[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday's fall finale of Chicago Med, "Free Will."]
Thursday's fall finale of Chicago Med ended not with the sound of a patient flat-lining or a code red alert, but with a little night music - played by none other than series star Nick Gehlfuss.
"I was really honored that they asked me to do this," the actor tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I didn't go in the recording studio so I did this all live and they mic'ed me. In that sense, it brought a different sort of nerves."
Although it may have been a first for his character, Dr. Will Halstead, it was a nice case of #TBT for the actor, who made a living performing on his guitar in New York City when he was first trying to make it as an actor. "After school, instead of going into the restaurant scene, I very consciously took my guitar around everywhere I could, to Irish pubs and restaurants and I played four nights a week to make ends meet," he recalls of his gigs. "It secured a meal for me, that was a big part of it for me, and it was a lot of fun."
Although music has been a longtime passion, Gehlfuss says it was his first time performing in front of the Chicago Med team. "But everyone is so great on set and they gave me immediate feedback, as I knew they would," he says. "They kept me giving me a bunch of support. That's really one of my favorite things about the job other than the nature of the job, obviously, is this group; it's like a second family when you join a Dick Wolf show."
Onscreen, the reason for his musical turn was a joyous one as well: a move-in party for Will and girlfriend Nina Shore (Patti Murin). "Will's very happy with Nina," says Gehlfuss. "She's this bubbly, kind of quirky, great addition to his life and in the midst of a lot of chaos and dark times within the hospital and a doctor's everyday goings on, she's a light for him."
It's a major turn of events for Will given the strong feelings he harbored for his colleague and friend Natalie (Torrey DeVitto) last season. He eventually made his feelings known, but she ultimately shot him down because she wasn't ready to date following her husband's death.
The two have since maintained somewhat of a distance from each other, especially in light of Natalie's blossoming relationship with resident Jeff Clarke (Jeff Hephner). "He's having a great time. Natalie's involved with someone else. Its clear she's moved on, and I think he's doing his best of moving on as well," says Gehlfuss. "It'd be different if there was no one in her life but I think they're both doing what they need to do to keep their personal lives going and not living in a what-if sort of world."
However, Will moving ahead - and in - with Dr. Shore hasn't kept him completely out of Natalie's orbit. In Thursday's episode, the two worked together on a case involving two feuding brothers brought together when one was in desperate need of a kidney. The catch? The other brother was HIV-positive. "It's something that they both will take away and share forever," says Gehlfuss.
It's safe to say they've come a long way from season one, when the two butted heads about patients several times. "I think the nature of his feelings got in the way," says Gehlfuss. "In an effort to move on from that, they've come to a point where they are able to work more effectively. I think they'll still always challenge each other, that will never go away; it's just how they do that, and a lot of that had to do with will not allowing his feelings to get in the way of work, essentially."
Will may be doing a better job of keeping his cool in the ER, but that doesn't mean he's completely closed the door on a possible future with Natalie. "It's not a light switch. You can't just turn it back off; you don't compartmentalize those types of things. And the very nature of the proximity of them working together, certain things flare back up and you deal with them, you figure things out," he says. "I don't think that those feelings will ever go away. What will become of them, we shall see."
Will's new maturity is something Gehlfuss says he's noticed across the board for his character, particularly now that he's done with residency and in a mountain of debt thanks to medical school costs and soaring malpractice insurance costs.
"I think he realizes with his current situation, some of his old ways cannot exist anymore. He's realizing he has to respect patients' wishes no matter if they differ from his. We saw in the marathon episode that he will still do whatever he can for the sake of a patient. If there's an opportunity, even if its risky, he will go after it," he says. "So we see him stepping up and taking charge, and I think you will start to see him bestowing more of what he's learned from his experiences on to those around him."
Although it's been a struggle for his character, Gehlfuss is quick to praise showrunners Andrew Schneider and Diane Forlov and the rest of the writers for his onscreen money woes - "that's the honesty of doctor's lives," the actor says. Another important shift for season two, according to Gehlfuss, has been the increasing number of scenes outside the hospital, such as the move-in party and the recent marathon episode.
"It keeps us fresh as far as viewers not knowing what's to come every time we come through the door in the hospital. If we're there, you kind of know what's happening, but this allows for much more unpredictability and really, we're showcasing the city. We're telling Chicago stories that are for everyone, but they're specific to Chicago and I love that we're getting out. We run into fans every time we're out and they're the best."
When asked about shooting outside of the heated hospital as the temperature drops, Gehlfuss says it will be a "good kick" in the butt. "Hey, I think it's great for the show so that's what you do. You suffer for your art, right?" he says with a laugh.
After all, it wasn't that long ago that Gehlfuss was performing to make ends meet and score a $1.50 plate of spaghetti, meatballs and sausage.
"I've come a long way since then but those days, the struggle of the beginning of everything, is where you find out what you're made of and certainly the most interesting days."
Chicago Med returns with new episodes Thursday, Jan. 5 at 9 p.m. on NBC.