Interview: Jason Beghe of “Chicago Fire” spinoff “Chicago PD”

“From what I understand,” Jason Beghe tells me, “that when the character of Voight was introduced [on Chicago Fire], the ratings had a bump.”

Beghe is talking about how his character of police officer Sgt. Hank Voight in Chicago PD (Jan. 8 on NBC), a spinoff from the popular Chicago Fire, came to be the star of another series after beginning as a recurring character on Fire.

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When fans met Voight on Chicago Fire, he was a man of seeming moral ambiguity, which turned out to be part of his cover. But it may also be part of Voight himself, as Beghe tells me.

“I’ve yet to meet a person in my life who doesn’t have some moral ambiguity. And that’s kind of how I, at least, look at the character. It’s not black or white. Just like everybody else, there are shades of grey. The situation [he was in] on Chicago Fire, it was involving his own family and stuff like that. He may have been willing to go to a darker shade of grey. But I think if you rummage around in his closet, there’s a white hat in there somewhere. …  I look at him as a guy who’s [like], ‘I know what I’m supposed to do, but I do what I have to.’ [H]e’ll ignore [laws] and certainly break them, but it’s not for personal gain or satisfaction. He’s trying to do what he thinks is right.

“In some ways he’s inordinately physical, because [he’s] willing to use force,” Beghe adds about Voight. “He’s trying to get from point a to point b, and if I need information from someone who’s reticient I’m definitely willing to use whatever means necessary to get that information. He’s quite capable of handing out a hell of an ass-kicking.”

As part of gaining authenticity for his character, Beghe says that he has worked closely with Chicago PD technical adviser Brian Luce.

“He and I — I consider him a very close friend, certainly somebody that I relish being with. So we hang out, and he hangs out with cops, and I meet a lot of cops, and we drive around, and I pick brains. I’m more just letting it come in by osmosis.”

In Chicago PD, Voight is at the helm of the Intelligence Unit. Costarring with Beghe as members of Voight’s unit are Jon Seda, Jesse Lee Soffer and Sophia Bush, with Elias Koteas as another member of the precinct.

Beyond these characters, Beghe assures me and Chicago Fire fans that some actors from that show will also be seen on PD on occasion, and vice versa.

“There’s a lot of crossing over,” says Beghe about what he calls the “brother-and-sister shows” of Chicago PD and Chicago Fire. “I think, pretty much in every episode — I’m not positive — you’ve got at least one of the actors from the other show.”

And if that’s not enough crossing over between shows for fans, coming up is a Chicago PD/Law & Order: SVU crossover (SVU is another Dick Wolf production). Ice-T and Kelli Giddish from SVU will guest-star on PD in an episode airing after the Winter Olympics in February.

Regarding whether the format of Chicago PD will be similar to that of Chicago Fire, in the explorations of the personal lives of the characters, Beghe says, “I don’t think to the same degree. To some degree, [though], and certainly sometimes it gets very personal. It seems to me organic in terms of the story. It’s not a side story like, ‘Oh, kiss me, Nancy.’ It’s more how it also informs the case or cases that we’re trying to solve, mostly.”

When I spoke with Beghe in late November, he was on location in Chicago filming Episode 8 of Chicago PD, which had just been affected by snow and cold. But despite weather and missing his family, Beghe says that he’s glad they are filming in the title city.

“You could shoot it in L.A. or someplace,” Beghe admitted, “but there’s a unique kind of flavor and atmosphere [in Chicago], as well as architecture and just the texture of the people. And we get these fantastic Chicago actors; they’re just a beautifully talented group of people. I’m glad we’re here and I miss my family, but when I have my ‘interest in the show’ hat on, it couldn’t be done anywhere else.”

Chicago PD premieres Jan. 8 at 10pm ET/PT.

Chicago Fire returns with new episodes Jan. 7 at 10pm ET/PT on NBC.

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Jason Beghe as Sgt. Hank Voight in Chicago PD: Paul Drinkwater/NBC