Vanessa Lachey, LL Cool J
NCIS: Hawaii is shaking things up for its third season premiere with the addition of Sam Hanna (LL COOL J) as a recurring member of the Hawaii team who also happens to be the surprise third interviewer that Jane Tennant (Vanessa Lachey) must convince that she’s fit to return to duty.
Tennant may easily be able to convince the doctor and the shrink that she’s OK, but Hanna has experienced trauma similar to hers, so he’s assigned to determine if she is sufficiently fit to resume her duties or she’s pretending.
“I think that Sam has things that the audience knows about that help him relate to Jane Tennant, and he has things that the audience doesn’t know about that help him relate to Jane Tennant,” LL COOL J tells Parade. “I think his experiences and his life’s journey put him in a position to be able to empathize with her and to look objectively at what she’s been through and give her a little bit of leeway to operate and find her sea legs so to speak.”
But Sam doesn’t just fly in and fly out. He’s sticking around the naval base under the guise of assisting with cases but also so he can keep an eye on Tennant and make sure she’s as okay as she says she is.
“I think that that’s important, because somebody just sitting behind a desk may not necessarily understand what it’s like being in the field and going through some of the traumatic things that these agents go through, but Sam can relate to that, right?” LL COOL J continues. “Plus, there are other dynamics at play and other reasons why Sam is in town.”
The other reasons are yet to be revealed, but they don’t keep Sam from jumping into an investigation in the series premiere when the team discovers a breach in the U.S. Marshal’s database, and he joins Tennant in Las Vegas to locate the hacker.
“The beauty of the NCIS franchise is they want to not only give you that back personal story and what makes their characters tick, but we are here to entertain the audience, there’s action and there’s a reason,” Lachey says. “Hanna’s a multi-faceted agent who can help Tennant emotionally but also get it done, you know what I mean? It’s fun to watch that happen through the 10 episodes that we have for the fans.”
As Lachey just mentioned, season 3 is going to be a shortened one, so the producers have had to pack in a lot of action but also a lot of personal details into less than half the normal amount of episodes, so it goes without saying that they will be filled to the brim with enjoyment.
“Having read a lot of scripts and been in talks with people on the team, one thing about this show is it’s not predictable,” LL COOL J shares. “Unpredictable is a great word to describe this show.”
And Lachey adds, “To LL’s point, every week we get a new script, we’re like, ‘Oh, okay, didn’t see that coming.’”
Also during our conversation, Lachey and LL COOL J talked about why it's good for Tennant that Hanna's around, what their partnership will look like, why he wasn't done playing Sam Hanna, will there be more of Maggie's (Julie White) story, and being directed by Daniela Ruah.
In the season premiere, we watch Tennant as she’s trying to convince the powers that be that she’s okay enough to go back to work. And she does, but is it possible that later in the season we’ll see that façade crumble a little bit and maybe there’s more to come on the psychological effects of what she went through?
Vanessa: You are actually right in assuming that, because while Jane Tennant is, I like to think Superwoman, she’s human. And the beauty of what we’re doing when we bring LL’s character here and how we’re utilizing it is, that he’s the last person that I have to get through to get back to work and I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” But then, he’s been through it. Sam Hanna also lost some very close people in his life but also went back to work, and he had to compartmentalize his emotional life, his work life, his love for family, love for country, just like I do.
I think that it’s really great that you get to see that layer of Jane Tennant, her vulnerability and how much she respects him, but also trying to do it on her own and him just being like, “Listen, it’s okay to need help.” We get into that very quickly. It’s very quickly that you see that side of her and how much I do need him physically there while he’s here on Oahu in Hawaii, but also emotionally for me, to help get me back on my feet.
Maggie was such a huge part of Tennant’s life, it’s hard to imagine that we aren’t going to see another episode or two dedicated to Tennant’s searching for her this season even though she’s acting like she’s not going to.
Vanessa: I agree with you, it would be hard to imagine, so we have to wait and see. She’s such a massive part of my backstory that, I think, to wrap that up we’d have to see her in some capacity. Now to what capacity? That’s something that would be exciting, and how that will play a part into Sam Hanna will be an even better reveal. So, watching it all come together, even for us every week, we’re just like, “Okay, this is happening,” and it’s a fun ride to be on.
What made you decide that you were not done playing Sam Hanna yet? And how will he explain his absence from L.A. if he does stay for a while?
LL COOL J: Well, there’s always an explanation for everything, right? Me personally, I just wanted to have fun. I enjoyed playing the character, I’ve been playing it a long time. When I got the invite, I contemplated and thought about it and I said, “You know what, it’ll be a lot of fun.” So why not just have some fun? And plus, when we did the crossover, the chemistry and the energy was great, and I respond to that. It just wasn’t random; it was a real good experience for me being here and that made it attractive to me.
Vanessa: I interviewed this guy maybe 20 years ago on TRL. I sat on his back, and he was doing pushups while I was a VJ and he was promoting an album, and now we get to work together as Jane Tennant and Sam Hanna. The universe is bananas. There’s so many times that I just continue to be surprised and amazed at how it works.
But to his point about the chemistry and the energy, we get a choice in this life, and I do think that this is my dream job. When I got to do the crossover, whether I was with Wilmer [Valderrama] or Katrina [Law] or with LL and Chris [O’Donnell], I really felt that [chemistry and energy]. I love that they brought him here with us and we get to feel that, and my team gets that, my crew gets that. He definitely elevates everything that we have here in such a positive way that I believe you’ll feel that on screen.
LL COOL J: Yeah, it was fun. It’s fun. I just want to be clear, the pushups were full extension.
Vanessa: He wants to make sure you guys know, it wasn’t a half one.
LL COOL J: Nah, it was full pushups.
What will the working partnership between Tennant and Hanna be like? Because she’s the boss in Hawaii, so would she be his boss if he stays around? How would that relationship work?
LL COOL J: Sam doesn’t have a problem with that, this is her team. It’s her team, she runs the show, that’s great. It’s all good.
Vanessa: It’s like any work environment, there’s a mutual respect. And to watch that unravel on camera is entertaining, because it I respect him. When I went to L.A., he was the boss, and now he’s coming here, he’s like, “You’re the boss.” I’m like, “Yeah, but I respect you.” Because whether it’s his character or him as a person, he’s got more experience, and so I think that to be able to be vulnerable and admit that speaks volumes in a person in a boss position.
LL COOL J: I’m here to help, baby. I’m here to help! Sam’s here to help, baby!
Vanessa: The second someone doesn’t want to be better, they become complacent, and I think, that’s the end of them. And so, for Jane Tennant to want to be better, to take what she can from Sam Hanna is going to elevate her as a character, our show. And so if I were like, “I’m the boss, get out,” who wants that?
Sam is used to taking orders from a woman anyway because he worked under Hetty (Linda Hunt), so it should be an easy transition, right?
LL COOL J: Listen, I’m gonna be real with you. The orders, I don’t really look at it like, “Oh, it’s better because it’s a woman or worse.” You know what I’m saying? Because when it’s time for me to give orders, I know how to give them, so it’s not a problem with me. Sam’s military, so, what do you need? It’s my turn.
Vanessa: He takes the orders respectfully and like a gentleman, but vice versa, I speak to him respectfully as a peer.
LL COOL J: There you go. There you go.
Keeping it in the family, Daniela Ruah’s going to be coming to direct an episode. What are you looking forward to?
LL COOL J: I’ll tell you, Daniela’s going to be great, she’s going to be fun. She knows what she wants, she loves acting and directing. And when I say she loves acting, I say that because as a director when you love acting, that means that you’re going to encourage people and get those great performances out of everybody. She brings a positive spirit, she’s fun to work with, it’s going to be great. She’s directed many episodes when we were doing L.A., and I always had a good time. Again, she was giving orders, she was giving direction, it was very intimidating.
Vanessa: And you took them well.
LL COOL J: Oh, yeah., I was very cooperative. I’m very cooperative.
Vanessa: I love a director that has a perspective, and we are fortunate that we’ve had some directors that were also actors. We’ve had LeVar Burton. You don’t need to be an actor to be a great director, but when you have been an actor who directs, there’s definitely a layer and an element that I think is beneficial, for me specifically, because this is my first big dabble in drama. I come from comedy or hosting, and so to have that perspective, it’s really helpful. I’m continuing to learn and evolve myself as Vanessa Lachay, the actress, so I’m excited for a female’s perspective of an actress who’s directing me, how that’s going to be.
We have the beauty of different directors every episode, some of them come back and they do more than one. But, for me, it’s really interesting to see what I get from a male director, from a female director, from someone who I’m starting to see, “Oh, you do action a lot better, and this one does emotional a lot better.” And so, I just can’t wait to see what she’s going to do with us. At the end of the day, you want to enjoy your job and you want to enjoy what you do, and she does, too. I can’t wait to mesh it.
We have a no a-hole policy in Hawaii. We have been going strong on three seasons, everyone who comes into our ohana [family] has been really beautiful and amazing, and when they leave here, we hope they leave with a little bit more sunshine and happiness and some of that mana, so she’s going to fit in beautifully.
NCIS is kind of the murder of the week and NCIS: L.A. was the big international cases. With Pearl Harbor in the middle of the Pacific ocean and all the international travel, is the show going to be taking over those big cases now that L.A. is canceled?
LL COOL J: First thing I would say is, after 14 seasons I’ve got to say that we’ve landed that plane, so I don’t know if canceled, I wouldn’t even really call it that. You know, canceled would be like a season in or two seasons in. We really landed the plane and did our job with L.A. I had a great time working with everybody.
That being said, I think that the way NCIS: Hawai’i is run, the cases are global and exciting and they can come from anywhere. They can come from the mainland, they can come from the island proper, or they can come internationally, so I think that that dynamic definitely exists, and probably to a great extent here in Hawaii because we are in the middle of the…
Vanessa: Pacific. We have the entire Pacific Rim. Yeah, going from L.A., if you want to get out anywhere, you’ve got to get through us first. And if you want to come to the mainland, you’ve got to get through us first. There’s no passing this island without Tennant and Hanna stopping you.
LL COOL J: Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. I think the cases, I think the energy, I think people will love the wit and the humor. I think there’s a lot of action, and there’s just good vibes. That’s really, really important.
Vanessa: There’s so much energy going into the premiere, I think basically because we have had to cut our season short because of the strike. We are slamming a lot into 10 episodes. Everyone has been waiting for this to come back, everyone’s been waiting to see how Sam is going to fold into our team. We are premiering Monday after the Super Bowl on CBS, so they’re going to be showing sneak peaks all weekend long, all through the playoffs.
We’re coming into it so, so energized that we have to live up to that expectation, and I think we do. I do think also we continue it. You’re going to leave after February 12th and be like, “I can’t wait for next week,” and then the next and the next. And then in April, all of the NCIS franchises will hit the 1000th episode, so we are continuing this momentum and I just love to be on this ride and a part of it, and I get to share it with LL this season.
LL COOL J: It’s fun. It’s fun. We get to stretch, we get to dig deep, we get to really look at our characters from different angles, it’s good.
NCIS: Hawai’i premieres its third season tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS and streams on Paramount+ the following day.