DESI, DIVERSITY & REVIVING NCIS
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