When Chicago P.D. actor Marina Squerciati and Patrick Webb came up with the idea for their web comedy series Special Skills, they turned to their friends and colleagues to get it made.
“We basically gave everyone really good food and credits,” said Squerciati, who stars as Det. Kim Burgess. “It was a really fun weekend.”
Squerciati met improv actor Webb on the set of the NBC series when he was working as a stand-in for Brian Geraghty. Squerciati and Webb connected over their love of comedy, started doing improv together at the iO Theater and eventually started writing together.
“Special Skills” follows the odd conversations of two young actors waiting to audition have with each other and the people they meet in the waiting room. You can watch on YouTube or at the Special Skills site.
“Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Fire” actors Patrick John Flueger, LaRoyce Hawkins, Kara Killmer, Amy Morton, Monica Raymund and Christian Stolte make appearances in the episodes. Crew members from the shows and students from DePaul University also donated their time and skills.
“Special Skills” is a chance for Squerciati to flex her comedic chops, something she doesn’t get to do much on “Chicago P.D.” The actress, now on maternity leave, appears in her most intense episode yet April 5. I spoke with her about “Last Minute Resistance” at Chicago Sun-Times.
Squerciati talks more about the making of “Special Skills,” including how and Webb got improv comedy legend David Pasquesi to direct the episodes and what the duo plan next.
I love that you two met because Patrick was Brian’s stand-in.
Actually one of the episodes that is upcoming is a funny one where Brian Geraghty comes into an audition room and Patrick’s like, “It’s so weird when somebody looks just like you.” I’m like, “That dude doesn’t look like you! He’s hot and you’re not.” (Watch now at top of post.)
How did you get David Pasquesi to direct the episodes?
Patrick does improv here and managed the “TJ & Dave” show. That’s also how Dave [Pasquesi] got involved. Dave became a consultant and went over the scripts with us. That’s sort of the touch of a Chicago [improv] God having Dave Pasquesi be like, “This is funny, this isn’t funny, work on this, tighten this, don’t do this.”
When I was coming up, I did a lot of improv in New York. When I saw him do “TJ & Dave” at the Barrow Street Theatre I thought, “One day I’d like to meet that man.” It’s funny. It’s just so nice. Not to say anything cheesy like “Your dreams come true,” but I’m working with him now! It is kind of amazing.
Things do come around.
It’s funny, last year I did “Chicago Med” and Dylan Baker was guest starring. At Williamstown I was his dresser and here we are playing opposite each other. I was like, “Remember me? I made it!”
Have you always had an interest in comedy?
Always. I never thought that I’d get cast in a drama for my first series regular role. I always thought it would be a sitcom or something. Amy Morton and I joke about how we’re going to do a spinoff, like the Burgess-Platt four-camera comedy.
Yeah, I love comedy. Patrick and I are thinking of what to do next, like maybe write a sitcom or something like that. I miss doing comedy.
Did you guys just click right away?
I think we did. We just clicked and we just started meeting and seeing what would happen, in a very loose form. We would open a book, pick a word, and just improv off of that. Then we’d write it down and see if we could give shape to it. There are a lot of sketches that didn’t make it, which is so funny … Sometimes you have to slaughter your babies. That’s part of the process.
When did you film it?
We filmed it in one weekend with DePaul students. Pete Biagi, who teaches there, got this amazing team of DePaul students who did the lighting and camera work.
Did you find that your “P.D.” and “Fire” pals were more than willing to help?
Totally game. They were so great. It’s hard to ask someone to give up a day off but they were just so kind. We tried to be respectful of their time. Kara Killmer’s actually the receptionist a couple times. But if you notice in the background we’ll have somebody else there, because we weren’t going to ask her to be in the background of every scene. Everyone basically had a four-hour commitment. Everyone was just really game. It was fun. And we already have a queue of people who want to be in the next season.
That’s fun. I laughed out loud at LaRoyce Hawkins’s line in Episode 2, “Honeys don’t like getting chopped up.” That was hilarious.
I know! We actually gave him the script a little bit early so he could take a look at it and he came up with one of his lines, “Practice makes pimping.” I was just like, “Thank you, LaRoyce. Thank you.” He just shot this up to a whole other stratosphere.
When you guys were writing did you decide that you would be two actors just because that’s what you know and you had a lot of funny experiences at auditions?
Honestly, I think we gave it that shape afterward. It had to be one location for just ease and convenience. Claire Simon offered her casting office. That’s how it fell into place and we gave it a little more shape after we had written the sketches. I think the next season would not be two actors.
Not that there’s anything wrong with actors.
Oh no, not at all. [Laughs.] That’s how we started and I think when you’re trying to do a web series, sticking to one location is how you can get it done logistically. A bar, next time, might be something we’re thinking about.
If this happened when Patrick was Brian’s stand-in, you’ve had a long gestation period.
It was a year. It took a while to get it edited because we’re also asking people for favors there. You don’t want to push people too hard when it’s like, “Hey, do you mind taking a day to do this?” Then we were just trying to figure out how to release it, what we wanted to do with it.
Do you plan on doing another set?
I think we’ll either do a Season 2 or we’re going to write a pilot. We haven’t decided—probably both. We had so much fun with this and people seem to be responding to it.
You got to use other special skills of your own.
Like my humor?
Well, yes, the humor, but also on the production end and organizing everything.
That is something that I’d like to outsource a little more next time. [Laughs.] I had no idea how hard that would be. Then also trying to let it go once you’re on camera. Just not think about, “Oh God, when’s Krafty coming? They’re late. Oh God, is my actor going to be on time? Oh gosh, my makeup artist donated her time; I don’t want her to stay too late.” I’m a worrier, so it’s like trying to let that go and just act, too. I’d probably hire a producer next time.
Do you have a new appreciation for producers?
Oh, 100 percent.
How much have you gotten into Chicago’s comedy scene?
I go to a lot of shows iO. I took some classes at Second City … and up north in Ravenswood, at a little black box theater that was really fun. I’ve been doing little things. I’m taking a Shakespeare class, also up north.
I’m trying to keep other parts of me alive and just try and be a well-rounded actor, which is hard sometimes with the hours [on “Chicago P.D.”] It’s also worth it.
You want to keep all those muscles working.
Yeah. I hope “Chicago P.D.” goes forever, but when it’s over I want to be ready to jump to my next thing.
More One Chicago
Chicago P.D. rips Burgess story from headlines
LaRoyce Hawkins get Chicago Justice close-up
Philip Winchester works new muscles in Chicago Justice
Eamonn Walker praises One Chicago family