The two actors reboot their two-hour pilot for an entire exciting season worth of episodes
You've seen the two-hour pilot that revived 1982's hit action series Knight Rider. Now,
NBC is bringing Kitt and Mike Traceur, estranged son of Michael Knight, to you on a weekly basis starting this fall. The series' debut is happening on September 24th at 8pm, so set your Tivos right now. To celebrate the first season premier, we caught up with actor Justin Bruening, the man behind Mike Traceur, and his on-screen best friend Deanna Russo, who plays Sarah Graiman. Also on hand for the chat was Executive Producer Gary Scott Thompson. This is what they had to say about their upcoming series, which promises to be one of the most exciting shows of the year:
Justin and Deanna, my first question is for you. In terms of momentum as actors, how difficult was it to get back into your roles and into the Knight Rider storyline?
Deanna Russo: It wasn't difficult at all.
Justin Bruening: Yeah, it was not difficult at all.
Deanna Russo:Because we didn't take a break from it. I mean, once we wrapped
shooting, we just kept working on the show from when we shot the two-hour pilot. Then
we were promoting it. And then we immediately started training for the series, even
before we knew officially. We just wanted to be prepared.
Deanna Russo: We just enjoyed our characters so much that we didn't want to
leave them behind just yet.
Justin Bruening: I think deep down we all had confidence that it was going to go
Deanna Russo: Shoot, it's Knight Rider. I mean, come on.
Gary, I wanted to ask you a similar question. When the movie came out it was a re-imagination of something we hadn't seen in a long time. It sets the stage for a series, but at the same time there was a fair amount of closure. How challenging is it to excite the audience the second time around as this series begins?
Gary Scott Thompson: It's not just the second time. It's now in the 100s because we plan on going a long time with this one. So challenge-wise, it was pretty easy actually. We've got great stars here and a great car. We've got a few new cast members, great writers. There are a lot of stories to tell.
What can you tell us about the voice of KITT? Who is that going to be this time around?
Gary Scott Thompson: Same voice, Val Kilmer.
You said earlier that this series was going to be in no way, shape or form even close to resembling the pilot. That everything was scrapped and writers were taking on a completely different mythology and storyline. Do you want to talk about that, and if that's true or not?
Gary Scott Thompson: It's still true. We went back to the original series to look at what made that work. We went through the pilot and have four characters coming from that. We made sure that those four characters clicked into what the new mythology was for the series. Again, it's 25 years later so we have to update the car, update the people and be in touch with the times. I think that's really what we did. We just tried to bring it up to date.
What were some of the new refurbishments for KITT that were not reflected in the pilot as far as KITT the movie?
Gary Scott Thompson: KITT can transform from one vehicle to another. He has more advanced weaponry. He likes Deanna's character better than Justin's.
Justin Bruening: That is untrue. His windshield is now a heads up display, which interacts fully with our headquarters, the SSC.
Gary Scott Thompson: Right, and we have a headquarters, which is affectionately called the KITT Cave. Which is a Satellite Surveillance Chamber, which is part of Knight Research and Development. That's our main base of operation. And we can track and follow the car anywhere in the world via a co-opted satellite.
You mentioned that KITT is a teenager in rebellion and is growing into himself - Val Kilmer's voice over and the car's personality. Would you talk about that as far as KITT's maturation?
Gary Scott Thompson: It's not so much a teenager as that he's actually learning. It's a developmental process through the course of the first season. The idea is going from you know, as if a child would go from say sixth grade all the way through college. It's the idea of training him and making him learn or having him learn. We've got some terrible teen going on right now in the Halloween episode. He's a little defiant.
After doing five seasons on Las Vegas, was this in your plan to jump into another series right away, to potentially keep you really busy for many years to come?
Gary Scott Thompson: No. I have a lot of features that I still have on hold that I put on hold five years ago. It was not really my intention. NBC sort of handed me the show and said, "Do you want to do this? Do you think you can make this work?" And I looked at it as a big challenge. The other thing was that I started thinking about it, and once I started thinking about it I couldn't turn it off. That's usually a reason to jump into something, because if I'm staying awake obsessing about it, then there's probably a good reason for me to be doing it.
Justin and Deanna, you've both done some time in the daytime world. How do you think that world prepares you for really anything else outside the soap world?
Deanna Russo: Well, the pace of the show is much more intense than anything else out there, so it's an entirely different animal than primetime. I mean, we go through like 70 to 90 pages a day for daytime. In primetime, people complain if they've got 9 pages.
Justin Bruening: It just prepared us a little more as actors in general. I'm saying that is like finding your camera, and learning how to be comfortable in front of a camera because you don't have time to think about it. It's actually refreshing to have more time to be in a scene and make it deeper, and make it more complex instead of, you know, having to rush through it.
Deanna Russo: Because that like challenges your instincts.
Justin Bruening: Yes.
is Hasselhoff coming back for any episodes? Or maybe William Daniels popping up somewhere, even though he wouldn't be the voice of KITT?
Gary Scott Thompson: We haven't spoken about William Daniels at this point. I have spoken to David. David, NBC, and myself? We're discussing it.
Justin and Deanna, there wasn't a lot of time for a romance in the two-hour movie. Will there be more time for romance in the series?
Justin Bruening: Actually that's kind of part of the story. We have to save the world and there's not a lot of time for that, but trying to fit that in, having a life and, you know, going on the missions and all of that. That's kind of where the humor comes in.
Deanna Russo: Sexual tension.
Justin Bruening: And the sexual tension, and all of that.
But the two of you will still be each other's love interest for the series?
Deanna Russo: It's more of a "will they, won't they" kind of storyline.
Does Mike find the girl client of the week, or is he just more interested in Sarah?
Deanna Russo: That's what keeps us apart. It's all these floozies that keep coming in.
Justin Bruening: Yeah, when you're a spy you sometimes have to go under covers.
Deanna Russo: Sure, under covers.
With the series being changed around a little bit, is the family connection still going to be important with the father and all?
Justin Bruening: I believe it's always there. Family is very important, you know? We haven't talked about it much, but I believe there will be times that we're going to have to learn from my predecessor. Sarah's character? Her family works there. Family is very important.
Deanna and Justin, how often do you guys crack up on set considering that you're dealing with a talking car day in and day out?
Justin Bruening: No, our show is serious. What are you talking about?
Deanna Russo: All the time.
Justin Bruening: All the time, especially when you add the green screen in with it.
Is it bizarre? Is there somebody standing off to the side, reading dialogue for the car because obviously Val Kilmer is coming in and doing it later, right?
Justin Bruening: No, KITT really talks. Everything is real. We do have an interesting voice double for Val and his name is John Berdell.
Deanna Russo: And he's amazing. He really helps us out. We couldn't do what we do if it wasn't for him.
Justin Bruening: Gary had mentioned earlier about how KITT learns. Having someone there that is a voice actor can always add those elements of what he may be learning or may not be learning. And that really helps us react.
Gary, you said there are a lot of stories to tell. Give us a preview. What kinds of stories will you be telling on a weekly basis? Are they standalones? Are they mythology? Will it be a combination?
Gary Scott Thompson: All of the above. Most of them are standalones. It's boy and car save world. We live in a different world than the original show. In the original show it was a drug dealer here, a runaway there. We live in a world where there's terrorism, where people are trying to destroy and kill each other, and the stakes are a lot higher. So that's what we're going to deal with.
Back on the original show, KITT was really a science fiction creation. Today, how much of a science fiction creation do you think the car is or is it even this close to reality? I mean, it seems just a step away.
Gary Scott Thompson: It's very close. You know, everybody already has GPS and OnStar. The cars do talk to you. They're working on cars that can drive themselves using sensors, so they will never wreck. They'll know the speed limit and all that. So it's 10 years away, 15 maybe.
How different is the series from the movie?
Gary Scott Thompson: It's a lot different. I think the movie just sort of set the table and bridged the gap between the original series and this series. That's how we like to look at it. This is a much faster pace. Its kind of balls to the wall, flat out go, high-octane adrenaline. And it's a real rush.
Who would you say it's aimed at? Is it a family show? Is it mainly for younger male viewers? Who's your audience, do you think?
Gary Scott Thompson: Everybody. Everybody loves KITT.
Can you tell me about any guest stars you're having?
Gary Scott Thompson: Who've we had? I forgot. We're in the middle of shooting and we can't remember yesterday, hardly. And we're shooting multiple units at the same time. Justin and Deanna are running back and forth between two units, sometimes three. We just shot on a Sunday. They shot all day and night, so we can hardly remember what yesterday was, let alone what the guest star of the week was.
Anyone from Las Vegas?
Deanna Russo: A lot of babes. There've been a lot of babes walking around.
For Justin, the movie touched on Michael's background and that he was previously in the war. How has that shaped him into the guy he is today, and what have you enjoyed about the way they have flushed that history out this season?
Justin Bruening: One of the new mythologies, and one of the storylines to the series is actually Mike's past. He was in the war, but he doesn't remember a few years of his life while he was in war. There are things that come up from his past throughout the series, people that want to kill him or, you know, his loved ones. And that really affects the missions. That affects everyone's relationship with him.
What role does Sarah play in Michael's life and adventures? I mean, do you consider her his trusty sidekick? What makes her an important member of the team?
Deanna Russo: She's definitely got mechanic tendencies, and I think she's just trying to prove herself as one of the boys. So she's been trained to fight, but winds up getting in trouble and has to be saved a couple times. There's a couple times when Mike gets in trouble and she has to save him. So it's tit for tat, perhaps.
Do you enjoy kicking some ass, then?
Deanna Russo: Always, oh man, the best part of the job.
Gary Scott Thompson: She does it quite well.
Justin Bruening: Yes, all over me.
What was the decision behind scheduling the premiere online a week earlier than television?
Gary Scott Thompson: I'll be very honest with you, I didn't know anything about that until someone told me. I just found out about that a few days ago. I still don't have official word from NBC on that, so I have no clue.
In the pilot movie, the mercenaries are almost successful in hacking KITT's system, so are you going to install Norton on him for the series?
Gary Scott Thompson: We have Super Norton on him.
I noticed The Montecito was in the pilot movie, too. Is there going to be any kind of crossover between Las Vegas and this?
Gary Scott Thompson: There is no plan at this point. That doesn't mean there won't be in the future. It's already been in there once.
About the practical effects versus CGI with the car. Are you going to be doing green screen? What's sort of effects will you be doing?
Justin Bruening: There is a lot of green screen, but there's also a lot of second unit stuff.
Gary Scott Thompson: It's a combination of both at this point. There's real driving and then there's CG. Also, it's just not cost effective, nor can we close down freeways, to drive 300 miles an hour. Trying to drive that fast in the state of California is a little prohibitive. So we have to do green screen for a lot of those shots. But we're out doing stunts in highways that we can control. And so it is very much a combination of all of those.
Justin and Deanna, have you guys had to do any stunt driving or have any training in that area?
Deanna Russo: Yes, and it was the most dangerous thing I've ever done. I still don't know how they green lit that idea.
Gary Scott Thompson: Justin hit a tree.
Justin Bruening: I did not hit a tree. KITT hit it. KITT hit the tree.
Gary, you wrote the first two Fast and Furious films. I was wondering what, from that experience, do you bring to this show, and if you could talk a little bit about your working relationship with Dave Bartis and Doug Lyman, and their involvement in the show on a day-to-day basis?
Gary Scott Thompson: The experiences from the Fast and Furious was just drive fast and furious. At relentless pace, and that there's an audience out there for cars. We're a huge car society, so people like to tune in for cars. We try to remember that when we're writing the episodes. And Doug and Dave, my relationship with them is they're Exec Producers. I'm an Exec Producer and the show runner. So we communicate on all facets of the production from scripts through cuts.
Justin, I wanted to ask you a little bit about working with Hasselhoff on the film and if you were intimidated at all. And what was that experience like for you?
Justin Bruening: Oh, the experience was great. I was a little intimidated at first. You know, he was my childhood hero as far as Knight Rider being my favorite show. When he came to the set I was fine until we were in the middle of the scene and he introduced himself as Michael Knight. And then I kind of freaked out a little bit. But other than that, it was a wonderful experience. It's one of those that I get to tell my grandkids about.
Is there any pressure that you feel playing the son of Michael Knight?
Gary Scott Thompson: No.
Justin Bruening: Not at all?
Gary Scott Thompson: I told him he couldn't have any pressure.
Justin Bruening: Yes, I'm not allowed to have pressure. I don't have time.
What do you feel the veteran actors, like Val Kilmer and Bruce Davidson, bring to the show? What level of authenticity? And what's it like to work with them?
Gary Scott Thompson: I can't speak for these guys, but it's great as a writer. You know that Bruce is great. And Val as well. There's a lot of explanations to be done and that they can do it because they're pros and know how to deliver that information so it doesn't just sound expository. That's great from a writing standpoint. You only have basically 43 minutes to tell a story and at some point, no matter what the TV show is, you have to explain something. And to have pros who can pull it off and pull it off in a way that it doesn't seem like it's just spoon-feeding an audience is fantastic. Plus, you know, the great thing about Val is he has such a voice that he can sort of, you know, get in this character of KITT. He's able to go in all the directions that we ask him, because KITT is learning from a point to another point. He doesn't speak with contractions. He doesn't do anything like that. And Val's really embraced the idea of working on a weekly basis. He starts to learn something more, and in learning he actually imparts much more wisdom in some strange way than our humans do.
What are those guys like to work with as actors?
Deanna Russo: The best part is lunchtime , because the stories that they tell...Well, at least Bruce. We haven't met Val yet.
Justin Bruening: Yeah, we don't work with Val. Yet.
Deanna Russo: Bruce is the most entertaining guy. I like the projects he's seen and the stories he can tell.
Several episodes in, how are the characters developing through the season?
Justin Bruening: With each script, I found out more and more about Mike. And, you know, a lot of it's fun for me because there's a lot of things that he doesn't remember. Every time I get a new script, there's always this little snippet. I'm like, "Oh, look at that, you know, there's something else to add into my personality." Or, you know, to my bag of tricks. He just gets deeper every episode and he gets more complex.
Deanna, is your character growing from episode to episode?
Deanna Russo: Yeah.
Gary Scott Thompson: We keep Deanna in the dark until right before she's about to shoot, and then hand her her pages and go, go! With each script, there's something different. There's some relationship that's different. There's a little bit of back-story about what the relationships were like in the years past or months, or weeks past. So that they get to play with it. Like Deanna, she just asked me a question. "How come my dad wasn't there on my birthday?" Because we had an episode recently and it was her birthday. And I haven't answered her yet, but I will when we get off the phone.
On a production photograph, Justin has this huge tattoo on his forearm. Is that something that's yours, Justin, or is that part of the character development?
Justin Bruening: That's part of the character, and it's something that plays into the storyline and continuing storyline of our show. It ends up being more than it seem.
Have you seen anything post-production wise since you've been doing all this green screen? How close to finishing the first episode are you guys?
Gary Scott Thompson: I've seen it, they haven't.
Justin Bruening: We're not allowed.
Deanna Russo: Boring.
Gary Scott Thompson: We will be working on it up until the last moment actually. We have something like 700 visual spec shots in the first episode and they're complex effects. They're not just one-layer effects. They're up to eight and ten layers, so you multiple each effect by that and it's far more than the amount. It's the amount that a huge feature would have. And to have that in an hour TV show is unheard of.
KITT is a wonderful part of this show. Can you guys just go back and tell me a little bit about maybe the coolest car that you've ever personally owned or, you know, whether or not you named your car back in the day, or anything like that?
Justin Bruening: I had a 1976 Chrysler Cordoba with maroon Corinthian leather.
Deanna Russo: What was its name?
Justin Bruening: It didn't have a name.
Deanna Russo: Boring.
Justin Bruening: Well it's a name that I can say and it was this piece of s...
Deanna Russo: Ah, the POS car.
Justin Bruening: It was a POS.
Deanna Russo: I had a 1992 Hyundai Excel. Everything was manual but the transmission. He was a little white piece of plastic and I called him Elroy.
Gary Scott Thompson: I had a 1958 GMC pickup that my grandfather gave me when I was 12 and there's a long story attached to it, but that was probably my favorite.
Justin what's your favorite bell or whistle on KITT?
Justin Bruening: Favorite bell or whistle on KITT?
Gary Scott Thompson: It's actually the bells and whistles that are on KITT.
Justin Bruening: It is? As far as bells and whistles, that's a hard one. Each week we have something new. I fall in love with something and I get a new script, and there's a new something. So there's new little buttons to push and gadgets.
Deanna Russo: That's not true. I'll speak for Justin. KITT is this like this orb thing that instead of the three lines, you know, lighting up and lighting down, it's now three dimensional orbs and removable. So Justin likes to take it out in between scenes and just like play with it.
Justin Bruening: There.
Deanna, how much do you know about nanotechnology now?
Deanna Russo: More than I ever thought I would in my entire life. What's funny is I'd never heard of it before the pilot. Apparently it's a real thing.
Speaking of the nanotechnology Gary, how easy is it going to be to fit in new technology as you guys go because just a couple weeks ago they discovered invisibility or something, I was reading.
Gary Scott Thompson: Yes, they did. We're on top of that. That's actually in an episode. It's sort of a cloaking device. It's fairly easy because we have a super braniac in Deanna's character that comes up with new technology and is able to program the car.
Deanna Russo: I say big words.
Gary Scott Thompson: Yes, really big words. I try to actually make up the words just to see if she can actually say them.
Deanna Russo: Jerk.
Deanna, we know that Justin was a big fan of the original series and of Hasselhoff, but what was your experience? Had you watched the series growing up at all or what was sort of your background coming into this?
Could each of you talk about what's been the most fun element for you guys on the show.
Deanna Russo: Every day is kind of fun.
Justin Bruening: Yeah, we have fun every day on this show.
Deanna Russo: Yeah.
Justin Bruening: I always say that this probably is the most fun show on television. Our entire cast and crew, we're always laughing and we're always having a good time.
Gary Scott Thompson: Just working with Justin and Deanna. They're absolutely fabulous. That's my favorite part.
Justin Bruening: Aw...
Deanna Russo: Gooey.
All-new episodes of Knight Rider begin airing September 24th at 8pm, only on NBC.