Former Redbird stars on new NBC show Chicago P.D.
When Chicago-area native LaRoyce Hawkins was a student at Illinois State, he was always trying to bum a free ride up north or borrow money for an Amtrak ticket.
The young actor wasn’t homesick. He was job hunting.
While in Normal on-and-off from 2006-2012, Hawkins would constantly travel to Chicago to audition for movies, TV shows, or commercials, hoping for a small role with a couple lines. Now, all that hard work has paid off, with Hawkins landing a series regular role on NBC’s Chicago P.D., a spinoff of the hit Chicago Fire that premieres Wednesday night.
“That’s why I love and appreciate Illinois State so much,” Hawkins told STATEside. “This is where most of the dream came alive for me. All of the ups and the downs, right here.”
The Chicago P.D. role is the former Redbird’s biggest to date, putting him in a cast alongside recognizable faces such as Elias Koteas, Jon Seda, and Sophia Bush.
The Harvey native’s journey to primetime TV began at Thornton Township High School, where he went to play basketball but fell in love with speech competitions instead. Hawkins found his niche doing comedy events, and even won state titles twice.
“I knew I was gonna be an entertainer,” Hawkins said during an interview last week at Illinois State’s Alumni Center in Normal.
Hawkins came to Illinois State as a freshman in 2006 and majored in acting, but in only his second semester he was cast in a supporting role in The Express, the 2008 film about Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. (One of the casting directors was an Illinois State alumna.) Hawkins took about a year and a half off school.
But he came back at the end of 2007 to hone his acting skills and finish his degree.
“I wanted to be a real actor. I didn’t want to be one of those fly-by-night cats that hits the ground running, gets a hit or two, and then kind of disappears,” Hawkins said. “I wanted to come back and gain the tools that would help me have a long career.”
Hawkins made a name for himself on and off-campus, hosting open mic nights and other events, performing standup comedy, and with student groups like the Black Actors Guild.
And he kept auditioning. He booked a guest spot on TV’s Detroit 187 (ABC) and some commercials while at ISU. (You can read his entire bio on the Chicago P.D. website.)
Joining the Chicago P.D. force
Hawkins finished at Illinois State in 2012. He appeared on three episodes of Chicago Fire as Officer Kevin Atwater, as producers laid the groundwork for the P.D. spinoff.
Hawkins is in the middle of shooting episode 10 (of an expected 13) of the first season of Chicago P.D. As a comedian and family man, Office Atwater is infused with a lot of Hawkins’ own personality. Hawkins also drew on positive experiences he’s had with law enforcement over the years, including his former basketball coach, who was a cop.
Hawkins is the show’s only original cast member from the Chicago area. That adds to what Hawkins describes as an authentic look into the neighborhoods and grit of real Chicago.
“Chicago is a character itself, which is pretty cool,” he said.
It’s tough work—like the day he shot from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. the next day—but that’s nothing new for Hawkins. Most of the actors who make it learn how to grow thick skin and have faith in themselves, he said. And this former Redbird is still thankful for the support he received from the School of Theatre and Dance and the entire campus community.
In fact, his brother Lamar Hawkins will be enrolled at Illinois State for the start of the spring 2014 semester. He plans to major in acting too.
“It’s been a long, hard road,” LaRoyce said.
Follow LaRoyce Hawkins on Twitter for updates on the show.
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.