Chicago P.D. has delivered no shortage of game-changing twists over Season 10 so far, ranging from the departure of Jesse Lee Soffer as Halstead to incorporating Torres as the newest member of Intelligence to pitting the unit against Sean O’Neal. Now, the focus is shifting over to Upton after she spent the first half of the season struggling with the absence of her husband and intrusion of Sean, and director Gia-Rayne Harris has opened up about preparing for P.D., her experience working with Tracy Spiridakos and Jefferson White, and more!
Gia-Rayne Harris came to Chicago P.D. as part of NBCUniversal’s Female Forward program, which brings female directors into scripted television to shadow and then direct an episode in the same season. She spoke with CinemaBlend ahead of her episode, called “I Can Let You Go,” that airs on January 18, and opened up about how she prepared to direct on a show that’s already nine full seasons in:
I was able to watch every episode prior to doing mine, except for Season 10. I read all of it leading up to mine. It was really important to me to understand each character's arc up to that point, and I guess I could have read some form of a synopsis, but I wanted to understand the style of the show. Thankfully, I was able to learn the sets that way. I was able to understand where they were going and get an idea of where I might be able to play.
What better way to step behind the camera on a show that’s approaching 200 episodes than by watching all of those that were available? Fans have the option of doing so with a Peacock subscription, of course, but without the added factor of directing. Harris shared that she was able to shadow P.D. producing director Chad Saxton on Episode 5, called “Pink Cloud,” and guest director John Hyams on Episode 10, which was an important installment for Torres called “This Job.” Shadowing twice gave her “two totally different experiences of directing” before taking the reins on Episode 12.
“Pink Cloud” was actually the episode that introduced Jefferson White as Sean O’Neal and set Tracy Spiridakos’ Hailey Upton on her obsessive path of finding evidence to put him behind bars, so it fits that Gia-Rayne Harris’ episode of Chicago P.D. will revisit their dynamic. The preview for “I Can Let You Go” reveals that Sean at least hasn’t let go of what happened in the first half of the season, which doesn’t bode well for Upton. The director shared her experience of working with Spiridakos and White:
Working with Tracy and Jefferson was an actual dream. Those are two heavy hitters just in general as actors, but also they are the kindest people you will ever meet. They are challenging, and they challenge each other. But they also challenged me to be better and to be more on. I couldn't have asked for a better first start. I would honestly do it for years and years to come.
Working with the two actors was a great enough experience for Gia-Rayne Harris to describe them as “the kindest people,” but the same certainly can’t be said for Sean O’Neal as a character, or Upton's feelings about Sean after she nearly let him die in the winter finale. Of course, Yellowstone proves that Jefferson White has plenty of range as an actor beyond a villain like Sean, and Upton’s arc over the past several seasons has brought out some great performances from Spiridakos. The director commented on how different the two actors are from their P.D. characters:
It's actually pretty wild. It's actually concerning. [laughs] Jefferson especially is the sweetest person. He's just the sweetest person, and then he can turn it on. The second you say action, he's ready to play. What a star.
Well, it’s definitely good to know that Jefferson White is “the sweetest person,” when P.D. showrunner Gwen Sigan described Sean as “one of the worst criminals we’ve had on the show.” That’s saying something, after ten seasons of investigations into the Windy City’s worst! It remains to be seen how much Sean will appear in the second half of Season 10. He did survive being shot in the winter finale, after all, so the new episode on January 18 could shed some light on his Chicago P.D. future.
So, how was Gia-Rayne Harris able to shadow the hit NBC show and then come on board to direct? She opened up about NBCUniversal’s Female Forward program, saying that she “wasn’t even out of film school for a year” when she got the opportunity to come to P.D., describing it as “absurd in the best way.” She shared:
Female Forward has a standard application online, and I am somebody who likes to kind of throw things at the wall to see what sticks. I was leaving film school and going, 'What am I going to do next?' So I applied on a whim and I wasn't even sure if I had a shot. But I applied and I was able to get interviewed a couple different times, and here I am.
Harris went to film school after being out of college for several years, and P.D. has brought her into primetime in a big way. She came to the show with experience directing short films that have screened at festivals, and more than 70 short plays that she wrote, directed, and acted in herself. Now, she can add scripted TV directing to her list of credits, and all signs point toward a must-see episode of Chicago P.D.
See Gia-Rayne Harris’ TV directing debut with the next episode of Chicago P.D. on Wednesday, January 18 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC in the 2023 TV schedule, following Chicago Fire at 9 p.m. and Chicago Med at 8 p.m. Last week’s installment delivered a hard truth to Atwater, while Upton is clearly not going to have an easy time this week. Check back with CinemaBlend after the episode for more from the director!