Chicago P.D.'s Jesse Lee Soffer Explains The 'Tricky' Thing About Returning And Origin Of Wanting To Direct

Jesse Lee Soffer left Chicago P.D. as a series regular after more than 200 episodes of One Chicago action (including Fire and Med), and Season 10 has had to move on without Jay Halstead in the mix. The actor didn’t stay gone from the show for long, however, as Soffer stepped behind the camera to direct the next episode of NBC’s hit drama. Called “Deadlocked,” the episode will put a dangerous spin on a murder trial for Voight and Intelligence, and Soffer spoke with CinemaBlend about returning to direct, including what was “tricky” about it.

“Deadlocked” will be Jesse Lee Soffer’s directing debut, which was announced just a couple of weeks after Chicago P.D. said goodbye to Jay Halstead. Soffer was certainly familiar with the show beforehand thanks to nine full seasons as a star under his belt, along with the first three installments of Season 10. When he spoke with CinemaBlend, he opened up about the origin of his desire to direct. According to Soffer, he’s been wanting to pursue directing for much longer than fans might have guessed, as he said: 

It was kind of like an itch that had been growing since Season 4, or something like that. I'm not sure. We all do a lot of problem-solving and bits and pieces of directing here and there as regulars on the show, taking what's on the page and turning it into a scene, and I just realized that it was something that I thought I could do, and that I was interested in. I just felt like I was constantly doing it in some fashion, as does Jason [Beghe] or Marina [Squerciati] or Tracy [Spiridakos] or Paddy [John Flueger] or LaRoyce [Hawkins], for that matter.

Directing wasn’t a dream of Soffer’s that he just came up with as recently as the end of Season 9, but something that had been "growing" for several years. Him returning as a director simply wasn’t announced until after he was already gone from P.D. as an actor. After getting some unofficial experience with directing thanks to his role, he was able to return to his old Windy City stomping grounds and work with his former co-stars in a new way. The actor-turned-director continued:

To some degree, you're always having some part of your perspective on how to make this work, and not just telling the character's story, but how to make it work for this scene, or for this element in the story. I just started to realize that I was doing that a lot, and I was really looking at the macro aspect of storytelling. I was like, 'I think I want to direct,' and so that just kept growing until finally I asked.

Asking to direct certainly paid off! Soffer was quickly back on the show's set after finishing Halstead’s story so that he could shadow director Bethany Rooney, who is credited with directing the sixth episode of Season 10 that focused on Atwater. All signs point toward Soffer in his element once he took the reins of his own episode.

Jesse Lee Soffer directing Jason Beghe on Chicago PD behind the scenes

(Image credit: NBC)

Soffer also couldn’t have hoped to make his directing debut on a show on which he had more experience than Chicago P.D., after ten seasons and just shy of 200 episodes. (P.D. hit the 200-episode milestone with a big Burgess episode back in February.) So, did coming back to shadow as a director not too long after finishing as an actor affect Soffer? He explained what got tricky: 

It was helpful no matter what. It was gonna be helpful whenever I did it, because there's so much responsibility, and it's so time-consuming, and there's a lot of work that you have to put in. So it was really eye-opening to see that, and I was so grateful for that experience. The only tricky part was that I left set and came back a week later to shadow, and now I'm just like a silent observer and I don't get to have an opinion, and I'm pretty opinionated. I'm very opinionated about what makes P.D. work. So it was tricky to have to bite my lip and just [say] 'Okay, got it. This is how this episode is gonna be.’ Because I have a strong point of view about it.

Expressing opinions as an actor is apparently very different from expressing opinions when shadowing a director, and Jesse Lee Soffer didn’t spend much time away from the show between saying goodbye to Halstead and preparing to direct. Fans will soon get to see all the decisions he made for the next chapter of the Intelligence Unit’s story once he was able to graduate from shadowing to directing. Soffer shared what it was like to direct his former co-stars:

It was just a great experience. It was really cathartic. It was a nice sendoff. It felt good to get to be on that side of things, but experience an episode with everybody, again, from that perspective. It was awesome.

While Chicago P.D. fans will have to wait until the episode airs on March 22 to see what exactly Jesse Lee Soffer brought to the show as a director, his former co-stars were hyping him while he was back on set. He shared a set of photos, including one of Tracy Spiridakos looking a lot happier than the last time that Upton and Halstead shared a scene (or the upsetting Upstead development earlier this year). Take a look:

Tune in to NBC on Wednesday, March 22 at 10 p.m. ET for the next new episode of Chicago P.D., also available streaming next day with a Peacock Premium subscription. "Deadlocked" will see Voight taking the stand in a murder trial, but Intelligence will have to step up when a juror is compromised. Be sure to check back with CinemaBlend after the episode for more from Jesse Lee Soffer!

Chicago P.D. continues to close out a full night of One Chicago action, following Chicago Fire at 9 p.m. and Chicago Med at 8 p.m. on NBC. For some more viewing options in the not-too-distant future, check out our 2023 TV premiere schedule.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).