Sydney Tamiia Poitier plays Carrie Rivai, an FBI agent with connections to Charles Graiman, who in this version created the original KITT and the new Knight Industries Three Thousand. We were fortunate to speak to her about her character via telephone on January 17th.
KRO: We're very excited for the series and to have the chance to talk with you, so thank you.
POITIER: Oh, my pleasure
KRO: How did you get into acting?
POITIER: It was always what I wanted to do, from the time that I can really remember. As I got older I did a little dabbling in High School, just in class. I never worked professionally but I took acting classes. When it came time to go to college I made the decision officially to become a drama major, I went to NYU. I went through all of college and still wasn't working professionally but was doing a lot of theater in school, and then after I graduated I just started.
KRO: Were you familiar with Knight Rider growing up?
POITIER: Oh definitely, absolutely yes. My sister and I used to watch it. I mean, who wasn't? (laughs) Who didn't watch it in the 80s? That was the thing to watch.
KRO: What was the audition process like?
POITIER: I just got a call about it from my representative, and he said "Do you want to go in and read for 'Knight Rider'?" At first I was like "Really? I don't know, that's a tough one to touch. How's it going to work out?" Sometimes it's tricky when you redo these things because the originals were so special in their own way and cool. They have such a loyal following of fans. Are you really going to be able to please them? I don't know. But then I read the script and Dave Andron did a really great script. And it was just really true to the original and supercool, but sort of takes everything to another level. So I thought "All right, I'll go in" and I went in and auditioned and went through the whole process of auditioning, which in TV is kind of long and arduous sometimes.
KRO: Were there many callbacks?
POITIER: Actually it really wasn't that bad. Sometimes it can be pretty crazy. You go from producers, and then you go read for the studio that's producing for the network, then you go read for the entire network. You have a process of auditions that's sometimes up to 14 or 20 people in a room.
KRO: Sounds very daunting...
POITIER: Very. (laughs)
KRO: Were you up against anyone? Were you and Deanna (Russo) going after the same role?
POITIER: No...I don't know if Deanna went for Rivai, I don't think she did. I think for Rivai they were really going specifically for different ethnicities. At least when I was there, every girl that I saw was African-American or Asian or Hispanic.
KRO: That leads into my next question...the original series seemed very caucasian, male, solo-oriented. This new series seems like it's more diverse, especially with females. How do you feel that will affect the target audience and the show itself?
POITIER: I think it's going to open it up to more people, to really get into the show. There were times when girls were really into Knight Rider. Maybe not as many as the boys, or maybe they weren't quite as into it, but I know lots of girls that watched Knight Rider. I think this time around it just gives girls something that they can associate themselves with, and that they can root for. Not that they won't root for him, because they will as well. And I think that times have drastically changed since back then, and it's a lot hipper and more true to the way the world works now to have strong women and interesting characters. I think it affords to more sexual tension and things between characters, (laughs) and there's more of that sort of...
POITIER: Yeah, it's more provocative than it was back then.
KRO: There didn't seem to be a lot of depth to the Michael Knight character, and it seems like there will be a lot more complexity to everyone this time to make things interesting. Tell me about your character; did you model the way you performed her against a similar character that you were familiar with?
POITIER: Not really, she was pretty specific on the page. I play Carrie Rivai, she's an FBI agent, and she is... very... uh oh, I seem to have lost my dog.
KRO: Uh oh.
POITIER: Sorry, I'm outside because it's morning... oh there he is! Come here! Come here!
KRO: What kind of dog do you have?
POITIER: He's a mix. We think he's a Llapso Poo.. Llapso Poo and a Poodle. He's a rescue, so we can't be totally sure. Come here bud! (whistles)...So anyway... she has a very strong sense of what's right and wrong. When she's working, she's all business. She's very tough and very strong. But she also has a real sense of fun. She enjoys herself, and she's a surfer, and she's kind of a no-nonsense grounded down-to-earth kind of girl.
KRO: Did you have to do any special training to play an FBI agent?
POITIER: Nothing yet, there was no hardcore training but I think if it does go to series there may be a little bit more of that. In the pilot, my character has a little bit of fighting to do but nothing too complicated. So we did do some stunts, a couple days of coordinating that partcular fight. Justin did a lot more because he had a lot more fight stuff.
KRO: We heard about the knee injury.
POITIER: Yeah, oh God yeah... that was terrible. I don't do any driving, so there wasn't any driving training. And then Kevin Dunigan who plays... um...
KRO: Smoke, one of the bad guys
POITIER: Yeah, he used to be a SWAT team member? Some really high-end military something or other. So he is the one who really trained me on how to hold a gun properly, and the little sort of nuance things I needed to know playing her.
KRO: So there was some physicality to the role.
POITIER: There was. And I forsee if it goes to series there will be a lot of that.
KRO: What's your connection to Charles Graiman's character and the rest of the group? Are you familiar with the Knight Foundation characters?
POITIER: It doesn't reveal that in the script initially, what the connection between Charles and Rivai is. But they know each other very well, and she definitely cares for him. And she makes sure that they find out what happens to him and try to get him back safely. It is absolutely her number one priority.
KRO: So that's your connection to everyone: Charles.
POITIER: Right, I don't know anyone else really. I probably met his daughter a couple times, but I don't know anybody else. But him I know very very well. And the pilot is the first time I ever meet Mike Tracer.
KRO: So you mentioned love interests... Do you think your character has a love interest? Is there a possible love triangle with the characters?
POITIER: It's possible. Initially my character was a lesbian, and then I think they're planning on making her bi, so it kind of opens up the possibilities. So there could be something happening. At least that's what they said, but I couldn't tell if they were kidding or not. (laughs) So there's definitely a possibility. Nothing exists in the pilot. Mike's romantic interest is Sarah. So who knows what will happen down the line.
KRO: In an early script reviewed online, there was a scene with you and a woman at the beach. Is that still in there?
POITIER: Yeah, that's kind of like introduction. We sort of see her, and she's surfing, and she comes out of the water towards her house and there's the girl.
KRO: That's quite a bit different than the kind of Knight Rider that most of the fans are used to. I guess it's just the times?
POITIER: I think so. They're just trying to be more up-to-date and make it more provocative and a little sexier.
KRO: I know you had to do re-shoots. Are you finished? Has everything wrapped?
POITIER: Well I finished...yesterday. Wait, what's today, Thursday? I finished Tuesday. I think they were actually shooting til today, and I don't know if they'll go beyond that or not. We had to shut down for a little bit to give Justin time to heal. He's a trooper.
KRO: It looked pretty painful. They had footage of it online.
POITIER: Yeah, God it was bad. (nervous laughter)
KRO: Were you on set that day when it happened?
POITIER: I was. We were actually shooting the one fight scene that we had together. And we were sort of in the middle of it and I just heard him yelling. It took me a second... When I see the footage it didn't seem as long as it felt. It felt like I stood there for a second trying to figure out if they had added this to the scene. It just felt like so much part of the scene and I was going, "what's happening?" It took me a minute and then I was like "ohhh.... oh my God, that really hurt".
KRO: How was it working with everyone. Have you all bonded? Are you getting along?
POITIER: Everybody is fantastic. The producers just did a really great job of putting together a group of people that are like-minded and very down-to-earth cool people that just want to do good work and have a good time. From the crew, to the other actors, to the higher-ups: the producers, everybody's fantastic.
KRO: What's a typical day like on set? Do you get script pages in the morning?
POITIER: Well, we don't, we can't.
KRO: Because of WGA?
POITIER: Right. The writer's strike. So we had to go by exactly what was on the page originally. That's my first experience ever having that because usually you're so used to having changes every day up to the last day. You get new pages in the morning and then there are little tweaks. By the time you're done you have a rainbow script because every page is a different color. And this time around we had none of that. So we just really stuck to the original. I think Dave wrote a really good script, a really solid script so we were in good shape. But I think it was torture for him not to be able to tweak things as he saw them happening.
KRO: Yeah, it's like your baby and you can't do anything to help it.
POITIER: Yeah, I think it was pretty painful for him. (laughs)
KRO: So are there any hopes for the future, how you think your character may expand if this goes to series?
POITIER: I don't really know. I hope that you get to see a little bit more of her personal side. In the pilot it's all business. It's just down to business. We only see her in a professional setting, with the exception of the opening scene. So it would be nice to kind of get to know her as a person more because I think as a person she's a lot different than she is as an FBI agent. And hopefully she'll get to do a little bit more driving and fighting and fun stuff.
KRO: All the cool action stuff.
POITIER: Yeah, it's fun doing that.
KRO: As far as contracts go, if it goes to series you're definitely in it?
POITIER: You mean did we have to sign a series deal beforehand?
POITIER: Yeah, for legal reasons even though it is a TV movie at the moment, they do have the option to turn it into a series so everybody had to sign a series deal, so you sort of commit to the length of the series. Which is usually six years, if they do decide to do it. Which is a big commitment, and kind of scary. But once you shoot the pilot and see how everybody is supercool, you're having a good time and it seems less daunting. Other than that initial going into it.
KRO: This has been very helpful. Thank you so much for your time.
POITIER: Oh you're very welcome.
Our deepest thanks go out to Sydney Tamiia Poitier for taking time to talk with us! Be sure to catch her playing Carrie Rivai in the Knight Rider TV Movie airing February 17th on NBC.