DESI, DI­VER­SITY & REVIVING NCIS

Herald Sun - Hit - - FRONT PAGE - / COLIN VICK­ERY

WILMER Valder­rama is turn­ing mogul. Up un­til re­cently, the 38-year-old ac­tor was best known as Fez on That ’70s Show and for his list of high-pro­file girl­friends, in­clud­ing Lind­say Lo­han, Mandy Moore and Demi Lo­vato.

All of that changed when Valder­rama signed up to play Spe­cial Agent Nick Tor­res in the 14th sea­son of NCIS. Valder­rama, of Colom­bian and Venezue­lan de­scent, has lever­aged his fame to sign a cov­eted two-year first-look deal with CBS for a se­ries of shows which em­pha­sise di­ver­sity.

Valder­rama joined the NCIS cast in 2016 to help cover the loss of Michael Weatherly’s pop­u­lar An­thony DiNozzo. Weatherly had been with the show since day one.

View­ers first saw Tor­res when he was res­cued by NCIS agents Leroy Gibbs (Mark Har­mon) and Eleanor Bishop (Emily Wick­er­sham).

Tor­res had been miss­ing for six months af­ter go­ing deep un­der­cover on as­sign­ment in Ar­gentina.

“I wanted to re­spect the legacy of NCIS but in­tro­duce the next chap­ter,” Valder­rama says.

“I wanted to be dis­rup­tive and create a dif­fer­ent chem­istry. Tor­res didn’t play by the rules. He wasn’t in­tim­i­dated by Gibbs.

“The au­di­ence was left think­ing ‘is he a good guy or a bad guy’. But over time he earned his place in the team.

“We built the char­ac­ter from scratch. I’ve a very strong, opin­ion­ated per­former but they (pro­duc­ers) were so open to my ideas.

“One of the rea­sons I have such a strong opin­ion is that I want my char­ac­ter to be mem­o­rable. I’ve never wanted to blend in. I think I’ve made that very ob­vi­ous through the last two years.”

Valder­rama’s re­la­tion­ship with Lo­vato hit the head­lines in late July when the singer was rushed to hospi­tal af­ter a sus­pected drug over­dose.

The pair dated for six years be­fore call­ing it quits in 2016. Valder­rama was re­port­edly “shocked” by the news of Lo­vato’s over­dose.

Valder­rama has man­aged to avoid the pit­falls of fame and his CBS deal is a sign that he is us­ing his celebrity to help in­crease di­ver­sity on screens.

“When I got to the US at age 14, I didn’t see my­self on tele­vi­sion,” Valder­rama says.

“One of the he­roes who cracked the door open was Desi Ar­naz, who was Ricky Ri­cardo in I Love Lucy. “I saw him in one of the most iconic sit­coms of all time with an ac­cent — clearly a Latino man but that was never men­tioned. He was liv­ing like a nor­mal man. That in­spired me.

“He was also some­one who cre­ated the multi-cam­era for­mat and syndication and whose pro­duc­tion com­pany (De­silu Pro­duc­tions) was re­spon­si­ble for shows from Mis­sion Im­pos­si­ble to Star Trek.

“The idea of this (CBS) deal is create con­tent with a level of di­ver­sity which is au­then­tic and or­ganic and em­pow­er­ing of young tal­ent and make them the next gen­er­a­tion of sto­ry­tellers.”

WATCH NCIS, Sun­day, 9pm, Ten

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