Northwestern grad Marina Squerciati is back in her old stomping grounds as a cop on NBC’s new drama “Chicago PD.”
In the highly anticipated “Chicago Fire” spinoff, Squerciati plays Officer Kim Burgess, a flight attendant-turned beat cop who will do whatever it takes to make it into the exclusive intelligence unit.
The show, which premieres Wednesday, Jan. 8, also stars Sophia Bush and is executive produced by Emmy Award-winner Dick Wolf and the team behind “Chicago Fire.”
We talked with Squerciati about her role on the upcoming drama, her favorite spots in town, and why she’s so excited to be back in the Windy City.
Make It Better: Tell us about your character.
Marina Squerciati: My character’s kind of plucky, I would say, with attitude. She’s a beat cop. “Chicago PD” centers on an intelligence unit led by Voight, who is played by Jason Beghe, and he’s kind of like the father figure of this intelligence family and only lets in people that he trusts. So to be let in to the intelligence unit is a real honor.
Along with his intelligence unit, he needs two beat cops that he can trust. So he takes me, Kim Burgess, and my partner, Kevin Atwater (played by LaRoyce Hawkins), under his wing as the two beat cops that he can call whenever he needs, that are there for him, that give him information, and we’re sort of taken into the family.
My character is really eager to get into the intelligence unit. And what I love about her is she doesn’t make any bones about it; it’s pretty clear and she says it all the time, which I think is kind of sweet and endearing. Instead of trying to do it subtly, she’s really beating the drum on it.
Why were you initially drawn to this role?
I talked to a lot of cops, especially female cops, and it’s really interesting how female cops are viewed by their peers and by the people they’re arresting and the people on the streets. Some of the female cops that I talked to said, “You get more flies with honey.” And I really like the fact that Kim can be really tough in these tough situations, but also knows, because she was a flight attendant, how to get the flies with honey. She knows how to pacify a situation or pacify a criminal using a softer front, and I like that. It’s kind of the reverse of what you would think of a cop. Like a female cop would have to really come in with guns ablazing, but I think she does the opposite.
What did you have to do to prepare for the role? Did you get to do any crazy stunts?
NBC was kind enough to set up this real intense training with a couple of technical advisors from SWAT, from intelligence, from all different corners of the police unit. So we did tactical driving; we did firearms training; we did self-defense, all that stuff.
It’s been really helpful, because to walk into a room with your gun and know how to actually do it correctly so that when people are watching, especially cops, we can make them proud by letting them know, “Look, we took this super seriously. We’re trying to respect you and do this the best we can.”
What’s been the most challenging part about this role for you?
The stunts are really challenging. There was one recently where me and my partner had to subdue this really large 200-pound guy with a knife. And we had everything choreographed with the stunt coordinator, Tom Lowell, but at the same time, it’s real and it’s dangerous—and he’s swinging a knife and I have to take him down—and you get hurt. I mean, you’re wearing pads, so when you hit the floor it’s not as intense, but it still hurts! When you’re in the moment, it’s so exciting and fun and hard and intense, and you’re so focused that you don’t notice that you’ve hurt yourself. Then next morning you wake up and will just be black and blue.
How does this role compare to some of the roles you’ve played in the past?
It’s just great when you really get to play a character every single day and get to know not only your character, but the way your character relates to all the other people. There are so many people on our show that what’s so fun is to have these different relationships with each character… One of the great things about our show is that every character is incredibly distinct, so your relationship with everyone is so different.
I think that’s one of the most exciting things that people will really hook on to. Like they’ll have characters that they love and characters that they love to hate, but you’re going to have a really strong feeling about every character because all the actors have really created a whole world for each of [them].
What’s it like being back in Chicago to film?
I love being back! I got to go to all my old haunts. I remember I used to visit The Wiener’s Circle a lot in college… I recently went back and got the cheese fries.
I know the city pretty well, and it’s nice to not feel like a tourist, but feel like you’re back home. I didn’t know that I’d get to live here again after college, and I really love Chicago. Although, everyone says, when I tell them I went to Northwestern, “Oh, you’re used to the cold!” And my response is, “You never get used to this cold!”
Do you have any other favorite restaurants that you’ve been excited to go back to or check out?
A new place that we [the cast] have been to a lot is called Ada St. It’s a really fun sort of hideaway place that I’ve gone to a lot and come to really enjoy and really like the chefs.
I’m a big food person, so I’ve gone to Blackbird; I went to Next, which was amazing. I’m from New York, but the food in Chicago is, I think, some of the best in the country. It’s just so exciting the things that are happening with food. It’s incredible. Oh, and Portillo’s Hot Dogs is amazing—the best Chicago hot dog in the whole world; it’s so good! It’s the first place I took my mom when she came.
Have you had the chance to go to any shows while you’ve been here?
Yeah, absolutely! I play opposite Amy Morton, who’s my desk sergeant whose job in the show is to make my life a living hell—I don’t know what I’ve done to piss her off so much, but she just loves to run me through the wringer—and she’s a founding member of Steppenwolf. So I went with her to “The Wheel” with Joan Allen, and that was incredible.
And then I recently went to “Tribes” at Steppenwolf, and I have to say it was one of the most moving pieces of theater I’ve seen almost ever. When the lights came up, I was just stuck in my seat; everyone cleared the theater—and that doesn’t happen all the time. I was just incredibly moved, and I would recommend everyone see it.