NCIS / NCISLA At ComiCon, London 2015

The MCM London Comic Con 2015 took place at the Excel Exhibition Centre from Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th May.  The convention features a variety of stars from various mediums; TV, film, anime, manga, and gaming, and scheduled to appear were Barrett Foa (Eric), Renee Felice Smith (Nell) and Emily Wickershaw (Ellie Bishop in NCIS).

NCIS/LA actors Renee Felice Smith, Barrett Foa and Emily Wickershaw

NCIS/LA actors Renee Felice Smith, Barrett Foa and Emily Wickershaw

The NCIS/LA Q&A session took place in a large theatre, and Barrett, Renee and Emily were introduced by the MC, who asked the first question – how it felt to become part of a massive franchise that originated from JAG, spawning NCIS, then Los Angeles and most recently New Orleans. Emily admitted she was scared and a little intimidated as the show reaches so many people across the world, but the cast she joined were so sweet and welcoming.  Barrett shared that he also went into the franchise with a little hesitation, starting out as a guest star in season one for twelve episodes, before becoming a season regular in the thirteenth episode.  Renee admitted she honestly did not know much about NCIS as she watches a lot of comedy, cartoons and sometimes children’s programmes.  But she has come to learn that “it’s a kind of work place comedy, so to speak, with some occasional explosions”.  “And car flips” Barrett added.

A young girl asked the first question from the floor; what was their favourite episode?  Barrett’s favourite is the Christmas episode from season four, where he and Nell “locked lips”.  Renee admitted she still has the elf ears and they are the first prosthetics she’s ever worn.  The two reminded the audience and themselves that Nell made Eric wear tights, but that took place off screen.  Eric wanted to wear them for Nell, but struggled internally, as he didn’t want to as he didn’t want the ridicule of LL Cool J and Chris O’Donnell (“as no one wants that”).  Renee’s favourite episode is from season six, when she went undercover as Hetty, wearing a wig and suit; incidentally all Linda Hunt’s suits are custom made.

Emily was asked if she could be any other character in NCIS, who would she be? She responded by saying she would be DiNozzo; serious but mostly goofing around.  DiNozzo, she admitted, “is the best”.  The next question related to change and was directed initially to Emily.  She thought it was wonderful that the characters of Ziva and Bishop are so different and was aware that some fans didn’t like Bishop.  She said “it’s great and encouraging” that she’s seen fans coming to like Bishop.  She confirmed that Mark [Harmon] is not scary but Gibbs is a little, with his head slap and super straight face; “Mark is a sweetheart”.  Barrett commented when Renee came in (season 2), it was tough as people don’t like change – it takes time for viewers to adjust.

If Barrett could be any other character from another NCIS show, he would be CCH Pounder (NCIS New Orleans).  Emily commented the character is cool, calm and collected, although Barrett just likes the name and offered to give her Barrett instead.  Emily likes how Scott Bakula sounds and the way he pulls his sunglasses off, not a Caruso sunglass removal, Renee added, at which point Barrett said that CIS and NCIS frequently get confused.  Renee would like to be the lab-coated Pauley Perrette AKA Abby Sciuto from NCIS, as Pauley’s Abbey is a heightened version of a lab worker.  On the LA show, they play closer to themselves and there is no super characterisation going on.  Renee believes it would be fun to have those costumes and play a Goth girl.

A member of the audience spoke to Renee about how her character was developing by venturing out in the field, but there seems to be some hesitation from her.  Shane Brennan [showrunner], said to Renee from the start that Nell would grow over time; she is a junior field agent who will always be an intelligence analyst but will also work in the field.  That is what the audience is seeing, that gradually over time Nell is getting more experience in the field.   Nell is a trained agent who knows how to carry a gun.  She may not get much action but when she does, Nell does know what she’s doing.  Over time Renee is confident that Nell will be seen in the field again, although as they only get the scripts a maximum of three days in advance to shooting, they never know what’s coming up.  Barrett admitted he would like Eric to venture out in to the streets of LA in a bright green Lamborghini – at which point he asked someone to draw that and tweet him – but as long as there were no car flips!

The next question covered which shows outside of the NCIS franchise the actors would like to appear in; Emily would love to be on Modern Family and True Detective, citing the latter as a fun and creepy show to be on.  Barrett enjoys Parks & Recreation, and Renee is a big New Girl fan, so much so that she would accept any role on it – a neighbour, walking the dog…

Emily confirmed there is always a bit of themselves in the characters they play on NCIS, sharing the traits of determination and loyalty with Bishop.  Nell admitted she has no technical skills at all and cannot even update her IOS on her iPhone 5c.  Barrett is better than Renee in the technical arena and did admit that he has never shut down any Government agencies…

An interesting question was asked about how Nell and Eric’s relationship has developed since Humbug, when Nell invited Eric to stay with her family for Christmas as her boyfriend.  Barrett revealed this was partially addressed in a Dave Kalstein penned episode (presumably Expiration Date), where a deleted scene has Nell sharpening a knife, clearly upset about something that happened at her parent’s house.  Nell finally tells Eric that her great aunt was rather upset about some noises she heard coming from the bedroom.  Neither Renee or Barrett have any idea if this will make it on to the season 6 DVD as an extra.  This makes me wonder how many other scenes containing snippets/reveals that Shane Brennan previously teased fans about, have ended up on the cutting room floor…

The panel confirmed the shooting schedule is eight working days.  The working hours within the actors union is a strict twelve hours (e.g. 6am – 6pm) and if they go over that threshold, they cannot start work the next day until a further twelve hours has elapsed (e.g. the next day would have to be 7am – 7pm).  This pushes the schedule back and some new shows may not finish shooting until 2am on a Saturday, so the Friday becomes a “Fratterday” as Barrett said.  NCISLA have tight schedules so everyone has their weekends and well rounded lives.  Barrett put this down to luck, that many of their directors started off on NCIS and are familiar with tight schedules, and this helps contribute to the success of the NCIS franchise.

All three representatives from NCIS/LA are very keen on the idea of crossovers, with a fan referencing the LA crossover with Hawaii 5-0.  Barrett was genuinely pleased and amazed at the question, as it demonstrates to him how big the show is outside the US, that here in the UK we know these details.  Apart from social media, they don’t really have a sense of the show’s success.  Renee found the Hawaii 5-0 cross over a great opportunity to see how other actors work; Scott Caan being very minimal in everything he does with his face; Barrett added that on camera he looks completely alive.  Renee described Scott Caan as “a really cool guy, like the coolest guy at high school that all the girls are in love with and all the guys want to be, and he kind of knows it”.  At this point Barrett mimicked Scott combing his hair back to form a quiff.   Barrett is keen for NCISLA to work with H50 so they can have holidays in Hawaii, as Chris, LL and Daniela have all filmed there.  Renee too, was particularly enthusiastic about this crossover as she has never been to Hawaii.  All three enjoy the authenticity the New Orleans show has, from filming on location there.

Eventually, someone asked a Callen question, wondering what the panel thought Callen’s first name is.  Renee joked “Geronimo”, Barrett laughed that it could be some Italian/Russian name.  On a more serious note, Renee thought it will be a traditional Russian name, at which point Barrett interrupted with “Gary” – repeatedly.

The constant publicity around the show is new to Emily, and she admitted she finds it all rather scary.  Renee was introduced to Instagram through NCISLA and it’s a platform she now loves, using it to mainly share photos of her dogs.  For the show they promote episodes which are happening and share exciting moments at work.  Barrett enjoys the fan interaction via social media as they rarely get to meet fans (events such as Comic Con are few and far between).  The cast tend to do more CBS driven publicity with internet interaction.  Barrett thanked NCISLA fans for being sane, so the actors can go to the supermarket and live normal lives.

There is no competition between the actors to be last in shot before the shutters (prior to ad breaks), as the cast have no idea how the shots that comprise the scene will be edited.  Eric Christian Olsen does always manage to get in the last word of every scene he is in, whether it is in the script or not.  Emily commented that Michael Weatherly is very similar.

When asked if his character could have a relationship with another character, who would it be, Barrett replied without hesitation ‘Hetty’, which gained a laugh from the audience.  Renee then added that she knows some fans are calling for a Nell/Callen relationship.  Barratt put it out to the crowd to raise hands if we wanted that to happen.  There was not a great response to this, however a several girls at the back did raise their hands.  Barrett placed Renee on the spot, asking if she wanted or was ready for Nell/Callen.  Renee dodged the question and tried to deflect this back to Barrett who requested the audience to tweet that Renee has a secret crush on Chris O’Donnell.  Emily’s character Bishop is married and tends to have a brotherly relationship with all the males.  Barrett and Renee tried to suggest she could have a relationship with Brian Dietzen (Jimmy Palmer) with an illicit rendezvous in the morgue, on the cold slabs…

Barrett would love to go on the LL Cool J hosted Lip Sync Battle and Renee suggested an NCIS vs NCISLA battle which again got a cheer from the audience.  Running through their fellow cast, it was established that Michael Weatherly would enjoy it, Daniela would be in to it (she won Portugal’s Dancing with the Stars – videos are on line).  Renee confirmed Barrett’s musical theatre background and that she was a dancer growing up.  Eric Christian Olsen can actually sing for real but he likes to fake it, saying that he can only sing goofily.  Chris O’Donnell is constantly singing hits from the 70s when they’re filming in Ops and enjoys karaoke.  Miguel Ferrer would also be up for it – he’s the son of Rosemary Clooney who was a huge star with classic hit songs.  The three actors urged fans to write in so it can be set up.  Barrett was in the original cast of Mamma Mia and a fan asked if he would ever sing a song in NCISLA.  Renee revealed he did start singing the US National Anthem but it was cut from the scene – cue Barrett singing snippets from Mamma Mia!  And on that note (pun intended), the Q&A session came to a close.

Later that afternoon, tickets were purchased for Barrett Foa’s autograph.  When our turn came, we hesitantly approached (star-struck & shy) but Barratt was an absolute gentleman; very charming, friendly and funny.  There were a choice of four photos that Barrett could sign, and I picked one with Nell, Eric, Callen and Hetty, with a request that Barrett did not sign across Callen’s face.  Barrett commented on how my son and I were so cute together, as we ‘debated’ this subject (with my son wanting Barrett to write over Callen’s face).  The compromise was the word ‘blob’ written over Callen’s arm!

I asked if he had any plans to live tweet the season finale which would air in the UK the following night at 10pm, but Barrett had to be up at 3am the following morning for his flight.  However he did confirm that he and Renee had just completed the DVD commentary on Traitor, where Eric is taken hostage by the mole.  With a quick photo taken by the lovely lady in the queue behind us (thank you, and thank you for your patience), our time was up.

There was another Q&A on the Sunday which covered strong women in TV & Film (both Renee and Emily were part of the panel), and it was a shame this was not on the schedule for Saturday.  The NCIS franchises do seem to specialise in strong women; just look at NCISLA season 6 finale for evidence.

The NCIS Q&A and meeting Barrett Foa made Comic Con a special day, although the intense confusion and poor organisational skills from MCM Comic Con did put a dampener on the experience.  It would be fantastic if some of the other NCIS/LA actors came over to Comic Con London in the future (Barrett and Renee also attended two years ago).  Maybe Eric Christian Olsen can reschedule a visit with Daniela Ruah?  Or hell CBS, just fly over the entire cast including Shane Brennan!  Sometimes it’s more insightful to hear what the writers, producers and directors have to say, alongside the stars…

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