. He didn’t have a lot of shame, in a good way. He thought what he thought, and that was okay. Maybe that helped me acting-wise more than watching him be a politician.

Follow Jason Schwartz on Twitter @SchwartzHub.