Daniela Ruah teases the opening episode of season 14 with Kensi and Deeks as foster parents to Rosa and a body that matches Hetty’s description found in Syria.
“The personal side has always been very present in the show,” Ruah tells Parade.com in this exclusive interview. “That’s what differentiates us from a lot of other procedurals. And if you think about it, after 14 years, we have literally matured and aged in front of an audience, and so they knew the more immature, younger side of us. Both as actors, but also as characters. And they’ve seen us making changes and pivot in different situations to become the people they are today. I think that’s a large part of the beating heart of our show.”
Speaking of hearts, one well-known quote on becoming a parent is that your heart then walks around in the world outside of your body. Such is now the case for Kensi and Deeks, who when they drop Rosa off to school in the series premiere, are way more nervous than she is, and as they try to reassure her, only ramp up her anxiety.
“I have no experience raising a teenager because my children are still quite young, but I also know that I’m getting to know my kids and their personalities from birth,” Ruah says by way of explaining her character’s parenting skills. “And then once they become teenagers, I will know exactly who they are and what they’re capable of and what they need help with.”
But for Kensi and Deeks, they’re just getting to know Rosa, who as mentioned, Kensi shared a super intense experience with while in Mexico as they escaped from some very bad guys, and now she’s their foster daughter.
“So, they’re having to get to know an older child and trying to be the best parents they can,” Ruah continues. “I think anyone who’s a parent knows you put way too much pressure on yourself to do everything perfectly when all they want is somebody to watch over them and keep them safe.”
Also, in the season premiere, Callen and Kilbride (Gerald McRaney) get troubling news about a body found in Syria, the description of which matches Hetty (Linda Hunt) and they await news as to whether the body is actually Hetty or someone who resembles her.
“I think Scott keeps that in his own mind pretty tightly wrapped,” Ruah says when asked about the return of Hetty. “I think what I am allowed to say is that a body is found in Syria, somewhere around Hetty’s last location, and we have to try and explore and find out what that’s all about. But I don’t have a future to be able to tease to you because I don’t know.”
But what she does know is that in addition to the importance of the characters, the cases matter, too.
“That’s what drives the episodes if you will, but there’s no doubt that the beating heart of the show is the personal side of the show,” she adds.
Also in the premiere episode, we see Kensi meet a woman who has just lost her father. That’s happened before, but now she is a mother. Was there a moment where she stopped to think that maybe she needs to be more cautious because Rosa could end up being given the same news as she was giving this woman?
That’s really interesting. I don’t believe that was written in, but I think that just goes to show that we all watch something and maybe put in a little bit of our own experiences and interpretation. I love that you identified that because you truly are understanding Kensi’s current experience. But, obviously, we know that Kensi’s father also passed away, so she also has empathy for somebody who loses somebody very important to them, in this case, a father.
So, I think, Kensi feels empathy on a lot of different levels, and that tends to be who Kensi is, you know what I mean? I agree with you that the maternal side has kicked in. I don’t think she was maternal until she found Rosa. I can identify with that myself, I don’t think I was maternal until I had my own children, and I know plenty of women who have a maternal side to them even before they have their own children, so it’s a journey.
Last time we talked, we talked about how important it was for NCIS: Los Angeles to deal with Kensi’s fertility issues. Now that she and Deeks are fostering a child, will that continue? Do they still want to try for a baby? Or now having Rosa, is that changing their minds?
I think having Rosa has filled the parent hole in their heart. I think that Kensi came to the conclusion that she’s just not meant to bear children of her own, and that’s a very true realization for lots of women. On the other hand, there are women that try 15-20 times and finally get the much-desired baby. But it also took a huge toll on her body. It was hard for her to work; it was hard for her to function. I think that they’ve made the decision that Rosa will fill that gap in love that they were feeling.
How many episodes will you be directing this season? And what satisfaction do you get being behind the camera that you don’t in front of it?
That’s a really interesting question. I’m doing two this year. I’ll be doing episodes five and 14, unless people get shuffled around because that can happen, too. But I’m doing two this year. You know, I think, ownership. In a weird way, I’m very proud of taking ownership over good things that happen but also mistakes that happen. I’m quite fresh; it’s only been about three years at this point. This year I’ll be doing my sixth directed episode, so I have so much more to learn. But I think I thrive off of learning something new and I just really feed off of the excitement of, “This is new.”
I feel like I’m in film school but it’s with people that I’ve known for years, and it’s people that I trust and who put trust in me. And so, therefore, I owe them the message that you trust me and you should trust me. It’s just exciting that it’s new and it’s a different angle of telling a story because my perspective has to be that of all characters and has to be that of how will this cut together so that it will make sense. And how can I make something feel powerful? How can I take a really good script and elevate it visually?
And how to take full advantage of the strength of my actors. In this case my colleagues, the regular cast of the show. They all have such incredible strengths that are so different from each other, how can we take advantage of that? As an actor, you’re functioning on one level of a building where you only see what’s there. And then when you’re put in a writing or in a directing position, or producing or whatever it is, in my case, directing, it’s like somebody allows you to step further up the ladder and just have a bigger visual of the geography of an episode.
It’s like you have to see the full map, you can’t just look at one thing, this ocean or that country. You have to see the full map because you’re telling the story that’s on the map, and it has to make sense and be cohesive throughout. How one scene opens, where did we come from before this, the energy that goes from this scene into the next scene. Is there a particular transition I’d like to do that helps to tell the story or move the story along?
It’s really exciting to go to the drawing board and storyboard some scenes or a shot list or whatever it is. Both of our first ADs on our show also direct, and just to sit and brainstorm with them and be like, “I was thinking this, this, this, and this. Do you think we’ll have time in our day to do this?” “Well, you will, but you might have to…” There’s so many logistics. You can tell how talkative I just became.
How excited you are, yeah.
I am. And I think that I would be this chatty if I was playing a brand-new character that I had not been playing for 14 years. I love change. I love learning something new. Yeah, it all feels very, very exciting and I’m excited at the possibility of directing other things outside of this show just because it would be a new challenge. I wouldn’t know the people, I wouldn’t know the team, and to do that as well.
Do you find Kensi fresh enough, and the stories fresh enough, that you would keep going to say, Season 20, like regular NCIS? If CBS keeps picking you up.
Wouldn’t that be amazing?
You’ve been talking about new things, so you would want to stay?
Kensi is a human being who is constantly developing and growing and learning from whatever she’s living, so, of course, it’s exciting to do that. When I say excitement on something new, when you call “Action,” I become Kensi, when you call “Cut,” I’m back to Dani, and it’s a seamless transition because I’ve been doing that with that character for so long. I would have to stay 10 times more focused if I was playing a brand-new character. And that’s the kind of excitement that I’m talking about.
This may sound awful at first but listen to the whole thing. I was going to say I love being married. This will make sense, I promise you. I love being married as Daniela to David. What we do as a family, how we evolve as a couple, all of that is amazing to me. But I also loved the butterflies in the tummy when I first started dating Dave, when it was new, and we were getting to know each other.
And it’s the same thing as a character. I’ve been married to Kensi for 14 years, but I still remember the excitement when I first started playing her. That’s what I mean. So, it has nothing to do with whether I keep playing her or not, it’s just that’s what I mean when I talk about excitement and a character.
Speaking about excitement of new characters, of course we miss Nell (Renée Felice Smith) and Beale (Barrett Foa), but now we have Roundtree (Castille) and Namazi (Rahimi) and they bring a totally different energy. How does their addition open up the show for new story ideas?
First of all, I want to say that I absolutely adore both of them as human beings, and I love them as actors. I’m speaking more from a directing perspective now, but I love working with them. They’re so open to experimenting and they ask such great questions like, “Do you think my character would do this or that?” There are things that only they have an answer to, and I can only guide them there.
Obviously, their being new characters, it means that there’s lots of life stories to explore that we haven’t done. So right there, of course, it gives you plenty of space for new storylines. And then exploring the relationship between them. Are they best friends? Are they like brother and sister? Would it be a flirty thing at some point? I have no idea. They haven’t explored either way. Obviously, right now they’re very close. They’re such great additions to the show.
It looks as if COVID protocols are still affecting the show. We haven’t seen any group shots in ops, so like maybe no more than two people can be in there and group shots are mostly outdoors?
I want to say that we have moved a little bit away from that. We are way more back to normal. There’s definitely op scenes. Maybe not in the first episode, but there’s definitely op scenes where there’s quite a few of us in there. So, that has shifted for sure.
I think the COVID protocols are still very much felt in terms of the actual production aspect of it. We were reduced to 10-hour days to avoid people being together more time than that. And they realized that we were capable of finishing our days in 10 hours and so we’ve stuck to it now.
So, we have 10-hour days. Nice as an actress because it’s like, “Yay, the day’s done, I get to go home.” But when you are, again on the production side, or on the directing side, or writing side, it’s like you have to adapt all of your ideas to not having much time in a day to get them done. So, it definitely is more anxiety inducing, but hey, it’s the most amazing school for efficiency that I’ve ever been to. I mean, wherever I go after this I’ll be more efficient than I ever was.