Yet never boring, either.
Again, think Pacino, but in his riveting quieter moments, using that raspy croak, sounding like a man who has arrived to break your legs, but it's nothing personal. You might even say if Emanuel were an actor, he's doing something savvy in the way he employs that flat, grave persona on camera, building tension and resonance by playing off the lasting impression of his old role as an explosively profane intimidator.
Actor Michael Lehrer, who portrayed Rahm at The Second City last year in "Sky's the Limit (Weather Permitting)" — partly because he's short and has gray hair, he said — told me he wouldn't think of playing the mayor anymore "as an angry, swearing guy who makes things happen with the flick." That's become a dated character. Now he'd go for "a still, no-nonsense politician who isn't going to give an inch emotionally."
Of course, it needs to be pointed out that there is show business in the mayor's blood: His brother Ari Emanuel is an extremely high-powered Hollywood agent (and co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor, which lists Wolf among its clients). Also, famously, Rahm Emanuel himself was a serious student of ballet, and he has a master's degree in speech and communication from Northwestern University.
It's also not his first time on an NBC series. He could be seen in an episode of "The West Wing," which famously modeled the character Josh — Bradley Whitford's deputy chief of staff — on Rahm Emanuel. (Incidentally, when I asked NBC to speak to Wolf or others associated with "Chicago Fire" about the mayor's cameo, the network declined to offer anyone up; a spokesperson said they would like to keep Rahm's cameo a surprise, despite having released a clip five months ago.)
And, to be honest, there are occasionally cracks in Rahm's theatrical presence.
For instance, the commercial that recently carpet-bombed Chicago television in which the mayor sits close to the camera and explains the city's new contract with its public school teachers. Forget what you think about the contract itself: Despite being produced by Emanuel adviser John Kupper (a former speechwriter for former Mayor Richard M. Daley and a former adviser to Michelle Obama), the mayor appears more shifty-eyed and uncomfortably mellow than he does addressing a room of press from behind a podium.
Then again, if you consider that his predecessor played this role for decades, the part is still evolving.
William Howell, who teaches American politics at the University of Chicago, said: "Being a Chicago mayor comes with so much cultural baggage, being so identified with the Daley family and a certain kind of Chicago, and that's partly what we are seeing, a mayor settle into his part and position and make it his own."