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Emmy Nominee: Denis Leary

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It’s tough work but fighting fires has been kind to Denis Leary. The actor has garnered a loyal following and his first Emmy nomination with his FX show Rescue Me, now in its second season. PEOPLE recently caught up with Leary, 48, who gave the inside scoop on how real those onscreen fires really are, his son following him into showbiz and why kids’ movies make him cool.

How do you film those trademark fire scenes?
People don’t understand how many fake fires are happening in Manhattan – fires that the Rescue Me cast has to put out. It’s real fire, but it’s controlled by us. Without fail, the real firemen get called because somebody’s looking out a window and says, “Oh my God, these kids are trapped in a burning bus!”

Do real fireman ever pitch storylines?
Almost all of our stories are based on real stories that come from different guys that I know. And we’re going to mention the New Orleans fire department this season because that fire department has been decimated. They lost 22 out of 36 houses. Those guys came to visit the set and a lot of the guys from our set had been down there to help them deal with (Hurricane) Katrina.

Your 16-year-old son Jack also works on the show.
Jack works as a (production assistant) on the show when he’s out of school. Last year he played a kid with his head stuck in a fence.

Will your wife be making a cameo next?
No, he’s the only one. Acting is kind of what he wants to do, so the reason I gave him the P.A. job is that I wanted him to find out what it’s really like to work on a TV show – you get up at 5:30 in the morning, you work 12 or 14 hours. He accepted it and loved it. In return for that, I gave him a couple of small parts so he could get used to acting on camera.

You voiced the tiger Diego in the Ice Age movies. Why’s your voice so distinctive?
I don’t know.

Wager a guess.
I guess I sound like a tiger, which nobody ever said to me until the Ice Age people called me years ago.

They told you that?
Yeah! And they called me to be the ladybug in (1998 s) A Bug s Life. I thought that was pretty funny. I tell you, kids’ movies are the easiest things in the world to do. . . . You can just go into a room, look like s—t and stand in front of the microphone all day. Plus, all my nieces and nephews automatically think (I’m) cool.