Jesse Lee Soffer Returns to ‘Chicago P.D.’ to Direct: ‘It’s Like I Never Really Left’

Jesse Lee Soffer on 'Chicago P.D.'
Lori Allen/NBC

Jesse Lee Soffer has returned to Chicago P.D.… the set, that is. He was last seen onscreen as Detective Jay Halstead in the third episode of the current 10th season, and it was for the 16th episode, airing March 22, that he steps behind the camera to direct for the first time.

In “Deadlocked,” picking up on the story from Episode 13 “The Ghost in You,” Sergeant Hank Voight (Jason Beghe) takes the stand for ASA Chapman (Sara Bues) in a high-stakes murder trial against notorious drug kingpin Arturo Morales (Robby Ramos). And once it becomes clear that Morales and his henchmen have compromised a juror, Voight and the team must work furiously to ensure justice prevails.

Below, Soffer talks about being back on the P.D. set, the episode, and more.

You spent 10 years acting on P.D., then you came back to set, but in a different capacity to direct. And you directed the people you acted alongside for years.

Jesse Lee Soffer: It was great. It was a really kind of seamless transition. I didn’t really take a break. The second I got done working, I think I maybe went back to LA for three or four days and then went back to set and started shadowing right away. So it’s like I never really left.

Also for a long time, at least since Season 2 or 3, once all of us really got a sense of the show and the characters, we all as regulars on the show would help direct scenes here and there or you’d have an idea that would come up or something that would be a great fix. It’s constantly problem-solving, taking what’s on the page and turning it into real life. Sometimes the location doesn’t totally work or sometimes this beat is tricky and we’re making it happen, making it work for TV, and that’s kind of what we had been doing for so long and I realized it was something I wanted to do and then it was fairly easy. It’s great. We had a great time.

LaRoyce Hawkins, Jesse Lee Soffer, and Jason Beghe on 'Chicago P.D'

Lori Allen/NBC

You had asked if you could direct, so I’m curious: Did you know what kind of episode you were hoping to direct or just whatever came up?

Oh, you have no say in that matter whatsoever. I was just hoping that it was a good episode, and it was. It was a really kind of old school OG Voight going behind the lines, doing things in the gray area, pushing boundaries, doing his Voight thing. And so that was really fun because that’s the show that we started 10 years ago. Jason and I had a great, great time playing in that world.

Especially because on the show Jay was the one to call Voight out. So as soon as I saw that with this episode, I’m like, oh, this is so fitting for you to be directing it.

Yeah, totally. We know the show we’re making and it’s not like Jesse doesn’t want Jason to do these bad things on camera. It’s like, no, that’s the show. And we’re constantly trying to play to that story and play to that dynamic or that foil of these two characters that were on different ends of the spectrum as far as right and wrong sometimes, but always going for the same outcome. They always wanted the same goal. So directing an episode where Voight’s kind of going off the rails is great ‘cause I know that part of our show so well.

But also you’re doing it from Voight’s perspective because you’re directing as opposed to acting from Jay’s perspective.

Totally, yeah. But as a viewer and as a fan, I love Voight and I love that aspect of the show, so I know what makes that work and what’s fun about that part of how we tell stories. So it’s great.

Are there any plans for your direct again, whether it’s P.D., another Dick Wolf show, or just in general?

No plan as of yet, but I’m definitely open to it. So who knows? You could see me directing more next season. I have no idea.

You’ve said you left because you wanted more. So what does that look for you now, especially after the 10 years on P.D.? You were also on Fire before that, so you’ve been with this character for a long time.

What does more look like? This. You want to grow and playing the same character… An episodic TV show is 10 months of a commitment every year and it’s really long hours and it’s difficult work. It’s really rewarding work and very fulfilling work. But at some point, you know that character so well, and as an actor, you want to do other stuff and you want to grow and you want to stretch and you want to keep learning. If we stop learning, what’s the point? And I really wanted to see if I could direct and learn and I got that opportunity to shadow. So I’m doing it. That’s what this is right now. You want to grow. You don’t want to stop growing.

What else do you have coming up? Anything you can share?

No, right now, it’s relaxing. I get to enjoy watching the episode that airs tomorrow and enjoy a little time off and then back to the drawing board and see what’s next.

Chicago P.D., Wednesdays, 10/9c, NBC