TV Fanatics have been enjoying the new CBS miniseries The Red Line.
We had the opportunity to speak with Elizabeth Laidlaw who plays Victoria "Vic" Renna, the partner of Paul Evans (Noel Fisher), the police officer accused of shooting an unarmed black man, setting off the compelling story at hand.
Please enjoy our conversation below before watching the next two episodes of The Redline on CBS.
What were your thoughts after first reading the script for The Red Line?
So, I have an interesting history with this. I've known Caitlin and Erica who are the creators for some time. We were all based in Chicago and working around each other at the same time. So I knew them, and I had gone to see the play A Twist of Water, on which Red Line is based. And I loved it. It's one of my favorite plays I've seen in many years.
I have a couple of good friends who are in the cast. So I remember seeing it, and so a couple of years later they had come to me with the script, and I read it.
And I loved it because I remembered a lot of the elements from the original story. But of course, in the original play, there's no additional element; the other father dies suddenly but by more natural causes and the elements of a police officer or the racial element they just, they weren't in the play.
It was just really a story about a father and a daughter coping with their grief and adoption, et cetera. It was a beautiful play. So when they decided to bring it to a pilot, they wanted to update it, they wanted to make it more timely.
They wanted to deal with some of the issues that we are dealing with now and that they were wrestling with themselves personally as a team and as a creative team. So that's when they amended the story to include the police officer shooting Harrison.
And I think it personally, having had this long trajectory, so many of the things that I loved about the play are still there. Plus you have this really powerful sort of central story that is really telling the very specific story that we keep seeing a lot of but from a really cool perspective.
So I loved it. I was just delighted to see this play that I loved get turned into this really powerful, poignant and timely thing. So my first reaction was like, "Oh, they did it."
What kind of research did you do into the Chicago police force to prepare for your role as Vic?
Well, I have, it's interesting, I've played quite a handful of police officers already. I played a Cleveland police officer in Cleveland Abduction. I played a Chicago police officer on the show Chicago Code. I played an FBI agent. I've played a lot of law enforcement people and soldiers.
And so some of that sort of was like an accumulation of research and playing those different roles over the years. Kind of like drawing from what I had already done.
But specifically on this show, we had several on-set police officers that we consulted with on stuff, and I did a lot of reading about the kind of the history of the Chicago police force and women in law enforcement specifically, I thought that was an interesting angle to research to understand the culture a little bit better of where Vic would be working.
And I found out that the first woman police officer in the United States, Officer Owens, she was a Chicago police officer. She started serving on the force in 1891, and she served for 32 years. She had a badge and full arrest powers, and she retired with a pension after 32 years on the force, and I found out -
Yeah, isn't that cool?
Yeah, what a great idea for a series. You ought to toss that out there.
I know, right? I also found out a couple of interesting things I think I really carried with me as Vic and it's definitely not a part of our story, but it's definitely a part of Vic's story. Seventy-seven percent of female police and correction officer's report experiences of sexual harassment on the job, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody.
But if you're working in an environment with a high sexual harassment ratio, it's going to affect how you carry yourself, the people you align yourself with. Do you know what I mean? It's going to have a profound effect on how you go to work every day and how you bear yourself every day.
Vic is like, she presents herself as somebody who can hang and somebody that hangs out with the guys to drink beer and talk sports, and you know what I mean? And I think some of that is growing up surrounded by men.
There's a little bit of conscious defeminization and code-switching in order to be safe in an environment that does lend itself to that. The friends she has on the force, the people that she's closest to, her chosen family are Paul and Jim Evans in part because they really like and respect her and they're not going to treat her that way.
I think it has informed who she chooses to spend time with and how she chooses to present herself. So I let that factor in. And then I also learned that female officers across the board in every department, big cities, small towns across the board in the United States are far less likely to use force or fire their weapons, statistically are far less likely to.
And they're much more likely to be brought in into situations that require negotiation because they just appear to be better at it. I thought that was a really interesting factor to have in the back of my mind. So that was some of the stuff I was thinking about.
I'm also a mom, so I get Vic from that, I'm a mother and, and I don't like to use the phrase single mom because my son's dad is very present and it's a very amicable situation. But I'm a mom of a boy around the same age that Vic's children are so I can certainly relate to being a mom and working long crazy hours to make sure your kid has what he needs.
I was going to ask how important it is for you to understand Vic's motivations, but I don't think I need to ask that now because it's obviously very important to you. Which is very cool.
It is important. And the thing is that Vic makes choices that I certainly like to think I would not make. I'm not a police officer. I think we all like to think that we would make really morally correct choices in a high-pressure situation.
I disagree with Vic's choices, but I can't do that as an actor. I have to get inside of her, I have to understand her and I have to be faithful to her experience, or we're not telling a balanced story. I can't bring my own judgment.
If I read about Vic in the paper, I read about something that this officer had done in the paper I'd be furious. But you can't bring that into the room when you're playing it.
I assume that the thing that you most disagree with is what she did with the tape initially?
Yeah, she's tampering with evidence. It's illegal. It's a crime for a reason. She's a police officer, she's sworn an oath to uphold the law, and she goes in, and she categorically breaks the law in a critical moment. And more than that, she chooses her partner's career and reputation and possible freedom over the life of this man.
And even if she only chooses it in that moment when she grabs the tape and then she clearly regrets it. You've seen episode one, she's clearly very upset about everything that's going on, but in a moment of critical thinking, she chooses the wrong thing.
She makes the wrong decision, but in her heart, she's making it for the right decisions. And I mean right like correct, I don't mean morally right. It's coming from a place of wanting to protect somebody she cares about.
That's what we do. We do circle the wagons around the people we love. That's just what human beings do.
Yeah, absolutely. And Vic is definitely one of the linchpins kind of holding the whole case together for her former partner. What can you tease since not everybody has seen all of it or filmed all of it about Vic's journey throughout the rest of the series?
I think it's safe to say that everybody in this show, what I love about this show is that everybody does go on a journey and I think everybody is wiser at the end than they are in the beginning. And I think lessons are learned.
We always hope that people will grow from a tragedy and I think the show does show a good deal of growth and the hope that that growth can continue. That's probably the best I can say without giving too much away.
Sure. No, that makes sense to me. And obviously you -
And prices are paid, too.
Prices are paid, yeah.
Sorry. Prices are paid.
You were raised in Chicago, right? And you live there now?
I was, yes I do. Yeah.
How accurate of a depiction do you feel that The Red Line is to the current culture of the city?
I think it's extremely accurate. I live here. When I read the things that say, "Oh, Chicago is corrupt and racist with a problematic government, these are tired tropes.
I'm like, "Nope, nope, this is how we live." There are scenes that take place in our show on the train, and you see the demographics of the people riding the train, and you see how it changes as it goes up and down from one end of the city to the other, and that's a genuine thing.
I've lived that, I see it every day. I live on the north side. I've grown up in the city, so I've been to all parts of the city and I think it's beautifully depicted and I think it's very, very, very real.
And if you could give advice to any of the characters on The Red Line, who would you speak with? And what would you say?
To Vic, I would say ... I mean since she's already done what she's done, listen to that little voice in your head that's telling you that you're on the wrong side of history here and listen to it. Make the right choice, not the easy choice, is what I would tell Vic.
What would you tell Paul Evans? After all the research you did with the Chicago police force and the history and everything that you know, as a person, what would you, Elizabeth, have to say to him?
I would have to say to him, you need to search your heart and ask yourself why you opened fire on that man and don't stop searching until you come up with an answer.
Good advice. Is there anything else you would like my readers to know about your role or what's coming up on The Red Line?
I think this show is a wonderful opportunity to start conversations that we need to have. We live in a country right now that is really, really increasingly polarized all the time.
If polarized is even the word you can use that suggests two sides and everybody is staking their claim in a camp and saying, "We're right, you're wrong," you know? All over the place and we're not listening to each other anymore.
We're not having conversations; we're having screaming matches on Twitter. I think it's really important that we see each other as people, that we try to practice empathy. You don't have to agree with someone to feel empathy towards them and that we need to start listening.
We need to start listening to each other, and I'm really hoping the show creates a tone where there can be more listening and calmer conversation and coming together rather than disagreements and anger.
That sounds great. It's been really great talking to you. I like how much research you do and how much thought you put into everything. It's very impressive. Not everybody is that thorough.
I've been doing this for a long time, and I love my work. I really love my work. I love being a storyteller, so I get really invested in the storytelling, and I love collaborative storytelling. I like to tell stories with other people for people to take part in.
So I guess I take a great amount of fulfillment in being well prepared because I enjoy the preparedness. I'm kind of a nerd. I love to read. I love to research, that's the fun part for me.
And do you have anything else coming up?
We finished principal photography on a web series that I helped co-produce with my partner Mia McCullough.
It's called The Haven web series. And you can find out more information about it at thehavenweb.com, and it's going to be released on Open TV on May 8th, so a week from tomorrow. And it's a dramedy set in a domestic violence shelter.
When you have an ecosystem like a shelter where there are just these people trying to live their lives, and things are crazy, and it's a little bit like an emergency room or where even though the things that bring people into an emergency room aren't funny, there can be a lot of humor in the experience of the people who are there every day and how they cope.
The production was made entirely by women and people of color and, and some LBGTQ people, and some people trans. We're really proud of it. It's really a lot of marginalized voices getting to be heard and show off their work, and it's all based in Chicago, and it's using all Chicago cast and crew. So that is going to be released next week.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.