Northwestern alum Marina Squerciati was working as a paralegal in New York City in 2013 when she received the phone call that would change everything. She had just auditioned for the Dick Wolf NBC drama “Chicago P.D.” the day before. Suddenly, she was hearing she had landed a spot in the original cast as Officer Kim Burgess.
“It was midday and I remember thinking: … Do I finish out the day or do I leave now?” she says. “I went into a conference room at the law firm and called my good friend and we both started screaming and it was fun and exciting.”
This kind of exhilaration can still describe her life today, as Squerciati, 34, has made a life in Chicago for herself with her husband and almost-2-year-old daughter in the West Loop. She’s a veteran of the show at this point, but things are busier than ever, as her story arc expands this season with a love interest and even more action scenes.
This is Squerciati’s first major TV role. She’d been actively working in the biz, starring in shows on and off Broadway — even winning the prestigious Agnes Moorehead Award for her role as Judy Holliday in “Just in Time: The Judy Holliday Story.”
She had also done film, appearing in a bit part in the Nancy Meyers rom-com “It’s Complicated.” But it was her multiple-episode stint as a vindictive publicist on “Gossip Girl” that really got noticed.
Still, nothing compared to the “role of a lifetime” at “Chicago P.D.” When she got that phone call in New York, Squerciati packed up her apartment, left the city she grew up in, and moved back to Chicago with cautious optimism. Before long, she had moved into a basement unit in Ravenswood with two college friends, “just trying to survive, not knowing if the show would last.”
Uncertainty is a feeling that she’s become accustomed to and, to an extent, comfortable with. “As an actor you always feel like the rug is going to be pulled from under you,” she says.
Six seasons in, she’s not only kept a steady foothold but has really come into her own as Burgess. It’s by now second nature for her to tote a gun, chase perps, and solve crimes. Offscreen she’s spunky, hilarious, and sweet.
“I was more like Kim in seasons 1 to 3. Now she’s hard. She’s seen a lot go down in Chicago and it has given her quite an edge — one I wish I had. I’m an emotional pool of jelly,” she laughs, adding that her life seems so ordinary compared with that of her character.
Despite claiming to be quite the softy, Squerciati is, in fact, physically strong. She loves lifting weights with her castmates at the West Loop private training facility Performance Training Systems — a hot spot for Chicago actors and athletes. This comes in handy because she does many of her own stunts on the show. For instance, in a recent kidnapping scene she had to muscle her way to an escape and did a snowy chase scene that ended with her running into a gym with wet shoes. “I tried to look cool and slipped on the floor,” she admits.
“When you’re on camera you don’t really feel pain, but by the end of the day you are like, ‘Dear God, I put my body in a blender.’ ”
She also has to push herself emotionally in her role. For example, the relationship between Burgess and fellow officer Hailey Upton — two of the leading women on the show — has been nonexistent in past seasons but will start to become an important part of the storyline as Burgess finds out that Upton is dating her ex-fiancé, Ruzek [Patrick John Flueger]. Although there is resentment, the writers have made it a point to have the two women form a relationship that isn’t just about a guy.
“I think that’s important to highlight our [fierceness], independent of a man,” Squerciati says.
Still, Burgess will soon have a new love interest on the show. Although Squerciati doesn’t know much about where the relationship will go, she does know her new man has a backstory and she hints that he’s “a really good-looking guy.”
All this drama takes time to shoot. Her intense work schedule (14- to 18-hour days, 10 months out of the year, aren’t uncommon) leaves precious little freetime. When she has it, she spends it with her family. And while she has a blast with her daughter now, motherhood wasn’t the easiest adjustment.
“I didn’t have postpartum depression, but I didn’t find the first year particularly wonderful or a blessed event,” she reveals. “There was a lot of drudgery. I can say that because it’s so fun now. I love the math problem of it all … figuring out what she wants.”
It turns out the whole family wants to soak up city life. They love going to Harold Washington Library and attending Broadway-inspired theater classes at Stages Chicago, held across town.
And then there are those date nights with her husband, whom she met when they were both students at Northwestern. The couple can be found seeing plays at Steppenwolf, grabbing drinks at Elske or dining at La Sardine. They often host friends for cooking or baking parties after their daughter goes to bed.
As it happens, work also provides a social life that Squerciati never expected but is extremely grateful for. Her cast mates have become close friends. “It’s all such hard work, but we have each other. We laugh all the time,” she says.
She also feels especially lucky to be working on a show with producer Dick Wolf, creator of the “Law and Order” franchise and all the Chicago-set dramas that air on NBC on Wednesday nights.
“There’s a safety in that and it’s great and wonderful,” she says. “Six years is pretty unheard of in this day and age with so much to watch on TV. It’s a lovely place to be.”
Photos by Maria Ponce