LL Cool J Talks NCIS: LA Finale

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Actor and musician LL Cool J has to be one of the busiest men in America. The star of NCIS: Los Angeles is prepping for the season finale of the 11th season as well as taking the time to bring levity and joy to people during a time of great uncertainty, and he’s doing it all with a clarity that is amazing to see. He sat down with Forbes to discuss the upcoming finale and how he’s spending his free time.

How does it feel to have the season finale of NCIS coming out this week?

LL Cool J: It always feels like mission accomplished. We always try to put our best foot forward to bring the stories to life in a way that’s going to be exciting for people and interesting for the fans of the show. And it’s good, it’s a great feeling. You have another season under the belt, and that’s always a good thing and we’ll see what happens after that. You never know what’s gonna happen [but] it’s always great to complete the task.

There are now 11 seasons and 260 episodes. What’s it feel like to have all that content under your belt?

When you put a lot of work into something you become more of a family. It doesn’t really become about the amount of episodes, per se, but do you have the ability to stay engaged? To keep caring? To continue to find new things [and] discover new things about your character. Those are the things that I think about. But in terms of the amount of episodes every now and then you can take a step back and give yourself a pat on the back and say, “Wow, that’s a big accomplishment” because it’s in the top 20 something TV shows in history, in terms of longevity, so that’s pretty good. That’s pretty amazing, but we don’t even think about it that way. It’s more about just “this is what we’re doing today. Let’s bring this to life.”

Would you say you’ve learned something new about your character are this season?

As I’ve explored more and more about what a Navy SEAL is, the different things that come up as I read and [have] done more research in that area. You continuously find out more about this guy, why he is the way he is, why he’s so willing to put his life on the line, how important honor is, how important fearlessness and bravery is. When you first start playing a character, whether it’s through video games or my generation growing up, the cops and robbers thing you kind of take for granted. There are good guys and bad guys. But when you go a little deeper into the world of a Navy SEAL, when you really look at the approach, the myth, the methodology, the philosophy of life, it’s actually very, very impressive. What these guys are about in how they look at the world, so, for me, that helped my character even more. Today In: Hollywood & Entertainment

Would you say your acting techniques have changed over the season?

I’ve had an acting teacher with me from from season. You find a lot of different nuances and different things about yourself. You find out how to move past ego; you find out what’s important to you as an artist; you find out how to not let the outside world invade your creative process. It’s not a matter of learning techniques, but experience gives you the ability to utilize those techniques in a different way. You may find different tactics through experience, but there are certain techniques that most actors are familiar with but it becomes about the creativity and how you utilize those techniques in different ways and the different tactics involved with each.

You’ll have things with other languages; you’ll have things with newer actors. You have moments and scenarios where maybe there are so many different things so, you have to be focused, you have to be committed, and allow yourself to stay creative. You have to remember that humility is really a superpower, especially with the work, and I’m not talking about false humility. Humility in the sense [of] not being arrogant and taking it for granted. You got to be open as an artist and go for it.

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NCIS: L.A. is actually the most popular streaming show right now. Why do you think that is right now?

We have some really loyal fans. I really don’t have the answer because to have the answer would presume that I know exactly what it takes to make a hit show. Everybody can act like they know, [like] you can intuitively have an idea but you don’t know for certain. I don’t know what it means to make a hit record. I can just [be] intuitive [to] the creative process. But what I will say is our show deals with a lot of the realities that are happening in the world. We close our cases a lot faster than the actual NCIS agents in real life but our show deals in reality, as crazy as it seems. The flip side is that these characters, people can relate to them, the regular, authentic people; they care about each other. So there’s a certain amount of comfort there. People want to escape what’s going on or at least see the good guys prevail. It’s an amazing thing that has happened that just proves to you that if you have an audience and they love you they find you. We haven’t been the show that people say, “Oh, let’s do a story on NCIS L.A.” or “Let’s jump on the NCIS: L.A. thing” but it proves that there are fans [and] that’s a beautiful.

You’re also trying to bring levity and comfort to those in quarantine. Can you talk about The Cool Down show you’re doing on Instagram?

The Cool Down is absolutely amazing. I’m connecting with real people. It’s an opportunity for me to lift the spirits of others. You can be in a little bit of a bubble when you’re in entertainment for a long time and I felt like there’s such a divide between people that are quote unquote celebrities, or successful, or whatever you want to call it, and people that are out there every day, either on the frontlines or dealing with the world in the way that my mother dealt with the world when I was growing up. I want to connect with people and at least show some love and connection, and feel good and really touch people, and get an understanding of what’s going on. It’s been very fun and informative.

How do you put a typical episode together?

Well, it’s really simple. I literally tell people “Hey, this is real people, real conversations with LL Cool J. I’m picking you guys randomly. We’re gonna talk, we’re gonna have a conversation. Let’s see what’s going on.” I tap a name and whatever name I tap we have a conversation as to what’s going on in their life an we go from there.

Has there been a conversation with someone that’s really stuck with you?

The conversation I had with Bishop T.D. Jakes and Judah Smith, obviously they’re celebrities but the conversation was interesting. There was one woman I had a conversation with who was talking to who makes sure that the medicine gets delivered to the prison, and that was a really deep conversation. She talked about how there were people who may have two weeks left for non-violent crimes and they’re completely in harm’s way because of this virus and how that wasn’t being addressed. I spoke to one woman who was talking about how life was tough before coronavirus and this compounded an already crazy world for her. So many different stories, people are going through in a different way. There are people out there who absolutely have to work. They don’t have the luxury of staying home, period. Some of them are essential workers. This one woman, she worked in an auto body shop. People need their cars fixed even now, so she had to go to work. You don’t think about those things. A lot of different people saying a lot of different things.

Do you hope to continue the show even once things have reopened?

I definitely would continue. I don’t see any reason not to. We’ll see how it goes but right now I want to try to be it and give them some words of encouragement for the people that need it.

How have you been dealing with quarantine just in your personal life?

I’m keeping it simple. I’m in the house watching TV, reading. I’m focusing on self improvement. I’m trying to make sure I come out of this thing better than I went into it. Working on what’s inside of me, and my mind and spirit. This is an opportunity for you to focus on who you are, what you are.

Can you give fans a taste about what the NCIS: L.A. finale will contain?

There are some SEALS that are accused of a horrendous crime and we have to get in the mix. It’s a little trickier than people expect but it’s very interesting. I think it’s gonna be fun. These guys are accused of a crime that we have to go over to Afghanistan and see what was going on and what that means to some new team members involved. It gets crazy.

NCIS: Los Angeles’ finale airs tonight.