Fans of the popular ‘80s television series about the super smart, talking car, K.I.T.T. (and his human companion Michael Knight) were excited last winter when NBC premiered an updated version of “Knight Rider” in the form of a two-hour made-for-TV movie. The film made way for a new series, premiering this week. The TV movie introduced Justin Bruening (“All My Children”) as Mike Tracer, son of Michael Knight and the new recruit for Knight Industries. K.I.T.T (which now stands for Knight Industries Three-Thousand) is no longer a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am but instead a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR.
Bruening returns as Tracer for the series along with Deanna Russo (“The Young and the Restless”) as Sarah Graiman and Bruce Davidson (“X-Men”) as Charles Graiman, the man who created both the original car and its modern-day successor. Val Kilmer (“Heat,” “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”) also returns as the voice of K.I.T.T.
CBR News spoke previously with Executive Producer Gary Scott Thompson about the show, and we're joined now by stars of Knight Rider, Bruening and Russo, to talk more about the new series, exploring Mike Tracer’s past, meeting David Hasselhoff, and what it’s like to act with Val Kilmer’s voice-a-like.
CBR: To begin with, in terms of momentum as actors, because you shot the two-hour “Knight Rider” TV movie several months ago, was it difficult to get back into your roles and into the new storyline once the series began shooting?
Deanna Russo: It wasn’t difficult because we didn’t take a break from it. For Justin and I, we just kept working on the show. We shot the two-hour pilot and then we were promoting it. Then we immediately started training for the series, even before we even knew officially (that it had been picked up). We just wanted to be prepared. 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 to series.
DR: Shoot, it’s “Knight Rider.” I mean, come on.
JB: Yeah, that and from seeing what the ratings were and everything.
In the movie, there was an initial attraction between your characters. Will that be developed further in the series?
JB: 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. Trying to fit that in, having a life and going on the missions and all of that. That’s kind of where sometimes the humor comes in.
DR: Sexual tension.
Will you two still be each other’s love interest in the series?
DR: Well it’s more like the “will they, won’t they,” kind of storyline.
Justin, how has your character changed since the movie and what will he be going through this season?
JB: With each script I find out more and more about Mike. A lot of it is fun for me because there’s a lot that 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.
The movie touched on Michael’s background, that he was previously a solider in the war. Will that storyline and his history be flushed out more this season?
JB: One of the new mythologies and one of the storylines to the series is actually Mike’s past. He was in the war, but also 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 necessarily want to kill him or his loved ones. And that really affects the missions. That affects everyone’s relationship with him. He doesn’t remember things that he’s done (in the past) but the things that he does remember are not good, so the things that he doesn’t remember are probably far worse. So there a lot of more elements and it really makes the character a lot more complex.
Family played a large role in the movie, is it still going to play an important role in the new series?
JB: I believe it’s always there. Family is very important. We haven’t talked about it much, but I believe there will be times that I may have to learn from my predecessor. And definitely with Sarah’s character, her family works there. So family is very important. And actually, the whole team is a family. As the series progresses, you get to find out what each character means to each of us. In the first episode my character really does realize what everyone means to him and that they’re going to be his new family.
Justin, what was it like working with David Hasselhoff on the two-hour movie and were you intimidated at all?
JB: Oh, the experience was great. You know, I was a little intimidated at first. He was my childhood hero as far as, “Knight Rider” being my favorite show. 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 freaked out a little bit. Other than that, it was a wonderful experience it’s one of those things that I get to tell my grandkids about.
Deanna, what role does Sarah play in the series?
DR: Well, 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. Then in turn, there’s a couple times when Mike gets in trouble and she has to save him. So it’s tit for tat, perhaps.
What’s it like working with Bruce Davidson?
DR: Well I have to say the best part is lunchtime because of the stories that he tells. He’s the most entertaining guy. I mean the projects he’s seen and the stories he can tell are amazing.
Since Val Kilmer records his lines during post-production, is it difficult acting in scenes opposite K.I.T.T. while another actor is reading the lines off camera?
JB: We do have a voice double for Val and his name is John Berdell.
DR: He’s amazing and he really helps us out. We couldn’t do what we do if it wasn’t for him.
JB: You know, K.I.T.T. learns and 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. So now, it’s actually refreshing to have more time to be in a scene and make it deeper. Make it more complex instead of having to rush through it.
Finally, Justin you said that “Knight Rider” was you favorite show growing up. Deanna, had you ever watched the original series before you were cast on the new show?
DR: Yeah, I’m a little sister of a big brother who dictated everything on television and “Knight Rider” was always on. That, “The A-Team” and “The Dukes of Hazzard.” But we didn’t watch “Air Wolf.”
JB: Come on. You didn’t watch “Air Wolf?”
“Knight Rider” races into homes September 24 on NBC.