MAGNUM P.I.'s Zachary Knighton Previews His 'Dream Come True' Directorial Debut - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

MAGNUM P.I.’s Zachary Knighton Previews His ‘Dream Come True’ Directorial Debut

December 4, 2023 by  

Magnum PI Zachary Knighton directing

MAGNUM P.I. — “Consciousness of Guilt” Episode 517 — Pictured: (l-r) Manuel Rafael Lozano as Dylan, Zachary Knighton as Orville “Rick” Wright — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

The MAGNUM P.I. team has their hands full on the Wednesday, December 6 episode, “Consciousness of Guilt,” as Katsumoto (Tim Kang) has Magnum (Jay Hernandez) try to take down a suspected killer, while Jin (Bobby Lee)…well, he gets into some trouble and desperately needs Higgins’ (Perdita Weeks) help.

Behind the scenes, though, the hour proved to be a big one for series star Zachary Knighton: It marked his directorial debut!

“Please everybody watch it so it can be the highest-rated episode of MAGNUM P.I.,” Knighton says with a laugh to Give Me My Remote. “That’d be great.”

Here, the actor-director shares the (long) road to stepping behind the camera, the passionate fan campaign to save the series, and more.


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You mentioned on social media this was a “dream come true.” When did your desire to direct start and what was the process like to get here?
Well, jeez, it’s been a process; it’s been over 10 years. I’ve been shadowing directors for years. I’ve been trying to direct on different shows that I’ve been on for years. Every time I got really close, the show would get canceled. [Laughs.] It’s usually the path for actors…you direct on the show that you’re on, that’s normally the way you start, and then you can hopefully get hired outside of your home team. 

So I had been trying to direct for years. I’ve done some music videos, and I did some webisodes for HAPPY ENDINGS when I was on [that show]. And I was getting a taste of it, but was never given three-and-a-half million dollars to direct a one-hour episode of television in like seven to eight days. So this was fun.

This is a dream come true, for sure. You’ve got everything: You’ve got a helicopter sequence. There’s action. There’s comedy; Bobby Lee’s like the lead of my episode. There’s drama. I got to bring in an old friend Taylor Handley—he’s an incredible actor—to be our main bad guy. I just kind of got it all in this episode. It was really, really thrilling.

What conversations did you have with the writers before you were assigned this specific episode? Were you able to incorporate any hopes or wishes into the hour before they gave you the script?
I had just been hounding everybody to give me an episode, give me an episode. You don’t get to write, they just go, “Hey, you’re directing for 5×17” or whatever.

I’m sure if the show was progressing, and we were still going [beyond this season], I would [be able to ask], “Can I do the one with whatever?” But that’s not happening now. 

But I think they picked me to direct this particular one because there is a lot of comedy in it. And Bobby Lee and I have a long, old relationship. We were both on shows on Fox in the early 2000s. So we’re old friends and I think they thought I would be the right guy for the gig. I was thrilled that they picked me for this particular episode.

Magnum PI Zachary Knighton directing

MAGNUM P.I. — “Consciousness of Guilt” Episode 517 — Pictured: (l-r) Zachary Knighton as Orville “Rick” Wright, Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum — (Photo by: Zack Dougan/NBC)

After wanting to do this for so long, what surprised you the most on your first day of prep?
Well, I think obviously the dream of doing it. I like doing things that scare me. Acting for years, there were really things that scared me about it. When I made my debut on stage in New York City, I remember staring at the red light that was going to go off when it was time for me to walk on stage, and just thinking, “This is the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. And here we go. This is the rest of your life, pal, what are you going to do? Are you going to rise to the occasion? Are you going to be the guy that doesn’t?”

That’s how I felt about this episode: Okay, I’m walking on to the set. I’m going to have a ton of people staring at me, wondering what to do next. And they’re going to be looking at me for guidance. I basically showed up to work about two hours early every day, I didn’t get any sleep the night before, and I was just constantly thinking about it and prepping.

I think the thing that surprised me was how it started to sort of roll along. I was like, “Oh, I’m doing it. Okay, I’m doing it. It’s working. It’s working. Okay, I’m doing it. Now I’m hitting a challenge and this person is helping me overcome this.” All you have to do is go for it, right? I think that was the biggest surprise.

Obviously I wouldn’t call it a surprise, but the learning that is involved—I had to learn so much about what the crew does than I ever had in my previous 20 years of just being an actor. I mean, you’re learning about how much care and time goes into set dec, special effects, every aspect of these artisans that are working behind the scenes. And that to me was the best; I felt like I got this big all-around education on how to direct a television show. Or even just how to make a television show, on all sides.

What was your approach to directing yourself, and what did you learn about yourself both as a director and an actor in that process?
Well, luckily, I believe I’m only in like two scenes in this episode. So they wrote me really light so I can focus on directing.

But I just had to be prepared, because I didn’t have much time to focus on my scenes; I had more work to do to complete my days. I had to make sure that I was prepped as an actor, maybe more than I normally am. Normally, I like to learn the lines kind of loosely and improv and have some fun. But in this particular case, I had to be really kind of strict and stringent…sometimes I’m an actor [who says], “I just need one more. Let me just do one more take. I feel like I need this,” or whatever. And that wasn’t happening. For me as an actor-director, I was like, “Zach, you’re not getting another take.” “Okay, Zach.” And everyone’s going, “Why is Zach talking to himself?” [Laughs.]


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On the flip side, you also got to direct your long-time co-stars, some of whom are also actor-directors. What was it like collaborating with them in that way?
Well, look, you’re working for the home team in general, right? So everybody wants you to do good. And not only that, but you know the actors [and when they] want to go home. Acting is understanding human behavior; I think a lot of actors could be good therapists. Maybe it’s just that we understand nuance in human behavior. 

So I know when Jay has been shooting for 15, 16, 17 hours a day for the last six months, I know what he feels like; when he needs to get out, when he needs to go home, or when he needs to rest. I know if Tim Kang was light on the episode before, he’s gonna want to dig in. He’s gonna ask a lot of questions. So you take different approaches with different people. 

And the same goes for the crew. These guys have been grinding. We were on such a crazy schedule after we got saved because we had to deliver this television show on a very strict budget. So you’re just taking into account a lot of human behavior, massaging it, learning how to deal with certain things and certain people and you’re wearing a lot of different hats. So it’s a big challenge. And I mean, it was a thrill. I had one of the best times of my life doing this thing.

Magnum PI Zachary Knighton directing

MAGNUM P.I. — “Consciousness of Guilt” Episode 517 — Pictured: (l-r) Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum, Jon Lovitz as Pierre — (Photo by: NBC)

There are also a couple of other guest stars in the hour, including Jon Lovitz and Brent Sexton. What was it like working with them?
Oh, yes, yeah. Well, and don’t forget Taylor Handley—[he] is my main bad guy. I mean, Taylor is an old friend of mine from back in the day, an old competitor. We used to always go out for the same jobs all the time. 

It’s just so fun: you get to pick people to be in your episode. I mean, everybody’s got a voice. It’s not like I had the final say, of course: [showrunner] Eric Guggenheim, [episode writers] Andre [Jackson] and David Slack, and the writers…of the show ultimately have the say. But I got everything I wanted, let’s just put it that way. 

It was fun. But Jon Lovitz is a comedy legend. I’m glad I got to work with him. I only got to work with him for a day, but he brought it. And of course, Bobby Lee, who is an old, old friend—I wanted to take Bobby to the depths of hell. You know what I mean? I really wanted to drive Bobby nuts. [Laughs.] I think I did that. 

And obviously Brent Sexton was on the show. He’s an incredible actor, such an interesting guy. Sometimes you’re like, “How did you get a guy like this? I don’t even get it. like how did I get this guy to do this little role in my episode?” They’re great. And especially for me, as an actor, it’s like that’s who I want to work with. I want to work with great actors as I’m directing so I don’t have to direct them too much.


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A post shared by Zach (@zachknighton)

Earlier in the season, we saw Rick get part of his happy ending by reuniting with Suzy (Betsy Phillips). What did it mean for you to have that happen and play a bit of their life in the remaining episodes? And is there anything you can tease about how open-ended their story is by finale time?
Well, for one, the girl that plays Suzy is my real-life wife, so that’s good! I’m glad we got some closure on that. I mean, it’s just in general, it’s a great story for our family, ‘cause we really had babies while we were over here and obviously on the show—it’s all kind of ripped from the headlines. But it’s a great chapter and a great story for our family. So that was wonderful. And I think it’s great for Rick and Suzy; it’s just a lovely way to wrap it up. 

And I think you’re gonna see, even though we didn’t know the show was gonna get canceled at the time, you always want to wrap it up nicely, because you never know. Everybody who worked on the show has been on a canceled show in some form or another. I think the writers did a wonderful job. I don’t know, there might be some engagements coming up? Who knows? We might get into some ring business. Who knows?! [Laughs.]

Well, that’s exciting. On a bittersweet note, the MAGNUM P.I. fans are still fighting to save the show after its most recent cancellation. What has that support meant to you?
Well, I’ve never seen anything like this, I gotta say; I’ve never seen a group of fans like this group of fans. I mean, my God, they had a billboard in Times Square [two weeks ago]. So it is an honor. I’m humbled. 

I was on a show before called HAPPY ENDINGS—there was a very big fan push to get that show saved. But it was nothing like this. I mean, this is unreal. I’m just so thankful…it’s just a cool story. You know, I’m really uplifted by the fact that it was something that got canceled and all these people got together to try to save it. And they did. I mean, it’s really, really incredible. 

So I’m immeasurably thankful. I hope that they enjoy these last episodes. And you better believe that when I was directing my episode, I was just thinking about them and wanting to deliver them something incredible. And I just hope everybody is at peace and feels good. And, you know, if they ever called me to do more of this, I would of course do it because I would do it for the fans—they deserve it. 

But wonderful, beautiful people. I met so many incredible people that were behind [the fan campaigns] and they’re just lovely people. It was really, really touching to be a part of that.

MAGNUM P.I., Wednesdays, 9/8c, NBC


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