FBI star Missy Peregrym tells World Screen how happy she is to be part of a show that highlights the work of the FBI, especially in today’s charged political atmosphere.
Peregrym had acted in several TV series and movies—starting with Dark Angel then Heroes, Reaper and others—before she was cast as a vulnerable young cop in Rookie Blue. She is now starring in the Dick Wolf series FBI as Special Agent Maggie Bell, a competent and effective agent; one whose silences and expressions show equal amounts of toughness and compassion.
WS: Do you have consultants on the show? Have they helped you understand your character’s job?
PEREGRYM: We have an ex-FBI agent on set. I’m always learning about how they would do their job, and what’s important in the order of things. They’re very, very thoughtful. Yes, they have to do things quickly, but it’s meticulous in the details. If they’re going to show up somewhere, they know, because of this, this, this and this. That part is different than playing a police officer. There’s an authority there that is earned. That’s been fun.
WS: Does the subject matter of the cases weigh on you?
PEREGRYM: Sometimes. We did a sex-trafficking episode, and it was hard for me. I’ve got two sisters, and I’m female, and just the way that we shot it, I was crying a lot on the other takes. Then as soon as the camera came around on me, [I’d have to turn my emotions off] because that’s not what the character would do. But I have to give myself the room to feel and be upset. It was hard not to be crying a lot. That specific episode is just the first one that comes to mind, but there are situations like that where it’s tough. It’s not a [made-up] story; it’s happening [in the real world]. I want people to understand that what we’re discussing is not fake. There are things that we can educate ourselves about. I think about it all the time. What can I be doing better so that we’re also putting that information out? Here’s a topic we’re discussing on the show, now what? Is there a number people can call, or write in, whatever it is, to stop this from happening? Because law enforcement can’t do everything, it takes the citizens to be aware of the issues. We need to know, one, that there is an issue; two, how we can be awake to it; and three, how we can deal with it. That matters to me. I try to do that in my own life. I don’t know how to do it all because I can’t be informed about everything, but if we can bring awareness, great. If we can bring understanding to a certain degree of “why,” why would a person stand on a building and shoot a bunch of people? What happened to them that they’re this hurt and feel this betrayed that this is how they would get attention and react? I think that matters. We have to start paying attention to each other. We have to start making eye contact with each other. Everybody is obsessed with their cell phones and is looking down. Look up, pay attention to what’s going on around you. Genuinely start caring about the people who are in front of you. Listening is a huge, huge thing.
WS: I love Maggie’s partner—Omar Adom “OA” Zidan, played by Zeeko Zaki—and what he brings to the table while interrogating suspects. As Muslims have been demonized so much, to see one as an FBI agent is phenomenal.
PEREGRYM: That’s really important. People don’t understand that the FBI is so diverse. I have read about what [J. Edgar] Hoover’s FBI was like. It’s not that anymore; there are a lot of women, and you can become a part of the FBI from so many different fields. It is good to have that narrative on TV because that’s the reality more than the other. Of course, it happens all the time that people take a religion and misconstrue it and use it for their own purposes and it hurts other people. It’s happened with Christianity; it happens all the time. The problem is you’re dismissing the person entirely. You don’t look at them. You’re not getting to know them because you already have this preconceived idea of what they are; they’re just a write-off. That’s why I think that it’s really important that we have [a Muslim FBI agent]. I’m happy that they chose that and that they’re attacking that issue in a subtle way. I know that Zeeko is excited about that opportunity because of his family and being Egyptian.
WS: As viewers, we are slowly learning Maggie’s backstory. Are we going to learn more about her, and OA, too?
PEREGRYM: Yes, I think so. It’s a little bit trickier when you only have a certain amount of time on a show like this, where the whole episode is about a case. There isn’t a lot of time to get into the backstories of each person, because we’re developing the relationship with each other, and how we work together and that takes time. If we have the opportunity to go further, we’ll definitely be getting into that. It’s important because it informs the audience of why we’re making the decisions that we make, why we’re behaving the way that we are. That’s very interesting to me. That’s how human beings work. [As FBI agents] we’re doing that the whole way with the case. We have to learn about [the criminals and victims] very quickly; we have to understand where they came from so that we can track why they got here and what the problem is. It’s important that we show [the backgrounds and motivations of the] characters in the show because that’s what’s going to bring people back.
WS: As the first on the call sheet, what kind of atmosphere do you want on the set?
PEREGRYM: Fun. We’re there together for a very long time and it’s stressful. Every day is tricky to shoot. I care that people come to work and even though they’re tired, even though it can be frustrating, that it’s still a joyful experience, that it doesn’t feel like you’re going to work in the same way. Everybody has good days and bad days, but the more you know each other, and the more the environment is safe and fun, people want to be there. And it matters. It changes the dynamic, and it affects what shows up on screen. That’s my number one thing.