LaRoyce Hawkins Stars And Eriq LaSalle Directs “Chicago P.D.” Episode About Police Involved Shooting
NBC is set to air an especially sensitive episode of “Chicago P.D.” Wednesday night called “Night In Chicago,” where Detective Kevin Atwater goes undercover to bring down a dangerous drug lord and ends up in a difficult situation after a traffic stop turns into an officer involved shooting! Eriq La Salle, who directed the episode, spoke with BOSSIP exclusively about working on the show.
“The first thing I told LaRoyce [Hawkins, who plays Det. Atwater] was we owe it to a lot of brothers and sisters who can’t tell the story,” La Salle told BOSSIP. “It’s our responsibility now to make sure that we tell the story right and that we represent that. That was really the start for me.”
“I’ll never forget that call,” LaRoyce Hawkins told BOSSIP about his initial conversations with LaSalle about the episode. “What I love about working with Eriq La Salle is his excitement for the job. This was a story that really touched him, written by Ike Smith who is a Chicago native, and actually I am from the Chicago area, and Eriq La Salle thought it was really important that we made this story so authentic and real to the people who have actually been in those experiences, to the people who have actually been pulled over, to people who haven’t been pulled over to the people who don’t understand and the people who do. I like to think we tell stories for everyone’s perspectives, even the people you might not like in this episode. Atwater gets jammed up and the struggle for power gets political and uncomfortable but at the end of the day it’s a night in Chicago that I don’t think anybody can really run away from.”
With a plot that feels pulled straight from the headlines, the show ventures into some complicated waters, particularly after some of Atwater’s superiors try to place the blame for the shooting on him, saying he should have disclosed his undercover status to diffuse the situation.
“I think when these kinds of things happen, officer involved shootings, now there is somewhat of a vulnerability or a perception of a vulnerability because people are becoming more vocal and things need to be criticized,” La Salle told BOSSIP. “We’re not telling anybody how to think… We’ve become so segregated and divided, not to point out the obvious, but things become very black and white. If you’re from the black community you see it this way, if you’re from white community you see it this way. That’s not necessarily true, people have their own opinions. We don’t try to force feed any of our stories, we basically just put it out there and let the audience decide which side of an issue they fall on.”
One of the cops who makes the traffic stop is blatantly racist — something that viewers will likely grapple with while watching. The other, La Salle says, is simply doing his job. At the end of the day, Atwater will play a major role in deciding whether or not to publicly burn the offending cop.
“The piece of advice that Atwater takes to heart is from Voight, when he tells him ‘Win lose or draw, you have to live with yourself at night. Whatever is going to allow you to go to sleep peacefully is ultimately the best decision or the right thing to do for you, that might be the truth, that might not be the truth,’” Hawkins told BOSSIP.
The highly acclaimed Wendell Pierce has a crucial guest role on the episode, as a local Alderman whose own political agenda only further complicates matters for Atwater. Both Hawkins and La Salle heaped praises on his performance in the episode.
“Wendell and I go way back, we went to college together,” La Salle told BOSSIP. “He’s an amazing actor. For me it’s just bonus when you get to go basically play with one of your boys who happens to be extremely talented. He makes us all look good and I’m thankful for him and appreciative of what he contributes. I think his character having the potential mentor role over an Atwater in this episode is really interesting, but it’s really about Atwater finding his own way and being his own man and standing on his principles and what he believes is right no matter what. He’s really torn, he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. Wendell represents the community… so if Wendell is saying ‘Maybe you should lie a little bit,’well you have to decide where your moral compass is. That’s a major theme of this episode.”
Hawkins told BOSSIP he saw the opportunity to act in a scene with Pierce as a dream come true, especially because it coincided with other meaningful milestones for his character.
“The relationship with Wendell Pierce’s character Ray Price and Atwater is really interesting,” La Royce Hawkins told BOSSIP. “I’m excited about where that relationship can go. That was my first scene with him… Just off the strength off the relationship, I think that Atwater respects Ray Price, even though he knows that Ray Price is a politician. I just appreciate Wendell Pierce for being so gracious in that scene and not just running circles around me because I am a big fan of his work. He’s a dynamic actor… It’s a lot of dreams come true for me on this show. This episode brought a lot of those things out, like I’ve always been a fan of Wendell Pierce, to be able to work with Mikelti Williamson and be directed at the same time by an Eriq La Salle. That’s pretty amazing for me as a young black man, so I learned a lot.”
La Salle and Pierce weren’t the only pair of longtime friends on set either. Hawkins told us he and the actor who played the racist cop, Officer Doyle, have a lot of history.
“Actually I met the cop that plays Doyle, who is the racist cop, I met him in high school,” LaRoyce told BOSSIP. “We used to compete against each other in speech. We ended up going to college together, he’s actually a real good friend and he was probably the perfect person for us to explore that energy with because he and I were so close. But he’s a great actor, he did his thing, I believed him, but for topics this sensitive it was almost extremely perfect for me to be working with a homie like that.”
Fans of “Chicago P.D.” know that this isn’t the first time the show has touched on such sensitive matters, particularly when it comes to race, and Eriq La Salle said it’s not just coincidence. He credited “Chicago P.D. writer and showrunner Rick Eid for not shying away from tough conversations. There’s a moment between Det. Atwater and Officer Adam Ruzek where Ruzek acknowledges his whiteness will never allow him to truly experience what Atwater has to deal with, but he pledges to have his back regardless of his lack of understanding.
“I think that to me sort of represents what I was saying about Rick Eid,” La Salle told BOSSIP. “We gotta just start having honest conversations about race and gender if we hope to make any progress. A man has to be able to talk to woman, a white man has to be able to talk to a black man and so on. We have to be able to talk and we have to be willing to own what we don’t know and that’s what I love about that conversation between Ruzek and Atwater. ‘I don’t know and I’ll never know but I got your back’ We have to be able to say what we know and what we don’t know and that scene is my relationship to a degree with Rick. He teaches me certain things and I teach him certain things but we both respect each other as men. One happens to be black and one happens to be white and we respect each other as men that we’re able to have conversations.”