LOS ANGELES – Parents of children interested in show business may be tempted to go the Hollywood or New York route. One fast-rising actor has another suggestion: Move to Red Wing.
Yes, that Red Wing, home of a world-renowned shoe company, Treasure Island Casino, four-star dining at the St. James Hotel — and the intimate Sheldon Theatre, the country’s first municipally owned theater.
It’s the Sheldon and the city’s 17,000 residents that are largely responsibly for hometown hero Patrick Flueger’s passion for acting, which has led to a starring role in NBC’s “Chicago P.D.,” the latest procedural series from “Law & Order” chief Dick Wolf.
“It couldn’t have been a better place to grow up,” said Flueger, 30, following a news conference last week in which Wolf dismissed Minnesota as a potential shooting location for TV series because it doesn’t have strong enough theater communities. “The town supports the arts like it was sports.”
The Flueger family, so prominent in Red Wing that there’s a road named after them, encouraged young Patrick to take full advantage of the city’s creative opportunities. Many of them revolve around the Sheldon, which dates to 1904 and went through a major renovation in the late 1980s.
Flueger got his first chance to be on the Sheldon stage through a program for local elementary-school students called Arts Alive, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
In the early days, founder Dona Macaulay-Bradt took her most enthusiastic veterans to schools to help promote the initiative. A fifth-grader named Flueger was among them.
“Patrick was just great,” she said. “I could almost sit down and let Patrick sell the program.”
Flueger’s interests weren’t limited to acting. As a teenager, he fronted a popular local band, Sleeper 7. Although he left the group after getting cast in Garry Marshall’s 2001 comedy “The Princess Diaries,” he remains friends with its members, including guitarist Josh Huot, who is his roommate when he’s in Los Angeles.
“He’s a sweetheart,” Flueger said of his former bandmate. “He just reminds me of where I came from, and where I came from is a grounding place.”
The unpretentious setting impressed “Chicago” cast member Laroyce Hawkins, a Chicago native who accompanied Flueger to Red Wing last Thanksgiving — a trip that included his first sighting of a deer, a cheese-curds crawl and a session of Christmas carols with the Flueger family.
“I thought it was great,” said Hawkins, who wowed Flueger’s nieces and nephews with a killer “Five Little Monkeys.” “There’s a real appreciation for nature. That’s special.”
There’s certain to be more opportunities for other “Chicago” cast members to come home with Flueger. The actor, whose other credits include the smash miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys” and the sci-fi adventure “The 4400,” is determined to keep Red Wing in his DNA.
“One of the best things I was ever told was, ‘Act without ego,’ and I grew up with that mind-set,” he said. “My dad told me he’d kick my butt if I ended up being a jerk to anybody — as he should.”