‘NCIS’: Rocky Carroll on Vance’s New Relationship, ‘Fireworks’ During 3-Show Crossover & More

Marem Hassler, Gary Cole, Rocky Carroll in 'NCIS'
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[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for NCIS Season 20 Episode 5, “Guardian.”]

Director Vance (Rocky Carroll) has been keeping a secret from the team on NCIS: He has a potential girlfriend! Unfortunately, things go sideways in the latest episode.

Following a break-in at Vance’s house, Alden Parker (Gary Cole) assigns himself as the director’s protection detail on a business trip in Berlin. He meets Vance’s love interest — Deputy Lena Paulsen (Marem Hassler) of the German Federal Intelligence Service — and the director hopes to take a step forward. However, then he finds out that she, after an op that resulted in a terrorist’s death, stole diamonds and took their target’s daughter in as her own. The girl’s uncle was behind the break-in, as well as an attack on Lena, but they’re able to keep her safe.

Carroll takes us inside the episode and teases the upcoming crossover with LA and Hawai’i.

How betrayed is Vance feeling by Lena? Even if he understands what she did as a parent, he says she could have told him. Is he easing up a bit at the end? 

Rocky Carroll: I think it’s a mixed bag because he was more concerned about her safety and the fact that she was almost killed. He understands what she did, even though it was not above board, her taking this young child and keeping her as her own. I think he’s less inclined to pursue the legal side of that because of his feelings toward her and the fact that she nearly died trying to protect this girl. So I think he’s betwixt and between. I don’t think he’s leaning hard on making sure she pays for what she did.

Vance says they’ll talk later but doesn’t answer when she asks if there will be a later, then he goes off to the movie with Parker. Is there hope for the two of them? 

Personally, I feel like there’s hope. I don’t think he’s ready to throw in the towel, but at that moment, he’s just not ready to commit to anything beyond. So much has happened, and, like I said, it was a near-death experience for both of them. I think what Vance wants to do is get back home, process everything that happened, and take it from there. But I think he’s leaving the door open. He hasn’t shut the door completely with regard to Lena.

Rocky Carroll, Marem Hassler, and Gary Cole in 'NCIS'

Sonja Flemming/CBS

But kind of slowing things down? He had been ready to maybe take a step forward when he first went to Berlin.

Absolutely. They were talking about taking the next step, and then all these things happened. So yeah, maybe the practical side of him, the pragmatic side of him, is saying maybe this is not a good idea.

Having Parker be Vance’s protection detail did make for some more light-hearted moments. So are those two going to start an NCIS Movie Club now?

[Laughs] It’s not a bad idea. This, to me, was sort of a nod to buddy movies like Lethal Weapon, where you have these contrasting types who forge your friendship together. I also think it’s great for the audience now that Gibbs [Mark Harmon] is no longer there. Vance and Gibbs kind of had this hard-won friendship; over time, they were able to forge a real bond where when Vance first arrived on the scene, they were adversaries, and then that softened over time. So I like the fact that we’re not taking that much time with regard to Vance and Parker finding some common ground.

Talk about filming that opening home invasion sequence.

I loved it because you don’t really know what happens and it’s very unexpected. I love doing stuff like that because I feel like that used to be kind of stock-in-trade that the shows used to always start with some sort of action. I got a chance to train with the stunt coordinators. One of the guys was a professional fighter. Every once in a while, they allow Vance to get out of the office and get his hands dirty, so I’m always happy about that. That opening sequence, I think people will be really surprised by.

Rocky Carroll and Gary Cole in 'NCIS'

Sonja Flemming/CBS

I enjoy seeing Vance in the field, but at this point in his career, do you think he’d rather be in the field more?

No. Honestly, in the real world, the director of NCIS would never be in the field, so on those rare occasions where Vance is actually in the field  — I don’t think he needs to be in the field more — it [is] even more a pleasant surprise when it does happen. I’m OK with it being occasionally.

It’s always good when we’re reminded of how much the team is like a family, like with everyone rushing in worried about Vance following the home invasion.

Yeah. That’s sort of the stock-in-trade of our show. There are procedurals up and down all the networks and streaming. The procedurals are, as I like to say, the modern-day westerns. When I was a kid growing up, every network had a western: Bonanza, The Big Valley, Gunsmoke. And it was that sort of simple justice where you had one character or one group that had a strong moral compass.

To me, procedurals have kind of become the westerns of our present day. But the difference in our procedural is we have a great emphasis on that family relationship. They’re not just a bunch of guys with guns solving cases. You get a real sense of them as a family, [so] when we remind the audiences just how dangerous this job is, when McGee [Sean Murray] or Knight [Katrina Law] or Torres [Wilmer Valderrama] are in a life-and-death situation, you’re invested so much in them personally, and you know their relationships, and you know their quirks. And so when we do have scenes where their lives could possibly be in jeopardy, it’s even more compelling because you’ve invested so much in them personally.

Katrina Law, Sean Murray, Wilmer Valderrama, Gary Cole, and Rocky Carroll in 'NCIS'

Sonja Flemming/CBS

Thinking about when McGee was the probie, it’s kind of wild that he’s now the one who was acting NCIS director. And it seems like McGee is thinking about the potential of that career path. Does Vance think McGee could step into his shoes one day, and that’s why he put him in charge? Or is it just that he’s a senior field agent?

I think it’s a little bit of both. I think there is a bit of grooming for this position. And I think it’s a very organic thing. It’s funny, Vance has been a part of this family now for 15 seasons. This show is in its 20th season. And when people talk to me about the changes in the show, my immediate response is, I’m sure everybody has changed over the last 20 years. And if you don’t grow and evolve … if you think of McGee back when I first came on the show, yeah, McGee was a probie, and he was sort of the butt of all of Tony’s [Michael Weatherly] jokes and Gibbs was the person in charge. And it’s so great to see this evolution that McGee is now the senior field agent and has grown, has evolved, and could at some point step in, if he chose to, to run the office.

I have to say how crazy it is that Vance’s daughter is old enough to be an agent. Speaking of that, are we going to see her again soon?

I hope so. She’s a terrific element to the show. Again, when you talk about a show that’s been in existence for 20 seasons and the Vance character for 15 of those 20 seasons, my daughter in real life, who is now 21 years old, was six years old when I started working on NCIS. So the same way I look at my fictional daughter, it’s very similar. It’s like, yeah, she was a little girl when we first started. Now she’s a field agent. They did the episode with her first time out in the field, and then she gets reassigned to another office so that father and daughter wouldn’t be so close to each other. So I think there’s gotta be some closure to that. I’d like to revisit that storyline.

The big three-show crossover’s coming up. What can you tease?

There’s always the possibility of a love interest from one show to the other. There are tensions, and the testosterone starts to fly between NCIS: LA and NCIS, the mothership, which is what I call our show. So there’s gonna be some fireworks, could be romantic, could be fisticuffs between the agents. When a bunch of type-A personalities gets together, sparks will fly.

How’s Vance gonna deal with that? Because he’s the one who’s probably gonna have to corral everyone.

It’s gonna be a very tough job. I’m glad I’m not in the field anymore. I’m glad I’m back safely behind my desk, so I can keep an eye on all this.

What else is coming up for Vance?

I hope we find a way to follow up on this episode. Now that we know that Vance has a significant other or the potential for a significant other, I’d like to see where that goes.

Are you directing again this season?

Yes. I just finished an episode a little over two weeks ago. And I’ll be directing two more episodes this season.

Is there anything you can tease about the episode you directed already?

We meet our new Secretary of the Navy [played by Carolyn Hennesy]. She and Vance have a bit of a run-in, so Vance goes head-to-head with his boss. I think the audience will really get a kick out of it. And we introduce her with a big splash in my episode [which airs in November].

NCIS, Mondays, 9/8c, CBS