‘9-1-1’ Star Jennifer Love Hewitt on Maddie’s Heartbreaking Return to Baby Jee-Yun, ‘Complicated’ Chimney Future

911 5×16 | May calls Bobby her dad
911 5×16 | May calls Bobby her dad

SPOLER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Boston,” the March 28 episode of “9-1-1.”

“9-1-1” made its long-awaited return from its midseason hiatus last Monday, and this week’s installment included the even longer-awaited return of Jennifer Love Hewitt to the Fox first-responder drama’s Season 5. During the episode, viewers learned where Maddie (Hewitt) has been all this time, and why she wouldn’t come home to Chimney (Kenneth Choi) and their baby girl Jee-Yun.

It turns out Maddie tried to die by suicide by drowning herself in the ocean amid her postpartum depression, which had been exacerbated by Jee almost drowning in the bathtub when Maddie dozed off. While in the waves, something stops Maddie from going through with her attempt, and she ends up going to Boston to be admitted into the hospital where she trained as a nurse. After several days of tests, it is discovered Maddie actually has postpartum thyroiditis, and with hormone treatments and outpatient therapy, she is expected to heal. Cut to six months later, Maddie is in a much better place and almost ready to go home to L.A., though still very afraid to do so, when she runs into Chimney — who has spent months on the road with Jee looking for Maddie — while they are both trying to help injured people on the streets of Boston on St. Patrick’s Day.

Variety spoke with Hewitt about returning to the show following her real-life maternity leave, Maddie’s reunion with Chimney and their daughter Jee-Yun, and what the future holds for Maddie in the back half of “9-1-1” Season 5.

What was the process for shooting the suicide attempt scene in the ocean, including Maddie’s decision to change her mind, which she later says she did for Chimney and Jee-Yun, and how that would be depicted on screen?

I have this weird little pocket in my body where Maddie sits emotionally, and it’s a very full place because of all that she’s been through. So I just kind of had to focus on that place. For me, I just wanted to visually look really terrible. And I think I pulled that off. But I wanted it to look that way. I didn’t want it to look like the TV-show version of somebody who’s about to do that. Even in the storyline in Big Bear, where she fought for her life against her ex-husband, there was a determination in her and a feistiness in her that I have always tried to keep. And in this, I wanted that to not be there anymore. So the only thing we talked about was truly seeing somebody that was tired and exhausted from being themselves and playing out their own life story. And the idea that I would just sort of walk out there as quickly as possible and as determined as possible to not have her be here anymore. We didn’t really talk about the part where she changes her mind. I knew that that was part of it, but we don’t really discuss that.

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And then we got out into the water, and because filming takes a while, as we were getting out there, the waves started getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And I love to look at the ocean, but I’m not a big, “Hey, let me jump in the waves and have them beat me to a bloody pulp in the middle of the day” person. So as it was getting stronger, it started getting scarier for me personally. And I had a safety guy with me who would pick me up or duck me underneath the giant waves. And the idea was that I would sink under the water and I would just stay there for a second. And I did and then something happened in sort of the coming up of it, and the camera guy kept going, so I kept going. And we just sort of played that changing your mind moment. I actually haven’t seen the final cut, so I don’t even know if that’s still in there where you see her change her mind. But that’s kind of what we did. And we only did two takes of the whole thing. But it was really weird. It was daunting for me to know that I was going out there that day to do that, and then to think about where people are when they reach that moment. And knowing that there are so many people out there that do, I really took that very seriously and fully thought of them in that moment and then found strength in her changing her mind.

‘9-1-1’ Star Jennifer Love Hewitt on Maddie’s Heartbreaking Return to Baby Jee-Yun, ‘Complicated’ Chimney Future

In Maddie’s first interaction with Jee-Yun since she left, she bursts into tears realizing how much time has gone by and how she will never get those six months back. What was it like shooting that portion, versus the end where Maddie is able to connect with Jee by singing to her and it shows Jee does remember her mother and goes to her?

We finally got to the point that what gets Maddie to go home is the forgiveness from her daughter. And in that scene where she kind of remembers her and walks to her, that was really important for us because, ultimately, Maddie’s story was about her dealing with years and years and years of all kinds of trauma. And her needing to truly remove herself from her own life in order to heal. But it was also about, how do you, as a grown woman, make a mistake as a mother and then get a person, who doesn’t know how to forgive, to forgive you for it so that you can move forward. That’s a really challenging thing that happens in relationships with parents and children all the time. I have looked at my kids a thousand times as babies and gone, “Oh my gosh, I was not as great as I wanted to be today,” or, “You got the stitches and I couldn’t help it.” And you search them for, just please tell me you’re going to forgive me or you’re not going to talk about this therapy when you’re 35. And the truth is, they can’t give you that because they’re not old enough. But what they can give you is love you unconditionally and that makes me want to cry. That’s what moms and kids and fathers and kids and parents and children do beautifully. It is unconditional love. It just is. It’s what we search for our whole lives that we get in that moment with these little people. When we did that scene where Maddie has to just kind of get out of there, there was no preparation for that for me. I really just stood there and thought, “God, if I had missed six months with either one of my kids, I would have to grow a new heart in order to even make it, truly.” And I felt for her in that moment, and I think that was her turning point of, whatever I’ve been running from and whatever I still have to fix, I have to do it while I’m being a mom because if I’ve lost too much time, I’ve just lost too much. And then in the end, when she forgives her, in the way that babies and kids can do, it’s beautiful. And of course she goes home, of course, which is so nice.

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‘9-1-1’ Star Jennifer Love Hewitt on Maddie’s Heartbreaking Return to Baby Jee-Yun, ‘Complicated’ Chimney Future

With her ready to head back to Los Angeles after that moment with Jee and Chimney, what can you tease about Maddie’s arc the rest of the season?

The one thing that is what it is, from the end of the Boston episode through the season, is that Maddie is well enough and 100% ready to be a mom. And so she goes into that. She is there, she is focused. It’s not about whether or not she’s going to go back to work, or whether or not she is going to sit in a bunch of rooms with people and explain where she’s been or whatever. She is hyper-focused on being a mom, making up for lost time and proving to herself and to Chimney that she can be the mom that she started out to be, even though she got detoured by a lot of trauma and mental health struggles. So that is through the rest of the season and an ongoing. As far as Maddie and Chimney are concerned, it is complicated. And I think we have to keep it complicated because if we didn’t, it would feel like everything we put everyone through was for nothing because then we would have fixed it all right away. And that wouldn’t be real.

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Honestly, with people who have as much trauma as Maddie has had and as much trauma as Chimney has had in his own right, two people coming back together that easily and it all just being wrapped up in a bow would feel like, at some point again, one of them is going to break. What we want is whenever Maddie and Chimney find their way back together, if they find their way back together, that it is for good. We’re not going to still have life issues, but hopefully all of the big crazy stuff is behind them. They will have done the right work to get it back in the right place. So it’s complicated. The thing that I like to say about Maddie and Chimney is everything else got messed up but their love and everything changed for them when she left, but the love didn’t. And that won’t. So it’s just how to get it back to feeling normal again, or new and different, or not at all. But the love is the one through line for the two of them, that nothing will break that.

I really want them actually back together soon, though!

I promise you will get your answer sooner rather than later.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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