Aisha Hinds did not plan to sign on to another procedural drama. After cutting her teeth on such shows as NYPD Blue, ER, Bones, Law & Order: SVU and CSI: NY and Miami, Hinds was in the middle of shooting Godzilla: King of the Monsters in the summer of 2017 when she took a call from the casting director Liz Paulson, who wanted to gauge her interest about a starring role in an untitled Ryan Murphy project. Knowing Murphy’s artistic vision and past track record with Liz’s sister, Sarah Paulson, Hinds was immediately intrigued.
“I had a meeting with [Murphy], and we started talking about first responders,” Hinds tells W. “Ryan had a very personal experience that informed the genesis of this show—one of his children was in crisis and the paramedics came in, and they were helping his child. That really interested me because I was guilty of overlooking the people who are doing this kind of work every single day and are probably the most valuable people in the world, to be very honest.”
While she was essentially returning to a familiar genre, Hinds believed that Murphy and his production team would be able to “break the procedural drama mold,” even if it took them a few episodes to find their footing. Five seasons later, 9-1-1, which returns on March 21, is FOX’s highest-rated scripted series. The show marks a new career highlight for Hinds, who plays Henrietta Wilson, a firefighter paramedic at Station 118 of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
In a recent Zoom interview, Hinds spoke with W about the importance of normalizing Black queer representation with Hen and her wife Karen (Tracie Thoms), the challenges that lie ahead for the 118, and the product that has been “a game-changer” for her daily routine.
With the departure of Michael (Rockmond Dunbar) last fall, Hen and Karen have become the only main LGBTQ+ representation on the show. They have certainly had their fair share of ups and downs as a couple, but they have always fought to keep their family together. What does it mean to you to broaden the representation of the Black and queer communities with your characters?
It’s an honor and it’s a responsibility that I don’t take lightly. Every time I run into people outside of the show, I’m always hearing very personal stories about the impact of Hen, or the impact of Hen and Karen, or the impact of Michael. It continues to give deeper purpose for me into why it is that I do this show, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to give voice to Hen and to represent Hen in a field of work that’s heavily populated by white cisgender men. I’m grateful that she’s in this container of network television. It gives inspiration to our viewers but also beautifully normalizes the presence of the LGBTQ+ community.
Do you have a favorite Henren scene?
I think anything that involves us fighting for our children—like, do not play with the Henren family! Anything that involved when we were fighting with the social worker or the dad or even the woman who [Hen] had the whole affair with. Just making sure that they are doing what’s best for their children, whether it’s Denny or whether it’s their foster children.
Do you ever wonder about how their relationship came to be? Would you be open to exploring that in a “Henren Begins” episode similar to the one Grace (Sierra McClain) and Judd (Jim Parrack) had on 9-1-1: Lone Star?
Oh, for sure! Grace and Judd are amazing—they’re my favorites. Tracie and I were friends before this project started, and [we] also talked about that. What happens is, we get these scripts and then new information comes out and we’re like, “Oh, had we known that was coming, maybe we would have infused some of the [acting] choices that we made in our previous scenes toward this.” So it would be nice to have an opportunity to explore our own origin story and how it came to be, because they are quite an interesting couple. Some days, they feel like polar opposites, and some days, they feel like a perfect pair.
In the premiere, Hen doesn’t want to accept her new teammate Jonah (Bryce Durfee), because she is so used to having her best friend Chimney (Kenneth Choi) by her side. What do you love most about the dynamic that Hen and Chim share, and how strange was it for you to not work with Kenny for an extended period of time?
Listen... That is my heartbeat, okay? [Laughs.] Once you work with Chim, there is no other him. While I was super warm and welcoming, it just wasn’t my Chim and it wasn’t my Kenny. It wasn’t a far stretch to find the disdain that Hen had for accepting any new faces—and especially a partnership—because the chemistry of those relationships happened so organically that we were just building a foundation on something that was so strong. Kenny is such an incredible talent, an amazing energy, a wonderful actor. And as much as Kenny makes me laugh and makes me feel safe and inspires me, it’s the same for Chim and Hen.
So it was quite interesting just having to go through the different people that were coming in, and I was just like, “Oh man, what’s happening here?! Is this forever? I need somebody to come and talk to me!” But everyone who came in understood the dynamic. They have a friendship, as well as a working relationship, which are both forces to be reckoned with.
Last December’s midseason finale ended with the bombshell that Eddie (Ryan Guzman) is leaving the 118, which throws another wrench in the fractured dynamic at the firehouse. What can you preview about where this show picks up a few months later?
We ended [the first half] with this fractured dynamic and [the 118] trying to figure out how to plug the holes and bring in very capable people who are able to do the job. There’s a point [earlier in the season] where Chimney went off [in search of his girlfriend Maddie, played by Jennifer Love Hewitt, with their young daughter, Jee-Yun] and he was about to not say goodbye to Hen, and she was saying, “I would have gone with you.” I think we all want to support one another in the things that they need to do. Like, Eddie feeling like he had to do what he had to do to make his son feel safe—we understand that on the one hand, but on the other hand, it’s like, “How do we make your son feel like you’re safe and keep you here?” You can’t do two things at the same time, so you have to surrender to people’s journeys.
We had to hold what was left in place, so it was Hen, Buck (Oliver Stark), Bobby (Peter Krause) and Probie [Ravi] (Anirudh Pisharody), and Albert (John Harlan Kim) joined the fire department, and then we have Lucy (Arielle Kebbel) and Jonah. So it was kind of trying to figure out who fits where, and can this work? As we get toward the end of the season, you kind of see the rat pack come back together, which is what we’re all hoping and waiting for.
I’ll be honest: the first half of the season felt like a completely different show.
That’s what we said: “It’s like we’re shooting a whole different show every week!” And we would just try to hang in. We shot a scene about a week or two ago where it was all of us, and we couldn’t wait to get to work. We weren’t even seeing each other in [real] life—people were shooting different things in different places, so we wouldn’t even see each other in the trailers or on the lot. Being there all together—and when I say all together, it was like old cast, new cast—like, 100 of us on set one day! [Laughs.] Having the originals all back together was really nice.
Let’s move on to the Beauty Notes questions: What’s the first thing you do in the morning, beauty-wise?
I’m lying there for a moment, scanning my body to check and see if there is any residual pain from the day before or the way that I slept. I think your skin is the worst secret-keeper, so in the morning, you can feel whether your eyes are puffy or where your face feels tight. Then, I get a glass of water to hydrate, and do my daily regimen of cleansing, toning, and moisturizing. I kind of give myself a facial wash from the inside by doing hot yoga as much as I can. I think that’s one of my favorite things for my skin.
You’ve worked on TV and movie sets for the better part of the last two decades, so you’re used to getting your hair and makeup done. What are the most important beauty tips and tricks you’ve learned throughout your career?
To make sure that you cleanse your skin after you’ve worked. When you are working and you’re putting on makeup every single day, you have to be intentional about getting that makeup off and breaking it up. I worked on a film for Netflix called The Perfect Line that’s coming out later this year, and I got to work with a makeup artist named D’Angelo Thompson—he showed me a product called the Tatcha Cleansing Oil. It was a game-changer for me.
I put it on before I even put a cleanser on because it breaks up the makeup, and it won’t leave any residuals, whereas if I just wash my face with cleanser, soap, and water, it may still be deep in my pores. Then, I take the makeup remover and it wipes it all off like magic, and then I cleanse.
What’s the best bit of beauty advice that you ever received, and who was it from?
Probably my aesthetician, D’Andre Michael. It was essentially to sleep and drink lots of water, and I was like, “Oh, sleep. Got it!” [Laughs.] But we also have been doing these monthly facial treatments using DMK products, and I’ve been loving the results.
Is there a beauty product you can’t live without?
Probably my lipsticks! [Laughs.]
Do you have a favorite shade or brand?
I’ve got to have my MAC Ruby Woo, or the Lip Bar’s Bawse Lady or Boy Trouble.
Both 9-1-1 shows are anchored and elevated by the power of Black women—such as yourself, Angela Bassett, Gina Torres, and Sierra McClain—but your characters have also touched on the importance of letting go and taking care of yourself. How do you practice wellness and self-care?
I do yoga as often as I can, because it’s the thing that helps to take care of the inside as well as the outside. It’s the thing that helps me to be mindful of my thoughts, it’s the thing that helps me to be mindful of my breath, and I think those things are foundational before I start to do the work of taking care of the external vessel. Once we can be intentional and consistent with taking care of our insides, then our outsides tend to follow suit. While I can go for massages and I can go for walks in the canyons—which are things that I love to do—ultimately, I’m doing those things to bring back something that went askew inside, whether it’s mentally, emotionally, or physically.
What’s your ideal spa day, and where would you go?
My ideal spa day is getting a full body massage—at least 90-minutes deep tissue, [because] those hour massages are just, like, somebody applying lotion. [Laughs.] And anywhere on the Caribbean sea all across the world—just hearing the water, the waves rushing against the shore.
What’s your nightly bedtime beauty routine?
For many, many years, I used to suffer from cystic acne, and I was afraid that putting on too much moisture would clog my pores and the acne would become inflamed. But I didn’t realize my skin was starving for moisture. I stopped being afraid of applying moisturizer, so I tried to apply enough moisture on my skin at night so that when the body dehydrates overnight, it’s not panicking and creating more oil than necessary, which then creates those pimples. So I do a nice wash, I try to get in the shower and stand in the steam for a little bit to get my pores open so that I can really get deep into those pores. I do an exfoliation with Murad products three nights out of the week, and then I apply the moisturizer and the vitamin E serum overnight.
I can’t leave you without asking about your impeccable sense of style. Who are some of your biggest style inspirations?
Probably Grace Jones, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Diana Ross. It’s the opportunity for me to make sure that I’m not boxed into the roles that I play and [to] push back against the idea of what Black women should look like. [It’s] a love letter to my younger self, to all the little girls who are younger versions of who I am right now. I didn’t have a “me” to look at in many media spaces. Growing up, I saw a very specific aesthetic that I was supposed to look like and to dress like, and I was never that. I try to represent another option and to inspire courage to be bold, to make choices, and to find your own lane in the world.