CHRIS O’DONNELL AND LL COOL J STAR IN
It’s set on a different coast and has different crooks, but Guy Davis found that the new NCIS spin-off defi nitely takes after the original.
NCIS: LOS ANGELES
You can’t blame the makers of NCIS for banking on a sure thing.
The adventures of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service have attracted huge audiences worldwide since 2003, and with the ongoing popularity of the Miami and New York versions of CSI, a new show featuring the agents of an NCIS branch in another city seemed like a natural.
And going by the response to the recent premiere of NCIS: Los Angeles, it would appear that the gamble has paid off .
The action-packed series, starring Chris O’Donnell and rapper-turned-actor LL Cool J in the lead roles, is proving almost as popular as the original in the United States and is rating healthily in Australia, where it airs on Ten.
The action, however, isn’t the key element of the success enjoyed by the NCIS brand. Fans of the franchise have made it clear that one of its main drawcards is the combination of thrills, humour and, most important, character interaction.
The team dynamic between Gibbs, DiNozzo, Ziva and the rest of the NCIS crew is a big part of the show’s appeal, and when it came to the L. A. spin-off , both O’Donnell and LL Cool J were keen to ensure that it would be emulated.
“ Character is really important to Shane and really important to us,” said LL Cool J, referring to Shane Brennan, the Australian executive producer credited by many as the one responsible for refi ning the NCIS formula.
“ I don’t think that it would ever just become about only plot and only action. When you stay true to the NCIS franchise in general, it’s the characters that are really important.”
“ A show like NCIS kind of has the liberty to do whatever they want,” added O’Donnell, who appeared as Robin in a pair of big-budget Batman blockbusters in the ’ 90s.
“ They can be as funny as they want, as dramatic as they want, as much action as they want. They’ve kind of opened it up so that they could go in any direction and their fans wouldn’t be too shocked.
“ But I really hope that there’s always a certain level of character development and drama and that sort of thing because from an acting standpoint that’s a lot more exciting.”
O’Donnell’s undercover operative G. Callen ( no, he doesn’t have a fi rst name – an orphan, his background is a mystery) and LL Cool J’s former Navy SEAL Sam Hanna were introduced in crossover episodes that aired during the sixth season of the original NCIS.
Those episodes acted as a launch pad for the Los Angeles series, which revolves around the LA Offi ce of Special Projects.
There will continue to be crossover between the two NCIS branches in Washington DC and Los Angeles, the makers of the show have stated, with forensic specialist Abby Sciuto ( played by Pauley Perrette) already scheduled for a working visit to the West Coast in the near future.
However, the plan is that NCIS: Los Angeles will be very much its own show with its own identity.
While both O’Donnell and LL Cool J have big-screen backgrounds, neither is a stranger to TV. But they admit that the grind of putting together a prime-time program, especially one with its fair share of action, has been eye-opening.
“ It’s a big commitment,” said O’Donnell, who played guest roles on The Practice and Grey’s Anatomy. “ I’ve actually felt energised by the amount of work we’ve been doing. But the physical challenges are not so much the action sequences we’ve been doing, it’s having the stamina to be focused and energised every day.”
“ Nothing can prepare you for a prime-time drama schedule,” added LL Cool J. “ You have to really be committed.”
But it’s a commitment LL Cool J is confi dent is worth the investment.
“ You don’t need to be familiar with the original show to understand our show or be a fan of our show,” he said.
“ You can defi nitely go in with cold feet. At the same time, we want to make sure that we’re respectful of the fans of the original NCIS, and hopefully maintain the elements that made that show successful.
“ We’re maintaining the same wit and banter as the original, but the undercover aspect gives us a bit of fl exibility.”
Think tank: Chris O’Donnell teams up with ( inset, from left) Adam Jamal Craig, LL Cool J and Daniela Ruah to
play agents of the LA Offi ce of Special Projects.