Brian Michael Smith on Paul Grieving His Past, Plus His Future With Asha

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for 9-1-1: Lone Star Season 4 Episode 7 “Tommy Dearest.”]

The good news for Paul (Brian Michael Smith) when it comes to his new love interest: Asha (Amanda Payton) knew him when he was younger, so she knows his past. The bad news: She brings that past to dinner.

Things were going so well for the two — until she took out a yearbook from middle school and Paul was confronted with, as Smith tells TV Insider, “What was causing so much pain during that time, the way that he wasn’t able to present or see himself externally when he was young was really hard.” After a conversation with Owen (Rob Lowe), Paul realized he needed to open the door to parts of his past, like his love of basketball.

Smith breaks down the episode.

Is one of the hardest parts of what Paul is going through the fact that he can’t talk to Marjan (Natacha Karam), given her limited cell service on her journey of self-discovery?

Brian Michael Smith: Yes! Yes, it is. There are other people in the firehouse he has friendships with, but the person he confides in the most is Marjan. He was struggling with A, she’s literally not there to help him navigate this. But then B, feeling a sense of betrayal for the feelings he’s developing for the person who is at the cause of why Marjan is having the existential crisis that put her on the road in the first place.

I loved Paul’s conversations with Owen. He needed that, right?

Yes, for sure. And it was cool to see the Cap take on this role in Paul’s life. He typically confides in Marjan, but to know he has this man in his life who could also offer him some guidance for this rough spot in a way that was non-judgmental and also really helpful was really cool. I think one of the reasons why Paul ended up coming down to Austin was because of how personal and available Cap was, even helping him navigate through skincare and stuff like that, feeling like he’s always going to treat him the man that he is. It’s good to see this come back full circle in Season 4.

I thought of the skincare scene while watching this episode.

[Laughs] You really can talk to Cap about anything, whether it’s firefighting, your love life, or pimples.

Rob Lowe and Brian Michael Smith in '9-1-1: Lone Star'

Kevin Estrada/FOX

Things were going well for Paul and Asha. Before that dinner, did he know where he wanted things to go?

I think he was enjoying just the ease and the connection. It’s almost like having a shorthand with somebody because there’s all of this knowledge somebody has about you from shared experience. When you’re on a team, you learn so much about the people you’re with and the connection, the sense of intimacy is immediate. Even though Paul has been dating, I don’t think he’s had that kind of intimacy in a long time, if ever. This might be the first time. So he’s really enjoying that. He may not necessarily know where it’s going, but he knows he wants it to continue and get deeper.

Owen says Paul lights up. It’s so true.

Yeah, it reminds him of his childhood. I think there was some unfinished business from middle school. Maybe they did have feelings for each other or knew they were drawn to each other but given the time that they were in, not knowing what they can do… Then she moved away. So it’s picking up on a crush and riding that bit and then all the fear that comes with the unknown. On one hand, you’re enjoying the feelings and not knowing what’s going to come next and the familiarity with somebody that you feel a connection with. But then also you don’t know where it’s going to go and [there’s] the fear of losing it or it not being real or you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. Paul feels like [the other shoe dropped] when she brought up this element of the past.

I think he was afraid this meant that maybe she wouldn’t see him for who he is now and then realized that wasn’t the case. It’s not that she doesn’t seem him for who he is now, it’s that he himself hadn’t dealt with some things from his past he thought he had. He dealt with it by turning away from it, ignoring it, and burying it. Now he’s realizing that to really heal from things, you have to deal with them.

My heart broke for Paul — the way your face fell when she takes out the yearbook… Was part of it also that he didn’t expect something like that because things seemed so easy between them?

There’s definitely that element. Things are going so well and he’s so forward-facing that when she brings up something from the past, all the feelings that were attached to that experience or that time in his life that were really difficult, it’s him feeling like, is this always going to happen? Is it always going to be not just who I am now and who I’ve been, is what I was trying to get away from always going to be brought into this particular relationship? In a way that he’s not experienced in the relationships he’s forged since then, even since leaving Chicago, in such a visceral way?

It’s one thing to talk about your past and it’s another thing to be presented with photos that really bring out what was causing so much pain during that time, the way that he wasn’t able to present or see himself externally when he was young was really hard. And so to be confronted with the hard visual representation of that time in life was really staggering. He’s questioning, is that how this person, who I admire so much, who I feel like can really see who I am, sees me now?

[He’s also] remembering how much he loved playing basketball and being an athlete and how much he had to let go of, turn away from. He didn’t realize until that photo how much he had missed that part of who he was, how painful it was to let go of that. He never really grieved this love of his life, which was basketball, being an athlete, and [there’s] a lot of pain feeling like he was denied the ability to do that. The last bit of it was the uncertainties. What does this mean moving forward?

Is he ready to have the conversation he needs to with Asha?

I think that he is. He was afraid, does this mean that Asha’s not going to see him or going to see him differently? Then he realized, OK, that’s not true. What was helpful with the conversation with Owen was he got down to the heart of the matter: He never really grieved this part of himself. When she brought that up, she made him confront something that he wasn’t prepared to confront. And so it’s not her and it’s not the budding romance between him that was the problem. It’s learning something about himself he wasn’t prepared to learn. The way that he has been dealing with his past has been to completely ignore it and throw everything out.

Brian Michael Smith in '9-1-1: Lone Star'

Kevin Estrada/FOX

Now he’s realizing, “I don’t have to do that. I can acknowledge my past. I can look at it. I can be compassionate for how things were. I can be compassionate for how I had to be. I can embrace the things that I love and I can bring the things that I love into the present and it doesn’t cost me who I am now. I still am who I am now, even when elements of my past are with me. In fact, I’m even more representative of who I am because my past is part of that.” That was a big moment for him, and because he was able to take ownership of what was going on for him, he can definitely have that conversation with Asha because I think the shame that was making him close up dissipated once he really embraced what was going on.

So we’ll see more from that relationship?

I hope so. We have not seen end of [it].

I like that he’s like, “Chicago’s second-greatest shooting guard out of retirement.”

That was such a funny thing for me to say because I’m an athlete, but my sports were track and football and everything that was not basketball. I can hoop around a little bit, but I was like, “oh, snap, I have to be good?” I got together with one of my good friends, Kayla Ward. She showed me how to shoot around and look like I was Chicago’s second-greatest shooting guard.

Talk about filming the basketball scene.

It was so much fun. Basketball brings out people’s personalities and their competitive spirits. There were a lot of surprises in who was a hooper and who was not and how people were responding to having not played in a while and then playing. But once you put a basketball hoop up in a space and leave people to their own devices, the kids in all of us just come right out. So a lot of the fun that you see in that scene was genuine, unscripted, just us connecting and having a good time, then remembering, “Oh, we’re filming. We have to — yeah, OK.”

Who was the most competitive?

I would say Ronen [Rubinstein], Rob, and Jim [Parrack] were the most competitive, but the best basketball player who came out was Julian [Works] — talk about the greatest shooting guard. But I think that’s how he is. He’s really an athletic dude in general, and the competitiveness just started dripping out of his kid. There were some really fun moments to see off camera.

Owen has become focused on wedding planning for Tarlos. When’s he going to force the entire 126 to help? And what will Paul’s role in the wedding be?

There are some things that are still very much mystery to me, so I can’t speak to Paul’s role. And Owen is so certain of his opinions on things that he’s not really going to be requesting much from anybody else, input wise. He’s going to be requesting affirmations if anything. [Laughs] So it’s a lot of just nodding, agreeing, and walking away for the 126.

What else is coming up for Paul?

Some of Paul’s more recognizable skillsets are going to be put to great use in some upcoming episodes. So you get to see more of Paul doing his thing, which was really fun to do.

9-1-1: Lone Star, Tuesdays, 8/7c, Fox

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