Familiar to faces as Logan Armstrong in the Young and the Restless, Deanna Russo comes to Knight Rider very eager for action. In the NBC Knight Rider movie airing February 17th, Deanna plays Sarah Graiman, daughter of Charles Graiman - creator of the Knight Industries Three Thousand and childhood friend of Mike Traceur. We speak to her about her characters pivotal role.
KRO: How is everything in California?
RUSSO: It's bright and sunny and great. (laughs)
KRO: Let's start at the beginning. How did you get into acting?
RUSSO: I've been doing plays since I was a kid. I started out just with school projects back in the 2nd grade. I guess I caught the bug at an early age.
KRO: You just did some stuff with "How I Met Your Mother".
RUSSO: I did a guest spot.
KRO: It's coming up on Monday.
RUSSO: Oh that's right! That's right! It was so cool. It was actually my first time doing a sitcom that I knew was going to air. I did a small role on a sitcom before but it never made it to the airwaves. It's cool. Actually, from that Josh Radner and I are friends; he's such a great guy. He's the star of How I Met Your Mother.
KRO: Were you into Knight Rider growing up?
RUSSO: Yeah, as much as a little girl can be. It was more hanging with my older brother who was a huge fan. I didn't really understand the concept of the show at the time except that there was a talking car and a man in a leather jacket. Actually all of the female roles from the original were kind of forgettable... In fact it wasn't until I looked back to see if they were series regulars. I was shocked to see there were such prominent female characters and I never knew.. I always thought that there was the flavor of the week and that was it. I hope that my role is going to be more integral than that and less forgetable (laughs).
KRO: It definitely seems that new characters stand more on their own, rather than being treated as add-ons like Bonnie and Devon did in the original series.
RUSSO: Yeah they do. The whole script and story.. It's really complex and multi-layered. It's impressive, the modern edge they're able to give the show. There's like little tributes to the older one. In fact, the writer and producer Dave Andron has been joking around that when he's allowed to write again, the first thing he's going to write is a moment where KITT's about to jump over an 18-wheeler with a million barrels stacked up and he just kind of drives around it (laughs). That would be a stupid thing to do. You'd be making fun of the original show, about how ridiculous it was to jump over cars all the time, how absolutely physically impossible that would have been (laughs).
KRO: It's funny you say that because one of the most frequent comments we have is "where is the turbo boost?" Is it an outdated concept?
RUSSO: Yeah, once you see what KITT can do... That's the thing. At first people were pissed that it wasn't a Trans Am. And they do mention that in this. And then people are pissed that well, if it's a Mustang how come it isn't turbo-charged? How come it can't do this? How come it can't do that? It's like, everybody will you just wait? (laughs) Just wait until you see it. It will be worth it. It will be cool. You will like it.
KRO: We had 4 seasons of Knight Rider, with 4 seasons of changes of this car that evolved.
RUSSO: If you think about it, everything KITT was able to do back in the early 80s, we all kind of have now. We have cars that talk to us, that tell us where to go, how to avoid traffic... You know what I'm saying? We all have cel phones now for communicating with someone in your car. With the rate of technology, how it's advancing, you think about how more sophisticated audiences are now. At the time Knight Rider was such a cool sleek show, and now by today's standards, some of the concepts are laughable. Because we've grown and evolved as an audience. We just expect more from scripts and visuals and shots and even acting. And that's just the way it's going to be. There are very few things that have withstood the test of time. Everything just kind of becomes silly at some point. Just like this, what we're doing now. It's so cool right now, but in 25 years we're going to be laughing at how silly it was.
KRO: The new series seems like there is going to be longer story arcs than the original series had.
RUSSO: Yeah, definitely. They do resolve the most prominent issue. But they do leave a nice open end for everybody. And a nice little teaser for wanting more. It's definitely set up for future story lines.
KRO: How did you find out about the audition?
RUSSO: I got a call from my manager. I was traveling a lot in October and I guess they had started the rounds of casting already. I missed the first round. That's when they found Justin Bruening. They found a girl but they passed. She went through all the rounds, and ultimately they passed. So they had to start from round one again and find new people. That was just about the same time I came back into town and I read for everybody. I really didn't think anything of it. It really was this casual experience. When I first found out they were doing Knight Rider and it had a strong female lead in it I was really excited just about that alone, strictly speaking as a fan. After I read, and the wait-and-see part, that was a little nerve-wracking. I have great friends in my life that kidnapped me and made me swing on swingsets and walk on the beach just to get my mind off of it (laughs). It's probably the worst suspense anyone could go through.
KRO: Was it a long time to wait?
RUSSO: I think it might have been 4 days. But when you think you're going to find out any minute, 4 days can last an eternity. Fortunately, as I said I had really great friends and it wasn't too bad, the waiting part. The great part about it was the audition process was very casual, I felt very comfortable in the room and Justin was there for most of the auditions. He was there for the callback and the network test and the studio test. He was just a part of it. The producers wanted to find someone who had good chemistry with him. And I met Justin and as soon as I met him, I was a smart-ass right off the bat. He loves that because he's such a smart-ass too (laughs). So the two of us were just poking fun at each other from the first second and everybody loved that because I guess nobody else felt that comfortable. And fortunately for me Justin is just so lovable. I've definitely worked with a lot of egos in my time and there's just none of that. He's just a regular dude that happens to have a cool job. And he loves what he does . And to work with someone who has that mentality... Because I'm the same way. I'm a pretty normal chick, I just have a really cool job. I was more excited to be working with really cool people than I was about anything else.
KRO: I spoke with Sydney Poitier...
RUSSO: Yeah! Again, she's just a normal chick.
KRO: She seemed really genuine.
RUSSO: Yeah, and that's so rare. Especially for women in this industry. Women can be really catty towards each other and from the first second Sydney and I were like, yeah, you're cool, you're all right. You know what I mean? Yeah, this is a good team.
KRO: So there wasn't any kind of competition.
RUSSO: No. And that's always there. This is the first time, it's so rare. That's another reason I hope this goes to series. This dynamic of people involved. It's not just the cast. but the crew. It's just so easy-going, it really would be a dream to work with them for 5 years. Couldn't ask for a better crew.
KRO: We hope you get 5 years out of it.
RUSSO:(laughs) Hell yeah!
We'll be back on Monday with Part 2 of our interview with Deanna. She'll talk more about her character - and drop the bomb about the Voice of KITT we didn't see happening.
Until then be sure to visit her website at deannarusso.com and watch her in Knight Rider, Sunday February 17th on NBC