‘NCIS: New Orleans’: Scott Bakula on Pride’s Ending and Saying Goodbye to the Big Easy
“It was a leap of faith,” Scott Bakula says of heading to the Big Easy with wife Chelsea Field last fall. They were going to shoot an NCIS: New Orleans storyline we’d all been waiting for: the romantic reunion of Special Agent Dwayne Pride and his Washington, D.C.–based lawyer girlfriend, Rita Devereaux — who decides to move in. The start of production had been delayed due to the raging COVID pandemic, the city was mostly shuttered, and the actors worried an outbreak on set could halt filming. It never crossed their minds that Season 7 would be the crime procedural’s last.
News of the cancellation came while shooting Episode 13 in February. “It was painful,” says Jan Nash, who executive produces the CBS series with Christopher Silber, “but it was a blessing to have enough time to make adjustments and a finale that feels very true to New Orleans.”
The centerpiece is Pride and Rita’s wedding, guaranteed to laissez les bon temps rouler (“let the good times roll”). We spoke with the down-to-earth actors about the nuptials, saying goodbye to both their friends and their adopted city, and what’s next.
On the Big Day
Fittingly for a grown-up, confident, fun-loving couple, Pride and Rita marry in a down-home backyard bash — and the bride wears red. (“She’s not a virgin!” Field says, laughing.) Because Pride’s mother, Mena (Joanna Cassidy), has Alzheimer’s and her health is declining, the event comes together quickly. Guests gather in the garden of coroner Loretta Wade (CCH Pounder), Pride’s “rock, best friend and touchstone,” per Bakula. Naturally she officiates!
If they can pull it off, the reception, at the groom’s beloved Tru Tone bar, is set to feature area musicians. But there’s a possible sour note: the reappearance of Pride’s nemesis since Season 1, criminal mastermind Sasha Broussard (Callie Thorne). Pride only recently learned they have a son. (An April 4 flashback revealed their relationship during his separation from his first wife, at a time when Sasha was innocent of any wrongdoing.) The teen, Connor (Drew Scheid), stubborn and musically talented like his pianist dad, attends the festivities. His mom doesn’t, but, Silber warns, Sasha is “unpredictable up until her last moment onscreen.”
On Working as a Couple
In some ways, the onscreen wedding mirrors Bakula and Field’s 2009 ceremony, which also happened without much time to plan. “Seeing Chelsea stand at the end of the garden in her red dress misted me up. It took me right back,” Bakula says. And when he gazed into her eyes as they recited vows, “[I felt] pure love.”
Both actors also see similarities between their relationship and that of their characters. Says Bakula: “[Chelsea] is often the voice of reason in my life. She holds the mirror up a lot.”
Rita has risked her job to help Pride nab criminals, saved his life in a shoot-out and comforted him over the death of his crime kingpin dad, Cassius (Stacy Keach), prompting Field to say, “She has a bit more patience and stand-by-her-man than I do. But we share with them striving to be honest and communicate.”
On Tying up Seven Seasons
Bakula felt the pressure to deliver a finale that would do justice to the series and satisfy fans: “The last episode of a seven-year series has all kinds of light shining on it.” After all, Pride and the team have saved New Orleans from torpedoes, the plague, a sniper, terrorist plots, bombs, hackers and all kinds of shady characters. (One of the star’s favorite memories: “Being in the middle of the Mississippi River, captaining a tugboat!”) The team also faced tragedy, like losing fan favorite agent Christopher Lasalle (Lucas Black), tragically killed in Season 6.
We’ve been rooting for some of the gang since Season 1: stoic Loretta, who turned to alcohol to manage the twin stresses of COVID deaths at work and her teen’s desire to participate in Black Lives Matter protests; earnest Sebastian Lund (Rob Kerkovich), who (sometimes stumblingly) went from forensic examiner to agent; and computer specialist Patton Plame (Daryl “Chill” Mitchell), deservedly cocky about his hacking skills. Later cast additions are also pros with new personal successes: Perpetual badass Tammy Gregorio (Vanessa Ferlito) just came out to her mom. And it’s official coupledom at the wedding for Hannah Khoury (Necar Zadegan), who took over for Pride temporarily in Season 5, and brash agent Quentin Carter (Charles Michael Davis), Lasalle’s replacement.
“We end on a high note for people,” exec producer Silber says. “The audience will see they are going to continue on, happier and a little bit wiser, still solving crime.”
On the City of New Orleans
“It’s hard to leave. We kind of had the key to the city; everybody knew me and I appreciated being able to pat every cop I walked by on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, how you doing?’” Bakula reflects.
Filming on the streets of New Orleans became a very different proposition this season. The production, in a gesture of love and respect, leaned into how COVID was affecting the locals. The Tru Tone (exteriors are shot at the Royal Street Inn Bar, or “R Bar,” near the French Quarter) became a temporary food pantry, and Rita took on pro bono cases for clients devastated by the disaster.
On Dwayne “King” Pride
Pride was based on a real NOLA lawman, retired naval investigator D’Wayne Swear, who served as a series consultant. “He was a great guy, and when he sadly passed [in 2018], it broke everybody’s heart and broke the back of the show,” Bakula says.
“[The character of] Pride was bighearted, open, available, susceptible to being misled, making mistakes and going too far, going the extra mile, tracking people down. It gave me a lot of juicy stuff to do,” he continues. But one thing weighs on him. “Pride killed more people in the series than I would have liked — we changed that in deference to what’s going on in our country right now. This year we hardly drew our weapons. I’m glad about that.”
On the Last Hurrah
The final day of shooting was the Tru Tone reception. “People gave speeches, bumped elbows,” Bakula says. “They had their masks on. It was bittersweet: We shot 16 episodes and are proud of
the season, but it was goodbye — and from a distance.” The actor teases a key scene between Pride and his son. “Connor is asking himself: Are kids of parents who are famously bad doomed to be bad? Pride feels for him. I’m hopeful that the last episode is [viewed as] wonderfully complicated and very human.”
What’s next for the soon-to-be former Dwayne Pride? In the short term, spending time with family — a grandchild is due. Bakula also guarantees a return to the Big Easy, saying, “The city got in my blood!” He already has six tickets for Jazz Fest when it goes live again. For now, though, as he looks back on NCIS: New Orleans, he muses, “I’m grateful for Pride’s spirit, his love for New Orleans and the people. The stories were always amazing.”
NCIS: New Orleans, Series Finale, Sunday, May 23, 10/9c, CBS