Viewers who tune into the second-season premiere of CBS’ hit “NCIS: Los Angeles” — which launches with two back-to-back episodes Tuesday (Sept. 21) right after the eighth-season premiere of its predecessor, “NCIS” — will notice that there’s been a little building going on.
The show’s home sets at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles have been expanded beyond the original refurbished Spanish mission, which contains the offices and high-tech ops room. There’s now a basketball court/gym — complete with an authentic climbing wall — and a shooting range.
The range may not be quite the regulation depth of a real one, but the gym has a polished wood floor and, with proper precautions, the actors will be able to shimmy up the wall.
Star LL Cool J (known as Todd on the set, short for his real name, James Todd Smith III), who plays former Navy SEAL and undercover Agent Sam Hanna, has given it all a try.
“I’ve done the boxing, weights,” he says, “went to the gun range.”
But playing an NCIS agent is about more than just the physical, as the former rapper has discovered.
“I was speaking to the former director of NCIS,” he tells Zap2it between takes, sitting on a bench just outside the ops room. “He was on set just recently, like about a week and a half, two weeks ago. It’s about trying to think like an agent. You have to get your mind in a place where you’re putting puzzle pieces together all the time.
“You have to think that way, because in thinking that way, it’ll kindle the kind of emotions that you should be feeling and the things that you should be going through.”
He’s also had a chance to learn the art of interrogation.
“We studied with some of the real NCIS agents,” he says. “We talked about body language. We’ve had behavioral analysts come on set and dealt with that as well. It’s fascinating, because you learn to watch every little thing.
“You have to watch everything, every twitch. Which way are they looking? Are they looking up to the right, being creative, or are they looking up to the left, being analytical? Are they looking down, or are they looking at you? Are they trying to be still, or are they being still?”
Asked if he’s figured out who Sam is as a person, LL Cool J says, “He’s definitely one of the guys that’s the moral compass, voice of reason on the team.”
As for romance, he says, “I did do a scene and had a young lady lying beside me when I received some news, but I don’t know if she’s seven feet tall or three-eleven. I didn’t find out yet.”
When it’s jokingly suggested the individual may have only looked like a woman, LL Cool J — whose rap name is an abbreviation for Ladies Love Cool James — shakes his head.
“Oh, yeah, for the love of God, let’s stay focused. Whoo!”
The son and grandson of military veterans, LL Cool J instead chose entertainment, which caused him problems in the family.
“Until I played this role!” he says. “Now I’m more of a military guy on certain levels … I’m promoting the military all over the world!”
Joining the show this season as a regular is Eric Christian Olsen, reprising his former guest-starring role as undercover LAPD Detective Marty Deeks, who’s signed on with NCIS as a liaison officer. “Community” fans may remember him as Vaughn, the hippie boyfriend of first Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and then Annie (Alison Brie).
However, LL Cool J does not, but he likes him anyway.
“I didn’t see him on ‘Community,'” he says. “I’ve seen a couple of his movies. He’s doing a great job. He has a great sense of humor, a lot of great energy, that he brings to the show. He just helps with the chemistry, makes things more fun.”
Photo credit: CBS