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Jesse Lee Soffer addresses his ‘Chicago P.D.’ departure in new interview

Soffer played Det. Jay Halstead for more than nine seasons on the Dick Wolf-created police drama.
/ Source: TODAY

Jesse Lee Soffer is finally revealing what motivated him to leave "Chicago P.D." in the middle of the NBC show's 10th season — and it turns out, he was just yearning for a new acting challenge.

“I’ve thought so hard about how to answer this question — and there’s no good answer,” Soffer, 38, told Variety. “Except I was ready for more.”

Playing the brash Det. Jay Halstead for nearly a decade allowed Soffer to get to know his character inside and out, which can be both a blessing and a curse for an actor. “Eventually, you know the character so well, there’s not much that can shift or transform,” explained Soffer.

As difficult as it was to walk away, Soffer knew it was time to tackle a new adventure. “I really wanted to grow and expand, and we’ve only got this one trip,” he said. “If I signed up again, it would have been for another three years. I would have turned 40 on the show. I thought, ‘You know what? It’s time to take a risk.’

“It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my life. Let’s be honest: I love the fans of our show so much, and I love my fans. I know that they’re still grieving this, and to some degree, I am too," he added.

Just like the show’s viewers, Soffer has a soft spot for cocky Halstead. “He’s deeply flawed, because everybody on ‘Chicago P.D.’ is. But he’s definitely a good person, with really good motives,” the actor said.

In August 2022, Soffer announced that he was exiting the Dick Wolf-created police drama. The actor thanked fans in a statement for their "unwavering support." He also expressed gratitude to Wolf as well as the show's cast and crew. “To create this hour drama week after week has been a labor of love by everyone who touches the show. I will always be proud of my time as Det. Jay Halstead," he wrote.

Soffer's final appearance on the show aired in October 2022. The episode found Halstead turning in his badge after protecting a criminal and stabbing a man in self-defense.

The detective then left behind his wife, Hailey Upton (Tracy Spiridakos), to travel to Bolivia with the U.S Army on a mission to track cartel forces. Though Halstead promised Hailey he will return soon, she later learned from his boss that he'd extended his trip.

Soffer told Variety that he understood why fans were upset by the episode, but he argued that the show's writers know best what makes for a good drama.

“I know the fans are upset be­cause, like, ‘This isn’t the Jay that we know and love! Why isn’t he calling? Why is he doing this?!’ But, you know, the show must go on,” said the actor. “I don’t think I really have the right to feel any way about that. The writers have to do what they have to do to service the story and the characters that are still there.

"Also, our show’s pretty dark, and they love diving into the ugliest, hardest version of life. So for Hailey to have to go through this, it probably just made sense.”