Independent TV pilot Distemper, which tells the inspiring true story of pathologist and LGBT icon Dr. Louise Pearce as she races to discover the cure for African Trypanosomiasis as it infects millions throughout the Belgian Congo, will make its world premiere at the 2019 North Fork TV Festival in Greenport on Friday, October 4 at 7 p.m.
We had the pleasure of chatting with actress Abigail Hawk, who took on the role of Dr. Pearce, and also stars as Abigail Baker on Blue Bloods, about her latest role, season 10 of the CBS hit, and much more.
What attracted you to the role of Dr. Louise Pearce?
AH: Elias Plagianos, who is the director of Distemper, he and I have known each other for quite a while and wanted to work together on something. He sent the script to me and said, “Listen, I think you would be perfect for this.” I did like 30 seconds of research on Google, and I just completely fell in love with her. I think she’s just a phenomenal woman. She, to me, is the epitome of what a strong woman is. I just was really drawn to find out as much as possible as I could about her. And I went from there.
How did you prepare for the role?
AH: I definitely started with our good friend, the Internet. It was interesting that there weren’t a lot of photos of her in her younger years. Most of the photos of her are from when she is probably in her mid to late 50s, after she’s received all of the awards. But, it was nice to see her face as it had progressed with all the things that had happened to her. I researched, I started with her, and then I dove deeper into Trypanosomiasis, which is one of the diseases that she researched and cured. I dove into the Belgian Congo and the history of the rubber industry and that horrific tragedy, which I was not even aware of – that the Belgian government, King Leopold II actually was responsible for almost 10 million people’s mutilation and death. All in the name of rubber. I did not even know about that. So, that was a horrific thing to learn, but, yet fascinating that I wasn’t taught this in school. I just kept going deeper and deeper and deeper into what was going on in 1918. The flu epidemic, women’s suffrage movement, World War I ending – there’s just so much going on. To me, it seems like it rivals what is happening today, where we’re just in this amazing, ridiculous existence where we’re just getting hit from all sides with everything. I did most of my research on the Internet, and then I also read a book that was written by Sara Josephine Baker, who was Louise Pearce’s partner. That helped me to kind of hone in on what New York City was like.
You currently star as Abigail Baker on Blue Bloods. How does filming an independent pilot like Distemper differ from a network show like the CBS hit?
AH: Oh, gosh, that’s a loaded question. I think there’s a lot of ways that it differs. Doing independent television kind of gives you the freedom to explore in ways that are not tied to a heavy duty network machine, you don’t have to funnel decisions through executives and higher ups. So, you have that creative license to really create and that’s a lovely aspect of it. But, at the same time, working on such a powerhouse as Blue Bloods for a decade, it’s lovely to show up to set because you know exactly what you’re going to get. It’s a huge family that we created, we all feel safe and secure there. It’s wonderful to have something stable like that. I’m very, very grateful for that job. Especially because it has opened doors for me to meet a ton of real life law enforcement, women who are actual heroes. I really enjoyed being a part of that community.
Obviously budget is the big difference. But, I love working on independent film for the same reason as I love working on independent television. It’s just nice to have both. I’m 37-years-old, and I love having the freedom to do both. The beauty of Blue Bloods is that I work off of Tom Selleck’s schedule. So, I have sometimes two weeks off at a time, and I’m able to dive into these other projects. I have my stability, but I get to be creative in many different ways. It’s wonderful.
After the North Fork TV Festival, where can people see Distemper?
AH: My hope is that it will become available and generate interest at North Forth TV. There will be a lot of executives there and some people with perhaps some funds that they can throw our way. I really hope that it is able to develop further.
Now, will you be attending the Festival?
AH: I will be there the night of October 4th for the premiere. I’m very much looking forward to it.
Season 10 of Blue Bloods will bring the show’s 200th episode, congrats. What does it mean to you to be part of a show that has resonated with audiences for so long?
AH: It’s very special. I feel as if I’ve almost grown into myself as a woman, in this decade that I’ve been working. Really, everything that I’ve learned as a professional actor has happened on my time on the show. It’s a personal triumph for me, but it’s also a professional and creative triumph. It’s incredibly rare for a network show to make it to 100 episodes, let alone 200. I just think every season we’ve gotten better. Audiences really connect with these characters, and they know them and are rooting for them and are invested in their growth. It’s just been very exciting to be part of a story that really marries a procedural drama with a character drama. It remains one of the strongest highlights of my life, truly.
What will season 10 bring for your character?
AH: I’m hoping we find out a little bit more about her relationship with her husband. We saw him get shot in the line of duty in season 9. He very narrowly escaped death. I’m hoping we kind of see perhaps a window into what their relationship is like. You’ve got two cops married to each other, which is similar to the characters Jamie and Eddie on the show. I think viewers would be interested in seeing that. But, I don’t know. I am hopeful that there will be more exchanges between DCPI Garrett Moore and Lieutenant Sid Gormley and Baker. Frank’s “Dream Team,” as we call ourselves. That’s his inner circle. It’s always a fun day on set when the three of us are bickering or working together to dissuade Frank from doing something that we perhaps feel is ill-advised. I think it’s going to be a great season. It’s just going to be exciting watching Jamie and Eddie navigate being newlyweds. I’m sure there will be some fun storylines there and hope we get to see more of Detective Baez, Marisa Ramirez’s character also, because I think she’s a phenomenal actress. I love her character too. Nobody hangs out with Donnie Wahlberg like Marisa.
Reflecting back, what are some of the moments that stand out from the past ten years?
AH: Oh, my goodness, there’s so many. I’d say probably my favorite episode was season 4, which was the episode that Donnie Wahlberg directed called Manhattan Queens. I took down the Suffolk Chief of Police who was heckling me in a room full of men. I just completely cut him down to size with one singular phrase, and it was beautiful. I loved that entire scene, because Baker’s just so deadpan, and her delivery of lines is… I mean, I aspire to be as cool and effortless as she is. But, also, in real life I had both of my children while I was working on the show. So, it was very special to me to be not only pregnant while working on a network TV show, but also having that solidarity and camaraderie while I was going through everything. Like I said, we really are a big family and just having other moms understanding how fatigued I was, making sure that the bags underneath my eyes were taken care of. Just little things like that, making sure that I had good Spanx so that I felt supported. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful time. And also, I went into labor with my second son the day that we were supposed to shoot. So, Tom Selleck literally rewrote a scene around the delivery of my son, which is a pretty awesome legacy.
That’s for sure! Are you working on anything else at the moment?
AH: I’m not, actually. I do a little bit of writing on the side. I work on an online women’s magazine called Good Little Girls. There’s a small issue coming out soon. I’ve got that kind of percolating. But, other than that, I’m just enjoying working on season 10 of Blue Bloods, and I just moved into a new house. That’s eating up more of my time than anything.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
AH: I’m very excited to see how Distemper is received. I think it’s a really relevant story, and I’m excited to bring it into the private arena for now and hopefully public as we go on.
The North Fork TV Festival will take place on Friday, October 4 and Saturday, October 5. The Festival is currently offering 20% off Festival passes and tickets with the code: VIP20.
For more information about the North Fork TV Festival, visit www.northfork.tv.