Denis Leary was blushing. Just a little.
The subject at hand was the spank bank—as in, “Who’s in your spank bank?”
As in, when self-pleasure is your goal, whom do you fantasize about?
A firefighter friend of Mr. Leary’s—upon whom the actor-comedian partially bases his Rescue Me character, New York firefighter Tommy Gavin—mentioned that a smoke-eater colleague let slip that another fireman’s wife featured prominently in his spank bank. The disclosure, unsurprisingly, led to a heated firehouse argument.
After Mr. Leary heard the story, the premise quickly got written into an early episode of the fourth season of Mr. Leary’s hour-long firehouse drama, Rescue Me, which returns tonight to FX, the cable channel. It became part of a bawdy scene in which Tommy and his crew share the names in their own particular fantasy pantheons.
Tommy: “Ellen DeGeneres.”
Sounds of incredulity.
Tommy: “Hey—you ever seen her dance?”
But when the question was put to Mr. Leary himself (“So—is it too personal to ask who’s in your spank bank?”), sitting in a Soho boîte north of Canal Street, Mr. Leary’s cheeks reddened. Just a little.
“Umm, that’s reserved,” said Mr. Leary, momentarily at a loss for words.
On the day of our meeting, he wore a black linen sport coat over a dark olive T-shirt, jeans and work boots. In person, Mr. Leary is taller than he seems in films like The Ref or The Thomas Crown Affair. Based on his machine-gun spray of comedy—whether as MTV’s Nicotine Fiend (the ads that first got him noticed) or his comedy specials, No Cure for Cancer (1992) and Lock ’N Load (1997)—you would assume there’s a small-man complex at work here, but he’s tall and solid.
As he approaches 50, his face seems constructed of sharp edges, right down to that prominent scalene triangle of a nose. He’s more laid-back than you’d expect—at least until he gets wound up. Such as when he starts talking about how he’s learned to deal with the public.
“I was reading David Mamet’s new book and I threw it in the trash, but then I pulled it out, because why give him the satisfaction after I paid good money for it?” Mr. Leary said, warming up. “I love his writing, but I hate it when it’s in books. But he said something that stuck with me. Essentially, it was that I’m at the age where I don’t give a shit what people think.
“Like, I was talking to someone and a stranger came up and said, ‘I don’t mean to interrupt,’ and I said, ‘But you just did.’ Or there was this photographer following me and my kids, taking pictures of my daughter, who obviously didn’t want her picture taken. And I finally said, ‘Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, bothering a 15-year-old girl who doesn’t want her picture taken?’ And the guy kind of slunk away. Sometimes, when you say the flat-out truth, that’s enough. I usually don’t have a can of beans handy, like Hugh Grant; the only thing I have to throw is my cell phone, which I need. So the truth, well, it’s easier than throwing things.”