This Wednesday at 9/8c, NBC’s Magnum P.I. presents original cast member Zachary Knighton’s directorial debut.
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In the episode “Consciousness of Guilt,” Thomas (played by Jay Hernandez) — with one assist from Rick (Knighton) — sees what he can dig up on a murderer who got off scot free due to Gordon’s (Tim Kang) slightly sullied past with the HPD. Juliet (Perdita), meanwhile, finds herself helping Jin (Bobby Lee) look into a dogwalking client’s suspected disappearance.
TVLine spoke with Knighton about stepping behind the camera for the first time, the challenges that this episode presented for him as director, and of course his assorted thoughts on Magnum coming to an end, again, after these next four episodes. (Hmm, might a romantic proposal leave fans with a smile on their face…?)
TVLINE | When did you first get the hankering to get behind the camera and direct?
ZACHARY KNIGHTON | I had been trying to direct for so long…. When I was on Happy Endings, I really wanted to direct [that ABC comedy] and I was shadowing all these great people. I shadowed Andy Ackerman way back in the day; he directed a ton of Seinfelds, but every time I got really close to directing a show, my show would get cancelled. But usually that’s the path for an actor — you’ve got to work [direct] for the home team first before you can start getting gigs on the side. I’ve been shadowing people on Magnum, and I’m so thankful they finally gave me a shot.
TVLINE | What was the biggest challenge that this script presented to do as its director?
You know, I think all of them are challenging because you’re directing, like, a three-and-a-half, four-million-dollar one-hour movie in seven days. It’s really all in the preparation, obviously. And then I had Bobby Lee as my leading man, and he’s a wild card. You never know what you’re going to get with Bobby. Bobby and I go way back; I had a sitcom on Fox in the early 2000s when he was on MADtv, so we used to do publicity tours and stuff back then and he’s just a wild man. But I was thrilled that he was going to be the leading man of my episode.
TVLINE | He even gets a little action sequence at one point.
Yes, he gets some action! But mainly, I was just scared that my wife (Betsy Phillips, who plays Suzy) was going to kill me because I wasn’t going to be home for three weeks, basically. We have a toddler and a baby in the house, but we managed. We made it.
TVLINE | Do you have a favorite shot or sequence? I, for one, really liked how the camera starts underwater in one scene and then rises out of the pool to reveal a dead body.
Thank you for saying that. It’s hard to get artistic [on a broadcast show] — I can’t make Citizen Kane, I’ve got to make an episode of Magnum P.I. — but I tried to put a lot of flavor in as much as I could. The camera underwater thing was something I had really fought for and poor Ruben, one of our camera operators, had to get in a wetsuit late at night and be in a cold pool. Thank you, Ruben, if you’re reading this! Anyway, I liked that. That and the helicopter sequence.
TVLINE | Yes, you got to put Perdita Weeks in a helicopter!
And I got to storyboard that, which was really great. I got to put Perdy in the helicopter, which she was super game to do. If I remember correctly, the night before we had all been hanging out and maybe drinking some wine, so she might have been slightly under the weather for that scene…. I’m not sure. You’d have to ask her!
TVLINE | Well, she seemed to be beaming, very happily in badass mode.
Perdy is indestructible. Thankfully she agreed to be in a chopper, and so did the network and everybody else at the studio, but I would say that was the most challenging because I wanted to not waste anybody’s time. You don’t get much time in a chopper, so storyboarding and planning that whole thing was probably the most challenging part of the episode.
TVLINE | Rick impressively rattles off some cigar lingo in one scene. Was all of that Greek to you, though?
You know, I tried to be a cigar smoker for a minute. I’ve had a few with a couple people around here but—
TVLINE | — you’re not spending $35,000 on your cigars.
Absolutely not. I’ve got three kids, man. All my money is going towards, like, toys that get played with once and never again!
TVLINE | The episode features Rick talking about how happy he and Suzy are. Were you pleased that their story went in that direction, and that he didn’t reenter the dating scene?
I am, because my real life wife plays Suzy, so it would have been a real bummer if it was like, “Honey, you’re not going to be on the show anymore because Rick is going be dating a bunch of beautiful, young women.” She would have been pleased with that! [Laughs] No, I think it’s so sweet, and personally for us and our family and our life story, it’s a fun thing to show the kids later. You know, my wife was busy having our kids and she got to sort of work right after having kids, which I think makes her feel good, and it was such a lovely experience. So, I’m really happy that Rick and Suzy got back together in the end.
TVLINE | I figure you have to have at least one anecdote from the Rick/T.C./Gordon camping episode that airs next week, directed by Perdita Weeks….
Well, I don’t know if this is an anecdote, but the person who loves [outdoor] gear the most in real life is Tim Kang. Like, guaranteed, Tim Kang has every kind of camping tool you could possibly imagine. So, when we were shooting the scene in the campground, he was sort of like, “Well, I’m not sure if this sort of hammer would be used to do a stake….” He was giving notes to the set guys and all that.
TVLINE | The camping storyline builds to a scene with you and Stephen Hill (who plays T.C.) that I found to be quite emotional.
I love working with Stephen. I hope to get to do it again sometime.
TVLINE | Rick is happy with Suzy. T.C is back with Mahina. Thomas and Juliet are obviously going strong. I am thinking — having watched TV a few times in my life — that by the end of the season, at least one engagement ring is going to be coming out, at least one question popped. Are my instincts right?
I feel like you’re onto something…. I feel like you’re onto something here.
TVLINE | We have just a few episodes left. Someone’s got to make a move.
Matt, you know they’re not just going to leave it hanging. [Pauses, then dramatically] Or are they??
TVLINE | All told, what do you think fans will be feeling at the end of the season/series finale (which has yet to be scheduled)?
Obviously, this group of fans is very passionate. There was another billboard in Times Square the other day [the #SaveMagnumPI campaign’s 25th overall]. There was a pretty big campaign to save Happy Endings when we got cancelled, but nothing like this. I mean, this is absolute insanity and I love these guys. I feel for them. I know that everyone’s pretty upset that the show is going away, but I hope that everyone can appreciate that we did the best we could, and we made the best show we could make for everyone, and everyone really is feeling the love from the fans. So, I hope everybody is happy with how things end up.
TVLINE | I took some reader questions…. Sophie wants to know if, when you were filming this season, you had a sense it might be the last one. And if so, did you get some semblance of proper goodbyes with everybody?
I’ve been doing this [acting] now for 25 years and I’ve had probably shot like 15 or 16 pilots. I’ve had five or six shows go and they’ve all been cancelled. So, every time I’m shooting a television show I feel like it could be the end. I’m always trying to stay present and be in the moment, and especially at the end of this thing I was sitting at that bar [on the La Mariana set], reflecting. My pitch to [original Magnum P.I. showrunner] Peter Lenkov in the early days was that Rick owns a tiki bar, and Peter, completely to his credit — I’ve never seen this before, a creator listening to a suggestion from an actor — loved it. He walked me into that bar in Season 2 and he said, “Look at this place. This was your idea.” I will always be thankful to him for that, and sitting in that place I was every day thinking, “What a beautiful and comfortable set to be on, and I love the crew here so much and the cast.”
As an actor, you always think it’s going to end. Everybody [on the cast] came out a couple months ago to wrap up their places — some people bought places and are selling now, some were renting and are shipping their stuff home — and we all got together one last night and had the best night, the best dinner, everybody laughing, reminiscing about the good ol’ times…. So, I think we had a great ending to the whole story.
TVLINE | I imagine you’re keeping in touch with at least some of them. Who’s the last co-star you got a text from?
Stephen and I keep up pretty good; he is still living over here on the island. And Amy Hill (who plays Kumu) is over here. We’re all on Oahu still, so we just randomly run into each other at the coffee shop. It’s a small island. We all keep in touch, and I’m really thankful for that. We’ve been hearing about parties and ventures overseas — Jay [Hernandez] is up to some really cool stuff — so it’s nice when you can come out of something like that and everybody stays friends.
TVLINE | Lastly, TVLine reader Debbie wants to know: If you are in fact done with Magnum P.I., what do you want to do next?
I’m really focused on directing right now. I’m hoping to get some confirmation on some big news soon with television, as a director. So, that’s exciting.
As an actor, you know, I’d love to go back into some comedy stuff. But I’m not really sure. I’ve sort of been a journeyman, doing all kinds of weird stuff. I was on Parenthood on NBC for a little bit, Happy Endings, and I do like horror films…. I’m sort of all over the map. So, I’m just into whatever thing kind of sparks me, and that’s why I love acting. If I wasn’t an actor, I wouldn’t have lived in this beautiful place for the last six years of my life. It’s such a blessing.
Want scoop on Magnum P.I.‘s final episodes, or for any other TV show ? Email InsideLine@tvline.com, and your question may be answered via Matt’s Inside Line!
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