At a young age growing up in Livermore, California, Vanessa Ray discovered that performing was in her blood when her mother took her to Livermore High School to see a production of The Music Man. After getting bitten by the acting bug, Ray, along with her brother, had roles in the musical Oliver!, which ultimately catapulted her into the world of show business.
Having starred in various Broadway and television shows, such as Pretty Little Liars, Suits, As the World Turns and Damages, Ray currently costars in the CBS crime drama Blue Bloods as police officer Edit “Eddie” Janko. She describes her character as an honest, bright, tough and confident cop who has faced a lot of adversity in her life.
The police procedural, which is currently in its ninth season, follows the Reagans, an Irish-Catholic multi-generational family of cops who are dedicated to New York City law enforcement. Frank Reagan, who is portrayed by Magnum P.I. himself, Tom Selleck, is the city’s police commissioner who runs his department as diplomatically as he runs his family.
Soon to be a Reagan herself, Eddie got engaged to Jamie Reagan (portrayed by Will Estes) in last season’s finale. Dubbed by fans of the show as “Janko,” Eddie and Jamie, who were partners in the same police precinct, hadn’t always had the best of relationships, which was sometimes plagued by jealousy and mixed emotions.
“I think it’s really complicated, with myself included, as a fan of this couple,” explained Ray. “There’s a lot of learning curves and lot of figuring out what their relationship looks like. I think it’s more of a struggle than they were anticipating. That’s something that I read a lot when I get the scripts and say ‘Oh man, this is hard for them.’ It’s a lot harder for them than I think we all thought. They’ve loved each other for all these years, they’re finally together and now the fun begins, but it’s sort of where the real work has begun for them in terms of their relationship instead of their actual work and family unit.”
According to Ray, viewers should brace themselves this season for a lot more of the same “Janko” that they love, but also a lot more grit and struggles than they anticipated and what everyone’s been prepared for.
A relative outsider to the Reagan family, which is known for having traditional Sunday family dinners, Ray said that the cast is like family to one another.
“Coming into this very established family, they have a laundry list of inside jokes and they really wanted to catch me up on all of them,” Ray said affectionately. “It’s a very playful room. I was obviously intimidated and nervous the first couple of times going to family dinner, but I immediately felt welcomed. There really is such a family aspect to it. I’m really fortunate to get to sit with Bridget [Moynahan], who is like the big sister I’ve always wanted.”
Sitting at that family dinner table is not only Selleck, but legendary actor Len Cariou, who Ray said makes her speechless at times.
“I’ve been an enormous fan of Len Cariou from Sweeney Todd,” she said. “To be totally honest, I am so nervous around Len that I sometimes can’t even find my words because I’ve admired his work for so long…I don’t even think he knows that.”
Playing a police officer on television can also be physically demanding, something for which Ray said she had to train like an officer when she initially got the role of Eddie.
“Our producer, James Niciforo, who is the unsung hero of our show, took Marisa [Ramirez], Will [Estes] and I to a shooting range,” said Ray. “It was the first time I ever shot a gun since I didn’t really grow up with guns. I also did some SWAT-type training and learned how to clear a room. I have so much respect for police officers with the amount of gear that they’re wearing on a day-to-day basis and being in such great physical shape.”
In the current era of the #MeToo Movement, Blue Bloods was ahead of its time when it was revealed that Eddie was sexually assaulted while out on a date—feeling ashamed to report it in fear of what her fellow officers would think of her if they found out.
“It definitely was ahead of its time because it really talked about matters that are very much in the press right now,” explained Ray. “That was an episode that was really important to the director Dave Barrett and myself. We worked very closely together on that episode. I’m proud of that, and I’m very proud of the fact that on our show we talk very openly about [sexual assault].”
In order to make sure that what is being portrayed on television is accurate to that of a real life police officer, the show’s writers consult a lot with their police tech consultants and are always running things by them, Ray revealed.
“So many of our story lines are pulled straight from experiences from law enforcement,” said Ray. “We’re not a ripped-from-the-headlines kind of show. We’re definitely more of a personal experience kind of show. We tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. We don’t tell you what to think.
Blue Bloods airs on CBS Friday nights at 10 p.m.