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Jason Beghe on Triggering Events in ‘Chicago P.D.’: “There Are Things He Wishes He Could Take Back”

[This story contains spoilers from season 11, episode seven of Chicago P.D, “The Living and the Dead.”]

For Sergeant Hank Voight, played by Jason Beghe, the proverb “the road to hell is paved with good intensions” comes to a painful, climatic conclusion during the final scene of Chicago P.D.’s March 20 episode, “The Living and the Dead.” The seventh episode in season 11 of the NBC drama ends with a stoic look from the conflicted police detective, as a barrel is pulled from a body of water that contains someone he cared for and tried to protect.

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Since the murder of his son, Justin (Josh Segarra), in season three, Voight has worn that death like an albatross, spurring him throughout the seasons to take a special interest in certain brutalized victims in the city who are treated as castoffs. In episode seven, audiences watch Voight hunt for a kidnapper who tortured and mutilated a gay teenage boy named Noah (Bobby Hogan), who was introduced in episode six. Thrown out of the house because of his sexuality and plagued with pain and nightmares from the brutality of his ordeal, Voight sees something in Noah that reminds him of his troubled son, and perhaps sees a way to help the young man in a way that he couldn’t help his late child.

But Wednesday’s episode again ended in tragedy, as Noah was the body inside the barrel. Once again, viewers see that Voight is probably traveling down the dark vortex of loss, failure and vengeance.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Beghe to talk about Voight’s two-episode arc that will continue on in the coming weeks. Beghe also talked about the 25th anniversary of a near-fatal car accident that changed the actor’s life in some ways (and added to his famous raspy voice), as well as his deep-rooted Chicago connections and hopes for the future with Chicago P.D.

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Why are there certain cases that seem to get so under Hank Voight’s skin he can’t shake them? This is certainly the case in episodes six and seven, with the brutal abduction of Noah. Why does Voight care so much about this case?

I don’t think Voight is aware of it consciously. But I think what happens is that that somehow Noah triggers something about his own son who is dead, Justin (Josh Segarra), and Voight feels as though he could have done better as a father. And obviously, because his son is dead, there’s nothing he can do about it; so, in a sense this is his way, psychologically, of kind of righting some wrongs and fixing some behaviors and things that he did in the past that he wishes he could take back.

Do you feel that Hank Voight is ever going to find any sort of redemption from feeling that his son’s death was his fault, although it wasn’t? (Justin was shot in the head in the finale of season three and left in the trunk of a car.)

He feels that it was his fault. He feels that he should have and could have prevented it. But, as far as redemption, I think that what he tries to do is his best. And that’s all he can do.. There’s something about this character that is changing, and it is kind of what is creating the vulnerability. It was a great solution that the way that he always survived was to be fully rooted in the present time, right in this moment. He didn’t worry about what was going to happen and he didn’t regret what had already happened. And there’s a lot of power to be able to be that present. You know, you miss a lot of life; a lot of the joy and a lot of the sadness. And so, what’s happening now is that he’s starting to think about things for the first time. It’s triggering a lot of emotions that he’s not used to experiencing, and it makes him feel weak and vulnerable. My personal opinion is it’s actually what’s making him stronger and more complete.

Voight didn’t answer Noah’s phone calls (while questioning a suspect in Noah’s abduction, Voight ignores several calls. When he finally listens to the messages, Voight realizes that Noah has been tricked again and left the detective’s house where he was protected). This may or may not have made a difference, but Noah doesn’t survive and we discover at the end of the episode he has been murdered. What will this do to Voight?

At this point, he will do the best that he can do. I’ve only played that one moment, which is the discovery, the last moment of the episode seven, and the reaction that Voight has is obviously the initial loss. But it’s too much. He’s also expecting it at that point. And he kind of reverts back to his safe response which is, “I’m gonna rip your throat out!” So, we will see going forward how much he’s going to be able to allow his feelings, and how much he is going to stay at this kind of savage, more animalistic Voight, which is a very compelling guy, too.

CHICAGO P.D. Chicago police officers
Chicago police officers at the end of “The Living and the Dead” episode.

How do you disengage from some of the storylines that can be dark, brooding and trauma-filled at times?

Well, I know that these are stories. I mean, there are terrible things going on all over this planet. They’re starting up in Africa again and we look at Gaza; we’re a flawed species. And for me, there are unexplainable kind of impulses and behaviors that I try to look at it as all part of my species. And there are some great people, but there are some people that are not. All I can do is my best to try and play a part in being part of the solution rather than the problem. So that’s kind of how I approach it. You know, the individual stories are heartbreaking, I mean really, they’re heartbreaking! I mean they actually break your heart and in a way that you know that’s not temporary.

So, when we first met Hank Voight on Chicago Fire, before Chicago P.D. started as a series, the character came across as a dirty cop, a villain no one wants to cross. But over the 11 seasons on your show, Voight, while still committing questionable actions sometimes, shows empathy and care for people regardless of race, culture, sexuality, etc. Were these always important personality traits you expected your character to evolve into?

You know, it’s funny but that’s the thing. When I first showed up to shoot Chicago Fire, the producers said, “Oh, you’re playing a bad guy,” and I’m like, “No I’m not.” I never thought of him like that. Nobody is a bad guy or a good guy. And I said to them, “OK, yeah, I’m hurting your guy (Matt Casey’s character on Chicago Fire who is investigating Hank Voight’s son), so from your point of view, he’s a bad guy. But, do you have children? I mean, what would you do to protect your child?” Because the whole reason I was coming after Casey was to protect my son. And I said, here I am this cop and I put half these guys in that prison. My son did some bad stuff, but does that mean that he deserves to be raped to death? And I have to take a responsibility for that. I know for my own son, there’s not a lot I wouldn’t do to prevent him from that kind of a fate. And I don’t care what the situation is, because I know him and I love him.

So, the point is, nobody is one thing. We’re all gray! It’s not black or white, it’s all shades of gray, and those gray shades change moment to moment, let alone day-to-day and year-to-year. And that’s the way it is. And so, I tried to understand. The thing is, you can’t understand somebody without loving them. You don’t have to like them, but if I’m going to understand them, I’ve gotta love them. I gotta be willing to take on their viewpoints.

Yesterday was your birthday, but this year is another anniversary for you. It’s been nearly 25 years since you were in a terrible car accident that gave you that raspy voice audiences so identify as Hank Voight’s, right?

It made it much raspier.

How did that experience influence how you live, your acting style and particularly, how you approach playing Hank Voight?

It was huge and it did. And I actually did die. I was in a coma for three and a half weeks. And in the coma, I died, which was a very interesting experience. That’s a big deal, and it changed me, I’m sure. But just as this conversation also changed me and changes me. There’s nothing but the good. It’s not good or bad, it just is. You know it’s just the truth, and I try not to think about what’s good and bad. Even like when people say “I feel bad,” I understand there are emotions that are very uncomfortable but, are they bad? They are my emotions, I have them, I don’t create them just to suffer. They’re not bad, that’s me trying to say, “Hey, something is wrong, something’s off!” So, in the same way, yeah, that that changed me. How? I don’t know. Just like everything else, I’m just trying to be. I’m just trying to be.

CHICAGO P.D. Jason Beghe as Hank Voight
Jason Beghe as Hank Voight.

What has been your experiences with the city of Chicago over the 11 years working and filming here?

I have a long history with Chicago. I have roots that are deep, well before I was born. Deep and kind of important roots. Politics with my great-grandfather (his great-grandfather was Illinois two-term governor Charles S. Deneen, who was also a U.S. Senator in the late-‘20s). I used to come to see my grandparents, both my parents grew up here, and I used to come here as a toddler until they died when I was in my teens. So, it’s always been kind of ironic for me. My sister went to the University Chicago, my brother went to Northwestern (University); he lives here.

The funny thing is, my parents were deeply in love and met in Chicago when they were 13 and 15. So when my mother died, my father, it was one of those things where he couldn’t live without her, and he died a couple months later. And I put him in the ground, and he had an interesting life and he had moved to Washington, D.C., at that point, and I put him in the ground and I went back to their house, grabbed my bag, and got on a plane and flew to Chicago to shoot my very first scene on Chicago Fire. And I had always thought they would have gotten a hell of a kick out of their youngest son who plays Hank Voight in such a kind of an iconic part of Chicago’s theatre pantheon.

How long will you continue to tell Hank Voight’s story and be a part of Chicago P.D.?

I’ll always be a part of Chicago P.D. That, I know. I certainly have the interest. And I think that NBC has the interest in both the show and Voight. So, I’m not done, I have more to do, and I’m anxious to do it. I love my job. I don’t know what the end is, whether it’s Thursday or Friday, but I supposed it’ll end at some point. But right now, I feel like I have stories to tell and a job to do.

New episodes of Chicago P.D., produced by Universal Television in association with Wolf Entertainment, air Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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