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‘FBI’ Star Missy Peregrym on Giving ‘Americans Something to Believe In’

Missy Peregrym spent six seasons as a beat cop on “Rookie Blue,” but three years later, she has moved up the chain to FBI Agent Maggie Bell on Dick Wolf’s new CBS procedural, aptly titled “FBI.”

She credits the experience of filming “Rookie Blue” with prepping her for her new role. “I had to have a break after that show and just literally purge and heal my body from going through all of those intense emotions,” Peregrym tells Variety. “I said I’d never do a procedural again, but I’m doing the most intense procedural — a Dick Wolf procedural.”

Peregrym admits she stopped watching the news for “about two years” because of how dark it was and how afraid it was making her. “I just kind of cut everything off,” she says. “I was taking care of myself, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel good to put your head in the sand.”

In her healing, Peregrym realized she wanted to be on the “good side” of the traumatic stories, and that, in part, led her to “FBI.” “We’re dealing in things that cause major fear, but what we’re really all hoping to bring to it is a sense of hope,” she says.

Ahead of “FBI’s” series premiere, Peregrym talks with Variety about why she signed on for another procedural, how personal the stories will get, and what she hopes viewers take away.

What made you decide to do another procedural after taking so much time to purge yourself of your first one?

I had put myself out there for other things, but there wasn’t anything I was as excited about. The reason why I was excited about this was it’s no different than “Law & Order: SVU” in that the impact that show has had outside of the show is remarkable, and I’m really impressed with what Mariska [Hargitay] has made of that. If we can do something that really impacts people for the greater good with the show and outside of that, there’s nothing else I would rather be a part of.

Have certain things about the genre or the structure come right back to you?

It’s a bit different because [as FBI agents] we’re usually walking in with SWAT, we’re not the first people on the scene of anything. There’s so much work that goes on before you show up to take someone down or to find something, so that’s a little bit different. And you’re far ahead in terms of the information you have, or the intel, on what you’re looking for. So it is a different role, and we have an FBI consultant on the show, and he’s been awesome. But you do understand the politics of things and what makes a comfortable set, what’s healthy and what’s not.

What is most important to you about the tone you create as a leader on set?

It’s always very important to me that people feel safe to be vulnerable — that actors who are coming in, guest stars and everybody, that they’re in a place that they can really try new things and they don’t have to nail it right away. The hardest part I think about being a guest star is you feel this pressure because you come in for two seconds, and it’s so fast the way you film. But there has to be room to be a human being. I know that it’s work, but there needs to be room to have a difficult time, to be tired, and we all come around each other and support each other in that time. What really matters to me is the heart of the person and how the person is doing.

It’s a common crime show trope for investigative characters to feel personal connection to cases or victims at times. How much do you want that for Maggie?

For Maggie, she had a tragedy that happened in her past that she hasn’t really dealt with. She buried herself in the work, and right now, that is what she’s doing — putting everything she has into something good,  pushing down the stuff she hasn’t dealt with, and I don’t know when that’s going to snap, but you can’t do your job if you’re always affected. You have to have a certain level of empathy, but you can’t be crying with every person that’s going through a tough time because actually, in a weird way, you’re taking that moment away from the actual victim, and you need to be strong for them. That’s that balance, that line, that I do want to show in Maggie. Sometimes she is having trouble holding it together. There’s no way you can work this stuff and not be affected by girls who are being sex trafficked.

How much time will be spent digging into her personal life and how the tragedy she experienced may be affecting her?

Not a lot of time. Because we’re dealing with such huge topics and we have 45 minutes to tell this story, there’s going to be backgrounds of the characters, but at the end of the day it’s really about the people who are working together right now to solve these cases. There’s just so much to tell, even the technology side of the FBI and how they solve these cases, there are so many different facets that come together, so we want to really be true to that and show how everybody does work as a team, and so you don’t have much time to get into that stuff. We will later, but it’s going to be doled out slowly, I think, and as we’re getting to know the characters, it’s really about their relationships, especially Maggie and OA [Zeeko Zaki].

Is her partner OA someone she can lean on? How important are her work relationships to her?

The five characters, that is the family. For Maggie’s life, this is the core group of people. Maggie and OA are together all of the time, and stuff is going to sneak out, and there are uncomfortable conversations or moments that you’re going to really get to know both of them in the heat of the moment.

How ripped from real life events of the New York location are the cases?

New York is one of the highest-targeted places in terms of terrorism just by sheer population and the attraction of doing something here, but a lot of the stuff that we’re dealing with is on a scale that affects the whole country. We’re discussing topics that could happen anywhere and are happening anywhere, and to a certain degree, it feels like it could happen to you.

How important do you think it is to balance those topics by having the characters succeed?

Everybody knows the bad stuff already — everybody sees the headlines and understands the fear and relates to this maybe happening to them or a loved one one day. Nobody wants to have a show that’s just a horror show the whole episode and we’re like, “Have a great sleep!” We want to do something that says, “OK yes this is happening, but look at all of these people who are working so hard to protect you.” That’s the truth about what’s going on in America right now, and our intention is to show the reality…and give Americans something to really believe in.

“FBI” premieres Sept. 25 at 9 p.m. on CBS.

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