'NCIS' Season 18: Wilmer Valderrama Teases Torres' Family & Past

Wilmer Valderrama NCIS Season 17 Finale Nick Torres
Q&A
Michael Yarish/CBS

NCIS has started work on Season 18, and series star Wilmer Valderrama is happy to be back.

The CBS procedural was among the first major network shows to return to set, and Valderrama knows that means they're "part of a learning curve." (For example, as he shared on social media prior to filming beginning, they had a virtual table read for the premiere.) There are safety protocols in effect due to the coronavirus pandemic, and he's hoping that other shows can follow their example.

Here, Valderrama discusses getting back to work on Season 18, what's to come for his character Special Agent Nick Torres, and his partnership with the National Kidney Foundation for the "Are You the 33%?" campaign.

You've started work on NCIS Season 18. Is there anything you can tease?

Wilmer Valderrama: That was a really sobering conversation, right? You're going to expose yourself, and you're going to go be part of a learning curve. ... I know our studio has checked as many boxes as possible, and there are creative protocols and guidelines. It's going to be a little bit of a song and dance, a lot of the stuff we've never done before. It's going to be a test for efficiency. It's going to be a test against creativity and being able to adapt to this new environment and new guidelines of how you do what you love. But it's super necessary.

 

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After 6 months of our industry shut down.. the first table read to #NCIS’s season 18 feels like the beginning of a road to progression, as we get closer to bringing our show back to your homes. In many ways it feels like we, the cast and crew of our @ncis_cbs family.. are like astronauts embarking into the learning curb of a whole new world and reality.. here’s to a smooth lift off. (Thank you to our producers and studio for working so hard, and making this day real.)

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I think we're excited to be at the forefront for that, and hopefully, we get enough things right that most productions can return to work and we can continue to bring more shows to your living room. But I'm happy to be able to return to work and so far, it looks like new episodes of NCIS will be back mid-November.

How would you describe Torres and Bishop's relationship at the beginning of Season 18? 

It's interesting because there's so many things Season 18 has to talk about, a lot to reflect in this moment. Our national community has been fighting for justice and things that really are important. NCIS is going to be very thoughtful and very responsible in how we portray certain stories and as we return to television. The exploration of relationships within the characters and all that stuff, it's something that's always a mystery. I certainly don't think that we will do something the show has seen before, and we're definitely trying to work on doing something different.

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I don't know what's in store for any of the other characters, but for my character specifically, we're going to be finding out so much more about his past this season. This season is going to really focus a lot on where he really came from, what was his upbringing and his family, so we're going to get learn a little bit more about his family since Torres has been such a mystery to the audience for the last four years. It's going to be fun to peel some of the layers off and really give the audience a little bit more justification of why he is the way he is. That excites me because as an actor, that's what you want. You want to play those layers. You want to play the peeling of those layers and become more vulnerable because that's what brings you closer to the other characters.

What do you think is keeping Torres with this team? He's come a long way from the guy we first met undercover.

Yes, for sure. I think he saw a lot of himself in Gibbs [played by Mark Harmon] and that's one thing that we've created by design. Having him be a lone wolf for eight years of undercover work and then having him join a team that relies on one another and trusting one another — trusting is a thing that he's never done. He's never trusted anyone with his job. He just does all of the above to get the job done by himself. So, when he became a part of this team, he realized he had a lot more things in common with Gibbs than he expected.

Wilmer Valderrama Mark Harmon NCIS Season 16 Nick Torres Leroy Jethro Gibbs

(Monty Brinton/CBS)

And in the last season, you saw a lot of them come together as the veteran wolf coming in with the young wolf and you're going to see that play out a lot this season, how Gibbs is going to seem a little bit and feel a little bit responsible for the restructuring of Torres' morality. He's going to be a major influence in how he evolves as a leader, and that's what's going to be really fun to watch is just seeing Torres boycott that, "I'm only here part-time," but really, internally, he knows he's learned to make them the family he never really had.

You're losing Jack (Maria Bello) this season. However that happens, how do you think Torres will deal with that and how might his reaction be different when it comes to saying goodbye to a team member from a few years ago? 

I don't know much about that storyline, to be honest. I haven't really been in the conversations specifically with the departure of that character. I don't know much about what they have planned for that or can even confirm what it's going to be even be because we're been pretty focused on protocols and just going back to work and right now we're trying to get through some of the episodes we couldn't get to last season because we shut down [with] four episodes left. It's a little bit of a mystery to me. We're figuring it out as we go.

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I will tell you that if that event really does happen, it's going to be interesting for Torres because he's learned to lean on them for different things, and he's learned a lot from them. I think you're going to see a more vulnerable Torres, and he's not going to like it, and therefore, he may have some triggers. When vulnerability kicks in, he might become a little bit more dangerous and a little bit more short-tempered because he might just be a little bit angry at himself for even going there. That complexity you're going to see play out for sure.

NCIS is 18 seasons in, and it still has quite the fan base. How are you hoping to use that as you work with the National Kidney Foundation to reach the American adults at risk for kidney disease?

We artists sometimes don't realize how much responsibility we have with our fan base or the fans of our shows. In general, once you dive in a little closer, you realize you have a lot more in common with your audience than you think. Specifically when it comes to organizations like the National Kidney Foundation, what I'm so proud about it, it really talks to and directly targets a demographic that's very dear to my heart. All minorities and a lot of communities of color across the United States have been the most vulnerable in a lot of these historical moments we live in, and when you talk about kidney disease, it's one more element you definitely want to make sure you are up to date on because it really could affect a lot of stuff in your life.

NCIS Season 17 Gibbs Team Torres Bishop McGee

(Cory Osborne/CBS)

In this moment of COVID we live in, I think about, if ever the case you get COVID, you want to make sure everything's working according to how it's supposed to be and at full capacity so you're able to really make it to the other side. ... You talk about millions of adults in the U.S. who are walking around with kidney disease right now and don't even know they have it. The partnership was great because it helped to reach that 33% who are at risk for kidney disease. We're celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, so it was critical for me to raise visibility for Hispanics or Latinos who are 1.3 times more likely than others to develop kidney failure. That was a passion of mine because my father and friends and family members are in that category of high risk.

Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, or just a family history of kidney disease are all the high-risk factors. This "Are You the 33%" campaign was important. The idea was to drive people to take a simple one-minute quiz at MinuteForYourKidneys.org. ... If you are [at high risk], thankfully we've created a road map for what's the next step. Obviously visit your doctor and ask the hard questions. ... Kidney disease has no symptoms, so you don't even know you have it until it's just too late.

NCIS, Season 18, TBA, CBS