We chatted with Chicago PD star Jesse Lee Soffer about what really happens on set and asked if his character, Detective Halstead, will take it further with Detective Lindsay, played by Sophia Bush, in season 2.
Soffer as Detective Halstead
Chicago Fire spin-off Chicago PD has taken on a successful life of its own, thanks in large part to its killer cast, including Jesse Lee Soffer, who plays Detective Jay Halstead on the hit show. The actor, previously known for roles on As the World Turns and The Mob Doctor, may be an East Coast native, but it’s clear that he feels perfectly at home as a Chicagoan—both on TV and off. We sat down with him at his favorite Windy City coffee shop, La Colombe, to talk about everything—from Chicago restaurants, to behind-the-scenes stories, to his stint as part of The Brady Bunch—right before the season premiere of Chicago PD this Wednesday, September 24.
You live in the West Loop—how did you decide on this neighborhood?
JESSE LEE SOFFER: I started working here when I did a show called Mob Doctor on Fox, and a little diner had moved in, Au Cheval. Have you eaten there?
?I haven't yet, but it's on my list.
JLS: It is the best cheeseburger I've ever had in my life. I had the burger and was like, "This is the best thing I've ever had." Then, it was in the New York Times as [one of the] top 10 burgers in the country, and I was like okay, this is the spot. I started hanging out there all the time. Girl & the Goat is right there. I’m a huge foodie, so this is my neighborhood.
?So, do you try all the new restaurants when they open here?
?JLS: Yes, anytime something opens, I get in there, absolutely.
?Anywhere new you’ve been recently?
JLS: Yeah, TÊTE Charcuterie is right down the road; they just opened up. They do all the cured meats and everything. [It’s] amazing.
?Do you feel any sort of connection to Chicago because of the roles you've played here?
JLS: Yeah, I kind of fell in love with the city when I started working here for Mob Doctor, and the show only went one season, so it was kind of sad. And then all of a sudden, six months later, I'm on my way back to do Chicago PD, and I was like, obviously, I'm supposed to work here for some reason. Something in the stars said, "This is where you're supposed to be." And the people are amazing; they've welcomed us with open arms. I definitely have an affinity for this city.
#TBT: Soffer's first day filming Chicago PD
?You’re from the East Coast. How is it different here in Chicago?
JLS: Honestly, Chicago's cleaner than New York. And I love the skyline here. I guess the way that the zoning works out in the city, [there has to be] a certain amount of space between buildings. So, you can still see the sky. You're in the city, you're downtown, but you still feel like there's space around you and you're not claustrophobic—nothing’s closing in on you. The only thing I miss about New York is the hustle of it. New York's a little bit quicker; there are bodegas on every corner that never close, or are open until 7 a.m. New York doesn't sleep. That's the only thing I miss. Other than that, I love this place.
?Alright, as far as pizza goes, where does your loyalty lie?
?JLS: Oh god! New York. I can't do deep dish. I can’t do it. It’s just not pizza to me. But, you have to forgive me for it, because I grew up there. [Chicago pizza] is not the same. That’s like a pie that has cornbread in it, and you literally have to eat it like a pie. It’s not like pizza where I’m from.
?Okay, sports: Are you an East Coast fan?
JLS: I feel like living here, you’ve gotta have some loyalty here. I saw my first Bulls game, [and] my first Blackhawks game last year. That [Blackhawks game] was insane. I don't have a hockey team, and I would totally be a Blackhawks fan. It was nothing like I've ever seen. The fans...freaking insane! I plan on going back in a big way. Haven’t gotten to a Bears game yet, though.
?And do you have a Cubs or Sox preference?
?JLS: Sox. I feel like, if you're a baseball fan, you like the Sox, and if you like drinking and partying, you're a Cubs fan. A ton of Cubs fans are going to be so angry with me for saying that!
What's it like shooting a show here versus New York or LA?
JLS: The only difference is that we're in a city that doesn't revolve around the industry, so we get people stopping by on the street, waving and saying hi, and screaming, "Halstead!" and always wanting to take pictures. It slows down filming a bit, but we love it; we love the warmth coming out of the city for our show.
Sometimes even Detective Halstead can't stand the heat.
?What did your training for the Chicago PD role entail?
JLS: We have the best technical advisors in the world—Brian Luce, Walt Smith, [and] Chuck Barango—and they really molded us into cops. Luce has been on the force for decades. He took us around, [and] we did driving drills, SWAT drills; we spent countless hours just talking about the bureaucracy of the police force, a day in the life, different cases that he's worked. He really took care of us.
?Do you perform your own stunts?
JLS: Absolutely, 100% of the time. I love it! I love doing fight scenes, I love doing stunts, I'm still like an 8-year-old that's like, "I get to be a cop, and run around with a gun, and fight people!"
JLS: Oh my god, terribly. Yes, absolutely. [Jesse revealed a scar on his wrist, about an inch long.] I put my hand through a windshield. We were in a car chase, the car flipped over, and then we were arresting the bad guys, and I was supposed to reach in and grab a gun. I did it, and I felt it drag across the windshield. If you watch [the scene] closely, you can see on my face, I'm acting, but I'm also having the thought, "Oh that's going to bleed!" I pulled it out and sure enough, it was just gushing. It was pretty scary.
?Chicago PD did some crossover episodes with Chicago Fire in season 1. Will there be more of that?
JLS: There should be a lot more of that. Anytime we get to go over there and play with them, and they come see us, it's a great time. It's like they're like our big sister or something.
?Is there anything coming up for season 2 that will shock viewers?
JLS: Yes, it'll be a shock and awe campaign of mass proportions. There will be a lot of Linstead, and I know that the fans love that. [Fans have coined Soffer’s character, Detective Halstead and his partner, Detective Lindsay (Sophia Bush), Linstead.] They're partners; who knows if they'll take that risk and go down that road. "Will they or won't they" will be teased out for a while, and maybe fans will get to see a little bit of something.
Soffer on set with LaRoyce Hawkins and Sophia Bush.
?You started acting at a young age—how did you get into it?
JLS: I was at a barbecue and [a classmate’s mother] gave me a business card and said, "Give this to your mother, you can do commercials." I was 6, I gave it to my mom, [and] she put it in a drawer. A couple weeks later, I said, "Mom, I want to be on TV." She pulled out the card, made a phone call, I got a couple auditions, and then booked a Kix commercial. It went from there: a couple pilots, and then a movie, and then it just kept going. It was definitely a unique childhood.
?I have to ask, you were in The Brady Bunch Movie...
?JLS: I knew that was coming! It was a really fun experience, especially at that age, to get to work with actors like Shelley Long and Gary Cole. It definitely was a really fun introduction into the big film side of the industry.
?It's a pretty iconic movie to be in.
JLS: Yeah, although, good story: In the [sequel] premiere, I sat next to, Maureen McCormick, who played Marcia on the show. I was only 11 or 12 at the time, but I vividly remember how much she hated the movie, and I felt terrible! I was like, "Oh, we obviously have not done her justice, or we're making fun of them too much." We were goofing on [the original show]. It wasn't the same thing.
?If you weren’t an actor, what do you think you would be doing?
JLS: I’d love to teach. I had a great experience at a boarding school in Connecticut for high school—I’d love to be a history teacher or something like that. Or, I can really get into psychology. I think I'd make a good therapist. People come to me a lot to talk things out.
?Are you a good listener, or do you also give good advice?
?JLS: I think I give excellent advice, none of which I can take for myself.
January 4, 2019