Gregory Smith didn't want to take the easy way out with his second "Rookie Blue" directing assignment ... and he sure didn't.
The actor who plays Officer Dov Epstein on the Canadian-made ABC police drama is in the thick of the bountiful action -- on both sides of the camera -- as he calls the shots on the first half of the show's Season 4 finale Thursday (Sept. 5). The story is sparked by an unknown gunman who targets Andy and Chloe ( Missy Peregrym , Priscilla Faia), then other cops of 15 Division.
From the moment he first heard the plot, Smith knew he wanted to tackle the episode fully. "I'm very, very happy with it," he tells Zap2it, explaining that executive producers Tassie Cameron, David Wellington and Ilana Frank "came up to me about halfway through the season and said, 'OK, we're starting to think about your episode. The previous year [when Smith first directed an episode], they made me light as an actor and they asked, 'Do you want us to do that again?'
"I said, 'No, no, no. Bring it on.' It's one of my heavier episodes of the year, and it was crazy, but I loved it. It's a challenge, but you live for the challenge. And it's a testament to Tassie and David and Ilana. They really took a chance on me, and I think they're happy they did."
How do some of Smith's "Rookie Blue" castmates feel he fared in directing them?
"It's definitely a task, but he really rose to the challenge," says Faia, whose Officer Chloe Price is Dov's girlfriend now. "He's so talented in so many ways, and he's been in the business for so long, he knows exactly what he likes. And he's so collaborative; he really wants to work with you, but he knows what he wants a shot to look like. He makes really great choices."
Rachael Ancheril, who plays Officer Marlo Cruz, adds that Smith-as-director is "awesome. If you have any thoughts or ideas, he's totally open to them ... but he knows what we wants as well, and he gets it done. I think he is going to go on to be huge in directing, I really do. He has a great vision."
Perhaps the "Rookie Blue" performer who's seen Smith's creative growth the most is Charlotte Sullivan, the show's Officer Gail Peck. "I did my first movie with him when I was a little kid," she reports. "It was 'Harriet the Spy.' He lived in Vancouver and I lived in Toronto, so we didn't see much of each other afterward.
"Years went by, and this show called 'Rookie Blue' came up, and I was both excited and nervous to see him because it had been so long. He'd been really successful, and I thought, 'What if he's too cool for school? What if he wants to pretend that movie never happened?' And he was just so lovely. He's such a sweet guy, and I enjoy his company very much."
Sullivan enjoys his directing style, too. "I think all of us were supportive of Greg, because this is what he really wants to do. Yes, he loves acting, but I think his real passion is directing and doing photography. If I can speak for everyone, we really tried to be as helpful as possible and quiet on the set, probably a lot more than with somebody who came on and was a bit more seasoned.
"He had to direct a really intimate scene for me," she adds, "and it was awkward because he's my friend, first and foremost. I couldn't even look him in the eye. I had to just listen to him and keep it really professional, because we have a tendency to get quite goofy on the set. I was quite nervous, and I just used those nerves in the scene, because my character would be feeling them as well. I really am quite proud of Greg, and I think he's done a great job. He's a wonderful person, and I enjoy not only his company immensely, but also his talent."
"Rookie Blue" isn't the "Everwood" alum's only opportunity to direct this year: The show's production company, Entertainment One, also enlisted him to steer an episode of its medical drama "Saving Hope" -- which has continued in Canada, though NBC didn't pick it up for an American run beyond its first season.
One of the challenges for two directors guiding halves of the same story is to sync up with each other's style. Smith says he found that relatively easy on "Rookie Blue" since executive producer Wellington has directed many of the episodes, including this year's final one airing Thursday, Sept. 12.
"We called it a Wellington-Smith Joint," laughs Smith, who's all but certain to get another directing shot next season. "We spent a lot of time together, talking and planning it out, and it was really cool. He's sort of my mentor, and it was great to collaborate with him in that way."
For more on "Rookie Blue," visit ABC's official page.
Photo/Video credit: Entertainment One