NCIS Los Angeles Scoop: Chris O'Donnell Talks Directing, Stakes For the Team & More

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What happens when one of your own is thrown in jail on irrefutable murder charges?

Well, if we're talking the world of NCIS Los Angeles, you make a personal episode even more personal by putting one of your lead actors - in this case, star Chris O'Donnell - behind the camera to direct as well as act in the episode.

Tonight will not mark Chris O'Donnell's first time behind the camera.

But NCIS Los Angeles Season 6 Episode 6 won't be your typical episode, so it's fitting that the actor will be taking the reins as director.

What will the team do with Sam in jail when every rock they turn over in their investigation shows that he may actually be guilty?

O'Donnell jumped on the phone with me last week to talk about this particular episode and whether he keeps his directing eye separate from his acting eye... or whether one impacts the other more directly.

Trouble is coming for Sam - NCIS: Los Angeles Season 6 Episode 6

TV Fanatic: This sounds like a good episode to direct. Did you get to choose or did it just fall in that way?

Chris O’Donnell: No, I didn’t have a say in which one I was going to direct but it’s always exciting when you get your script and it’s a good one. The subject matter itself, with Sam being arrested and accused of murder, it’s a situation where all the evidence - the DNA, the crime scene – the evidence all points to him. It becomes a very personal episode for the team trying to prove our partner’s innocence

TVF: As the director of the episode, how do you approach your part in the show as an actor?

COD: For me, it’s such a nice break. We crank out day after day after day of acting and being on the set but to be able to get in there to work on the pre-production and to work with a whole other part of our crew that we don’t see on a day to day basis and scout locations and casting, tweak the script and give notes on it, that’s exciting for me.

All that said, it’s not that much different because I like to be in the middle of things as much as possible anyway so I’m in the thick of what we’re doing and I’ve always had a good relationship with my fellow actors and feel very comfortable talk to them and try to focus in on different ways of getting the best performances.

What I’ve really found exciting has been the post production aspect of it. With editing, other than me screwing around on my computer with home movies and that sort of thing, the only post production I’ve done is with the episodes I’ve directed. It’s amazing because you’re building for different beats and different performances and being able to really capture those moments that when I read the script I saw and being able make sure that none of them get lost in the shuffle is when you’re really making your imprint on the show and the particular episode.

TVF: And you have MMA fighter Anderson Silva in the episode. Will we see some of the MMA action in the episode?

COD: We will see a little bit in there. There’s a pretty amazing fight scene that Sam is in and I think it’s one of the better fight scenes we’ve done on the show. Particularly a beautiful setting if there’s such a thing as having a beautiful setting for a fight. It added to the fun of the episode.

TVF: Is the Sam story driving everything or are there B and C stories happening, too?

COD: That certainly drives the story. Right from the get-go he’s taken into custody and we’ve got to figure it out. The deeper we get into it, all signs are pointing in the wrong direction and we need to figure out how this can possibly be. The team is close and when something like this hits, it’s really personal.  

TVF: We’re used to seeing Callen paired up with Sam but you’re with Granger a lot of this episode. How was that for you?

COD: Miguel is such a talented actor. Anytime I get to do scenes with Miguel I cherish it. It’s fun to mix it up in that respect. When I have a day working with Linda or a day working with Miguel, it’s a change of pace and it kind of keeps things fresh

TVF: How does directing influence your acting? Or do you keep them separate in your head?

COD: I’m always on the set trying to figure out because so much of the format we’re in is trying to be efficient and do smart camera moves and accomplish multiple things at once because we’re doing so many pages a day you can’t just sit there and cover every conceivable angle like you could in a film and figure it out in the editing room. You have to plan ahead and figure out how the scene is going to work out.

You’re not doing a play where you’re going to workshop it and really try come up with different ideas and scenarios as far as what the actors should know and where they might be. As a director of TV, you really need to be ahead of them and figure out what is going to be the smartest way to shoot it. I find myself doing that on the set anyway especially when we have a director that we’re not familiar with. You’re analyzing what they’re doing and saying ‘okay, is this the smartest way to do this and is it a good use of our time?’  When you get the directors who surprise you and do things you hadn’t thought about, that’s exciting.

TVF: Would you say this episode is more emotional since it really impacts the team and shows them as a family.

COD: For Callen, he’s had emotional scenes involving his family story that’s been a very personal thing for him. But it’s one of our own that’s in jeopardy here and needless to say the stakes are high for everyone. 

NCIS Los Angeles Season 6 airs Mondays at 10/9c on CBS. 

Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of Follow him on Twitter.

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