'NYC 22': Leelee Sobieski talks life (and one goofy injury) on the police beat
On Sunday (10 p.m. ET), CBS premieres NYC 22, a character-driven drama following six NYPD rookies on foot patrol in Harlem. The show counts Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal among its executive producers and was created by Richard Price, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of The Color of Money who also wrote five episodes of The Wire.
The most familiar faces in front of the camera: Adam Goldberg, who plays a former crime-beat reporter who figures he has better sources than most cops; Terry Kinney, who reunites with his Unusuals costar Goldberg to play the rookies’ field training officer (known as “Yoda”); and Leelee Sobieski, who stars as Jennifer “White House” Perry, a former Marine MP in Iraq partnered with Jayson “Jackpot” Toney (Harold “House” Moore), a local basketball hero who blew his chance in the NBA. In the video interview below, Sobieski shares how the cast bonded with their on-screen partners, as well as what kind of research questions she finds herself asking approachable female officers and what it really feels like to drive a police car through the streets of New York City.
The role, her first regular series gig, has definitely opened her eyes. “I’ll ask a female officer, ‘Did you get into a fight?’ and she might say, ‘Yeah, I punched this guy in the face yesterday.’ I’ll just think, that sounds so violent to me. She punched the guy in the face three times or in the gut to bring him down. But she’s thinking, well, it’s much better than if I used my club and hit him on the head and I could’ve caused a lot of brain damage. Both of those things would never even cross my mind,” Sobieski says. “I’ve never scratched, or punched, or slapped anybody in my real life.”
Something else she learned: how female cops learn to compartmentalize: “You know, if you’re leaving the precinct and you arrested somebody, or had an altercation, or somebody doesn’t like you, you almost have to leave as a different person to protect yourself. If a female officer has long hair, it might be up in her hat, and none of the men would ever see it. That’s really interesting to me, that somebody could have so many separations like that,” she says. “It’s almost like for me, I’m with my husband and my daughter, and then I go to work and I’m a cop, then I come back home and I have to shed her slowly. So I’m good at policing my daughter for an hour, then I go back to being all mushy.”
Mushy is one thing you shouldn’t expect the show to be, Sobieski says. “Certainly, the White House and Jackpot characters are always teasing each other and having a little bit of banter, and that’s really nice. But there isn’t that much lovey-dovey mushy stuff on the show. It’s really pretty profession, cop-like,” she says. “I have a feeling that if we get picked up for a second season, the show will get a little lovey-dovier. Season 1 is really laying the bones to be able to know somebody well enough that we can go home with them and not forget about what’s going on at work.”
Season 1 has long been wrapped. Ask her if she suffered any injuries, and her answer might surprise you: “On top of all the stunts I did — jumping out of buildings, cars exploding — I got an injury making a joke,” she says. “I had to tackle this really tall guy, like 6’7”, and he was solid muscle. He was literally like a plank. I thought, I don’t think I can tackle this guy, it’s gonna look silly. I said, ‘Let me try this.’ While we were rehearsing, I ran up behind him, and I was pretending to tackle him, but I was really just touching his back to see if it was soft enough for me to fall against. But because I’m such a clutz and I could never be as tough or cool as my character, my foot landed on the back of his heel and I twisted my ankle and it’s never been the same. And it wasn’t even on-camera. When it’s on-camera, it’s okay. If you’re on-camera and you twist your ankle and you start screaming and limp away, that makes for a good show. But they didn’t catch it. They didn’t get it on the DVD extra either.”