Jon Seda Interview: ‘Chicago P.D.’ and Trying Not to Be Stereotyped

John Seda talks about his role, playing police officers, choosing his parts and the struggles of acting.


It seems like Jon Seda has been working non-stop in television since I first saw him on NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street. From that classic, he moved to numerous roles on TV shows such as Oz and Third Watch

Now on Chicago Fire‘s spin-off, Chicago P.D., Seda, who plays Detective Antonio Dawson, recently talked with press about tonight’s season finale, playing police officers, choosing his roles and the struggles of acting.

Chicago P.D. airs tonight at 9pm on NBC stereotyped

Was there anything about this character that you added to the role that wasn’t originally scripted for you?

Jon Seda: Well I think what I brought to Antonio is just trying to bring the humanity to who he is. You know, he’s a guy that, like me, I really am appreciative of what I do and the opportunity that I have to be an actor.

And so what I wanted to bring to Antonio was the fact that he just really loves what he does, and he pours his heart into every case and into doing his job. And so for me, what I just really try to bring amongst a lot of things, is just the heart to who he is.

You’ve played quite a number of police officers before, what is it about this particular job that continues to draw you to these roles?

Jon Seda: Well I like to think that if, you know, in real life if I wasn’t an actor and I was actually a police officer, that I would at least a good one. But you know, it’s easier said than done.

I mean this is, you know, being a police office, you know man or woman, it’s a tough job. It’s something that you know, unfortunately some people take for granted, the fact that these police officers are putting their lives on the line day in and day out. And so, for me, I take that serious.

And look, there’s a lot of Hollywood projects out there that are fun to do, and I’ve done them, and it’s great to do. But it’s always an honor to be asked to be the voice, or to represent, people that I look at as real heroes. And that’s including the firefighters, the EMTs and the doctors and, you know, these are amazing jobs by people that pour their hearts into doing it.

So for me, you know, I really don’t know how happens when there’s – I end up playing – I look back and go, “You’re right, wow, I’ve played a police officer a few times already.” But I just – for me it’s a no-brainer. When it comes around it’s a great opportunity. It’s one of those jobs that you just feel so good about, it’s great to come to work and know that you’re doing something that is important. It’s Hollywood, it’s acting, but there’s a heart to it and it’s really important.

You’ve been a part of some incredible iconic films and television shows from Oz to Homicide to the Pacific to now this, what is about – what do you choose a role, especially when – I’m sure you get a lot of offers, but what is it that you really look for, especially in a show like this?

Jon Seda: Well it’s funny, yes I’ve, like you said, I’ve been really fortunate, you know, Pacific, I just remember when that came around I just said, “You know what, it’s Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Band of Brother was before that and just wanted to be a part of it in any way.” I mean it turned out that I got one of the leads, but you know, I would have been a part of that in any capacity.

And when it came to – because Antonio Dawson, the character I play now, started on Chicago Fire and I remember when that came around to me, you know honestly, I was hesitant at first, because I wasn’t sure, I was a regular on another show, on HBO, Treme at the time. And I wasn’t sure, you know, I had – I wasn’t sure about the role. I didn’t know if Antonio – what I was looking for in the role was someone that was going to not just come and go and disappear, and be a guy that comes in and throws some info and, you know, I just wanted, if I was going to be a part of it, I wanted to have someone that had some, I don’t know what the word is, some gravitas maybe.

You know, someone that was going to, you know, have some connection. And you know, Dick Wolf was just amazing when – you know, how he created the character, and has Antonio’s sister on Chicago Fire and that dynamic. And it just became more than just about being a cop, it became more about what they deal with on a day-to-day basis, and it just evolved from there.

And then for it to – I was happy with Chicago Fire, and for it turn into P.D. is just – that’s really incredible.

Having started as a boxer and become a great actor, how would you advise someone, a young guy or girl, to get into acting, and to – what would the best advice you would give them to have the kind of career, or have the kind of career you’ve had? What ‘s the best advice you’d give to an actor or actress just starting out?

Jon Seda: Well first thing I would say is, “Just know that you’re going to hear the word, no, much more than you’re going to hear the word, yes.”

So, you know, you know, that’s something that you got to not take personally, it’s – not everyone out there is going to get that role. And you just have to know that there’s – you got to go out there, you got to work hard, go in there. It’s like a baseball player going up to the plate, go up there prepared, ready, you’ve studied, you know what the pitcher is going to throw.

So for me, what I do, since I boxed, the script is my ring. So when I get my script, I look at the character that I’m being asked to portray. And I do everything I can, that’s my training, I do everything I can to come up with the different nuances for that character, you know, every single line. Why is he saying this? Where is he coming from? How can – what are the different elements I can add to it? And then I go into that ring and really perform it, and try to hit a homerun, or try to get, you know, a knockout.

So what I would – the advice I would say to someone is just, “Really, if it’s your passion and you really want to do it, just trust your instincts, trust your heart. You know, pay attention to your surroundings when you’re acting and you’re portraying this character. Just believe, just believe that you are that character and take it from there.

Have you struggled during your career as an actor?

Jon Seda: You know, I’ve been so fortunate that I’ve had a really wide variety of different kinds of roles throughout my career. And you know, it’s true that a lot of times that doesn’t happen. A lot of times, you know, there’s a lot of stereotyping going.

But you can’t hold up one Puerto Rican or one Mexican or one Colombian, you know, and say, “This is what they all look like.” Because we’re so diverse and there’s so many different colors and we’re – so for me, I’ve been so fortunate that I’ve been able to play different types of roles, where I’ve played Latin and I’ve played non-Latin.

So like going from like Selena to the Pacific, where one was Italian and then one was a Tejano. So for me, I’ve been really fortunate and thankful for that. But it takes a lot of work and it takes having to say no to certain roles and yes to others, it really takes – which is tough.

It’s hard sometimes, because you also have to work, and you have to, you know, you have to provide, and you have to – you know, there’s certain jobs that you – sometimes you have to take. But throughout my career, for the most part, I’ve been really fortunate that I haven’t had that stereotype.

This is being touted as kind of like the Golden Age of Television with cable and stuff like that. And it wasn’t too long ago when television was looked at as a stepchild under movies, but that seems to be changing with a lot of big, you know, big actors, film actors now coming to it. Do you feel like it is really – as an actor, from your standpoint, is it really changing?

Jon Seda: You know, it’s funny that you mention that. I was just talking about that not too long ago with my wife, and you know, it really – it is changing, it really is. I mean look, cinema and film, I think will always – maybe I shouldn’t say, “Always,” but for the most part, will stand alone, because there’s nothing like going to a theater and seeing that big screen, and you know, the surround sound and watching it. But nowadays, you can get that at home.

And I think that the network, in particular for what we’re talking about, for NBC, they’re realizing that. And I think they’re trying to, you know, catch it while it’s hot and say, “You know what, we need to adjust, we need to change our way of thinking. We need to bring content that is something we never really had before.” And I think that’s like with Chicago P.D. and Chicago Fire and Revolution and other shows.

You know, they’re taking that step where maybe 10 years ago, 15 years ago, even 20 years ago, these are shows that would had a real tough time because of how raw they want to show these shows. And these were shows that you would only usually, I think, see on cable.

You know, and so I think things are changing. And I think what’s happening is a lot of actors out there, mostly film actors, are seeing the opportunity to be on a TV screen every week and having everyone see them. You know, definitely every week and not having to worry about whether or not someone’s going to go to the theater to see them.

And also, seeing the content now that’s coming on TV, and being able to create and grow the show, I’ll tell you, “I think it really is changing, I think it’s really exciting. And hey, I’m just glad to be still in the game, you know what I mean?”

Well I think the writing has gotten incredible.

Jon Seda: Yes, yes, that’s absolutely right. I think a lot of the – you know, the writing is incredible, the producers, and you know, you’ve got a lot of film writers that are writing for these shows and writing for us. You know, like Derek Haas and Michael Brandt, you know, these guys who worked on 3:10 to Yuma was just one of the ones which was a great film.

You know, so we have – these are the producers and writers that we have working with us, so I mean it’s just absolutely incredible. We have – it’s such an amazing team and we’re trying to bring – I mean I know when we work, I’ve talked to Jason Beghe about this, a lot of times when we’re working on the show, we’re always trying to bring that film mentality to the show. So it’s like changing, evolving, but it’s really just the two kind of coming together really, like film and TV and just bringing that.

This is one series where characters from other shows like Chicago Fire and SVU truly integrate into an episode and blend in with the characters. So you know with that said, how do you feel about the crossover episodes? Do you think there are advantages and possibly even disadvantages in bringing on characters from other shows?

Jon Seda: Well I think it’s, you know, I think it’s – one, from an actor’s point of view, I think it’s incredible. It’s always great to be able to work with actors that you respect and admire, and have an opportunity to work with them, whether you’re crossing over to their show or if they’re coming here, like when Ice T and (Marashka), and whether we go there, they come here. You know, I think it’s always – for us, it’s a lot of fun.

Honestly, I don’t know how the writers do it. It’s so much work, and I’ve spoken to some of them about it and just I’m in awe as to how they put it all together, because that’s not easy to do. But I think it’s incredible.

I think it’s really unique. I think the fans really like it because you have a mixture of all these shows coming together and it’s just, to me, I think it’s fun. I think it’s something – I think that’s what’s really unique about Chicago P.D., Chicago Fire, how they can intertwine every now and then. And it could be a small little scene that intertwines, or it could be a big event, like what just happened a couple of weeks ago. And then you can get Law & Order in the mix, I think it’s incredible

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