‘Instinct’ actress Bojana Novakovic says playing NYPD cop ‘opened her eyes’

The actress shadowed NYPD detectives to prep for the role.

New York City’s latest cop drama is standing out for its subtle, yet powerfully diverse casting choices. “Instinct” features the first openly gay lead of an American broadcast drama (Alan Cumming), an Indian mayor and a leading female NYPD detective.

“How come this didn’t happen such a long time ago?” Bojana Novakovic, who plays Det. Lizzie Needham, says.

Novakovic’s character pulls Cumming’s Dr. Dylan Reinhart, a former CIA operative, out of retirement to help her solve a murder mystery after an overdose death at a club in the Meatpacking District proves to be suspicious. The eccentric Dr. Reinhart and no-nonsense Det. Needham create an amusing dynamic that almost distracts from the diverse qualities the show boasts.

“There’s nothing like this on TV at the moment,” Novakovic explains. “I think it’s classy to mix in diversity in this way … If these characters can be in viewers’ lounge rooms on a Sunday night while they’re eating their TV dinners, then they won’t be scared of them anymore.”

Particularly important to Novakovic was nailing the portrayal of a female in a position of power, in this case in the NYPD. The actress’ role as a “feisty, hardworking” detective proves important at a time where being a successful woman in a male-dominated workplace has remained a topic of cultural discussion.

“I think in any sort of profession, let alone ones that are dominated by alpha-male behavior like the police force, there’s always an intrigue about women who work there,” she says.

To prepare for the role, Novakovic shadowed female officers currently employed with NYC’s police force, where women are still a minority. Only 6,566 of the nearly 36,000 uniformed officers in the NYPD are female, according to police data recorded last month. But, the department did celebrate a “milestone” last fall, when women made up a record 27 percent of academy’s new recruits, data show.

“It really opened my eyes to how much a woman has to do to get where she is,” Novakovic says. “I realized that for women, it takes a lot. Then, on the other hand, there’s a real respect as well for the women in the police force.”

Novakovic trained with two retired police detectives to master the tasks of the job, from how to handcuff and detain a suspect to how to hop a fence.

“We had a couple of guys on set with us too, Mike and Jimmy. I’d never handcuffed anybody before!” she laughs. To prep for the physical demands of the job, she says she began watching MMA, took up boxing training and developed a Muay Thai hobby, a fighting technique popular in Thailand.

“They wrote that in for the character, that she trains Muay Thai, because I became obsessed with it,” Novakovic notes.

The actress ensures we’ll get to see a lot more of her tenacious character throughout the debut season as we uncover bits and pieces about what drove her to join the police force. Keeping it spoiler-free, she teases Lizzie’s taste for justice stems from her past and may be relatable to women currently employed in the force.

“The women who work there do so because they love their profession, it was a childhood wish or there’s some sort of trauma in the past and for Lizzie it’s both,” she says. “We get to really explore that this season.”

“Instinct” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBS.

Meghan Giannotta