Chicago P.D.'s Marina Squerciati Explains The Health Crisis That Nearly Kept Her From Her Life-Changing Audition

Marina Squerciati has become a staple of one of the most successful franchises on television, as she approaches her tenth season on NBC's Chicago P.D. Her character has been through the wringer more than once over the past decade, and just the past few years alone have seen her recover from a deep loss, take in a young girl, and build an unconventional family unit (with some ups and downs) while still remaining in the Intelligence Unit. As it turns out, however, Squerciati might never have made it to One Chicago if a certain health crisis had kept her from the audition that changed her life.

The actress' time in the Chicago area actually started much earlier than when she won the part of Kim Burgess on Chicago P.D., as she attended Northwestern University for Theater, but it wasn't all fun and games, as she shared with Will & Grace's Sean Hayes and Dr. Priyanka Wali on an episode of their HypochondriActor podcast. When she was a student at Northwestern, she became so incredibly sick with such a high fever that she had to go to the hospital, and her mom was even called in.  

It turned out that she had pneumonia in both lungs... but that was only the beginning of the chain of events that could have changed the course of her entire career. Although she was diagnosed with pneumonia, the doctors thought she might have meningitis since she was a college student. The doctors wanted to rule out meningitis, and the process didn't go as smoothly as it might have with Dr. Will Halstead in action on Chicago Med. She explained:

Basically, I had an intern doing the biggest misnomer in the medical community, [which] is 'spinal tap.' It's a battering ram in your spine. Let me tell you, he went in there trying to extract that fluid three or four times. It was a nightmare… I remember one of the experienced doctors at one point was like, ‘Do you want me to do it?’ And I felt bad for this guy. I don't know what the policies are in the medical community, but I didn't want him to be fired. So I was like, ‘It's fine. Just let him finish the job.’ I’m a guilt sponge, and so that really preyed on those guilt sponge sensibilities.

It was a kind gesture of Marina Squerciati to not want the intern to get into any trouble for trying to pull off the spinal tap multiple times, but it's possible that she'd do things differently a second time around, knowing what she learned after her first experience went from bad to worse. She continued:

But I remember the doctor… said to me, you know, all the things that can go wrong, but they’re really bad! You can be paralyzed, you [can] have an infection in your spine, and you can get a headache. And I remember joking, saying, ‘I’ll take the headache!’ Famous last words. Because I actually, at that point, really never had a headache. So I'm in the hospital laying down, getting over pneumonia. I was fine-ish. And then I go to leave and I sit up and I pass out from the pain.

Apparently, you shouldn't tempt fate in a hospital by joking about what might go wrong when an intern is taking a "battering ram" to your spinal column! Marina Squerciati managed to avoid getting a headache from her pneumonia, only to be hit so hard with one when she tried to sit up that she passed out from the pain. "Famous last words" indeed!

Now, being in so much pain from simply trying to sit up would be bad enough under any circumstances, but the timing evidently couldn't have been worse for the then-Northwestern student. Her next problem was one that podcast co-host Sean Hayes could relate to. She explained:

I'm sure Sean can relate that when there's an important audition or something, you will go to any length to go to it. There's this thing at Northwestern… and they pick the top four female and four male actors to take them to New York, audition for agents, and basically sort of set you up on this platform. And [the audition] was that day that I was released from the hospital. My mom had flown in because they were so scared about my condition, and I was like, I cannot miss [this]. I cannot. So my mom got this hospital tray and we went.

Talk about a real-life plot twist, with her mom getting a hospital tray as a solution to the problem! Unfortunately for Squerciati, the timing of the all-important audition that could give her a leg up in the competitive world of acting meant that she'd either have to somehow pull it off while in serious pain, or just pass on it altogether. And somehow, a hospital tray was the solution. She explained:

I couldn't get my head up. I didn't truly pass out from the pain, but it was almost unbearable. So we got this tray and she put my head on this tray, and we went. She's holding my head on a tray. And may I just say that we couldn’t… walk because of the bouncing. So my mom and I were like sashaying. I was not going to miss this audition.

Marina Squerciati had the co-hosts in stitches while telling her story, so she has clearly found the humor in it all these years later, but sashaying her way to such an important audition with her head on a tray held by her mom wasn't exactly ideal. With only four slots available as a female Theater student and the actress unable to even walk normally, the odds weren't in her favor. So, how did she hold herself together long enough to try? She shared:

Basically pure will. She brought me into the theater. I remember the two stairs I had to walk up to get on the stage because she was with me in the dark and it was so painful. I did my monologue and then I went back down and put my head on the tray. [laughs]

Forget a trip to New York – I'd say that Marina Squerciati deserves a medal for remembering a monologue while in that state, let alone managing to deliver it! But how good of a job did she do, in light of all of her pain from the spinal tap and her mom waiting with a tray? Well, her long list of TV credits going back to 2009 should be answer enough, but she finished her story like this:

The woman you see here today is because I went to [that audition]. One of the hardest things about being an actor is getting an agent. That’s a brutal part of the business. I got an agent from that and then got my next agent. And it really, truly set me up.

I would think that one of the hardest things about being an actor would be pushing through that much pain to chase your dream, so kudos to Marina Squerciati for not only making the audition, but evidently nailing it so well that she ultimately went on to appear in shows like The Good Wife, Blue Bloods, and Gossip Girl before landing the role of Kim Burgess that brought her to NBC full-time in 2014. 

Now, with Season 10 of Chicago P.D. just weeks away from premiering and a long list of guest appearances on Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, and even the short-lived Chicago Justice, Squerciati has appeared in well over 200 episodes of One Chicago action. She was also one of the P.D. stars who appeared in the 2015 crossover with Law & Order: SVU. Making that Northwestern audition definitely paid off!

See Marina Squerciati back in action when Chicago P.D. returns for its tenth season on Wednesday, September 21 at 10 p.m. ET in the 2022 TV premiere schedule. The show is going through some big changes early on, as Jesse Lee Soffer is departing after nine full seasons as Detective Jay Halstead. If you want to revisit Season 9 before the new episodes begin airing, you can do so streaming with a Peacock subscription. You can also hear more about her experience with the full HypochondriActor episode.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).