Abigail Hawk on a Baker-Centric 'Blue Bloods' Episode & Reaching 200 Episodes
Abigail Hawk is best known for playing the empowered detective Abigail Baker on Blue Bloods. And the talented actress takes this same spirit back to the 1900's for a new independent pilot Distemper. The period drama sees Hawk star as Louise Pearce (see a scene pictured above), who worked tirelessly to find a cure for African Trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness).
The trailblazing pathologist and LGBT icon’s efforts is credited with helping save millions infected across the Belgian Congo. Hawk was initially approached by director Elias Plagianos via Facebook message about playing Pearce.
“I knew absolutely nothing about Louise, which was actually kind of fun," Hawk said.
"I had a really great time researching her and the time period she thrived in,” she said. “It was absolutely fascinating to learn how she pushed down doors and broke down barriers and really flung the glass ceiling away before that was a thing. It was a great process.”
Before the pilot’s premiere at the 2019 North Fork TV Festival, Hawk sat down to talk further about the experience of taking on a historical figure. She also gives some intel on the upcoming tenth season of Blue Bloods at it passes the 200-episode mark.
How much time did you have to prepare for the role? What did you do to get into the shoes of Louise?
Abigail Hawk: I probably had a couple of weeks. Elias and I brainstormed a little bit. There is not a lot of photographs with Louise. The photographs come much later in her life when she was probably in her 50’s. She was given quite a few awards from both the Belgian government and here in the U.S. I believe she even taught in China for a while.
I read a book that her lover Dr. Sara Josephine Baker wrote called Fighting for Life. I ordered that on Amazon and read through that to get a sense of what the world was life in New York during that time. The internet is also a beautiful and scary place, so I researched pathology. I researched the Rockefeller Institute. I researched women and what their lives were like in 1918. How they dressed and the confines culturally they existed in.
She flew by the seat of her pants, if she could have worn pants. She rocked it. I’m so fascinated by her. She did not care what people thought about her. I got a sense she was a bit socially awkward, but it was a blast. I hope I get a chance to bring her more to life if it gets picked up.
There are so many overarching themes you can find in in her life and what she went through that are as relevant today as they were back in the 1900s. What would viewers take from this? What would resonate most?
I think there are a lot of parallels between the 1918 era and today. We have a world on the brink of war. We have a world on the brink of a horrible viral outbreak. Trypanosomiasis killed millions of people. She saved millions of lives from finding a cure for it. I think we really are on the cusp of worldwide outbreak, as scary as that is to say. We are kind of overdue for one. Today there is the need for diverse voices to come to the forefront.
I think it is absolutely the era of the woman. I think that people will appreciate the fact that she just fluffed off any of the expectations that society had for her. And said, “No, I’m going to do things my way. I’m going to be the first woman to work for the Rockefeller Institute. She traveled across the Atlantic by herself at age 30 to find this cure for this disease. That’s unheard of. I can’t imagine traveling the Atlantic on a boat by myself right now. That kind of journey not knowing if she would get infected herself.
What is it like for you to be at the forefront of this project at this stage of your career?
It’s exciting, thrilling and a little scary. Certainly, there is the pressure. At the same time, I feel like I was born to do this. I have always felt that way. I keep pushing, even when doors close in my face. I’m in my late 30s now, and I feel like I’m on the cusp of knowing who I am and who I want to be. Having roles like this, I call her “Fierce Pearce.” I feel privileged to bring her story to the public because I knew nothing about her, and I’m pretty sure most people don’t. It’s a wonderful challenge, but I feel like I’m up for it.
In Blue Bloods you also take on such a strong figure as well. When we saw Abigail, Sidney Gormley (Robert Clohessy) and Garrett Moore (Gregory Jbara) last season, will that experience change how they interact with one another?
I think every time they interact with one another it’s always something new. I think there was a lovely appreciation. This is Frank’s [Reagan] (Tom Selleck) inner circle. We all have a reason for being there. We all have a distinctive voice that we share with him, which is why he keeps us around. If we are in competition with each other and cancelling out other voices, that doesn’t do anybody any good. That was obviously Frank’s point. I think we’ll see us continue working together, but it’s what you want to have in congress. You want to see different voices, but you also want to see everyone come together to get the work done. Let’s make progress for the public we serve. You’ll see some fun things from the “dream team” as I call them.
Will we see any follow-up to husband Brian’s (Jarid Faubel) injury? Will we see him again?
I hope so. I did hear from one of our writers. I probably can’t say who at this point, but I know there will be a Baker-centric episode coming up very soon. We are in the process of filming the fifth episode. I think it will either be the sixth or seventh. I don’t know definitively, but I feel hopeful we’ll see things flesh out a bit more.
What else can you tease from Abigail this upcoming season?
She just continues to surprise me with how strong she is. I love the fact she is the dominant female presence on the 14th floor. I can’t really say anything specific, but I can say she does continue to grow and push rank. She is not afraid of speaking her mind. I love that about her.
The series reaches a big milestone this year with 200 episodes and counting, which is extremely rare in today’s television environment. What does this achievement mean to you?
It has been a decade of our lives. A decade of my life. It’s a huge accomplishment, and I’m thrilled we have been able to celebrate. It is a big deal. Shows die very quickly on networks these days. For us to have 200 episodes, it’s kind of unheard of.
We’re also something new. We’re not a reboot. We’re totally fresh and kind of cornered the market with having this character drama married to a procedural all in one show. I think that makes us special because you do see the characters evolve, but at the same time it’s still very formulaic in the sense that they have different cases every week. Every episode stands on its own. I think we’re a beautiful well-oiled machine. I hope we get to continue doing it for another 200. I’m game.
Do you have a favorite memory or episode?
The most deeply rooted memory I have was when I was scheduled to work the day, I went into labor with my second kid. I had to make the phone call at five in the morning and say, “Hey, my water broke. I will not be working today.” Tom rewrote the whole scene to work that in. I just love that because my son, he would arrive in the world and have Tom Selleck change the script for him. That’s a pretty awesome legacy to have.
My favorite episode of all-time is the episode from season four “Manhattan Queens,” which Donnie Wahlberg directed. It was the itty-bitty contraband one where she shut down a male heckler. I love that one. If you haven’t seen that one, it’s a really good one.
Those who follow you on social media can see how active you are in the community. You’ve taken this role and parlayed it as a face to drawing awareness and attention to real heroes in the field.
I think its vital right now to put a face behind all the badges and shields. These are real people from the communities they serve. There is no dividing line. They are the community. Not that it’s my battle to fight, but I do feel it’s important that we all continue talking to each other. What I see is the law enforcement professionals I meet are absolute heroes, who sacrifice time with their families and sleep and run toward danger. They are from every culture and creed and race and religion.
It has been important for me to be as honest as I can and authentic as I can because I know the responsibility I have as I’m portraying these women. I just got back from Providence, Rhode Island to host the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE). They had a gala and awards ceremony. Just being in a room surrounded by female law enforcement. These are actual living, breathing human beings that just blow my mind with how strong they are and passionate for serving the communities and protecting the people they work with. They do it right. They have accountability. I’m very proud to represent law enforcement world. I do my best.
Distemper premieres at the 2019 North Fork TV Festival in Greenport, NY at 7 p.m. on October 4.
Blue Bloods Season 10 premieres Friday, September 27, at 10/9c on CBS