Chicago PD’s Milauna Jemai Jackson tells her Chicago story

Milauna Jemi Jackson starred as Laila in the Chicago PD episode Black and Blue. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Milauna Jemai Jackson.
Milauna Jemi Jackson starred as Laila in the Chicago PD episode Black and Blue. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Milauna Jemai Jackson. /

Chicago PD actress Milauna Jemai Jackson tells One Chicago Center how she brought Kevin Atwater’s love interest Laila to life.

The latest Chicago PD featured a great performance by Milauna Jemai Jackson as Laila, the tough as nails woman who fell in love with Kevin Atwater.

Not only was Milauna adept at telling Laila’s tragic story of trying to move on from her checkered past, she and LaRoyce Hawkins both did outstanding work that made “Black and Blue” a painful but worthwhile episode.

Hopefully that’s not the last time Laila is seen on Chicago PD, because Milauna made her someone that the audience wanted to know more about, and a character they’ll definitely remember.

One Chicago Center connected with Milauna Jemai Jackson so that One Chicago fans could learn more about this talented actress, and find out how she put together such a complex character.

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One Chicago Center: You’re a Chicago native. So how much did it mean for you to join Chicago PD?

Milauna Jemai Jackson: It was life-changing. I hadn’t worked in Chicago since I actually migrated to Los Angeles. So being able to come home was me living the dream, while I was living my dream.

My dream was to do exactly what I was doing in Chicago; the opportunites just weren’t there. They weren’t as plentiful when I started. So to be able to actually be offered a role, to play someone from Chicago as a Chicagoan, was serendipitous.

OCC: The episode hinges on the relationship that Laila develops with Atwater. How did you build that chemistry with LaRoyce Hawkins?

Milauna Jemai Jackson: It helps when you’re in it with someone who also wants to do that, that believes the mission is bigger than just the two of us. I’ve been blessed to work with people who are into that.

Specifically on Chicago PD, we rehearsed a lot. The director [Christine Swanson] was adamant about casting someone who could be as authentic as possible to what they were looking for, because it was a very complex character.

It’s interesting because people are like oh, she’s from Chicago, she’s playing in Chicago so that makes it easier. That’s just not true. Nothing is ever easy because you experienced it, because sometimes we shield ourselves, to protect ourselves from living that experience. It helps when you have people you can trust, and I trusted the entire team I was working with and they also trusted me.

OCC: How would you describe working with Christine Swanson, having a strong female director handling this episode with a strong female lead?

Milauna Jemai Jackson: It was exciting. It was the first time I had worked with Christine. Christine had never really truly had an opportunity to see me in action behind her lens so the fact that she had a vision is a godsend.

It was her directorial TV debut and working in Chicago was great. She saw a lot of the elements that she had in her vision manifest in front of her eyes and as a filmmaker, she captured it.

Chemistry is important no matter what role you’re playing. You want to see the connection between the actors. So the fact that she was able to capture it was exciting for us, because we wanted to make sure we did as much as we can, [to give her] what she was looking for to tell this story.

Chicago PD is a show that the fans love and when the fans love a show it’s precious to them. You have to keep that in mind no matter what. I think we all did that and it was under her tutelage.

OCC: What stands out to you from the episode? Do you have a Chicago PD highlight?

Milauna Jemai Jackson: You’ll be able to see a sensitive side to [Atwater] that resonates with me as a woman, with me as an actress, but also with me as a human being. It’s endearing and sweet. You have to obviously have some conflict in it, but it just shows a kinder, gentler side of this man. You see him grow in a way that is beautiful to watch and I was there to experience it, so you’ll see what I saw.

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OCC: One Chicago viewers should definitely go and see more of your other work. What projects would you recommend they watch after Chicago PD?

Milauna Jemai Jackson: All of my characters are quite different. There’s a similar thread, obviously because I’m present in them, but they’re all different. So if you want to see me portray other people in other ways, I would highly recommend the shows in between Chicago PD and Strike Back.

Which were Aquarius, which was on NBC with David Duchovny. I worked with Grey Damon for two years, I learned so much and had a ball doing that.

The other is How To Get Away With Murder. You can’t get a more generous opportunity to learn than working opposite Viola Davis in the way that I did for season 3 of that show. I play ADA Atwood, I’m an attorney, and my mission is to try and take her down but we know how strong [her character] is. So you see me kind of develop a strength while showcasing my weaknesses.

I have one thing coming up, I don’t know exactly when it will be released but I did a movie with Ethan Hawke, and that should be coming out in 2019.

OCC: We’d love to see you if not back on Chicago PD, then back in the One Chicago universe. Is that something you’d want to do in the future?

Milauna Jemai Jackson: I would absolutely love to work in Chicago again. Working with PD opened my eyes to opportunities that I was not aware had developed over the years.

It’s also about the character. What is my character doing? How is she contributing to the show? But also how is she contributing to society? Because I’m doing it to inspire and encourage and uplift and educate. Anything that is productive with the character, I enjoy doing.

I was so grateful to be working on this specific show with these people. The benefits I’ve already received from doing that have set me up for where I want to go, so anything that comes after that is butter.

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