Out of the NCIS franchise, NCIS: Los Angeles is the slickest show. And bagging tour de force actors like Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J has certainly helped, writes Debashine Thangevelo
SIMILAR to CSI, the NCIS franchise – born from JAG – has proved to be quite the treasure trove for CBS.
NCIS, which started in 2003, is 12 seasons in, while NCIS: Los Angeles succeeded that spin-off with a lifespan of six seasons since 2009. And, more recently, NCIS: New Orleans joined its successors with a second season already confirmed since it aired in the US last year.
All three spin-offs have their distinct strengths in terms of the casts and frameworks of the shows. That said, when it comes to NCIS: Los Angeles, there is an unmistakable cool factor that tickles the entertainment sensibilities of viewers.
And having Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J, who are as different as chalk and cheese on and off the screen – and now the best of friends too – certainly bolsters the appeal of the show.
O’Donnell, who has enjoyed a vibrant career in both TV and movies, plays G Callen, a special agent renowned for his undercover work. His character’s enigmatic disposition has been fastened to his troubled childhood in foster homes and an doggedness to trace his lineage.
Then there is his partner Sam Hanna (LL Cool J – celebrated for his acting and his music), a former Navy SEAL who is fluent in Arabic and a connoisseur when it comes to Middle Eastern culture. Sam, as a family man – and very principled at that – offsets Callen’s nomadic and loner lifestyle. Aside from making great partners with a solidified brotherly bond, they unwittingly cancel out each others’ shortcomings.
Revisiting how they have bonded over the years, LL Cool J says: “You know, Chris and I get along very well and we are very different, and it’s not just a black and white thing. I think, just culturally we are different. Chris likes golf. I like to watch boxing. You know what I’m saying? He likes to listen to Jimmy Buffet, while I listen to Public Enemy. We are different people. But, at the end of the day, we share a camaraderie on set and that you can’t fake. I think our friendship has grown solid over the years and, hopefully, people see that when they watch the show.”
O’Donnell adds: “Professionally, we have both been doing this for a long time. We realise we have a real opportunity with this show and we work hard and put in our best effort. Also, we both have big families. So, at the core, we are human beings and there’s a real mutual respect that, as different as we may be in tastes and what we have, that’s part of where we have good chemistry. And, you know, one of my favourite pastimes is just trying to drive him crazy all day. It’s like getting to know a giant bear or a tiger. He hasn’t bitten me yet so I’m alright.”
His partner in crime-fighting adds: “No, you are safe!”
He continues: “We have been able to transcend the curse of being a faceless person on a spin-off. We have been able to touch the world a little bit and our characters mean something in a collective zeitgeist. That is pretty unique and we are grateful for that.”
Aside from largely boasting easy-on-the- eye characters, it is the quirks of each of the characters, the funny banter, the fast-paced action, the espionage and political drama as well as the personal journeys of all of them, that contributes to the magnetism of the show, the sexy LA backdrop notwithstanding.
An interesting titbit for fans: O’Donnell directed two episodes of the series, too.
He notes: “It’s definitely something I would love to do in the future.”
He also comments on the New Orleans version, with Scott Bakula helming the show: “I think it made everybody a little nostalgic because we think back to six years ago when we launched. I remember the first time we had a table-read with all our cast. And here we are as close as can be and you sit and think, ‘well, here goes another group and they are probably going through the same’.”