It’s a chilly day in Burbank as eager journalists wait outside NBC’s studio lot for the first glimpse of not one, not two, but three cars that will play KITT in the upcoming Knight Rider TV movie sequel.
In the studio’s midway, the first empty parking space is reserved for late-night host Jay Leno with the next spot designated for KITT. Anticipation runs high as revving can be heard in the distance. First up driving into the lot is the Remote KITT, which boasts no driver and opens its doors automatically after it comes to a halt.
Next, four cast members — Justin Bruening, Deanna Russo, Sydney Tamiia Poitier and Bruce Davison — drive up in an almost identical car, which is known as the stock car or Hero KITT, used for more of the upclose shots with the actors in them. Lastly, the Attack KITT (which sports the biggest spoiler) roars onto the scene driven expertly by a stunt driver, executing tight 360-degree turns to the delight of the onlookers. As the exhaust clears, a few Writers’ Strike picketers can be seen in the distance craning their necks to check out the hubbub.
Unlike the original series’ KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand), which was a Trans Am, the current KITT (Knight Industries Three Thousand) is a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR. The Attack-mode KITT will transform with the help of air-ride technology and specialized body parts. As the reporters scramble to conduct interviews with the actors and take pictures of themselves draped over or inside the cars, Bruening confirms how the project has caused a boyhood regression in him.
"I am like a 10-year-old right now," says Bruening, who plays the movie’s hero. "Every time I turn the engine on, I just start grinning from ear to ear ’cause it sounds cool. I feel like a little kid who bought his own candy store and just gets to play around in it. I watched the show growing up, and I got KITT. Playing Knight Rider sounds weird to me. It hasn’t sunk in yet."
Bruening also wants to emphasize to fans of the show and David Hasselhoff (who played the series’ Michael Knight) that the latest Knight Rider won’t mess with the original in any way.
"This is obviously not a remake. It’s a sequel to the original show," says Bruening. "You don’t mess with ‘the original’ anything. It’s never really as good. I love the fact that it just continues the story. I play Mike Tracer, the son of Michael Knight — I clearly don’t know that right away. He’s the reluctant hero, an ex-Army Ranger that obviously in the end becomes a hero even though he doesn’t want to be.
"The way I figured the character was he was over in Iraq and fought in the war and has driven everything, helicopters, tanks and all that," continues the actor. "But the first time he gets in this car, the doors shut on their own, it drives itself, and he can’t steer it. So it’s probably hard for guys to relinquish control of anything, especially in relationships — and now I’m having a relationship with the car and it drives itself. It’s a lot like being married."
Mike Tracer does have an actual, if rocky, relationship with Sarah Graiman, an assistant professor at Stanford University, played by Russo. Sarah and Mike grew up together on opposite sides of the tracks, and now that their paths have crossed again, they’re challenged with some pretty dicey events when the bad guys enter the picture.
Russo also had chances to interact with KITT for several scenes in which her character talks with the car.
"Sometimes we’ll have someone feeding us lines on like a radio or microphone," she reveals. "Sarah and KITT have a lot of heart-to-hearts. They go on a four-hour road trip together. You really get to know someone on a road trip, even if they are artificial intelligence. For those scenes, the director, who’s done many episodes of Dexter, wanted to try thinking KITT’s [dialogue] in my head and then reacting to essentially no one, just my own imagination.
"People are starting to wonder about me on set because I’m constantly talking to myself. When I’m rehearsing lines I’m doing different things with my hands: ‘Okay, this is me talking. Now it’s KITT talking.’ And I basically memorize the entire scene as a conversation. Since there’s no room for rewrites on the scene out of the current [Writers’ Strike] situation, you can’t mess up one word."
Poitier, who plays FBI agent Carrie Ruvai, doesn’t think today’s audience will have a problem with a talking car that drives itself.
"It’s even more kind of weirdly relevant today because it’s actually believable that you can have a car that talks and does all this stuff," she says. "For the kids that didn’t grow up in the ’80s and didn’t see Knight Rider, I think it’s something they can totally identify with and it’s not so foreign, you know?"
Nevertheless, there will be an element of tongue-in-cheek humor to the show to balance out the straightforward drama and action.
"It’s both," confirms Poitier. "The script and the actors, we’re all playing it straight and really real, but the tone of it as far as like the direction goes is sort of more along the lines of like maybe the first Spider-Man. It’s got that sort of comic book feel to it. There’s saturated colors and there’s definitely sort of a comic book like element to it. But the heart of it is still very real."
Bruening, whose own car is nowhere near KITT’s level technology-wise, also keeps it real: "My car’s boring. I talk to it, though. It talks back. I put on the radio."
Are you psyched for the movie? Do you approve the choice of Ford Mustangs as KITT?