Rocky Carroll on How 'NCIS' Compares to the True Crimes in 'Cases They Can't Forget'

Kate Hahn
Q&A John Paul Filo/CBS

On TV's No. 1 drama, NCIS, Rocky Carroll plays smart, decisive, highly trained director Leon Vance. The actor channels the boss man's serious, no-nonsense attitude in another gig: hosting NCIS: The Cases They Can't Forget, a true-crime series about real-life Naval Criminal Investigative Service cases that haunt investigators.

In Wednesday's episode, it's an inquiry into a sailor's murder in a sleepy town on the island of Okinawa that uncovers a love triangle.

Below, he tells us more.

How similar to an NCIS episode are these real cases revisited by agents and the victims' families?

Rocky Carroll: If they were scripts, somebody would say, "This would never really happen." The deeper investigators dig into what looks like a clear-cut case, the stranger it gets. A witness can suddenly become a prime suspect. In one case this season, a sailor was poisoned by arsenic at sea; it was used in one of the early seasons of NCIS.

(CBS)

You narrated the first two seasons, but in Season 3 you appear on camera. Why the change?

We didn't want to blur the line between truth and fiction early on. Now that the show has been established, people understand the format. I'm more of a presence, and we hope it gives more of a through-line for the episode.

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Are actual NCIS-ers anything like onscreen man-of-few-words Agent Gibbs (Mark Harmon) or brainiac forensic scientist Kasie (Diona Reasonover)?

There are a few lab geniuses and some weird, great, quirky personalities who wear the shield. They take pride in their work but don't wear it on their sleeves. We're not too far off the mark with our characters. The thing I'm most proud of is that the real agents who watch our [scripted NCIS] show like it!

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Those fans watched Vance's heart break last season after his girlfriend turned out to be a spy.

It was a challenge. To play a character who's captain of the ship and has to keep his wits about him… He had the wind knocked out of his sails. As an actor, you embrace these things. I'm glad to be at an age now where those emotions are not foreign to me. I always say actors are better at 50 than they are at 30 because you've lived.

NCIS: The Cases They Can't Forget, Wednesdays, 9/8c, CBS