It all comes down to a science for LaRoyce Hawkins. The Chicago-born actor, who portrays officer Kevin Atwater on Dick Wolf’s “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Fire,” insists his palpable on-screen chemistry with the city and the close-knit cast is just that — true chemistry. Growing up in the south suburb of Harvey, the 29-year-old and undefeated science fair champion was raised to believe knowledge has the power to change the trajectory of your life — a credence he’s practiced throughout his acting career and with the time he spends spiritedly encouraging Chicago’s youth.
We caught up with Hawkins, the day after he emceed the Museum of Science and Industry’s Columbian Ball, to talk science, his tough upbringing and staying realistic.
SPLASH: How was the Columbian Ball last night? What were some of the highlights?
LAROYCE HAWKINS: I tried to make it as intimate as possible — more intimate than [the audience] might have been used to. I tried to [create] good vibes in order to help people seem like a family in there. A lot of the time, I think we go to these banquet rooms and the energy from one table to the next isn’t that connected because nobody curates it.
S: Why was emceeing this particular event important to you?
LH: The [Museum of Science and Industry] has programs that help kids — especially inner-city [kids] — with mathematics, engineering, science and things like that. The fundraiser was basically to enrich resources so they can allow for a broader way of helping kids. I’m actually undefeated in science fairs because I [had] the unfair advantage of having practicing doctors and students in medical school that would help me with my projects. I think those moments when my grandfather was coaching me through science projects and I was staying up all night researching and experimenting over and over, they molded the artist that I am.
S: You’re especially connected to Chicago’s youth. With so much turmoil in our country right now, what’s your advice for remaining optimistic?
LH: If science teaches us anything, it has a lot to do with balance. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If that’s true, then if your worst nightmares can come true, so can your wildest dreams.
S: I’d like to touch on your work a little bit. How does being a Chicago native play a role in your character as Kevin Atwater? What elements are you pulling from your own experience?
LH: Quite naturally, everything. What it forces me to do is pull references from real life and authentic experiences I’ve been through, see every day [and] grew up learning, loving, hating sometimes. There’s a lot of good, bad and ugly that comes with growing up in Harvey. And I have all those experiences at my disposal every time I walk on set, every time I read a script. I try to find windows into my own life. That helps me make the character authentic, it helps make the character natural, but it’s also done a lot for my confidence as an artist.
S: How is a Dick Wolf set different from others?
LH: It’s all family — that’s really the best way to describe it. Our greatest compliment is when other people come on set, like guest stars and oftentimes even extras, they’ll tell you it’s a very family-oriented vibe there. The support and energy we get from the people here … I think Chicago is one of the most American cities in America. We do our best to really stay true to make sure we allow Chicago to be the main character. We don’t try to sugarcoat it; we don’t try to dress it up. If it’s dirty, it’s dirty. If it’s clean, it’s clean. We stay very true to whatever the authentic vibe is in Chicago.
S: What’s next for you?
LH: I’m just doing my best to live in the moment. Naturally, I would love to apply more pressure on the comedy scene [and do] a lot more standup. But more than anything, I’m just enjoying what I’m doing right now so much and living in this moment. I don’t want to look up in a few years from now because I was getting so far ahead that I forgot to really embrace these moments. I think what being on this show has taught me is that it doesn’t last forever. We just watched one of our sister shows, “Chicago Justice,” leave us in a way that hurt us as a family. That brought a very realistic element to what seemed like a fantasy for me for four or five years being on the show — it’s not going to last forever. I’m just living in this moment and trying to cherish this for as long as I can.
Photo by Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images