'NCIS: LA's Daniela Ruah on Eric's Return, Nell as the New Hetty & Directing in Season 12

Daniela Ruah Kensi Blye NCIS Los Angeles Season 12
Q&A
CBS

The NCIS: Los Angeles team is dealing with quite a bit of change in Season 12, both professionally and personally.

Kensi (Daniela Ruah) and Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen) are looking to the future, trying to have kids while he's also figuring out his career (his liaison position has been terminated permanently, and becoming an NCIS agent at his age isn't possible for the LAPD detective). Analyst Nell (Renée Felice Smith), who wasn't even sure if she wanted to keep working at the agency, is filling in for the MIA operations manager Hetty (Linda Hunt). Eric (Barrett Foa) is off doing his own thing. And the younger generation of agents has come in: Fatima (Medalion Rahimi) and Rountree (Caleb Castille).

Here, Ruah discusses those changes and making her directorial debut (Episode 11) later this season.

Both Hetty and Eric are off doing things that we've only heard about vaguely. Who's going to return first, and whose work will we learn more about first? 

Daniela Ruah: Those are pretty elusive characters this season. Hetty is doing Hetty stuff, still pulling strings at a distance. And then Mr. Eric Beale, last season, he was up in San Francisco developing some technology [and] all of that went bust, but the technology he developed did not. So he's now a multi-million-dollar major tech developer, our little ol' Eric Beale, and shows up with a mustache! We're just like, "Who is this guy who's been transformed?" He'll be present but working on his own stuff.

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Plus, how are Kensi and Deeks handling the obstacles thrown their way this season?

Nell's stepping in for Hetty while she's away. How do you and how does Kensi think she's doing? Is she the right pick to take over on a permanent basis?

Oh heck yeah! That's not even a question. First of all, that episode where Nell takes over and has her insecurities about [doing so] was one of my favorite episodes so far, just the pacing of it and how it all cut together.  I wrote to Renée after that and I told her, "you carried this episode and you drove it." Her energy and her concerns but then getting back to business, her conversation with Sam, and he's like, "hey, you're doing a good job, you are right for this role." Absolutely.

Nell and Kensi have a very good, special relationship, much like I have with Renée in real life. She's probably one of my favorite people. She's just so likable. And the amount of talent, both in character and as a person, that comes out of her is astounding.

Nell Kensi NCIS Los Angeles Season 12 Premiere

(CBS)

I love your scenes together.

I love it. I think it was [the Season 4 episode] "Kill House," we had this big shootout and at the end, I put my arm around her, we walk off camera, that was improv. That's just the relationship we have. There's a sweetness between us. I just love her. I literally could not tell you enough good things about that girl.

I'm enjoying getting to see the younger agents with Fatima and Rountree, and there was some fun about them being the old ones and using Facebook in Sunday's first episode. What do you think has made them each the right fit for the team now?

This will come down to them personally as people, not as characters. As characters, we know Sam and Callen were looking for a young guy they could train and take over for their roles whenever they decide to retire. We knew we would have to get somebody who was capable and just willing to learn.

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We also look to see how they fare against last seasons' finales.

But on a personal level, after 12 years, when you come in to a fully-established family, that is a very difficult thing to do, no matter how nice we are to you. You don't belong. You're not one of us yet. And both Caleb and Medalion's ability to seamlessly morph into this family, you can't teach that. You either fit or you don't. When you meet the love of your life, you know it. There's not necessarily something that is explained in words to justify that. You're either one of us or you're not.

And we've had a lot of characters come and go. We've had a lot of people that I think the show has attempted to make a permanent thing. It just didn't work out as well as we all would've liked it to work out. And then along come these two, and it's like, "oh, that was so easy." And then I love the fact we're also adding this much diversity to the show. Let's be honest, that's something that's on a lot of people's minds now when they're casting stuff. Everything just is working perfectly. I love those guys.

Caleb played for Alabama, he's like the fifth child of six, everything about him is teamwork, and if you don't have that quality about you, it's not going work. And Medalion is this graceful, intelligent, incredibly talented actress and person in real life. There's nothing about those two that I don't like. I've totally taken them under my wing. Caleb calls me big sis now because I'm like, "What do you need? Call me if you need anything."

Medalion Rahimi Caleb Castille NCIS LA Fatima Rountree

(Ron Jaffe/CBS)

Speaking of characters coming and going, any returning guest stars coming up? 

There are characters that will come back at some point. That whole storyline in the first episode about the Russians that one defected and then we captured two Russians that were on the plane, which they then blew up, we'll see a little bit of a continuation to that storyline, so those characters will be returning. [And] we'll see some [other] people the audience knows.

And you're directing this season. What made now the right time? 

Even though this is when it's happening, this has actually been in the making for a year and a half, [from] the time that I realized this is something I really wanted to do. It is a passion that has grown from opportunity versus, "oh, I always wanted to direct." It wasn't that. I realized that I was wasting a wonderful opportunity by not directing.

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Kayla Smith will recur as Kamran, previously played by Layla Crawford.

Because essentially being in a production like this, that works so efficiently and has such a tight-knit family, if I'm ever going to try this for the first time, it has to be here because I know the characters, I know everybody's names, I know what everybody does. All those things that you have to learn in a classroom and then try to apply it to real life, I've been living in a classroom, in film school for 12 years. All I had to do was start listening and start watching and paying attention to things that were outside of my job description. And all of a sudden I realized how organic everything felt to me.

Obviously it's not uncommon. I'm not unique. There are a lot of actors that jump into directing, editors, script supervisors, DPs, first ADs, camera operators. Chris O'Donnell has directed before on our show. A couple of our producers have directed. This is a very safe space and I'm not dealing with potential egos because I'm dealing with family and we're all super open, and if I have a terrible idea, someone's going to be honest with me about it. And if somebody starts to introduce an idea that is not something I'm too happy with, I'm perfectly comfortable telling them that. If I'm going to do this for the first time, it has to be here. I met my husband, got married, have two kids, bought my first house, and dammit, I'm going to direct my first episode.

 

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Are you interested in also writing? Eric Christian Olsen has.

No, no, no. Zero passion, zero interest, zero skill, zero talent for it. I think we need to be realistic about limitations. I think I have the capability to learn and become a great director, and this is not ego talking. Obviously I'm going to make a lot of mistakes. But I think that I'm capable of eventually becoming a good director. But I can tell you right now that I do not have potential of becoming any eventual anything when it comes to writing. I'm going to leave that to Eric because he is in fact one of the most talented people in words in general. All you gotta do is read his captions on Instagram. Oh, that's Nobel Prize-winning writing right there.

NCIS: Los Angeles, Sundays, 9/8c, CBS