'Station 19' Star Danielle Savre Heats Up 'Grey's Anatomy' Spinoff With a Personal Touch (Exclusive)

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The 29-year-old actress talks to ET about her career and the inspiration she's carrying with her on ABC's new firefighter drama.

It’s a chilly February afternoon and actress Danielle Savre, seated at a tiny table in the back corner of a bustling Burbank coffee shop, can’t help but reminisce about her first major starring role in MTV’s little-seen 2007 scripted music drama, Kaya, where she played the titular singer struggling with the pressures of becoming an overnight success. “That was such a growing experience for me. That was the first time I was ever a lead on a show,” Savre admits, a special fondness evident in her voice. “That was the only other time I got along with an entire cast like I do now. We were family for life and that’s how this is going to be with this cast.”

The cast she’s referring to is Station 19, the highly anticipated Grey’s Anatomy firefighter spinoff led by Jaina Lee Ortiz and longtime Grey’s star, Jason George, chronicling the lives of the heroic men and women of the Seattle firehouse located just three blocks down from Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. In the 10-episode midseason series, Savre plays Maya Bishop, the fun-loving, ambitious and uber-competitive best friend to Ortiz’s Andy Herrera -- who is also an ex-Olympic athlete (a tidbit that will be further explored). “We’re like a perfect puzzle,” Savre, 29, says of her co-stars. “Every single person is so different that we complement each other. There’s no arguing. No one has issues [with anyone]. We respect each other. We just work together really well.”

Unbeknownst to Savre, she had been preparing for Station 19 years before the series was even a seed in creator Stacy McKee's brain. Her older sister, Stephanie, is a real-life member of the Los Angeles Fire Department and Savre recalled experiencing first-hand, through her, the ups and downs that often come with being a firefighter. “I was there with her for every call, for every upset, every success, every graduation, orientation -- everything. I went to multiple family dinners at the firehouse. I’ve been on ride-alongs with her,” she says, affectionately calling her sister her personal "hero." “I had seen a lot of stuff through her eyes, which really prepared me for this role."

But first, she had to get the part. When the pilot script for Station 19 got to Savre last fall, she wasn’t 100 percent sure she was in the right mindset to sign up for another television show. Too Close to Home, TLC’s Tyler Perry soap Savre toplined for two seasons, had just been canceled and she was, admittedly, in a bit of a creative and professional rut. “I did not think I was going to get it,” Savre says of Station 19, confessing that she may have had one or two breakdowns in her car. (“It’s funny how actors have low self-esteem about these things,” she jokes.) For much of the audition process, Savre operated without the full script (she went on a total of three auditions), an experience that raised her anxiety levels and forced her to act like an amateur sleuth (for the longest time, she believed Andy Herrera was a man). At one point, she called up her manager and intimated that she may need to take the rest of 2017 off in order to “decompress.”

Thankfully, she didn’t have to. The day Savre found out she scored the role of Maya, she was doing some much-needed retail therapy for her quaint Calabasas, California, home. “I was in the middle of Ikea shopping for a bookshelf. I was jumping up and down, bawling my eyes out. People thought I was psychotic,” Savre says with a chuckle, reliving the absurd visual. “To this day, you still have to pinch me that it’s actually happening.” She pauses for a moment before she relays an anecdote about her overall enthusiasm for Station 19. “People on set always laugh at me and say, ‘Danielle, your excitement is going to die down, knock on wood, by season three.’ Like no, I always want to be this happy on this set and to be doing this. It doesn’t get better than this: I’m playing a real-life superhero on a job that I never even thought I had a chance of getting.”

Danielle Savre (left) and Jaina Lee Ortiz play best friends, Maya Bishop and Andy Herrera, on 'Station 19.' - ABC

While Savre seemingly had a leg up on the firefighter lingo over her castmates, thanks to her sister, she and her co-stars -- which include Grey Damon and Miguel Sandoval -- went through a rigorous three-day training regimen once it came to getting down to business. From the drill tower to intensive real-world simulations, the Station 19 crew went through it all. “The important thing we needed for the pilot was to make sure it looked like we knew what we were doing with our gear. It was a lot of getting comfortable with our turnouts,” Savre says of the 70 pounds of weight firefighters wear on their backs while on duty.

As one of three female firefighters featured on the show, Savre noted there were other considerations she wanted to portray through her performance in a field dominated by men. “My sister taught me a way to put your mask on so it doesn’t pull your hair and what she, as a woman, would wear when she’s not in uniform,” Savre shares, adding that one point her sister communicated to her was the importance of “maintaining her femininity.” “My sister is tough; she is very muscular. She has hair down to her butt. She likes to wear shimmery Chapstick. It was interesting to hear she’s been told ‘Maybe you should cut your hair,’ ‘Maybe you shouldn’t wear your shimmery lip gloss,’ ‘You shouldn’t wear your Spandex pants.’ Things like that resonated with me because she’s had to fight those little tiny things [and make the point that] 'I’m still able to save the victim.'”

With the debut of Station 19 approaching (Grey’s fans caught an early glimpse of Andy Herrera in the March 1 episode), the show offers a little something different outside the addictive soaps of Grey’s and Scandal. By virtue of what the characters do, Station 19 is more action-packed and fast-paced in its storytelling. In the two-hour premiere, the firefighters find themselves battling an ethanol fire and dangerous apartment blaze, the latter of which sees the captain fall ill, prompting an unexpected power shift. Worry not, it is a Shondaland show -- you better believe there are tangled romantic webs and will-they-won’t-they lust.

Not much is known about Maya outside of her being the Cristina Yang to Andy’s Meredith Grey, and Savre was coy when it came to discussing her character’s romantic entanglements. “She’s very open-minded, I can say that -- if that means anything to you. I do not have a love triangle yet,” she hints, with a glint in her eye. “But as far as love stories go, for Maya, her first and foremost love is her love for her job. She’s definitely more the free-spirited, have-a-fun-time [type of girl]. She’s in love with her job and that will always have precedence over any other person, besides Andy.”

Savre and company are currently knee-deep in production on the eighth episode of the season and every day on the Hollywood set feels very much like the first day of school still. “We laugh a lot. If anyone sees our Instagrams, you’ll see that,” Savre says of her tight-knit Station 19 family. “The stuff we’re doing is so dark. When they say ‘cut’ and we go to our cast chairs, we just have to laugh because we’re out there yelling and screaming, the gear is heavy, your feet hurt, your back is killing you. Instead of [complaining], we’re out there cracking jokes. We all know how lucky we are to be on a show like this.”

Station 19 launches with a two-hour premiere Thursday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC, following Grey's Anatomy.