SPOILER ALERT: This story contains spoilers from “Does One Door Close and Another One Open?,” the Season 8 finale of “Chicago Med.”
Nick Gehlfuss is hanging up his lab coat. The actor, who has portrayed Dr. Will Halstead on all eight seasons of “Chicago Med,” has exited the series, making his final appearance on Wednesday night’s Season 8 finale. As Will left the hospital following the many changes at Gaffney, he reunited with his ex-fiancée, Natalie (Torrey DeVitto, who made a surprise appearance in the episode after leaving at the end of Season 6).
“It was a difficult decision, but ultimately, I felt I’d taken Dr. Halstead as far as I can go with him. I think that comes down to a creative part of you, or the energy or spirit you have that you’re either built for a very long time with one person or not,” Gehlfuss tells Variety. “I am attracted to the profession for the variety in it, and eight years is a long time. It’s two college degrees! I’m joking now that I basically have a doctorate in television.”
Filming the finale was an poignant process for Gehlfuss.
“It’s overwhelming, because of all the emotions. It wouldn’t be that way if it didn’t mean so much. It’s like with love, if you truly love somebody then you’re going to have very high moments and very low moments, because it’s just so important to you,” he says. “It was important to me to give everyone an advance notice of me leaving so that we didn’t finish cold turkey.”
The finale was filmed in mid-April, about a month and a half after Gehlfuss let the team know that it was time to leave. “The first person I was calling was the reason for all this, Dick Wolf,” he says of the show’s creator. “It was very important to me that he heard it from me first. And then I guess it was a trickle effect from that point.”
While Natalie and Will’s reunion “feels appropriate,” it wasn’t always the plan for the pair to end up back together. Once he let the creative team know he was leaving, the discussions about a possible Manstead ending began and he waited for the producers to reach out to DeVitto.
“I’ve kept in touch with her, so it wasn’t as if we hadn’t seen each other since she left the show. But it was great to see her,” Gehlfuss says. “We fell right back in to our work rhythm as if we didn’t have any time off. It was a beautiful moment, and one that I hope bring some closure to the fans. Because this relationship has come full circle for Will and Natalie. I think Will was seeking elements of Natalie in every relationship that followed their breakup. He never really got over her.”
Being on “Chicago Med” since its debut in 2015 — appearing in all 163 episodes — Gehlfuss will take a few lessons from Will with him as he goes.
“The name William means protector or protection. He protected his patients as if they were his family. The way in which he was so committed to his work and what he was called to do in this life, the passion he had with all of that, I will never forget,” he says. “He would take risks for people. Now, there could be conversation about was he putting his personal stuff in the way of his work sometimes? Did that muddy situations? Yes. I will never forget to remind myself that the lesson I learned that Will Halstead may not have learned, which is to leave your personal stuff out of your work! I’ll never forget how he’s also a fighter. He just he just fought for whatever he felt was necessary for himself or his patients.”
Now, Gehlfuss is hopeful he will get to explore a new character.
“I’d love to be a cowboy,” he quips. “I’d love to get outdoors. I love being outside. Ultimately, I want to develop new, different characters. It was a real gift to be able to explore one character for eight years. TV allows that possibility of course, and so I look forward to doing so again.”
Of course, the door’s never closed in the One Chicago universe, should there be an opportunity for Halstead to pop back in. “We were all in agreement on that, thankfully, as I talked with Dick and the writers,” he says. “Whenever it makes sense again for important moments, I’d love to don the white lab coat once again.”
Before we wrap our interview, Gehlfuss asks if he can speak directly to the fans, since he’s not active on social media.
“It’s no secret, without you, we would not have jobs. One of the most important things we can give to one another as our time. So thank you all for your time and your support. I have been so flattered by the amount of people that have come up to me to say something positive about One Chicago and my work. That is the best confirmation of the contract between audience and storyteller. While Will Halstead is leaving, One Chicago is not. Enjoy the seasons to come!”
The One Chicago world has undergone many cast changes in the last year, with “Chicago Med” seeing the most turnover. Guy Lockard, Sarah Rafferty and Asjha Cooper all left earlier in the season, as did Brian Tee, another original series star.
“Chicago Med” will return to NBC in the fall.