Jesse Lee Soffer Reveals Whether He Would Return to 'Chicago P.D.'
The director of tonight's episode shares whether he wants to see his character killed off or reunited with his wife.
Former Chicago P.D. star Jesse Lee Soffer returns to the cop drama tonight not in front of the camera in his role as Jay Halstead, but in a behind-the scenes role as director of the “Deadlocked” episode, which actually reminds us of the early days of the series when Sgt. Hank Voight (Jason Beghe) was a renegade cop, meting out justice by his own rules, rather than following the book.
In the episode, Voight takes the witness stand for ASA Chapman (Sara Bues) in a high-stakes murder trial against notorious drug kingpin Arturo Morales (Robby Ramos), but when it becomes clear that Morales and his henchmen have compromised a juror, Voight and the team work furiously to ensure justice prevails, ignoring the rule book completely to get the outcome he believes is right.
Soffer says “it was really awesome” to have the opportunity to direct this particular episode because the show’s changed so much over the 10 years that it’s been on the air, it was nice to return to its roots.
“When we started off, it was crucial that we were always living in that gray area,” he tells Parade. “Voight was like a vigilante cop doing things by his own book. So, to do another episode like that where Voight can do whatever he wants— and we always do a couple here and there each season—but the fact that I got one of those, I was grateful for because it's a show I know very well and that I love.”
Soffer hasn’t been gone from his role as Halstead that long, since he was in the first three episodes of Season 10, but he very much enjoyed making a return in a completely different set of shoes.
Related: Jesse Lee Soffer Finally Explains His Chicago P.D. Exit
“It was actually an easier transition than I thought it was going to be just because it's such a tight-knit family there,” he says. “We've all worked together for so long and in some capacity in every episode, all of the actors on the show might direct a little bit of a sequence. ‘Here, I have an idea about how to simplify something and make it you know more reasonable to shoot,’ or something like that. So, we've all been doing this all along because we know the show so well, so in a lot of ways, it was an easy transition. Of course, I was nervous going into it, but once we started rolling and the first day got going, we had a lot of fun.”
And, of course, the question on everyone’s mind is whether he would ever return to bring some closure to the storyline, instead of leaving his wife and former Intelligence partner Hailey Upton (Tracy Spiridakos) hanging. It's been done before by Jesse Spencer on Chicago Fire so that Sylvie Brett (Kara Killmer) could move on from Captain Matthew Casey (Spencer), so not too big of a stretch of the imagination that it could happen.
Or maybe he would prefer if the writers killed him off in Bolivia, à la Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, since that's where Halstead is right now? Or recast the role, which doesn’t really happen in primetime but did back in the day when Soffer played Will Munson on As the World Turns.
“I mean never say never,” he says of a potential return. “I would be open to it. It’s up to the writers and it's whatever they need to do to service the characters. Obviously, I love Halstead, always will, so if something came up, I would probably be open to it.”
During our chat, Soffer also talked about putting his own touches on the episode and his plans for the future.
Were there any surprises? Did you learn anything maybe that you were, “Oh, I had no clue.”
Not really. I've been on set and in the business for 32 years, since I was 6 years old, so there wasn't anything that I didn't really know about. I would say that the amount of time that goes into prepping an episode is daunting. You have so much responsibility and there's so many departments that need to talk to you and that you need to give input on, so it's a big task. I guess you could say that was that was the surprise, because even though I knew it was a lot of work, it was even more than I thought. But I welcomed it and it was really fulfilling.
Related: LaRoyce Hawkins on the Amazing Way Chicago P.D. Has 'Replaced Energy' Without Jesse Lee Soffer
Was there something that you had always wanted to try on the show that you were able to put your imprint on this episode as a director?
Not necessarily. I think that doing the show for so long, I know the show inherently. It's like part of me. It's in my bones and my blood’s in the show, too. I know the pace of it and I know how much the writers and us as actors want it to move and feel energetic and kind of hectic sometimes. We’re trying to solve a case before it’s too late. That’s always the issue, right? And so, I think that knowledge and the intensity of the storyline that we’re in, I know that stuff so well, so I was confident that I could shoot a story that kept you on the edge of your seat.
Last month, I spoke to Patrick Flueger (Adam Ruzek) and he said you “crushed it.” What kind of feedback did you get from your cast?
Everybody loved it. We had a great time together. I hadn't been gone that long, but it was a little bit of a homecoming and a little cathartic, too, after leaving at the beginning of the season. So, we all got to hang out and goof off on set a little bit here and there and do some great scenes and do some action.
Related: Former Chicago P.D. Actor Shares New Photos From Set: 'Back at it'
I thought directing Voight’s return to his old ways might really have hit a chord with you because Halstead felt like he was becoming too much like Voight, which was part of the reason in the storyline that he left. Not why you left.
It’s funny you say that. Halstead is Halstead. He had been the foil to Voight for a long time. He was kind of the white knight and the “let's do it by the book, let's do the right thing.” You need that. You need contrast and we had fun playing that contrast, but Jesse, as a viewer and as a fan of the show, loves the dark stuff that Voight's character does, and how far can you push the boundaries of the viewer, where you're doing something totally illegal or wrong, however, you feel like it's totally justifiable given the story that you're in?
You said you left to grow and expand. What is your vision of that? It's pilot season. Are you looking for maybe the lead of a series, or are you looking to other TV shows to direct? How do you see your future?
All of the above. I got to play Halstead for almost 10 years, and you want to play other characters and try new things on and grow. So this year, I got to shadow and I got to direct, which was something that I had been wanting to do for a little while, and I was really interested in and I thought I could do, so I was really grateful to Dick Wolf and everyone at Wolf Films for that opportunity. I enjoyed it, so who knows? More of that and more acting for sure. That's my first passion, so all of the above.
The “Deadlocked” episode of Chicago P.D. airs tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
Next, How Jesse Lee Soffer Left His Role as Jay Halstead on Chicago P.D.