EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Cast and Creator of 'The Chicago Code' Talk About Taking On the Windy City
"The cuffing is really hard," said Lauria on the show's Chicago set last November. "Every time I screw it up -- the shirt gets stuck in there or something."
But Lauria ('Friday Night Lights') and Jason Clarke ('Brotherhood'), who play cop partners Caleb Evers and Jarek Wysocki in the Fox drama, received on-the-job training from the show's police advisor, Detective John Folino, said that Lauria's handcuffing skills had improved a lot.
"It was a challenge, but he worked really hard on it," said Folino, a 12-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department.
Lauria wasn't the only one to struggle with those bracelets, at least. It takes hundreds of arrests before slapping on the cuffs is second nature for real police officers, Folino said. And Lauria's eager character, a young detective partnered with the gruff but legendary Wysocki, still has a lot to learn.
"The advantage of working with Jarek Wysocki that he's the best in the business, and you learn from the best," Lauria said. "The disadvantage is there's a lot that's unexpected, and some things might put you at personal risk."
A lot of things put the characters at risk in 'The Chicago Code,' in particular the quest of the city's new police superintendent, Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals), to clean up Chicago's notoriously entrenched corruption.
In the show's pilot, Colvin enlists her old partner, Jarek Wysocki, in that effort, but as I noted in my review of the promising, well-acted Fox drama, Jarek's rashness and Teresa's ambitions get them into trouble at times. Still, Teresa is not a woman who is easily deterred, Beals said in an interview.
"I think that she has a view of the bigger picture," Beals said. "Jarek fights this war one dead body at a time. I think she's looking to root out the problem, and she knows that you can't do it just one dead body at a time. You have to change the community and change the paradigm. You have to take a political position that sometimes isn't particularly popular ... And she's already upset the established order by being a woman."
Beals had worked with 'Code' creator Shawn Ryan on 'Lie to Me,' and when she heard he'd written a genre-defying cop drama about her hometown, she was very interested in getting her hands on the script. Teresa's strength and determination appealed to her, as did the complexity of the top cop's relationship with Jarek, but Beals said she was also pleased that her character is at the center of the show's stories.
She was tired of scripts in which women were "only the emotional center of the story (and) you have nothing to do with the action," Beals said. "It's Hera as opposed to Athena."
Teresa is very much the prime mover in the efforts to uncover the shady dealings of powerful alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo), and Jarek is one of the few people she trusts to take on that task.
"He loves his job," Clarke said of Jarek. "There's just a certain pace that he's used to now. I'm sure it's like guys in the Army -- even though it's very dangerous, they just want to keep going back. There's just a way of life that's very close to the edge."
"I tried to have that character embody the city of Chicago," Ryan said. "It's the broad shoulders and all that, and yet there's a politeness in Chicago that you don't get in other places." (Part of that politeness is Jarek's distaste for foul language, which also happens to align with broadcast network language restrictions.)
Unlike Beals, the Australian Clarke had to work constantly on his Chicago accent. As we sat together during a rare moment of down time for the actor, his dialogue coach came by with a new list of words for him to practice. "I'm excited about this!" he joked.
"It's very hard work. I don't have a life," Clarke said of the demands of being the lead of a network drama. But 'Code' had a number of attractions for him, he said. There were the complex stories about corruption, the development of Jarek's complicated personal life, and getting to shoot cool episodes like the one being filmed that November day, which involved a bank robbery and a chase on one of the city's elevated trains (the episode was the 10th one filmed, but it'll be the third that airs).
"Fox are putting a lot of money into the action sequences," Clarke said. "I mean, we're hijacking trains. It ain't cheap."
But taking on high-profile crime is part of Jarek's job description. Thanks to Teresa, he can pick and choose any case he wants.
"We just basically do what we want," Clarke said. "Or I do what I want, and [Caleb] follows. He comes along for the ride."
Jarek, Teresa and Caleb are not saints, however. That's good news for audience members hungering for multilayered characters on network television, but you have to wonder if the Chicago Police Department was nervous about the way that cops are portrayed on the show. After all, creator Shawn Ryan's FX drama 'The Shield' didn't exactly depict L.A. cops in a positive light.
In a meeting with police officials, "I did say that on the whole I have a fondness for the city and this is a show that has a fondness for the police," Ryan said as he watched a scene being shot in Chicago's renowned Gibsons Steakhouse. "Ultimately I think [the characters'] intentions are good. What I said to them was [that] my intentions toward Chicago are good and intentions of officers we're depicting are good, even though they make mistakes along the way."
"And that's real," added Folino. The show did indeed receive the full cooperation of the department, and many cops have served as extras on the show.
Folino was the first person Ryan showed the 'Chicago Code' script to, so that the Chicago cop could catch any inaccuracies about police work. But before Ryan even sat down to write the pilot, he asked Fox's head of production if shooting the series in Chicago was feasible. If the Rockford native wasn't able to shoot 'The Chicago Code' in the Windy City, he didn't want to make it at all. It was indeed doable, and every frame of season 1's 13 episodes was shot in and around Chicago (the pilot alone filmed in 65 different locations).
As a native, I may be biased, but I think 'Code' does an excellent job of not just showing off the gorgeous landmarks Chicagoans know and love but also exploring neighborhoods, stores, houses and intersections that feel distinctly ours. Whether or not you like 'The Chicago Code,' you certainly won't wonder if it was shot in Vancouver.
"I think most viewers are hip and savvy to when you're cheating stuff," Ryan said. "If you're an interior show or 'Battlestar Galactica' and you're on a ship, that's one thing, but to do a show that's out in the streets, out in the world," you have to be true to that world.
As much as aesthetics matter, the show will succeed or fail based on how well it balances all of its ambitious goals. After all, 'Code' is not your typical cop show, and it's trying to build an ambitious serialized saga as well as tell entertaining weekly stories. The drama will have its work cut out for it, but if another Chicago-set drama, 'The Good Wife,' was able to make that balance work, there's every chance the well-crafted 'Code' will be able to do the same.
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