On September 24th, Knight Rider will once again kick into high gear and be back on the road. Based on the NBC 80’s series about Michael Knight and his one-of-a-kind talking car KITT, the recent two-hour movie on the same network earned good ratings although it didn’t click with everyone. As a result, Executive Producer Gary Scott Thompson signed on to strip down the vehicle down to its frame and remodel it into a hip and cool action packed show for a new generation. Thursday in a conference call with the press Thompson and lead actors Justin Bruening [Michael Knight] and Deanna Russo [Sarah Graiman] spoke about the man, the car, and how this new take on Knight Rider is just picking up speed…
Newsarama: Because you shot a movie and not a pilot, and because you did it several months ago, 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 wasn’t difficult at all.
Russo: For Justin and I, we just kept working on the show from when we shot the two-hour pilot and then we were promoting it. We then immediately started training for the series, even before we knew officially it was picked up. And we just enjoyed our characters so much that we didn’t want to leave them behind just yet.
Bruening: And I think deep down, we all had confidence that it was going to go to series.
Russo: Shoot, it’s Knight Rider! I mean, come on!
Bruening: Yeah, that and from seeing what the ratings were and everything.
NRAMA: The TV movie came out and it was a re-imagining of something we hadn’t seen in a long time. Obviously, 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 a second time as the series begins?
Gary Scott Thompson: Well, it’s not just the second time; it’s now 100 more times because we plan on going a long time with this one. So challenging-wise, it was pretty easy actually. We’ve got great stars here and a great car. We’ve got a few new cast members and great writers so it actually was fairly easy. There’s a lot of stories to tell.
NRAMA: At the TCAs, it was stated that Knight Rider was going to be in no way, shape, or form even resembling the pilot, that everything was scrapped and writers were taking on a completely different mythology and storyline. Can you talk about that and whether it's true or not?
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 then we didn’t want to disappoint some of the fans of the two-hour so we have four characters coming from that. So 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.
NRAMA: What were some of the new refurbishments for KITT that were not reflected in the pilot?
Thompson: KITT can transform from one vehicle into another. He has more advanced weaponry. What else guys? He likes Deanna’s character better than Justin’s.
Bruening: That is untrue. His windshield is now a heads up display which interacts fully with our headquarters, the SSC.
Thompson: And we have a headquarters we affectionately call the KITT cave, which is a Satellite Surveillance Chamber, and is part of Knight Research and Development. That’s our main base of operation. We can track and follow the car anywhere in world via a co-opted satellite.
NRAMA: It was mentioned that KITT is a teenager in rebellion and is growing into himself. Could you talk about that as far as KITT’s maturation?
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 as if a child would go from say sixth grade all the way through college. So it’s the idea of training him and making him or having him learn.
NRAMA: Justin and Deanna, you both have done some time in the daytime world. How did that prepare you for really anything else outside the soap world?
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 and for primetime, people complain if we’ve got nine pages.
Bruening: And yeah, it just prepared us a little more as actors in general like finding your camera and learning to be comfortable in front of it because you don’t have time to think about it. So now it’s actually refreshing to have more time to be in a scene, make it deeper, and make it more complex instead of having to rush through it.
NRAMA: Justin and Deanna, there wasn’t a lot of time for romance in the two-hour movie so will there be more time for that in the series?
Bruening: Actually, that is part of the story. We have to save the world and there’s not a lot of time for that but we are trying to fit that in, have a life, while going out on missions and all of that. That’s kind of where sometimes the humor comes in and the sexual tension.
NRAMA: But the two of you will still be each other’s love interest for the series?
Russo: Well, it’s more like the “will-they-or-won’t-they” kind of storyline.
NRAMA: But it’s not like Michael finds the girl client of the week or he’d just be interested in Sarah?
Russo: That’s what kind of keeps us apart is all these floozies that keep coming in.
Bruening: Yeah, when you are a spy, you sometimes have to go under covers…..
NRAMA: 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?
Bruening: One of the new mythologies and one of the storylines of 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 there.
There are things that come up from his past throughout the series with people that want to kill him or his loved ones. That affects the missions and everyone’s relationship with him. And for him not to remember there are things that he’s done, you know, the things that he does remember are not good and the things that he doesn’t are probably far worse.
NRAMA: What role does Sarah play in Michael’s life and adventures? Do you consider her his trusty sidekick or what makes her an important member of the team?
Russo: She’s definitely got mechanic tendencies and I think she’s just trying to prove herself as one of the boys. She’s been trained to fight but winds up getting in trouble and has to be saved a couple of times. But then in turn, there are a couple of times Mike gets in trouble and she has to save him so it’s tit for tat.
NRAMA: How much is practical effects versus CGI with the car? You said there is green screen but what sort of effects will you be doing?
Thompson: It’s a combination of both at this point. There’s real driving and then, because the car is transforming, we need to do that CG. Also, it’s just not cost effective and nor can we close down freeways to drive 300 miles an hour. Trying to drive that fast in the state of California is prohibitive so we have to do green screen a lot for those shots. But we’re out doing stunts on highways we can control and so it is very much a combination of all of those.
NRAMA: Justin, what was it like working with David Hasselhoff on the TV movie and were you intimidated at all?
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. And so 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. Then I kind of freaked out a bit. But other than that, it was a wonderful experience and it’s one of those things that I get to tell my grandkids about.
NRAMA: The character changed so much from the pilot so now that you’re seven episodes in shooting, how are the characters developing through the season?
Bruening: With each script, I found out more and more about Mike. And a lot of it’s fun for me because there’s a lot of things he doesn’t remember. So every time I get a new script, there’s always this little snippet. I’m like “Oh, look at that! There’s something else to add into my personality or my bag of tricks.’ But his character gets deeper every episode and he gets more complex.
NRAMA: On a production photo, Justin has this huge tattoo on his forearm. Is that something that is yours Justin or is that part of the character development?
Bruening: That’s part of the character and it’s something that plays into the continuing storyline of our show. It ends up being more than it seems.
NRAMA: What has been the most fun for you guys on the show?
Russo: Every day is kind of fun.
Bruening: Yeah, we have fun every day on this show. I always say that this is probably the most fun show on television. Our entire cast and crew ate always laughing and having a good time.
Russo: Because it’s about a talking car.
Russo: So we can get away with a lot of things that wouldn’t exist in real life.
Thompson: For me, it’s just working with Justin and Deanna. They’re absolutely fabulous. That is my favorite part.
Russo: Gooey.Related Stories: Producer Gary Scott Thompson on the New Knight Rider