1 of 5 | Wyatt Oleff and Chase Sui Wonders star in "City on Fire." Photo courtesy of Apple TV+
LOS ANGELES, May 12 (UPI) -- Wyatt Oleff, Chase Sui Wonders, Ashley Zukerman and their City on Fire co-stars said they brought something personal to their roles. These elements included a transition to adulthood, comparisons to other favorite characters or harsh judgments of some controversial decisions.
The Apple TV+ series, premiering Friday, depicts an ensemble of characters mixed up in a shooting in New York City in 2003.
Oleff, 19, plays Charlie, a young man who meets Samantha (Wonders). She opens Charlie's eyes and ears to music, art and the counterculture scene, until she is found shot in Central Park and is taken to the hospital.
A child actor since 2012, Oleff said City was the first show in which he appeared since turning 18, noting that adjusting to work as an adult helped him relate to Charlie.
"It's my first time filming a project without my mom around or my dad on set," Oleff said. "Trying to find my own place in this world in this crazy business and becoming an adult, I think, is what Charlie does throughout the show."
The first episode of City on Fire introduces Samantha. Flashbacks show more of how she introduced Charlie to music and social events prior to her shooting.
Wonders, 26, said Samantha reminded her of movie characters she admired, like Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) in Almost Famous and Clementine (Kate Winslet) in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, who open their male protagonists' worlds.
"Under the surface, there is something so real and vulnerable about [Samantha]," Wonders said. "She presents so confidently, like she's got it all figured out. At the end of the day, she's really in search of herself and in search of real connection."
One of the suspects in Samantha's shooting is Keith (Ashley Zukerman), a married man with whom Samantha was having an affair. Keith's wife, Regan (Jemima Kirke), has her own problems raising their children and dealing with an investigation into her father's business.
Kirke, 38, said Zukerman encouraged her to play Regan as justifiably unforgiving of Keith's affair. Kirke said Zukerman believed Keith did not deserve her forgiveness despite his attempts to apologize.
"I didn't understand sometimes why my character was being so punishing," Kirke said. "It was tough to hold my ground. which I think was a good thing for Regan's character."
Zukerman, 39, said he'd decided Keith was unforgivable because Samantha was only a college freshman. Zukerman said that affairs between adults can happen, but sleeping with someone not yet 21 suggests deeper issues with Keith.
"He needed the reflection through her eyes of him as a different guy, as sort of this vision of him that he wishes he was," Zukerman said, adding that the only hope for Keith's maturity would be "for the first time in his life having some self-reflection."
Regan is also estranged from her brother, William (Nico Tortorella), who also has a connection to Samantha. William used to be in a band, and Samantha introduces him to the band's album while in a record store.
In 2003, William is a heroin addict for whom his boyfriend, Mercer (Xavier Clyde), hopes to stage an intervention. Though their story encompasses drugs, LGBTQ issues and racism, Tortorella, 34, said he and Clyde approached City on Fire "as characters first."
"[We] focused on the love between these two people," Tortorella said, adding that their love comes with a lot of pain because of William's addiction.
Mercer also gets stopped by police wearing a jacket he does not know William hid heroin in.
Clyde agreed with Tortorella that all of City on Fire's social themes could be reduced to human beings.
"You can try to put whatever label you want on it," Clyde said. "At the end of the day, it is a human story about love and navigating a relationship with all those being a factor."
Tortorella did come away from City on Fire with a new career prospect. To record his character's album, he recorded in a music studio with producer Abe Seiferth. After wrapping City, Tortorella began to work with Seiferth on music of his own.
Tortorella thanked City creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage for "giving me this gift of sound because I have a whole new dream."
New episodes of City on Fire premiere Fridays on Apple TV+.