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Episode airs Wednesday
Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
When “Chicago P.D.” revisits the Arturo Morales storyline this week, it will be in an episode directed by longtime cast member Jesse Lee Soffer.
After playing Det. Jay Halstead for nine-plus seasons, Soffer opted to leave the show last fall. He recently returned to the set to make his directorial debut.
The NBC logline for the episode “Deadlocked” (Wednesday, March 22, 10 p.m. ET/PT) states, “Following on a storyline that aired earlier this season (“The Ghost in You,” Feb. 15), Voight (Jason Beghe) takes the stand for ASA Chapman (Sara Bues) in a high-stakes murder trial against notorious drug kingpin Arturo Morales (Robby Ramos). When it becomes clear that Morales and his henchmen have compromised a juror, Voight and the team work furiously to ensure justice prevails.”
Soffer shared more in this edited Q&A.
Q: How was your experience directing relative to how you imagined it would be?
Jesse Lee Soffer: It was easier than I thought it was going to be. I was so nervous going into it. But I know “P.D.” so well, and we're such a tight-knit family as that cast and crew, and it was really rewarding. Once we started rolling, and we got on set and started playing, it was just like any other episode.
Q: I’m guessing part of the reason you opted to step down from the cast was to take a break from “Chicago P.D.” That said, if I was in your shoes, I’m not sure I would be watching episodes or keeping up with storylines. To prepare for this opportunity, did you watch previous episodes to catch up, or did you just focus on this script and this episode?
Jesse Lee Soffer: I'll be totally honest: I wasn't really watching, but I was reading; I was reading outlines and keeping track of storylines, so I knew what was going on.
You know, the nice thing about this episode is it really is kind of a standalone episode, with regard to a lot of the other storylines – except for this Morales/Voight thing with Chapman. It was those three characters, and a callback to episode 13. So, with regard to that, that I kept track of, for sure.
Q: What appeals to you about directing?
Jesse Lee Soffer: I love that it's storytelling, but in a more macro way. Like, when you're prepping a script as an actor, you're looking at your point of view, and the relationships, and what's going on at any given moment; what you're thinking and feeling about; what's happening in the story. And when you're directing, you're doing that, but in a much more macro, broad-perspective way. You're trying to figure out what this whole story is about, and all the different puzzle pieces that go together and work together in that.
I just like that it's storytelling from a different perspective, because each lends itself to the other. Directing can make you a better actor, and a director trying to act would make you probably a better director. They go hand in hand.
Jesse Lee Soffer at work on the set of “Chicago P.D.” (NBC photo)
Jesse Lee Soffer with LaRoyce Hawkins (left) and Jason Beghe.
Q: So, having had this experience now, do you want to direct more projects moving forward?
Jesse Lee Soffer: Yeah, I think so. I think it's an itch that I would definitely keep scratching. It's so educational and informative, and I learned a lot doing it; and I would definitely like to do it more. Yeah.
Q: I'm sure you've been asked this question 1,000 times – 10,000 times – so, forgive me for asking it, too – though I'm sure you've got a really great answer built up by now. Where do you stand with returning to the series as a cast member at some point down the road?
Jesse Lee Soffer: I would say, “Never say never.” I said this before: Halstead’s always going to be in my blood, just because I spent 10 years playing him. I would be open to it.
That's it. Yeah. Why not?
Q: When we chatted with fellow #OneChicago cast members last fall, they let it slip that Jay wasn't going to be killed off. That was certainly a relief for us. Was it a relief for you, also, having that opportunity, if you want, to return to this role?
Jesse Lee Soffer: That’s an interesting question. I don't know. I hadn't really thought about it. You know, I kind of figured it's not up to me; you know, it's up to the writers. It's up to the producers; up to (showrunner) Gwen (Sigan). It's their responsibility to tell the story, and it's our responsibility to bring that story to life.
So, it's not something that I had thought about, but I guess it seemed fitting that Halstead go off and kind of do his own thing. I liked that aspect of it when we were doing that episode.
Q: We've talked over the years, me and you, and my colleagues in the reporting business, about what a great job the “Chicago” shows do in portraying first responders; and certainly, you've learned a lot about that as an actor over the years. I'm wondering what you learned about that, if anything, being on this side of the camera. I wonder if you learned anything about the show, or just about what first responders do day in and day out, that you hadn't thought about as an actor, but maybe you saw for the first time as a director?
Jesse Lee Soffer: I mean, the answer that I would give you isn't the answer you're looking for (laughs). But we learn so much and we have such respect for our first responders, especially our tech advisers, and everybody that makes the show realistic and helps us bring these characters to life. When you're directing, sometimes a procedural aspect of the show, or doing something correct, doesn't always work with the shot you're trying to get, or the camera move that you want to do, or some aspect of the story; and you're going, “Ah, can't we just do it like this, instead of doing the realistic thing? Because it's going to look really good.” Because you have a different job.
That part can be tricky sometimes, which was interesting.
Q: Similarly, I want to ask you about the cast. I'm not sure, when you were acting in the episodes, if you were just focused on what you needed to do, what you needed to bring to the table for that scene or for that episode; if you were just sort of looking at it in pockets. But now, looking at it as a whole, looking at the whole story and how everyone interacts, did you learn anything new about this cast, and what they're capable of doing, being the director?
Jesse Lee Soffer: Did I learn anything new? That's a great question. No. You know, it's interesting to change your perspective, though. And what occurred to me – which, I think, there's always an element of this – but it made more sense, was that we really love all these characters. Like, I love all these characters – and we know them so well.
So, even in the prep, on the page, I might be going, “I think Burgess is going to want to do this in that scenario, and I'm going to have her do this.” And you realize how much a part of this family you really are. It's like knowing your brothers and sisters, you know?
“Chicago P.D.” airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on NBC, and is streaming on Peacock.
Jesse Lee Soffer directs Marina Squerciati.
Formerly Det. Jay Halstead, actor Jesse Lee Soffer stepped behind the camera to direct an episode of “Chicago P.D.” (NBC photo)