‘9-1-1’s Malcolm-Jamal Warner On Amir And Bobby, Working With Peter Krause, And More

A year after FOX canceled The Resident following its six-season run, star Malcolm-Jamal Warner — who played Dr. AJ Austin on the medical drama — is back in scrubs.

Instead of reprising his role as Chastain Park Memorial Hospital’s star cardiothoracic surgeon, the 53-year-old actor is guest starring on ABC’s 9-1-1 as Amir, a burn unit nurse with an unexpected connection to Bobby’s (Peter Krause) past.

Though Warner is on a new show and a new network, in many ways, he feels right at home on the hit first responder procedural. After roles in American Horror Story and American Crime Story, Warner is no stranger to the Ryan Murphy-verse. 9-1-1 marks his fourth time acting opposite the brilliant Angela Bassett. And he already loved Peter Krause from his starring role as Nate Fisher on Six Feet Under.

“I was a huge Six Feet Under fan. So getting to spend so much time with Peter was really exciting,” Warner told Decider via Zoom. “Just getting to work with Angela and Peter…and being able to play a role that takes me out of my comfort zone a little bit, it was all a really cool experience.”

In Season 7, Episode 8, “Step Nine,” viewers learn the scars on Amir’s face are from burns sustained in the tragic fire Bobby accidentally started in his Minnesota apartment building. The 2014 blaze killed 148 people, including his wife and two kids, along with Amir’s wife. After learning the fire forever altered Amir’s world, Bobby sets out to make amends, confronting his childhood trauma and encountering another life-or-death situation (or four!) along the way.

Halfway through Warner’s recurring four-episode Season 7 arc, the actor spoke with Decider about his new 9-1-1 character, his intense scenes with (fellow Leo) Peter Krause, his thoughts on potentially revisiting The Resident, and more.

Peter Krause and Malcolm-Jamal Warner on 'The Resident'
Photo: Disney/Chris Willard

Before we dive into this episode, I was thrilled to learn you were joining 9-1-1 because I’m a hardcore fan of The Resident. As 9-1-1 showed us, a show can get canceled and come back even stronger, and The Resident has been dominating streaming viewership charts since it was added to Netflix. If the series were to find another home down the line, is that something you’d be open to revisiting?

I think one of the best things about that show is how much we as a cast loved and still love one another. I think we would all jump at the opportunity to be able to work together again. Matt [Czuchry] was just here last night. We were just hanging out last night. And I just saw Bruce [Greenwood] a couple of weeks ago. We all really, really dig each other. So I think it would if we had the opportunity to work together again, we would be like, “Yeah, man!”

That makes me so happy. Real ones also know that this isn’t your first Ryan Murphy rodeo and you’ve had the pleasure of starring alongside the great Angela Bassett before. What it was like jumping back into the Murphy-verse, not only on a new show, but one with Angela?

I love it. The real ones. [Laughs] It’s cool, because this is actually my fourth time working with Angela. She did Cosby. We did an episode of Tour of Duty together like in ‘85 or ‘86. And then American Horror Story. So each time I get to have more camera time [with her], which is always great. And also I came in and I was a huge Six Feet Under fan. So the fact that — I knew it was coming — but getting to spend so much time with Peter, that was really exciting, too. Just getting to work with Angela and Peter, and being able to have the experience of the prosthetic, and being able to play a role that takes me out of my comfort zone a little bit, it was all a really cool experience.

Malcolm-Jamal Warner on '9-1-1'
Photo: Disney/Chris Willard

In tonight’s episode we learned about Amir’s direct ties to Bobby’s past. How familiar were you with Bobby’s backstory when you filmed these scenes? Did you watch those apartment fire flashback episodes to prep?

Oh yeah, definitely. Definitely. I had many conversations with Tim Minear and I watched a lot of the episodes to, one, get a tone and a feeling for the tone of the show, but then also to really lean into Bobby’s background story. So when I came in, that story was still very fresh in my mind. Because I had just been watching those episodes in particular, that feeling that Amir has — those flashes of reliving that experience — that was really fresh on my mind and in my body.

The deep understanding of those emotions and his pain really translated on screen. This episode was also so deeply compelling, in large part, because of your one-on-one scenes with Peter. I love knowing you’re a fan of his. What was it like working so closely with him in this episode while establishing such a complex, emotional dynamic between your characters?

It was great for us in the sense that the shooting conditions were very uncomfortable. We were out there for like five days and the weather in the morning was really cold. There were days when it was hot, and sunny, and windy, and the sand… And because there was a lot of discomfort in the shooting conditions, it made for great bonding time for Peter and I as actors. One thing that we talked about was gratitude — to be able to have an episode where we’ve got stuff that we can sink our teeth into, if you will. So all of the things that we went through off camera, I think really helped inform the dance that we had to do on camera.

Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Peter Krause on '9-1-1'
Photo: Disney/Chris Willard

We know you’re here for four episodes. Tim Minear said you have a very pivotal role in the final episodes of Season 7. What can you tease about Amir’s journey in these last two episodes?

Amir is forced head-on to deal with some of this resentment and anger that he realizes he had not quite successfully pushed down, and [those emotions] resurface so he actually has to deal with them head-on. I think as much as the audience likes Amir, there may be a shift where they go, “I don’t know if I like him as much.”

I was rooting for everyone to love him. I thought if he was alive and well at the end of the season he could stop being a travel nurse and stay on the show forever, but we’ll see what happens! In a recent interview with Extra, Angela Bassett teased what’s to come in Season 7 using the words “biblical” and “fire.” Do you have anything to add to that?

[Laughs] I think she said at all.

When we say “fire,” are we getting flashbacks of Amir in the Minnesota fire? Or are we getting a new fire? I’m worried.

Ohhh. Mmmm… [Laughs] I don’t know if I’m at liberty to say.

Well you got to share a scene with Jennifer Love Hewitt in your first episode. Can we expect Amir to meet any other core 9-1-1 characters in the future?

The good thing is that there’s going to be a Season 8, so there’s always opportunity.

Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Peter Krause on '9-1-1'
Photo: Disney/Chris Willard

Oh interesting. Season 8 Amir! I also interviewed Oliver Stark a few weeks back and he was so excited about you joining the cast. He said he hoped to work with you in Episode 9 or 10, but if not, he just really wanted to meet you. So I hope his dream came true.

[Laughs] Yeah we got to meet. It’s funny. We met in the hair and makeup trailer while I was getting my prosthetics on.

I love that for him. Before we wrap, is there a favorite memory from your time on the 9-1-1 set you’d like to share with us?

One of the things that, whether I’m back on the show or not, I will always have with me how much Peter and I laugh. We’re both Leos. We both have a very left sense of humor. I was in the makeup trailer one day and as we were going through the process of taking my makeup off there was music playing, and there was this song I really liked. I was like, “That’s a great song. Who is that?” And they’re like, “That’s Justin Bieber.” I was like “Oh my god.” And then another song I was like, “Yo, I liked that song. Who’s that?” They’re like, “Taylor Swift!” [Laughs] So whenever Peter sees me, he calls me a Swifty Belieber.

Oh my god. That is so beautiful. [Laughs] Thank you so much for that gift.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

New episodes of 9-1-1 air Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC with next-day streaming on Hulu.

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