LaRoyce Hawkins shines as Officer Kevin Atwater on the hit NBC police drama Chicago P.D. It’s easy for him to connect with the show and his character, considering he’s an Illinois local who hails from the neighboring town of Harvey. Growing up in Harvey wasn’t easy. Like his character, Hawkins used his circumstances to motivate him to cultivate a better future.

Hawkins first originated the role of on Chicago Fire before being part of the crossover on Chicago P.D., he remains a recurring character on Chicago Fire. 

In this week’s episode, “Burnside,” as the team digs in on a murder investigation, Atwater realizes he has a very personal connection to the case.

Ahead of the episode, Hawkins spoke to Shadow and Act about the storyline, his work on the show, the development of his character, what the show means to him and the city of Chicago and how he’s using his platform to impact others.

The whole franchise does a really good job of the whole idea of “art imitating life” with its storytelling. How excited have you been to be part of a show like this?

It’s a dream come true, to be honest with you, especially as a storyteller. You don’t expect to be able to watch your dreams manifest in your backyard the way it has for me being from Harvey, Illinois and really having authentic references to the city of Chicago, having authentic references to the character that I play and the characters that my character plays against. There’s definitely a parallel there that I never knew would grow into something this powerful. From the beginning of when the show started to now, I know I’ve grown, but so has everybody else, especially the writing staff for us to be able to make the stories, whether they’re from the headlines or from our hoods or, what happened and be able to just tell the truth, commit to the truth week in and week. To us, that’s our favorite part.

You being an Illinois native, being from Harvey and having that hometown connection, you spoke about the reward that it’s been to have those points of reference and to see the parallels in not just your life, but I’m sure the lives of others that you’ve seen around you. Could speak a little bit more to not just the connection as far as the parallels that you’ve seen in your own life or the lives of others in the show with having it hit so close to home?

I think Atwater represents a piece of the culture that exemplifies the difficulties of what it means to not just be a Black cop but to be a Black student, to be a Black entrepreneur, to be a Black hustler. There are these layers or these nuances that we get to add to these stories, especially when we tell stories as we do in Thursday’s episode. It seems like the culture really cares about these stories. I’m grateful for Ike Smith, who wrote this episode, grateful for Gwen Sigan, who’s our new showrunner now, who’s just opening up all of these different textures that we’re not that used to, especially this season…when you think about protest art…when you think about even the prison system. To be honest with you, as flattered as we are to hear the comments from police officers who are like, “Oh man, y’all are so dope. I’ll take y’all on a ride-along any day.” Because they feel that confident in how we prepare those characters.

When I hear people who have been incarcerated or people who are familiar with the prison system, they feel the exact same way. When you go to jail, that’s almost all crime dramas are constantly on there. For them to feel like they’re also connected in an authentic way, to me that’s another side of the compliment that we forget about sometimes. We’re doing something that, especially cop dramas now, today, aren’t tackling that heavily and I’m grateful to be a part of a show that’s not scared to do that.

With so much going on in the country with police officers and often negative interactions being what we see in the media, it’s been good to see how Chicago P.D. has tackled the stories and see the police force highlighted positively. What’s that been like as an actor to portray the story in a more positive light?

Once upon a time, we got this award for the way we tackled the stories that were difficult to talk about – very sensitive topics such as sex trafficking, gang violence, drug overdoses, things of that nature. It’s not easy to tell stories in a way that the victims, the families, and people who are disconnected from it can still connect to it authentically. And so we take that seriously as we learned that that was something that we were good at doing, we continue to lean in, because the commitment on our end, especially as a cast and the crew is to the truth more than anything. And sometimes for some of these situations, it’s not always that black or white. Sometimes it’s a little gray and sometimes everybody’s right and nobody’s wrong. And for us, we think that tells the most authentic story.

Getting into what’s been taking place this season, especially this week’s episode your character finds themselves in kind of a sticky situation with a case that hits closer to home. With the love interest being tied into this case and how things unvravel, what are you excited for viewers to see?

I think more than anything, I’m just excited for fans to see a different kind of love or a love that’s layered with more than the crisis bond that we’re used to seeing between my partners. All my partners are partners, essentially. And so for us to deal with the very blue love consistently, and then for us to watch a dynamic of Black love that is layered with something else, because she doesn’t even know that I’m a cop. So there’s no hiding behind the badge. There’s no defending Blackness for either of us. It’s just is. And you get to watch two Black people that are attracted to each other’s minds and that see and hear each other’s hearts outside of trauma. And naturally, trauma ensues because of Chicago P.D. But the foundation of it really has little to nothing to do with trauma. Which I think is cool. And then you watch them navigate the trauma. Through love and a commitment to want to be better, that we’ll see a dope half of tonight. And then hopefully we continue to see layers of it throughout the season.

The show is in its ninth season it doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon, especially with the crossover element on Chicago Fire. I think that one of the things that fans love the most is that we get to really go on this journey with all of the characters. Whereas when you have shows that have sort of shorter tenure, obviously there’s a cap there, but season over season the writing has just gotten better over time. What are you hoping for moving forward on the show with your specific character besides now having a love interest? How are you hoping things develop moving forward?

The Chicago Sky, the WNBA basketball team, just won their first championship. And Candace Parker said something that I think was legendary that I think the City of Chicago can stand on and live by as far as our legacy is concerned. Recently, I was talking to a brother named Pirate who was the first transport van driver that I met in the whole One Chicago World. And he started on Chicago Fire and he’s been here ever since for that whole tenure. He still remembers me when I started over there. We were talking about how long these shows have been going on. And these are the longest-run shows in Chicago television history. And it didn’t really hit me like that until he told me that. And I was like, wow, even Chicago Med and that tenure. Before this, there hasn’t been a show that has really gone past five years in Chicago. So for all of us to be a part of that history, I’m really just looking forward to how it pans out. I really can’t wait for time to equalize it for all of us. And so I’m just going to just stay in the pocket and keep doing my best. We’re going to keep on telling these stories. We know that nothing lasts forever, especially the good stuff. I’m going to keep leaning in and enjoying it until it’s over. And then when it is, I think at that point we’ll be able to truly tell what happened. What we’re doing right now is still kind of hard to see exactly from the inside looking out. But I can’t wait to be in that position to be able to look back on our work and be like, “Wow, we, we did something pretty powerful.”

Outside of the show, you’re definitely the definition of a Renaissance man. You’re an artist, you’re a musician, you’re a poet and you recently helped to curate the Harvey World Wall, which is in your hometown of Harvey, Illinois. How did you get involved and what are you hoping to continue to contribute to your hometown moving forward?

We’re excited that it’s finally complete. It was our first mural as a team and the local artists were extremely diligent. The city was extremely cooperative and it seemed like the patrons of the city have adopted this mural as something that they know and understand will last forever. I remember watching murals go up when I was a little homie and they’re still on those walls and they might need touch-ups at this point naturally, but they last forever and they become a part of the fabric of the city. We wanted to lay a foundation of light that we knew would grow. The city of Harvey is afflicted by some the same turmoil that inner cities have to deal with when it comes to the lack of resources and there are things of that nature. And as I’ve watched darkness grow in my city, I’ve always been intentional about how I can add light. So that we can have a balance. So we’re looking forward to more murals…more murals that add symbolism to the city that’s not the same alcohol or cigarettes that we see being branded and marketed in our city. But if we can get other brands involved. We are thankful for the Chicago White Sox who helped us out with this mural. And so hopefully other brands that we know are positive and want to help the hood will continue to contribute to these murals and we can add balance to the symbolism that we see. But we’re looking forward to it. We’re definitely looking forward to more and glad this one is complete. We haven’t found a way to celebrate softly, but we will soon.

Chicago P.D. airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.