Kara Killmer has come a long way since making her acting debut on the Fort Worth stage.
She was a 10-year-old from Crowley, taking theater classes at Casa Mañana, when she was cast in her first role.
“I was an elf in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” she remembers.
No one realized it at the time, but a star was born when she stepped onstage. “I caught the acting bug,” Killmer says. “And I’ve been doing this ever since.”
Sixteen years later, she co-stars on NBC’s Chicago Fire, which airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays.
She joined the cast this season as Sylvie Brett, a paramedic who transferred to Firehouse 51 after a bad breakup.
“I feel like I’ve won the lottery,” Killmer said while in town during a Christmas break from shooting. “I know a lot of talented people who have been in this business for years and they’re still hoping for their big break. Believe me, I know how lucky I am.”
Between emotionally wrought relationship scenes and tense rescue sequences, there’s never a dull day on the set of Chicago Fire.
“I didn’t really have any clue what firefighters did before I worked on the show,” she says. “In my head, I had some very general ideas about putting out fires and rescuing cats out of trees. But once you get into the nitty-gritty of what they do, they are responders to every kind of emergency that happens.
“What I do on the show is totally pretend, of course. If there were a real emergency, I would not be the one to call. But it’s great knowing that what I do on the show kind of magnifies and edifies what these real-life heroes do on a daily basis.”
Killmer did ride-alongs with a paramedic and trained in some basic procedures, such as taking blood pressure and inserting an IV, so she could look as authentic as possible.
“We don’t want paramedics watching the show and saying, ‘Nope, that’s wrong.’”
Lucky for Killmer that she’s not squeamish about blood. The red stuff is actually just a concoction of corn syrup and food coloring, but it looks mighty convincing and there are gallons flowing freely in virtually every episode.
“The worst part about the blood is that the sugar in the Karo syrup attracts bees,” she says. “So sometimes we’ll be shooting a scene outside with a lot of blood and it will be frustrating because there are bees flying all over.
“You’re in a scene and there are bees crawling on your radio, bees crawling on your hand, and you’ve got to pretend they’re not there.”
That’s something they didn’t prepare her for when she was studying her craft at Baylor (Class of 2010).
Killmer thinks the casting director and producers selected her because she’s like the character in many ways.
“Sylvie Brett is a small-town girl from Indiana,” she says. “I’m a small-town girl from Crowley, Texas. I think they saw a familiar spirit in both of us and decided it worked.
“Also, the creators of the show, Derek Haas and Michael Brandt, are Baylor grads. So we had something in common when they asked me about my experience at Baylor.
“And they took a chance, gave me a job.”
Killmer also is the leading lady in Beyond the Mask, a feature film scheduled to open April 6. It’s a swashbuckling action-adventure set in the time of the American Revolution.
“Ever since I was in high school, my dream role was to be Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean,” Killmer says. “This movie was my chance to do that.
“I got to wear the corset and all the pretty dresses and we did all that adventure and romance stuff, so I had a blast.”
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