‘NCIS: LA’: Marilu Henner Talks Working With Gerald McRaney & Breaking Kilbride’s Facade

Marilu Henner as Elizabeth in 'NCIS: Los Angeles'

NCIS: Los Angeles offers a look at who Retired Admiral Hollace Kilbride (Gerald McRaney) is away from the job in the February 26 episode, and honestly, life isn’t much easier, with his ex-wife Elizabeth (Marilu Henner) in town visiting, wanting him to do something he hasn’t in years.

We’ve heard very little about Kilbride’s family, but that’s changing as the CBS procedural nears the end. That’s about to change, with Elizabeth hoping to talk him into reconnecting with their son, Alex (Christopher Gorham guest stars this spring). How does that go? Henner raves about her guest spot and working with McRaney below.

How are you?

Marilu Henner: I’m good. And I’m so excited to be talking about this because I had just the best time working on this with my buddy Gerald McCraney, Mac. I love him so much. We just had the best day. It was just an extraordinary day for us to work together. And I’m sad the show is ending so I won’t be coming back, I guess, which sucks.

So there aren’t plans to see you again?

I don’t know, we’ll see. Did you watch the episode?

I did.

It was great to see his character sort of break a little bit, you know what I mean? Just seem a little more human than he sometimes seems on the show. Mac is such a brilliant actor and can play anything — comedy, drama. He just made you cry when you saw him on This Is Us. Just everything that he’s ever done is pretty fabulous. So it was just so much fun to hang out with him for the whole day. We just never left each other’s side, just telling stories. I know his wife, of course, Delta [Burke], and I actually did an event with them 20 years ago, and so it was fun to talk about that and everything else we’ve all been through since then. So lots of pictures.

Your characters’ relationship is so complicated. They have history, they have kind of a present, maybe a future.

Obviously when you see me and I’m in his robe, you know that we spent the night together. There’s something about being with someone again, somebody that you have a history with, a child with, and he’s kind of onto me. We sort of bust each other through all the scenes. We can call each other on our stuff because we do have that history. I just thought it was so well written and you got so much out of each line in terms of their past and their present and you could tell that I’m one of the few people in the series that unnerves him a bit. Plus he’s somebody who is so always put together that to see that crack in the armor, you know that his soft spot is his relationship with his son and our past. It was great that they really played that up.

Gerald McRaney and Marilu Henner in 'NCIS: Los Angeles'


You can see that Elizabeth likes that she unnerves him.

Oh, it’s their game and the way he talks about our biggest fight and everything else and it was like we made up twice before the elevator… It’s all those things. And I was so glad that, the punchline of the whole thing when he says “make it a double,” and it’s a callback to that kind of sexy moment between us. I loved it too, because you can see that we have a history and we weren’t afraid to get in each other’s face and each other’s space and I thought it was a great example of a relationship that has taken place over a long period of time, so we know how to push each other’s buttons.

You get that sense in just a few scenes. You can understand their entire history.

Exactly. You can.

You brought up their son. So what does Elizabeth think of Hollace and Alex’s estrangement?

It’s always bothered me, obviously, and I’ve got the backstory on it. I think that sometimes fathers have an image of what they want their sons especially to be like, and when they’re not, the disappointment is almost too much for them. They’re a lot alike because they’re stubborn, but also the son didn’t turn out like Hollace. But there’s such a strong bond between a father and a son — well, there’s mothers and sons, mothers and daughters. Everybody’s got strong bonds when you’re family. But there’s always that wanting to live up to something. And I think Hollace sees his son as his own failure, so it’s something he doesn’t want to look at. That’s why he’s so blocked off in a way.

All familial relationships are different, like you said — father-son, mother-son. So what’s Elizabeth’s relationship like with Alex?

I love him and I’m always there for him. Maybe I’ve enabled him too much over the years, but he doesn’t have anybody else. He certainly didn’t have his dad and I don’t think any other siblings. So you feel like I’ve always been there to pick up the pieces and each time, having dealt with people in my own life who have gone in and out of rehab, you just keep trying. I guess Elizabeth and Alex haven’t reached their breaking point and Hollace’s breaking point was much earlier and I think it had a lot to do with him and his psyche.

We’ve only heard a little bit because Kilbride does not reveal much about his personal life at all.

I know, I know. Yeah, no, not at all. He’s so stoic and such a rock in so many ways and he’s been so impenetrable that it’s nice to see him break down the facade a little bit and be a person.

Gerald McRaney in 'NCIS: Los Angeles' - 'A Farewell to Arms'


We know the role that his dedication to the Navy played in his relationship with his family in the past. So what did you come in knowing about the backstory?

I had a million questions, so I had to talk to the writer and producer before we started because I’ve watched the show and I said, “Did we know any of this? Did I miss episodes where we knew something?” “No, it’s kind of nice to bring this up because that was our plan for this character to sort of see his past and his family this way to introduce his ex-wife and you could tell that they still have it for each other and that kind of thing, so those bonds are strong.” So yeah, it was kind of a real fill in the blanks, but it was great.

Mac and I both felt like because we knew each other, we’ve known each other over the years, that it was nice to have that connection so you weren’t just getting on a set and meeting somebody for the first time and having to invent something. There’s something about knowing somebody and being in the business a long time and having done sitcoms and we had a shorthand with each other, so that was great.

So you’re not getting to know the person while getting to know the relationship between the characters at the same time.

Right. And he and I are the kind of actors that just dive in and we could try different things on set. I could get into his personal space because we trusted each other a lot, which we loved.

What do you think Elizabeth thinks of his work at with OSP now?

I think she feels that he’s being himself and she knows that part of him as well and probably just feels like, “Well, you better take time for your family because pretty soon, it’s going to be too late and if something happens to either you or Alex, you will always regret not having resolved your relationship.”

NCIS: Los Angeles, Sundays, 10/9c, CBS