LaRoyce Hawkins plays Officer Kevin Atwater on NBC’s Chicago P.D. Hawkins recently chatted with us about the importance of representing his hometown, that crazy season three finale and what lies ahead for Atwater in season four. Check out our chat below, and tune into Chicago P.D. every Wednesday night at 10/9c on NBC!
You’re born and bred in Chicago. What does it mean to you to star in a show about your hometown in your hometown?
“I’m from a small town outside of Chicago called Harvey. Harvey is actually where the producers and writers made my character from. One of my favorite parts about the whole demonstration is that I get to play a guy who is from my hometown. My hometown is very reflective of Chicago in the sense that there’s the violence, gang activity and depleted resources. It’s reflective of the part of Chicago that gets a lot of bad press. My favorite part about the whole story is that I get to be a good example of what can come out of Harvey, specifically. I like to think that I can provide some kind of positive press, or be a positive example to the kids who want to act or the kids who have dreams, period- whether they want to act or not.
I take being from the Chicago area very, very seriously. It’s a responsibility that as an actor, I take a lot of pride in. I haven’t been acting that long. I’m not going to act like I’m a veteran in the game by any means (laughs), but we didn’t really get auditions because not a lot of things used to shoot in Chicago. But to be the lead on a series, or to take our talent that seriously- I don’t think Hollywood necessarily did. I think now, they’re starting to come to Chicago and not just take the talent seriously, but also take the city seriously as far as being one of those places where film and cinematography can live and produce powerful material.
A lot is being shot in Chicago right now- not just the Dick Wolf shows, but important shows like Empire, new shows like The Exorcist and APB. A lot is going on in Chicago now, and it’s dope to be one of the few Chicago artists that are actually from here who get to represent it.”
What’s your favorite thing about Atwater?
“(laughs) He’s a lot like myself, and I think that’s what I love about him. I learn a lot about myself just from going through these Atwater experiences. He’s so loyal. He’s a role player- he understands his position. He doesn’t get out of pocket. Atwater came from a sports background, so he knows what it is to be on a team and have your role. If you do your thing, everything else is going to work out.
You might get introduced to another member of his family this season. He’s a big family guy. Out of everything that I just said, I think my favorite part about him is how much he takes care of his family. His Dad is in jail; his Mom is not alive, and so the responsibility is on his shoulders to take care of his family. I think he does that. His family is the reason why he’s a cop in the first place- so he can protect his family from the inside- not just the outside.
He’s driven by love, loyalty, and faith. To find that in a cop- especially in Chicago- those are qualities which are very, very rare. Those are the kind of things that I try to learn from him. LaRoyce learns from Atwater every day.”
If I remember correctly, we’re going to meet his brother, correct?
“Yeah! We’re going to meet his little brother.”
Can you tell us anything about that? Does he cause trouble or anything?
“He’s a good kid. He’s not going to cause any trouble. The most I can say is that he might find himself in a situation where he just shouldn’t be there. He’s around the wrong people at the wrong time. He’s not causing any trouble or getting into anything, but luckily there are people around him- like myself, Burgess and the department in general- who help him get out of that jam. You’re going to see a side of Atwater that everybody digs. It’s one of those things where Atwater could give him the hammer and let it drop, but he may or may not. The way he takes care of the situation with his family is pretty interesting. I don’t want to give away too much, but it’ll be a dope moment for people to see.”
Does Intelligence know what happened at the silos in the season three finale? There was tension in the bullpen in the season four premiere.
“I think we have a pretty good idea of what happened. We’ve been around Voight long enough to know what happened. You don’t want to make assumptions- especially in Intelligence- but if there is a safe assumption, I think we are aware that Voight took care of that problem (laughs). We don’t know how he got out of it or how he’s still around. The mystery of Voight is, ‘how do you continue to keep your job still?’ He’s a very good person with bad qualities. I think it’s unbelievable all of the things we’re able to watch him do. We’re all fascinated by it, but we’re a little nervous about it, also. If he can do that to somebody and still keep his job, be around and be alive, there’s no doubt in my mind that he could probably get away with that with me.
I think we all just keep our heads down and know that whatever Voight did, he had to take care of himself. If you followed the character from Chicago Fire, you used to love to hate him. Now, he’s evolved into this character that you hate to love. That’s a testament to the hard work that Jason Beghe puts in. We know that tension is there, but we think it’s safe to assume that Voight killed the guy. We have no idea why he’s still around. That’s between him and Lindsay, and that’s a loyalty and trust bond that nobody can break.
Nor do we want to know what the hell is going on (laughs)! It’s kind of like, the more you know, the more dangerous things can get for you.”
Do you think that’s how Atwater feels?
“Yeah. It’s none of his business until it is. When it is, I’m pretty sure I have everybody’s back. We’re a family. Once upon a time, Voight told us, ‘tell me the truth so that I can lie for you.” We don’t always make the best decisions, but for us, sometimes they’re the best decisions at the time. We watched a drug dealing villain murder Voight’s son. We know who Voight is- so naturally, there’s some kind of repercussion that’s going to happen for that guy.
Would Atwater have done that? I don’t know, who is to say? Atwater and Voight come from two different worlds. If Atwater loves Voight, then he will understand that Voight is going to kill a man sometimes if he feels like he has to. If Atwater didn’t want to get involved, I don’t think he’d be in the unit. I think he’d take himself out of Intelligence if he wasn’t prepared to either take up for or defend Voight, or even hide some stuff if he has to. Atwater is definitely involved, but I think he’d rather not know if he doesn’t have to. But if he has to know, he’ll do his best with that information.”
I’ve heard that Ruzwater- Atwater and Ruzek- will return this year, but with some adult supervision. Olinsky is going to guide them- what effect is Olinsky going to have on Atwater?
“(laughs) Atwater has the utmost respect for Olinsky. He’s really fascinated by the mystery of Olinsky. It’s similar to Voight; Voight and Olinsky had this past partnership that’s incredibly intriguing. The more we learn about what they’ve done and been through, it kind of excites us kids. We want to have moments and stories like that, too. We want to find ourselves being cops twenty to thirty years from now telling young bucks, ‘Yeah, I did this back when I worked on this story.’ Olinsky loves old war stories. Atwater is definitely going to learn as much as he can. He’s going to pick up everything Olinsky is putting down. I think Ruzek is a perfect partner for Atwater to have in their journey towards cleaning up the city and creating powerful stories.
What I love about our show is how reflective it is to real life. As an actor, I’ve looked up to Elias Koteas ever since I became a Ninja Turtle fan. It’s great for me to get to work with the original Casey Jones every day. LaRoyce is as fascinated to Elias as Atwater is to Olinsky. As the history unfolds and we find out things about Olinsky, Atwater is like ‘wow- you did that? I know you’ve got a lot of stories,” and he always saves those stories for another time. I have those real life stories with Elias! (laughs) I’m like ‘wow- you did that in ’88? I was born in ’88! Tell me about that!’ And he’ll say he’ll tell me about it another time. It’s very reflective, and that’s one of the coolest parts about it. I just inform all of Atwater’s energy towards Olinsky from references that I pull in real life.”
We’ve heard Marina say that she’s always wanted to see Burgess go undercover. If you could write a storyline for Atwater or see him do anything, what would it be?
“I would love an undercover situation that involved entertainment. In real life, I do standup, poetry; I’m involved in the music scene in Chicago. If there’s a story where Atwater has to be undercover and a comedian, or a poet or artist, I think that would be fun for Atwater to play with. He’d still be on the case and still be trying to get someone out of jail or save a life, but while entertaining these thoughts of what his other life passions might be. For a couple of seasons now, the writers have been trying to play with the Atwater/standup comedy situation. It just hasn’t been able to work itself in because naturally, stuff like that can distract from the case a little bit. If we can work it out to where it’s involved in a case, I think that would be pretty cool.”
Everyone always says you’re the funny one. Was it hard to go from being a comedian to starring in a drama?
“It wasn’t, actually! Comedy comes naturally for me. I trained at Illinois State. I still take acting classes now at Second City. I think there’s something about drama that has a very human element to it that helps a comedian relate to it. It’s not the hardest transition; it’s really just finding the tone. Once you find the tone, I think there’s a lot of humor in love and what we’re doing. It doesn’t always come off as hilarious or funny, but it always relates to me on a certain level.
But I’m glad everybody gives me credit for being the funny one! (laughs) I don’t think I am. I humbly would defer to at least two or three people before myself as far as who is funniest on set. I might be able to get offset and do a standup bit, but as far as being on set is concerned, Jason Beghe is pretty hilarious. Jon Seda is notorious for freestyling Dad jokes that are just brilliant. Paddy [Patrick John Flueger] is pretty funny, too. Those are the people I’d put in front of me. I’d say I’m a hard fourth, and then Jesse [Lee Soffer] is right behind me. Jesse is actually pretty hilarious, too.”
I didn’t know Jason Beghe was funny! He seems just like Voight!
“What? No! (laughs) Oh man, he’s hilarious. I wish people could see some of the behind the scenes antics Jason has. For me, he’s one of the funniest people. The way he can improvise a random rant about anything is quite hilarious. We have really heavy stuff in our episodes. I know all the shows can be pretty heavy, but the tone of our show can be extremely dark. If you let that darkness weigh in on you and carry it around, I’m not sure our set would be fun to hang around. We try to keep it as light as possible. We never want to disrespect the stories, or the lives of the people we’re representing, but for us as artists, it’s important to keep the set as light as respectfully possible. We deal with some pretty stuff tough, sometimes.”
Sophia [Bush], Jesse, Paddy and everyone else are typically pretty vocal about what they like to binge on TV, but not so much with you. What’s on your DVR right now? What are you nerding out about?
“I’m really digging Atlanta right now on FX. I’m impressed with what Donald Glover is doing over there. I’m a Power fan. I just saw the finale, and I was like ‘wow- it got real!’ I can’t wait for the next season of that.
You know what I am going to make a mighty effort to do this season, though? I’m not going to lie to you. I’m a little ashamed, but we all have powerful schedules. I feel like we lack each others shows because we’re around each other so much. We’re on each others shows, and I think sometimes we forget to tune in. I’m going to do my best to tune into all of the Chicago shows this year. I’m going to try my best to be everybody’s biggest fan. It’s not just my show, but Fire, Chicago Med, and Chicago Justice. I’m going to make a special effort to make sure I keep up with what’s going on.
I just tried to binge watch Chicago Med, and I was like ‘this show is pretty brilliant!’ We forget that because we’re on set and we hang out with each other all the time!”
When you’re not acting, what are you up to?
“You can find me in the gym! A buddy of mine just walked in, and he’s about to help me get these muscles into TV condition- because I think that’s important. (laughs) Besides that, I love entertaining. You can find me at a random groove session, an open mic or anything like that. Anything that has to do with music, poetry, comedy or just the arts, period. I’m pretty hip to the Chicago scene, still. That’s why I’m thankful that I can work here cause I can still do all of that.
I like to spend a lot of time in classrooms, too. I go to my old high school, or I’m good friends with a lot of teachers. There are a lot of artists who are mentors at after school programs, and they ask me to come talk to the little homies. So you can probably find me doing a lot of stuff like that, too.”