Monica Raymund is definitely not in the Windy City anymore. The Chicago Fire vet headlines the new Starz crime drama Hightown (premiering this Sunday at 8/7c) in a role that would make #OneChicago’s Gabby Dawson run for help.
Raymund’s Jackie Quiñones is a Provincetown local who really enjoys her liquor, drugs and casual sex with strangers. But when Jackie discovers a dead body on the beach, she starts a journey of sobriety that leads her to the truth about idyllic Cape Cod’s seedy opioid underbelly.
Below, Raymund reveals what scared her about playing Jackie, the advice Gabby would give her Hightown character and whether she’ll ever return to Chicago Fire.
TVLINE | This show and this role is about as drastically different from Chicago Fire as it gets. Were you intentionally looking for something that was this much of a departure after you left Fire?
Honestly, I was intentionally looking for something different. I had no idea that it would be so drastically opposite [from] what I’ve been doing on Fire. So when the project came across my desk, I was just elated, because I couldn’t ask for a bigger dream role.
TVLINE | What was it about this character that you were excited to dig into?
I really was attracted to the darkness and the complexity of Jackie, because this is a woman who kind of oscillates between doing the right thing, doing the wrong thing, her sobriety and recovery versus her addiction, and sort of navigating that world. It’s very messy. That was something that was very interesting to me, as well as the fact that she’s a part of the LGBTQ community, as am I. That was such an honor. Once I got cast in this part, I realized that I get to represent my community, which was pretty cool.
TVLINE | On the flip side of that, were there aspects of the character that scared you or made you a little bit nervous?
Yeah! I was very scared about her experience and loss with addiction, and what that would be for her, and sort of getting into the emotional and mental dynamics of what it means to get sober. I know that’s a very personal journey and intimate journey for so many millions of Americans. So it was important for me that it was as true to real life as possible.
TVLINE | At TCA press tour, you said that this is the kind of girl that Gabby Dawson would try to save. What advice would Gabby give Jackie?
[Laughs] That’s a good question! I haven’t thought about that… You know what she would do? Gabby would go into the bar or whatever house Jackie was passed out at, and she would pick her up and march her into a rehab. And then she would come and visit her every week to check up on her.
TVLINE | As you said, they are very different characters, but do you see any commonalities between the two?
Yeah, me, right? Both characters are coming from me and my experience, my identity. Both women are incredibly stubborn, very bullheaded, and also very, I think, instinctual. They follow their impulses, and sometimes it leads down the right road, and sometimes it leads down a difficult road. So that’s what they both have in common. But Gabby, to me, feels like a lot more maternal, and she’s interested in taking care of everyone else in order to protect what she has built for herself. And Jackie, she’s like a tornado. She’s just like destroying everything in her path, and in the beginning of the show, kind of doesn’t care who it hurts.
TVLINE | At what point in the production of Hightown were you when you returned to Fire last season?
I think I had already wrapped Hightown.
TVLINE | I imagine going from one to the other in a short period of time could have been a little bit jarring, but I don’t know how much time in between the two there was for you.
Yeah, I think it was about three months. So I had enough time to shake Jackie off, and I was kind of nervous, actually, going back to Fire for a couple days, because these guys are my family, and I had been apart for a couple years so far, and there are new members of that family, and people grow and change. So I was anxious for some reason, but once I got there, it felt like I was back in with the family. It just felt like old times.
TVLINE | I have to admit, when I first read the description for Hightown and watched the pilot, I was a little bit confused about what exactly Jackie’s job was with the National Marine Fisheries Service. I confused it with the Coast Guard, which was a pitch that you and Jesse Spencer gave me for a Chicago Fire spinoff.
[Laughs] Oh, my God. You’re right! I forgot about that. I didn’t know what a National Marine Fishery officer was, either. I didn’t know that there was this kind of regulations department of the feds, and I grew up on the gulf. For some reason, I didn’t even put two and two together. I knew there was a Coast Guard, but I didn’t realize that there was a fishery agency as well. So I had to learn about that when I took on the role of Jackie. I even got to ride in the boat and learn how to drive this huge boat and to dock it and to pull up to another boat on the water and sort of the whole dynamic and behavior of what that job entails.
TVLINE | That aspect really plays into the location of the show. For those who’ve never been to Cape Cod or maybe don’t know a lot about it, what makes it ripe for a TV show?
Well, there’s never been a show set there, and it’s a very distinctive part of the United States. People think about Cape Cod, and they think it’s kind of fun and light, it’s where tourists go to lounge on the beaches in the summer and to go to their waterfront property or whatever. And then in parts of the summer, it’s very famous for its LGBTQ community and Carnival, which is essentially like Pride festival, and Provincetown is kind of the capital of that. So there’s already this sort of stigma to it that is positive and party-like, but there’s this underbelly to Cape Cod, where once everybody goes away, then there’s the people who live there full-time… The opioid epidemic affects everywhere in the country. This show happens to take place in Cape Cod, because of the life on the water and the life on land, and how the underworld of drugs really sort of intersects.
TVLINE | At the center of this underbelly and the mystery in the show is a body that washes up on the shore that Jackie finds. Why does this particular tragedy hit her so hard and make her so determined to find out what happened?
This particular tragedy hits her so hard because it happens at a point in her life when she feels at a loss, has nothing, and feels unworthy and bad. She’s struggling with her own recovery. And when she comes across this body, she’s compelled and totally driven to help solve this girl’s [murder]. I think what happens is that she feels a sense of purpose, and she feels like this is the path to redemption, that maybe if she helps find out who killed this poor girl, she can right all of the wrongs that she’s been a part of in her own life.
TVLINE | The main character is a woman, the creator is a woman, the director of the first two episodes is a woman. What did that female perspective bring to this typically male-dominated genre?
It brings an incredibly rich and dynamic perspective. Typically, the kind of role that I play, you sort of envision it being this straight male character role, and you can kind of see the actor who’d be cast in it. But the fact that it was written as a woman, and it gives this toughness and this ballsiness to a woman, it shows how dynamic we are. And also, what’s so special about being a part of a production that is run and led by women is the empowerment and the community and the support on set all of the time. Everybody’s artistic choice gets heard, everybody’s perspective gets supported and is respected, and it’s a very collaborative atmosphere. That’s what’s unique about this show being led by women.
TVLINE | You’ve directed episodes of Law & Order: SVU and FBI. Did you get an opportunity to direct Hightown? Or were the challenges of the role more than enough of a task?
[Laughs] Well, I’m somebody who, for better or worse, likes to challenge myself, no matter what the obstacle is. So if I get the opportunity to direct for Hightown, it would be awesome. I think it would be really difficult, but I’m very open to it, and I’m hoping that Starz is open to it as well. So we’ll see. This is sort of a one-step-a-time kind of process. Let’s let the show air. Hopefully, we’ll get a second season, and then maybe we’ll be in talks.
TVLINE | I really enjoyed that you got to direct an FBI episode that had a Chicago P.D. character in it. Was that strategic, or was that just the episode that you happened to get?
I have no idea if it was strategic. I wasn’t able to ask my bosses. I think it was also just kind of luck, to be honest, and kind of funny. And also very appropriate that I directed the crossover. I mean, I know these characters of the OneChicago world very well. So it makes sense that I would work with Tracy [Spiridakos on] FBI and be able to tell the story from the perspective of P.D., because this is already an established character that fans will know, and it’s really important to keep that consistent in the storytelling when they are crossing over. It’s important to make sure that the history of that character is just as available when it’s on a crossover show.
TVLINE | Would you ever want to direct an episode of Fire?
I don’t know, actually. I’m open to it. It might be like too much of a party. [Laughs] I might not be able to focus. I’d just want to hang out with my friends.
TVLINE | The last time we talked, you said Fire left things very open-ended with Gabby and Casey. So if showrunner Derek Haas were to call you up and say he wanted to bring Gabby back for an episode or an arc, what would you say to him?
Look, I love the Wolf boys, and Wolf Films has been such a huge part of my life for many years. I have a lot of respect for them. So I don’t know. I think it’s an open-ended question, if the conversations happen. But there’s always an open door with Gabby, and I think that’s the way it should be.