‘NCIS: LA’: Renée Felice Smith on Nell’s ‘Big Decision’ and Filling in for Hetty

Renee Felice Smith NCIS Los Angeles Season 12 Episode 16 Nell

Might there be a change coming for the Office of Special Projects after the NCIS: Los Angeles Season 11 finale? The preview certainly makes it look that way … but promos can be deceiving.

“Nell has a very big decision to make,” Renée Felice Smith tells TV Insider of her character, who has been acting as interim operations manager while Hetty Lange (Linda Hunt) has been off … somewhere doing … something. “Now she’s really questioning what she wants in her life.”

Retired Navy Admiral Hollace Kilbride (Gerald McRaney) tells her she needs to “sign or resign” in the promo for the May 23 finale, while the logline teases that Eric Beale (Barrett Foa) has “an interesting offer” for her. What will she choose? She did try to quit in Season 11, at which point Hetty told her to take time and figure out what she wants. And while she was reluctantly pulled in to fill in for her boss this season, she has thrived in the role. Might she be ready to make a bigger commitment to it by the end of the finale as a result?

“A lot like myself, I think Nell has real respect for Hetty and therefore never wants to disappoint her. I feel that she really needed to kind of look within and figure out what this leadership role was going to mean for her and she needed to unwrap it a bit and tailor it, for lack of a better word, to fit kind of the Nell way,” Smith says. “As far as Nell’s concerned, ‘Why are you drinking whiskey when at the end of the day, you enjoy gin? Why are you trying to fit in someone else’s shoes? Why not just wear your own shoes?'”

Having Nell face her own doubts reminded Smith of one of her favorite scenes, one her character shared with the agency’s former Assistant Director Owen Granger (Miguel Ferrer). “Granger says to Nell, ‘Never belittle yourself or your accomplishments. You deserve the respect you’ve gotten. You’ve earned it,'” she recalls. “It’s kind of hard for someone who is a perfectionist myself, and obviously we know Nell is an overachiever, to admit that they’ve [succeeded].”

Maybe it’s a good thing that the finale also features Hetty’s in-person return (after appearing on video a few times, due to the pandemic). She could have some insight to share that will help Nell make this decision.

Hetty Return NCIS Los Angeles Season 12 Finale Nell


“It was quite emotional to have Linda Hunt back on set again for our final day of the season, and that scene was shot on our final day of the season,” Smith says of the one glimpsed in the photos (like the one above). “We just had the best time filming it. Linda is a dear friend of mine, and anytime I can watch her work, it’s like a masterclass. I’m just a student and I bow down to the great Linda Hunt.”

Meanwhile, the Russians are popping up everywhere in Season 12. In the finale, for instance, the team investigates the shooting of a militarized dolphin equipped with a Russian microchip. It doesn’t sound like this is the end of it, either.

“The Russians obviously remain a threat. Callen [Chris O’Donnell] is obviously deeply involved in that threat,” Smith points out. “And looking back to the deep fake episode, we know that technology is now out there where people can impersonate others. The threat is very much still present. And I think you’ll continue to see more of that throughout the series.”

NCIS: Los Angeles, Season 12 Finale, Sunday, May 23, 9/8c, CBS