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'NCIS: Los Angeles' Cast Reveals Secrets to Reaching 100

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The NCIS: LA team celebrates 100 episodes

What is it about "NCIS: Los Angeles"? A powerhouse from day one — in three of its first four seasons, the only scripted shows that beat it in the ratings was the original "NCIS" — the show has never left the top 10. Last week, it beat "The Voice" and had 2.5 million more viewers than the rest of its competition (ABC, FOX, and the CW) combined.

[Related: 'NCIS': The No. 1 TV Show That Nobody Talks About]

Traditionally, 100 episodes is the point at which a series gets sold into syndication, but this show was such a lock that it was picked up after only 7 (that earth-rattling sound you just heard is the sigh of relief from the guy who made that syndication deal — if the show had been canceled in its first season, he wouldn't have been able to get a job in Hollywood flipping burgers).

So how do you get to 100? We sat down with the cast (Chris O'Donnell, LL Cool J, Daniela Ruah, Barrett Foa, Eric Christian Olsen, Renée Felice Smith, Peter Cambor, and Miguel Ferrer) and show creator Shane Brennan at the 100th episode celebration to find out. 

Join the cast of "NCIS: Los Angeles" as they gather to celebrate this milestone:

 

 

Big Names

 

It helps to have an amazing cast. LL Cool J and Chris O'Donnell are gets from the world of music and film you wouldn't have expected to see as small screen leads ten years ago.

LL Cool J tweets co-star O'Donnell about the occasion: 

 

 

Though success has come early and often to LL (on the set, he's just "Todd"), he doesn't take it for granted: "I'm just grateful that we're experiencing this type of success. I mean, I had no idea this would happen." And would he be happy doing the show for another 100, 150, 200 episodes? "As long as people are really embracing it and really enjoying it, and as long as the chemistry is really getting better and we're really doing something I can feel proud about and feel good about, I would love to continue."

 

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But if you're one of those who saw his "Kings of the Mic" tour last year and still want to see him perform live, he hasn't abandoned you. "My recording career may not be as active, but the live music is still very, very active," he said. "That's still my love. My first love is the stage. It's still a beautiful thing."

LL says his recording career isn't active, but that didn't stop him from dropping this original track as a tribute to the show. The video is pretty great, too; the "NCIS: Los Angeles" people have barely escaped so many explosions that they probably have permanent back tans. 

Check out LL Cool J's song about "NCIS: LA":

Don't expect O'Donnell to leave to go back to his previous career in film either. "I couldn't imagine a better job right now," he said, likening the quality of original programming on television to an arms race. "It's amazing now. If you look at the names of people that are doing television shows right now, it's astounding. Even some of the actors that tried to do shows that didn't make it is even more astounding."

And being on a successful show is also gratifying. O'Donnell said, "We do this work because we love it, but we also want to entertain people," recalling movies that he had worked hard on that never found an audience. "It feels good to have people entertained by what we're doing, and tuning in, and I feel very fortunate for that."

[Related: Cote de Pablo Departs 'NCIS': Fans Go Through 5 Stages of Post-Ziva Grief]

 

"An Amazing Machine"

Brennan took over running the original "NCIS" at Episode 95, so he was there to see their 100th, and he thinks the recipe for success here is the same — it comes down to the people: "It's having an amazing cast of people who are incredibly talented, who are happy to roll up to work every day and roll their sleeves up and do it, and a very, very committed and talented crew who just manage to deliver this day in and day out. And the successes of 'NCIS' and the successes of 'NCIS: Los Angeles' all come back to those ingredients." 

 

The size of that cast and crew can be a little overwhelming, but that's part of what Foa likes about it. He landed the role of Eric Beale almost immediately after coming to L.A. from Broadway, where he was in the original cast of "Mamma Mia!" and performed in "Avenue Q" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."

The stars of "NCIS: Los Angeles" thank the fans for making 100 episodes possible:

 

Broadway and Hollywood may seem like worlds apart, but that experience with huge, live stage productions may be why he feels comfortable as a cog in "an amazing machine." Foa explained, "I love being that cog because, clearly, there are so many aspects of what makes a show special, and what makes a show get to 100 episodes, and the fact that I'm one working piece of that in a pretty well-oiled machine is a special feeling."

Cambor (psychologist Nate Getz) echoes the sentiment. In the first season, the machine was still revving up, but when he comes back now, "it's kind of a speedboat going and you just hop in." For a show with as many things happening in it as "NCIS: Los Angeles," you'd think the shooting days would be back-breaking, but he says, "This is definitely the most efficient and lovely crew I've ever worked with. It's amazing how much work gets done and how much fun gets done at the same time."

 

TV for Grownups

Ferrer (assistant director Granger) — who also has a long and storied film career — agrees that television is where the quality is. "Shows for grownups are on cable, are on broadcast TV, aren't in the movies. The movies are for kids now; they're just making these giant summer blockbusters. They don't make movies for grownups." Also, now that he has children, a wife, and a home that he loves, he's happy to avoid flying to Yugoslavia or wherever to film movies.

[Photos: Fall TV Winners & Losers]

Not that settling down keeps him from having a little fun this season. "I know they've got me running around a lot more with a gun, so I'm a lot more in the field than I was the previous two seasons. Which is exciting, it's great. I love doing that."

Respect

Smith, who plays the seemingly fragile analyst Nell, is also thrilled her character will be doing more field work. Not only because it's fun, but also because she can. "The crew — I guess they didn't think I was very athletic because I'm always inside and they never got to see me do anything outdoors — but I was actually running too fast for the camera to keep up. And they were like, 'Oh wow, Renée! We didn't know you had it in you,' and I was like, 'Well, guys, there's more to me than computers.'"

Smith gives props to her co-star:

 

Also, she likes how her character has evolved and earned the respect of the team, especially Hetty (the small but imposing Linda Hunt): "It feels good as an actor to play someone who is respected. Especially a young woman who's respected and holds a position of power and intelligence. It feels good to represent that end of things in entertainment." 

The cast of "NCIS: Los Angeles" visits "The Talk," dishes on the drama:

 

 

"Mystery Box"

Of course, the "NCIS" franchise is about more than just chasing bad guys and shooting guns. Olsen believes, "The success of this kind of show is the ability to blend those worlds: the comedy, the action, the drama, the characters." And "NCIS: Los Angeles" continues to grow because "we have a format that allows us to do that J.J. Abrams mystery box very slowly, as far as characters go," which can keep an audience interested for 10 or 15 years.

This season, Olsen is looking forward to exploring the emotional consequences of the last season's highs (the kiss with Kensi) and the lows (the torture): "[Deeks] hasn't been in that kind of heavy situation before, and I don't think he has the facilities to deal with it, [so he has to go] back to the drawing board, trying to piece it back together."

The "mystery box" that is Kensi Blye is something that continues to enthrall the actress playing her. "I particularly love getting to know her more and more," said Ruah. "There's a lot about her I don't know." Ruah said she's looking forward to finding out more about her character's past, including "Jack, my fiancé. He suffered from PTSD and he ran out on Christmas Eve — this was a Christmas episode a couple years ago. We don't know anything about that, so I'd love to see that developed."

Ruah catches Foa celebrating:

 

 

"I love when she's annoyed about something, so she eats. I love doing scenes where I'm shoving food into my mouth and speaking with a full mouth, and she's so not eloquent that way and not elegantthat way, but she can be. I love when we go undercover, both playing the more "seduction woman" as well as playing something more nerdy and not as attractive. Anything that's as far away from who I am as Daniela is always welcome."

Like Foa, she was cast in the "NCIS: Los Angeles" pilot early in her career, and the significance of that lucky break took a while to sink in. But even without that pressure, she still felt the need to do the best job possible and "prove that you deserve that syndication."

[Photos: The Stars of 'NCIS: Los Angeles']

The Big 100

What can we expect from No. 100? Olsen (who plays Deeks) said, "The cold open reads like a James Bond movie, and then it's told in reverse like 'Breaking Bad.' And it's character-based, with Callen finding out information about his father, who his father is. And the script just flies — it's one of the best we've ever had." 

 

And after that? Brennan is coy, but reading between the lines seems to back up rumors that someone in the cast isn't making it to Season 6. "I've always been a big believer in shaking things up and keeping things unexpected; we make television for a very smart television audience," he said. "I love to surprise them and turn things around and change things up. And sometimes to do that, you've got to do the unexpected with cast and with story."

The stars of "NCIS: Los Angeles" play "Put Your Cast on Blast" on "The Talk": 

 

 

Now that the show has hit 100 episodes, it's clear that syndication is deserved. And they're already hard at work on the next 100, though their eyes aren't on Episode 200. According to Brennan, "Really, the goal is to make the next episode and get through it. And what happens when you do that is you accumulate episodes, and suddenly someone says, 'Hey! It's your hundredth episode.'" Or 200. Or 300. Or...

"NCIS: LA" airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.

 

 

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