‘NCIS: New Orleans’: CCH Pounder on Showing a Vulnerable Loretta

CCH Pounder NCIS Los Angeles Loretta Wade
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Skip Bolen/CBS

In Season 7, NCIS: New Orleans hasn’t shied away from the realities of our times. The coronavirus is raging in the Big Easy, and no one on the team has been impacted more than Dr. Loretta Wade (CCH Pounder, above). The Jefferson Parish medical examiner has witnessed the devastating effects up close, working long hours on the front lines. In last month’s premiere, she even lost a colleague.

On Sunday, the pressure begins to take its toll. While supervisory special agent Dwayne Pride (Scott Bakula) and the rest of his team investigate the murder of an NOPD whistleblower, Loretta begins to look for solace at the bottom of a bottle. Her character’s drinking escalates rapidly, according to Pounder, and even attracts the attention of Mayor Taylor (Amanda Warren).

“This is arriving at the apex [of her problem],” Pounder explains. “Things have simmered, have been shoved down, and now, unfortunately, here it comes! It’s not fixable in 40 minutes.”

The actress says it was important to explore Loretta’s vulnerability when faced with such insurmountable tragedy. “She’s not Superwoman. I think this is one of the things we tend to assume about strength — particularly about women of color. You’re so accustomed to the stalwart, the stoic. When she starts to crack, it makes you frightened.”

At the same time, Loretta’s son, CJ (Alkoya Brunson), is eager to join in the Black Lives Matter protests. But she has misgivings about allowing her teen to take to the street. “I’m not having any child of mine in a picket line to get thrown down or shot at,” Pounder says of her character’s reaction.

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Loretta’s troubles are just one element in what Pounder sees as a unique season of the military procedural. It’s still fundamentally about solving crimes, but these ripped-from-the-headlines stories hold a mirror up to fans’ lives, she says: “What’s happening now is that the people who are viewing, particularly in cities that have experienced unrest, the height of COVID cases, businesses closing up — people will literally be able to look and say, ‘I’m feeling what she’s feeling. I’m seeing this in my town.'”

NCIS: New Orleans, Sundays, 9/8c, CBS