As Special Agent Kensi Blye on the long-running military drama/police procedural "NCIS: Los Angeles," Daniela Ruah has seen and done it all — from facing a plethora of dangerous criminals to marrying her on-screen partner. But Season 14, which premieres this Sunday on CBS, has her tackling something that has so far eluded her: motherhood.
At the end of Season 13, Kensi and her investigator husband Marty Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen) were designated foster parents to 16-year-old Rosa, shaking up their world in an instant. While viewers will see them fumble and bumble their way through parenthood, fans can still expect the couple to stay on track at their jobs at the Office of Special Projects, an elite division of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service that specializes in undercover assignments and also features Chris O’Donnell as Special Agent in Charge G. Callen and LL Cool J as Senior Special Agent Sam Hanna. (In real life, Ruah is married to Olsen’s brother, David, who is a stunt double on the series.)
During an exclusive interview with Looper, Ruah opened up about working with a "GOAT" like LL Cool J, what her off-screen relationship is like with co-star Olsen, and what to expect from Season 14.
Kensi is feeling ‘pretty insecure’ this season
Season 13 ended with a party for Rosa. What can we expect to see from Kensi and Deeks as parents this coming season?
Definitely a very nervous Kensi. She’s behaving like a first-time mom, except it’s not a baby, it’s a teenager. It’s that concern of keeping the kid safe and keeping the kid happy and making sure she’s doing the right thing, making sure that she feels accepted. If she ever wants to call family, she’s more than welcome to. Rosa is not making her step on eggshells; she’s making herself step on eggshells because she’s so worried about doing something wrong, which most mothers probably feel, especially in the beginning when they become parents. But in that case, you get to raise your kids since they are babies.
I’m raising my children, so I know who they are. I know their likes and dislikes. I know how to discipline them in a way that works for them and for me. But when you start off with a teenager, that’s a whole other learning curve. That’s a full human with life experiences that you were not a part of, and you want to make sure that they are happy and comfortable within their new experiences with you. Kensi is feeling pretty insecure and trying to do her best, and probably overdoing it half the time.
[In the Season 14 premiere there’s a scene] where they’re [talking to Rosa about] bullying and she’s like, "You think I’m going to be bullied?" It’s like, "No, you’re not going to be bullied." They’re trying to protect her when it’s like, just let her be a person, and help her when she needs help, and give her the space to grow.
Pamela Reed will return as Deeks’ mom
What else can you tell us about Season 14, both in terms of overall storylines and your character’s arc in particular?
Well, just a disclaimer: We’ve only shot eight episodes so far, so we haven’t even done half of a season yet, so there’s a lot more to explore than what I’m going to tell you. But we know that Callen and Anna are set to get married. We have no idea when that’s going to happen, but that’s the plan. Callen proposed to Anna last season.
Hetty is still missing, and that is definitely on Callen’s mind more than anyone else’s because of his relationship with her. That then affects how he sees getting married. We explore that in Episode 5, the episode that I directed, so that’s why it’s fresh in my mind.
For Kensi and Deeks, it’s definitely the parenting thing and doing their job and making sure everybody’s safe. Pamela [Reed] is going to make an appearance [as Roberta Deeks] this season, which I’m excited about because of her dynamic with Deeks and Kensi, and now there is Rosa. Mama Deeks meets Rosa for the first time, and they totally hit it off. That episode is really fun.
What else? Sam is taking care of his father, who is slowly deteriorating with dementia, and his children are around as well. With Roundtree and Fatima, there’s still a little bit of residual sentiment on Roundtree’s end from what happened last season regarding police brutality with him and his sister. I’m trying to think of what else …
In terms of bad guys, might David Kessler rear his ugly head again this season? If so, how do you think Kensi will react now that she’s a foster mom?
I don’t know if Kessler is going to make an appearance this season. I haven’t heard anything about it. But if he were to, I have no doubt she would have a different reaction. It’s like when I jump on a plane, I’m not concerned, but if my mom or [husband] Dave and the kids jump on a plane, I’m like, "Call me when you take off and as soon as you get there." When it’s not you, you’re so much more worried. If Kessler were to make an appearance, knowing that the bad guy would very easily go after Rosa to get to Kensi, it definitely becomes an overload of preoccupation.
Speaking of Kessler — who was played by and written by Frank Military — the awful criminal who sews people’s body parts together will be back this season. We’ll be re-exploring that. The last time we saw it was in Season 9, if I’m not mistaken.
That’s something to look forward to … kind of.
Yes. I know, right? It’s odd. I look forward to watching people be sewn into various pieces. Hopefully, we catch the bad guy.
LL Cool J once gave Ruah a pep talk that got her through the day
I know you can’t tell me much about what’s going on with Hetty without spoilers, so let me ask this: What’s it been like working with Linda Hunt?
I know basically what you probably know, which is there was a body found in Syria in the same place as her last location, and that’s all we know …
I don’t have enough words to describe how wonderful [Linda] is as a person and what an honor it is to work with somebody of that skill level, who’s able to shatter the ground with her gravitas, even when she’s being quiet and listening to you. She’s a wonderful human and actress, and we’re very lucky that she joined the show. We’re very lucky to work with her. She’s lovely.
What’s it like working with Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J? I’m sure you don’t call him LL Cool J.
No, we call him Todd.
Are there any good stories with either of them from the set you can share?
After all these years and so much time spent together — going through boyfriend breakups, meeting my husband, getting married, having children, having them around throughout the most important parts of my life — they’re like brothers at this point. I go to them for advice and to share stories, and I want to support them in what they’re doing. They’re supportive with what I’m doing. It’s quite literally a family.
But there’s one thing that stood out to me from your question that happened with Todd in particular … Todd is a go-getter. We all know this. He’s consistently reinventing himself. He is literally the GOAT. But he also appreciates those traits in other people. He is competitive with himself, but I’ve never felt him being competitive with any of us in a negative sense.
I was directing [an episode] a few weeks ago, and there was one particular day that felt almost impossible to finish. We had very limited time to shoot, and there was a ton of action. There was a company move, which means you move the entire crew and machinery to a different location. It felt like an impossible day to complete.
While they were setting up cameras, he was on his chair, and I kneeled down next to him and said, "Are you good? Any questions?" He was like, "Nope, I’m good. I got it." I sighed and was like, "Dude, I don’t know how we’re going to finish this day." I felt worried — and this was still the morning, so it was the beginning of it. He goes, "You underestimate your will to want to finish." I was like, "You’re right. I am going to finish this day, dang it!"
He looked at me and he saw it. He was like, "You’re underestimating yourself. You know you’re capable of doing this. You’ve done it before, now go do it." That was the gentle kick in the pants I needed in that moment to be like, "Let’s go. We got this." That’s why we’re such a great team overall.
As a director, I’m supposed to be driving that train and being the positive one, like, "It’s going to be great. Let’s go, guys." But because I have that relationship with Todd, it was okay to show a little bit of the crack in my armor that day. Because he is a natural leader, he was like, "You got this. Go." It worked, and we finished the day.
She thinks of Eric Christian Olsen as a ‘brother’
I have to ask about Eric Christian Olsen. You have such a good on-screen relationship, but what’s it like when the cameras stop rolling? Are there any funny behind-the-scenes moments with him?
Gosh, there are too many to even remember at this point, because we’re family. It’s not just when the cameras aren’t rolling. It’s Sunday beach days with the kids and birthdays and Thanksgiving and Christmas. I know we’re married on the show, so I’m sorry to the people [reading] this, but he’s my brother. He’s like an older brother, and that’s the kind of dynamic we have. He’s very funny as a human. I’ve learned a lot about comedy from him, comedic timing. I can’t remember any particular moments. There are lots — tons.
Are there any type of scenes or lines that you see in the script and you know what’s coming from him on the other end, and you think to yourself, "This is going to be such a fun scene to film"?
That’s happened lots of times. For one, with most scenes when I’m running them at home and learning my lines, I already hear Eric’s voice reading his part, and Todd and Chris reading their parts. You know what they’re probably going to do with those scenes. But some clip came up on YouTube the other day, and it was an old scene that Eric and I did when Kensi is making fun of him for having been a stripper or an exotic dancer. I don’t remember what season this was from, but I do remember that I watched it and was like, "That would’ve been a scene that I would’ve read on paper and been like, ‘I know what this is going to be like. This is going to be super-fast, almost overlapping each other.’"
Even with little improvs and stuff like that, we know each other’s energy. That chemistry has been present for so long, we could almost predict what the other one might do and allow ourselves to go with it and ride that wave. After 14 seasons, it’s like a thousand-page novel, and there’s a lot that goes on in a thousand pages.
She thinks Kensi ‘brings comfort’ to viewers
What do you think fans might be surprised to learn about Kensi?
That’s an interesting question, because they’ve seen her be birthed as a character and mature and age and grow. I don’t know. We don’t know anything about Kessler [returning] yet, but I have it in my mind how I would love for her to step out of character to handle that situation. That’s not something that I know is happening — I’m just venturing into La La Land here.
[Fans have] known Kensi since I’ve known Kensi, and they’ve seen every part of her experience, negative and positive. They’ve seen every moment she’s gone rogue and every moment she’s been by the book and every moment she’s supported and every moment she’s been supported. I don’t know what they would be surprised by. But what Kensi does, along with all the other characters on the show, is bring people comfort because they do know her. They know what to expect, and they know that 99% of the time, the good guy’s going to end on top.
Season 14 of "NCIS: Los Angeles" premieres Sunday, October 9, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
This interview was edited for clarity.