Next year, we’re getting a Knight Rider reboot. This isn’t the rumored movie that Chris Pratt and Danny McBride were possibly being cast in, but instead a digital series from Machinima, to be produced by Justin Lin, director of the Fast & Furious movies and Star Trek Beyond.
The original Knight Rider premiered in 1982, and starred David Hasselhoff as a crusader for justice in a high-tech Trans Am equipped with artificial intelligence (and the voice of William Daniels, who was co-starring on the show St. Elsewhere throughout Knight Rider‘s run). The backstory, in a nutshell: Knight used to be Michael Long, a police officer and former Green Beret. He gets shot in the head, but survives due to a metal plate in his head he’d received after an incident during the Vietnam War. Long is declared dead, but is actually rescued and rehabiliated by an organization bankrolled by a dying billionaire. He’s given a brand new face, a new name (Michael Knight), and KITT, his new best friend (the Trans Am).
With the news of the reboot, we’re offering up some casting choices for the lead. Prepare for some out-of-the-box ideas for these 15 Actors Who Could Star in the New Knight Rider.
15. Neil Patrick Harris
Doogie’s come a long way, hasn’t he? Harris was discovered when he was just a kid at drama camp, and had his first taste of fame as the voice-not-yet-changed child prodigy doctor on Doogie Howser, M.D. He went on to guest star in dozens of shows after that, contrasting the clean-cut Doogie by playing a bully on Quantum Leap, and years later, the womanizing Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother.
His new turn in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events provides the final proof that Harris is anything but predictable. He’s played a villain many times, parodied himself in the Harold & Kumar movies, and become a go-to awards show host, having emceed the Tonys, the Emmys, and the Oscars.
14. Chyler Leigh
Chyler Leigh could OWN this. On Supergirl, she’s a human whose sister is a superhero and whose boss is an alien from Mars, and yet she still manages to come across as a badass not to be messed with. We’re already used to seeing her as a fighter for justice, with deeply personal stakes, and we completely buy her as a tough adversary even with these two super-powered allies at her side.
As an agent of the DEO on Supergirl, she works with state-of-the-art technology, so pairing her up with KITT seems like a no-brainer, but when push comes to shove, she’s also a pro at hand-to-hand combat. And if that isn’t enough for her resume, take a look at her acting history. Anyone who can go from being Janey in Not Another Teen Movie and Lexie Grey in Grey’s Anatomy to beating the crap out of aliens is probably a good match for a super powered car and some lowly human criminals.
13. John Cho
If you can’t trust the guy who drives a starship to handle a state-of-the-art car, who can you trust?
Cho was in the American Pie movies, a dubious start to his career, but even in his initially brief scenes he was memorable. His career took off when he started playing Harold (a role specifically written for him) in the Harold & Kumar movies, and then hit new heights when he took on the iconic role of Sulu in the Star Trek reboots.
Michael Knight isn’t a loner; he’s a guy who takes his orders from the Foundation for Law and Government. There’s something graceful in the way Cho’s Mr. Sulu takes orders from his captain in the Star Trek reboots, complemented by the put-upon way he tolerates instructions from Kumar, whom he sticks with no matter how much ridiculousness he has to put up with. He has the ability to appear unfairly challenged and still determined to measure up at the same time, a perfect combo for a guy who’s the face of an organization that’s trying to change the world.
Also, have you seen the dub smash videos he made with his Star Trek buddies? Looks like we’ve got another car singer.
12. Kal Penn
We’ve suggested Harold, so let’s also consider Kumar. Kal Penn is such a relatable, human sort of actor that he makes everything accessible. With Penn in the role, we wouldn’t just be watching Michael Knight, we’d know what it’s like to BE Michael Knight.
Penn played Dr. Lawrence Kutner on House, whose unexplained suicide tormented his friends and caused him to come back as one of House’s hallucinations. He was a young terrorist on 24, passionate and desperate, making us feel sorry for him when we thought he was being victimized and then furious with him when it turned out he was one of the bad guys after all. And on Designated Survivor, he’s the smart guy, Mr. Smooth, effortlessly stepping into the role of White House Press Secretary and confidante to the President. Not only that, he knows the REAL President, having worked as an Associate Director of Public Engagement under Barack Obama, which gives some credibility to the idea that he believes in truth, justice, and the American way.
11. Maisie Williams
Who’s more perfect for a character “who does not exist” (see official Knight Rider intro) than the girl who is no one?
On Game of Thrones, Williams’ Arya Stark has gone through remarkable transformations. She was the indulged child of royalty, and a petty little sister. She was the protector of the weak, who stood up to Joffrey when he picked on her friend Mycah. She was the tough girl, pretending to be a boy, telling no one her secret and living in hiding. And then she was the supplicant, the girl with no name and no identity, there to fulfill the orders of others. And finally, as we last saw her, she’s the girl who decided to stand up and reclaim her own destiny.
And for the record, she has her lighter moments. Watch her prank a bunch of fans by pretending to be Lorraine, a clerk in a comic shop who knows nothing about Game of Thrones, and gets customers to act out scenes from it to win prizes. The Girl has a funny side, too.
10. James Franco
Wild card time!
There’s no doubt about it, whatever version of Michael Knight that would exist if James Franco played him would not be the same Michael Knight as played by any other actor. A Freaks and Geeks alumnus, Franco brings a weird unpredictability to everything he does. Who else has such a diverse resume? He’s been James Dean, George in Of Mice and Men (on Broadway), the Green Goblin’s son, Harvey Milk’s lover, Allen Ginsberg, the Wizard of Oz, and a parody of himself on 30 Rock with an unfortunate predilection for inflatable dolls.
The best way for him to step into this role is probably to play it as straight as possible, emulating the David Hasselhoff performance down to the body language and haircut… it would be James Franco playing David Hasselhoff playing Michael Knight. Is it an ironic performance? Is he taking it seriously? We don’t know! Franco keeps ’em guessing.
9. T.J. Miller
On Silicon Valley, Miller is all id. The character he plays, Erlich Bachman, answers only to his ego and his whims, alternately boosting and sinking the fortunes of others with no regrets. This is not what Michael Knight is about, not a whit.
But what would work, in this scenario, is his general sort of recklessness, and the feeling, when you watch him, that he’s about to do something completely unpredictable and you’ll never see it coming. In the strange new version of Knight Rider starring T.J. Miller, you’d have to put the car in charge, with Michael repeatedly coming up with his own terrible plans and the car having to keep him in check and stop him by refusing to open its doors and let him out until he agrees to listen to reason.
We know he can be convincing — remember when he turned the “uptick” into a six million dollar investment in Pied Piper? So sprinkle in an agency for him to report in to and a car that keeps his impulses under control, and you’ve got a completely unpredictable hero you can’t tear your eyes away from.
8. Kit Harrington
Yes, we know he’s going to be busy on Game of Thrones for a while, but what a fun move this would be! We’re used to seeing Harrington in this role, the guy who fights against the odds, defends the undefendable, and shakes up the status quo.
More than than, there’s something about Harrington that reeks of backstory; you always feel like there’s a whole (dark) history with him that affects every decision and move he makes. Michael Knight may have had a lot of fun with his super car in the swingin’ ’80s, but he’s also got a dark and tragic history, and with Harrington, this could be front and center as the motivating force of his character. He’s doing what’s right because he must, no matter what it costs him, and we can imagine KITT as a sort of substitute for Ghost, Jon Snow’s direwolf. And he’s already come back from the dead, so his history is familiar territory that viewers can accept without batting an eye.
7. Michelle Dockery
American audiences primarily know Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley on Downton Abbey, and those who have only heard of the show but haven’t watched it may think Mary is all about British propriety and pomp. Not so.
Mary Crawley, despite her airs as the daughter of Lord Crawley, was always a rebel. In a world where men dominated, she was never demure. She fooled around before marriage (with Divergent‘s Theo James) and then, when her lover died in her bed, she dragged his body back to his own bed (with some help, of course) to cover up the scandal. She was the sassy woman who cut her hair short and wore pants when it was still shocking, but more than that, she got involved in the family business and held her own among the reluctant men. Mary was one of the strongest female characters on TV, hiding behind a china teacup, good manners, and class snobbery.
Dockery would bring a sense of elegance to the role, as well as righteousness. plus she has a new show on TNT starting this month, Good Behavior. She plays a thief and con artist, so she might want to go back to being a good guy when she’s done.
6. Laverne Cox
Stay with us on this one, because Laverne Cox was actually one of the first names that came to mind for this list. She gets a lot of publicity as a transgender spokesperson, but that’s not what puts her on this particular casting call. It really comes down to two reasons.
One, Michael (Mikayla?) Knight has taken on a whole new identity to fight crime, with a new face, name, and no connection to anyone in the past, so wouldn’t having the character become a woman take that premise to a whole new level? Maybe it’s what she’d always wanted, and this gave her the opportunity. She’s a woman nobody knew was ever a man, but she’d have a man’s insights into male behavior. Intriguing, right?
Second, anyone who’s seen her as Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black knows she can act; that’s why she was nominated for an Emmy in 2014. Most recently, we’ve watched her break down as she was forced into solitary confinement and denied her medication, and her performance was mind blowing. If anyone can convince audiences to embrace a transgender action hero, it’s Cox.
5. Martin Starr
It’s tempting to suggest that Silicon Valley‘s Starr provide the voice of KITT instead of siting in the driver’s seat, but how about we settle for this: If T.J. Miller becomes Michael Knight, Starr can be KITT. But let’s not rule out Starr as the lead just yet.
For one, he’s got that magnificent voice, and a facial expression that withers people’s enthusiasm with a glance, so he’d be Michael Knight with a sardonic twist, which is a new angle. But the more compelling reason is because he was once, way back when, Bill Haverchuck on Freaks and Geeks, and making him a sportscar-driving hero would make everything in the world right and fair. We watched Bill suffer through peanut allergies, thick glasses, and the indignity of having his hated gym teacher date his mom. And despite all this, Bill was the kind of guy that wasn’t really that aware of his own geek-ness; he saw himself as a smart guy with unassailable opinions and great taste in comedy. Still, he was often lonely, and sometimes ostracized, so how freakin’ cool would it be for him to become Knight Rider? We know he watched the show, and probably criticized everything that didn’t make sense, and secretly wished he had KITT, so let’s give it to him. For Bill.
4. Jurnee Smollet-Bell
Like Neil Patrick Harris, Smollet-Bell started out as a child actress, co-starring with her siblings in the TV show On Our Own. At age 11, she starred in the movie Eve’s Bayou, holding her own with co-stars like Samuel L. Jackson and Lynn Whitfield. Now an adult who’s been on The Defenders, Parenthood, and True Blood, she’s risen high above her child star status and become an actress with range and tremendous presence.
Anyone who’s seen Smollet-Bell in Friday Night Lights and Underground knows that this woman has an inner strength that shines through no matter who she’s playing. Yes she’s beautiful, but she’s also strong in a way that has nothing to do with throwing a punch. She’s the kind of actress who always conveys so much more than what’s on the surface, and you’d buy her in a heartbeat as someone who felt it was her job to right the world’s wrongs, one situation at a time. If you paired her with the right voice for KITT, she’d be a perfect partner.
3. Shemar Moore
If you want to make Knight Rider sexy and heroic, this is your guy. Have you seen Criminal Minds? Have you experienced the unbridled macho-but-sweet heroism that is Derek Morgan? This is a man who will always step in and take over, fight the bad guys, rescue the good guys, and make victims feel protected and cared for. As part of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, he was a perfect mixture of brains and brawn. Everything about Morgan said, “I got this” when someone was in trouble.
Bottom line: if you need a hero who is outraged by injustice, works well with the team behind him who provides his technology, and would get a huge kick out being behind the wheel of a tricked out vehicle, he’s your man. He’d have a romance in a every episode, making the viewers swoon, and would find a way to overcome his enemies without causing any extra damage … he’d be a nobler, more focused Michael Knight whose still got the charm. Also, he’s available, since left the show at the end of last season.
2. Steven Yeun
Steven Yeun’s character on The Walking Dead, Glenn Rhee, died in the Season 7 premiere, shocking viewers and making headlines. He’s already signed up to do a couple of movies, but he’s now available for a series again, so it makes sense to start thinking of him outside of his ensemble cast and give him the spotlight. In his 6 seasons (and an episode) of The Walking Dead, he became a fan favorite.
Before that, he’d only done one TV appearance, a one-off guest role on The Big Bang Theory. Surprisingly, Yeun got his start in improv comedy, which couldn’t have been that much help to him when he started playing Glenn. Doesn’t matter; not only was he an audience favorite, his fellow cast members are as heartbroken about him leaving as the viewers are about his character’s death. It’s this that makes us think he’d be a good choice to revitalize this old franchise: the guy makes people care about him. If you want eyeballs on Michael Knight, hire the guy that everybody really needs to see alive again.
1. John Krasinski
Sure, he’s all beefed-up now, and he’s becoming something of an entertainment mogul, but if he found time in his schedule, he’d make a pretty lovable Michael Knight. Just like Martin Starr being a good choice because of Freaks and Geeks, for Krasinski, it’s really all about The Office. His facial expressions on that show spoke volumes, a talent not all actors have. He’s sincere, he’s funny, he’s vulnerable, he’s charismatic, and he’d add a sense of fun to the whole thing. Hassehoff understood the value of that, too; he often seemed to be having a good time out there. Krasinski’s take on that would be much quirkier, his own original non-Hasselhoffy zing.
Also, an effective Michael Knight needs to be a little bit unassuming, so he can walk into a situation (much like Charlie’s Angels or the Six Million Dollar Man) and appear to be just another guy, as he gets the lay of the land and figures out his game plan. Krasinski would be a natural for that. And honestly, it’s just impossible not to like him.
Some Thoughts About KITT
We can’t wrap this up without a few suggestions for the voice of KITT. William Daniels was so perfect for the role that show creator Glen A. Larson had him in mind from the very beginning. Daniels was already working full time on St. Elsewhere, so they would have a “script girl” (as they called the person who did that job back then) do the lines with Hasselhoff, and then Daniels would come in later to re-record them. The show’s two stars didn’t even meet until the the company Christmas party, six months after they’d started production.
We’re going to waive some of the more obviously distinctive voices (Morgan Freeman and Samuel L. Jackson, we’re talking to you) and make some less obvious suggestions.
Whoopi Goldberg – She’s got the voice of wisdom, a sense of humor, and lots of voice work experience.
Donald Trump – He can fire his driver whenever he doesn’t like what’s going on, and throw automotive tantrums as needed.
William Shatner – He’s already signed on to be Harvey Dent (Two-Face) in the new animated Batman feature. Between that and his years as Captain Kirk, there is no situation he wouldn’t have a response for.
Katey Segal – Who wouldn’t want Futurama‘s Leela by their side? Also, as KITT, she’d sing in the car too, adding a little conflict to all the driving scenes. Or duets.
Knight Rider will be available digitally in 2017.