Chicago P.D. enters its fifth season as one of the NBC’s most heralded shows. The police drama is a part of a trio of Windy City-based stories – the others, Chicago Fire and Chicago Med – and pulls details of the Midwest hub from street names, landmarks, and pull in real life scenarios of the current community.
The show is centered around the Intelligence Unit of the Chicago Police Department, a set of elite officers led by Detective Sergeant Hank Voight that are fighting back against organized crime, murders, drug trafficking and all of the other crimes that riddle the area. Apart of that unit is Officer Kevin Atwater, played by Chicago area native LaRoyce Hawkins.
For Hawkins, the role in this show serves as a dream and personal fulfillment as he gets to bring issues of a place he calls home to the forefront. Growing up in Harvey, Illinois, a city just outside the boundaries of Chicago, Hawkins has seen first-hand accounts of what goes on in the area and allows for him to inject his performance with those realities.
In the latest, and quite possibly one of the best episodes, of Chicago P.D., Officer Atwater finds himself at the crossroads of his job and his personal life when his brother becomes a witness to a crime. The episode titled “Snitch” shows the culture of not telling in both street rules and the brotherhood of the badge.
Taking out some time, LaRoyce Hawkins shared what it was like to perform in this episode, how he approaches filming Chicago P.D., where he would like for his character to go and more.
WARNING: This interview may contain spoilers of Chicago P.D. Season 5, Episode 4 “Snitch.”
For you, what is it like to contribute to a show based on the city you grew up in?
LaRoyce Hawkins: It’s amazing. A number of these stories hit close to home for me. I grew up in Harvey, twenty minutes out of Chicago. I know if they hit home for me and I can reference to real-life experiences, situations, then they work. I know the people who live right in the heart of Chicago, on the blocks that we talking about, it hits them too. As a Chicago artist, I’m honored to be able to represent those stories on and off the screen in a way that I feel like Chicago can be proud of.
With the Atwater character you get to see a lot of street aspects due to his connection to his neighborhood and knowing how things work, do you feel the show as a whole or castmates draw off your personal experiences?
LaRoyce Hawkins: I think its advantageous for me as an artist to be able to have personal references. The show just kind of benefits on the back end. It allows everything to be real and dope as possible. I think Chicago itself is the main character of the show does a great job in allowing people who not from Chicago be able to find a voice or something to attach to. Chicago is that diverse, that real, that good, that bad, that ugly.
In this episode, it gets real for Atwater when he finds out his little brother has witnessed a murder suspect leave a crime. Have you found yourself like in situations to where your personal relationships intersect with the no-snitch culture?
LaRoyce Hawkins: Yeah, enough in a way – what I wanted to make sure happen with this story, not just me, we all wanted to make sure my personal experiences kind of navigated the way that Atwater dealt with the situation and the way that he is a cop, a black person and having family in the situation. I think that allows my voice to speak on my personal experiences. I told my brother [in the episode] in personal experience that he’s not a snitch because he doesn’t have anything to do with the situation. You weren’t involved in the crime, so for you to give me this information doesn’t make you a snitch so don’t let anyone put that on you. I can only say that because I had to tell that to someone personally in my own life. Rather he was on the right or wrong end of it.
The no-snitch idea is available to all cultures but it is predominantly associated with black people. As an actor do you see it as a gift or a curse to be able to showcase certain situations or stereotypes on screen?
LaRoyce Hawkins: Everything is a gift and a curse when you think about it though. The gift that I’m afforded as an actor is that I get to try to have a voice against that cliche. The no snitch idea is similar to every cliche they try to put on black culture, you know, like black on black crime. I put it in the same category as that. Where is like you can’t talk about the what without the why. You can’t say that you are the culture of people who don’t comply with the police, you must also talk about why we don’t trust the police. I think Atwater in this episode does a great episode of finding that soft balance as a cop working in Chicago and I’m thankful for that opportunity as an actor because it helps me broaden a lot of perspectives on humanity.
The snitching concept also affects the officers, Ruzek and Upton on the scene with a suspect and even a moment of similarity when Voight with greenlights your shooting of a suspect until the rest of your team arrives. With all that goes on in society today, how much do you think those elements occur? And how important is it for you to have that as apart of the story you guys tell?
LaRoyce Hawkins: I think it happens all the time, in many different ways. I think we represent the stories of the cops that you get to see go home with the decisions they make on the job and how it affects their lives as real people. Then how they adjust their lives to make sure they do their job better. We represent those people and I think that’s kind of dope. I think the snitch concept is represented in one of the most authentic ways that I can see network television portray it. It allows the voices of the character but also for the humans that play the characters.
As a watcher, this episode is one of my favorites but also has one of my favorite action sequences period.
LaRoyce Hawkins: Bro, you thought that was dope? It was, wasn’t it? I didn’t know it was going to turn out like that.
Exactly, having it start out with the music and as soon as you guys break down the door it just drops, just silence. There is no background music. You only get gunshots and a foot chase.
LaRoyce Hawkins: I did not know the chase was going to be acapella.
It’s dope because you don’t receive any music again until it’s you and the suspect. What makes it interesting is you have the most to lose, you can arrest or you can shoot and you can see the intensity in your character. How do you bring that level of acting to a moment like that?
LaRoyce Hawkins: On those scenes, it’s important that you have the energy on set. Prepare like how I would imagine LeBron James would approach a basketball game. It’s like I really have to win this one. I was on the basketball team before I started entertaining so I kind of have that basketball mindset to almost everything I do as an actor. We did all that running in that day and I was switching units shooting two scenes at one time – the chase scene and the break-in at the same time – then there was a bunch of different things going on that day. I approached the day like I have to put up 36 points today, I got to have at least 15 rebounds, I got to have a triple double today. When you approach your work with that type of aggression and competitive spirit it comes out like that. I have other actors who approach the scenes the same way and it’s going to work every day and being in the playoffs. That’s the town we can give this entire season for Chicago P.D. I feel like we have been making the playoffs for the past four seasons. In this fifth season we not just trying to make the playoffs, we trying to make the conference finals. I think you’ll see the episodes reflect that.
When approaching this story or others similar, is there a level of consulting that goes on for preparation with community members, law enforcement for accuracy?
LaRoyce Hawkins: We have a cop consultant who in my humble opinion is the heart and soul of the show. His name is Brian Luce, he is the tech advisor, he helps the writers write the scrips to make sure they are accurate in language and jargon. He has now been promoted to associate producer and I think you can see that in this season also. Apart from that real grey area and high-intensity action, it feels darker, it might be because the dog is off his leash a little bit in Brian Luce. This season has been a pleasure in growing with everybody. Erin LaSalle has been a great addition, Rick Eid and his experience as a writer. He wrote this episode and I take my hat off to the brother because he did a great job with this one. the director Terry Miller too.
Where would you like to see your character go in the future?
LaRoyce Hawkins: I would like to see Atwater continue to struggle. With these dope dichotomies they throwing at me we can take that to another level. I also wouldn’t mind maybe a love interest or something. If we can start there maybe we can start giving Atwater somebody to look at. Just somebody to look at. I’m not even trying to date them like that just want the lines to say “Atwater supposed to look at her.” Even if it said that I would be happy. I’m joking, I’m honestly down for whatever, I want to grow. Where he goes I can’t say, that’s above my pay grade. But as long as he grows when he gets there I’m going to have a good time.