“Let us entertain you,” Vanessa Lachey and LL COOL J tell us when looking ahead to the latter bringing his Los Angeles character to the former’s NCIS: Hawai’i for its third season. And let’s just say that from talking to them and what we’ve seen onscreen of the two, that’s exactly what they’ll do, in and out of character as Jane Tennant and Sam Hanna.
Sam comes to Hawai’i to conduct the final interview (after medical and psych evaluations) Jane must pass to return to work following the traumatic events of the Season 2 finale. “Sam rocks the entire team in good and bad ways. It’s going to make us all question a lot of things, and it’s going to evolve us all into a different layer and level,” Lachey teases.
“I love that NCIS: Hawai’i talks about the personal side of our work relationship and how that drives everyone,” she continues. “Because at the end of the day, you go home, you take your shoes off, and you lay in bed, and we are all human, and that’s what makes us tick. It’s our heart, it’s our mind. It’s all of that frustration, vengeance, love, sadness, hurt. And that’s really what we’re hitting at here. And I’m interested to see where it takes LL’s character because right now, without giving away too much, he’s a lot of the rock for us. I need to lean on him. Of course, I don’t tell my team that. And then at some point, we got to see the softer side of Sam.” (LL COOL J prefers the “harder side of Sam” and the action.)
Below, Lachey and LL COOL J preview how Jane’s doing when Season 3 premieres, as well as how Sam fits in.
Tennant went through it in last season’s finale. There’s a difference between wanting to be ready to be back, thinking she’s ready to be back, and actually being ready to be back. If she were to be honest with herself, where is she really at the start of the season?
Vanessa Lachey: I want to be back. It’s all I know. It is how I’m wired, and I have to compartmentalize that, and I have to jump through some hoops to get back. It is my livelihood. It’s what drives me—me, Jane Tennant, and Vanessa. But in order to do that, there’s a lot of tape that I have to get through because what I went through was very traumatic, and everyone wants to make sure that they’re not putting a loose cannon back into the field. And so I jumped through those hoops because I’ve been there, done that, and I’m a master at it, but my last hoop and the last tape I got to cut happens to be this guy who’s like, you can’t BS me. And that’s where we kick off the season, with that dynamic, with that trust, with a little bit of underlying tension, questions, and then it evolves. Our relationship on the show is like a living, breathing organism.
What makes Sam the right person to be that final hoop for her, and what might he see in her that she doesn’t want him to?
LL COOL J: Sam has so much experience and has been through so much that when you’ve been there, and you’ve really been involved in something on a deep level for many, many years, you really have a different perspective and a different POV from, let’s say, just a person that’s evaluating you, who’s not an agent, who hasn’t been in the field, whose only role is to evaluate various agents and what they’re going through. I think it’s that part of it. He speaks from a place of experience and wisdom.
Looking at Tennant, he understands that she’s dealing with—for lack of a better word—a little bit of PTSD, but he also understands how important it is for her to work through that, and so he wants to be there for her. He has people to answer to, but at the same time, he wants to give her enough leeway to actually get back out there and be the best that she could be because that’s what he would want for himself. I think that respecting somebody on that level is really, really important, especially when you’re putting your heart, your body, and your soul into something.
Lachey: He’s literally been through and come out on the other side what I’m going through now. I think it’s great because it’s literally and figuratively for NCIS, the franchise, we’re taking LA and we’re bringing it to Hawai’i, the baby, and we’re nurturing it with his literal wisdom. It’s been fun for me. … And what I don’t want him to see but what is really endearing is my vulnerability, because I don’t let anybody see that, even my team. And I allow that with LL’s character, Sam. I let my guard down because sometimes, I mean, Jane’s human. Yeah, she’s superwoman, but she’s human.
I have to say, bringing up Michelle (Aunjanue Ellis played Sam’s wife, who was killed), that was such a heartbreaking storyline in LA… We also saw Sam get tortured in LA. So, he really does know everything that Jane went through.
LL COOL J: One hundred percent. Look, Sam has lost people super close to him. He’s been tortured. His life has been in danger on numerous occasions on various different levels. He’s seen team members be [killed]. He’s seen all that. So, for him, he really, really can relate to what she’s going through. I think he speaks to what’s inside of Jane Tennant, not just the tough Asian exterior that she puts out there as a leader of her team. I think you need somebody that’s going to be real with you and be honest with you, especially in a leadership position, and Sam can really relate to that.
At the same time, though, I just want people to know it’s not just all violins and sadness. There’s wit, there’s banter, there’s humor, there’s fun. There’s a lot of action. It is an entertaining ride, I think. Rollercoasters have to have it all. You don’t just want to be going uphill the whole time. You want to get some thrills in there. So we’re doing that, and I think it’s working.
The good thing is that Jane can rely on her team, so she doesn’t have to worry about that because Jesse (Noah Mills) is doing well in her absence, even if he doesn’t want the job.
Lachey: Yes, they’ve got it down. And to Todd’s point, he’s the stand-in boss, but they still got to give it to him. You gotta have the humor. You gotta have the jabs. And that’s entertaining for the audience.
LL COOL J: Even that relationship with Sam and Jesse is going to be an interesting one to see unfold. I think people will be pleasantly surprised by that. There’s a lot of things that are being addressed in this. It’s not just like plug and play. We are dealing with a lot of human issues and a lot of the relationships, the dynamics that involve all of the various people involved. I think the energy around it is going to be really fresh and new, and I think it’ll be really exciting.
Lachey: It’s definitely a ride, to your point, because what he brought up; it’s not just about, oh, he’s the stand-in boss, and then Todd comes in to help. Sam’s coming into our ohana. One of the things that sets NCIS: Hawai’i apart from the others in the franchise is that word, the ohana that we have, the family that we have, the island love that we have. And so while we are welcoming, Jesse’s, like, “Who’s this guy? Why is he still here? And now he’s hanging with my boss, my friend, and what does that mean for my role, and what does that mean for me?” So, to LL’s point, it’s not just our dynamic. It’s my team going, “Well, how does that change my dynamic with Tennant? How does that evolve us? What is our new plan?” So we definitely tackle a lot.
… Having had the strike, all the seasons are cut short across the board, and so we have 10 episodes to really bring it. And I think we come in strong in all episodes. There’s a lot happening emotionally and physically and with some humor.
How many of those 10 episodes do we get Sam in?
LL COOL J: I guess you got to turn that TV on to see.
Lachey: But let me tell you this: If you had Sam Hanna in Hawai’i, would you let that go? Or would you utilize the beast of Sam Hanna? I might be a little off coming off of last season, but I’m no dummy. Jane Tennant might as well utilize what’s in front of her.
How about Tennant’s personal life? How’s her work-life balance this season?
Lachey: I will say, to tease a little bit of it, Tennant finds that in Sam, so there’s that vulnerability there.
NCIS: Hawai’i, Season 3 Premiere, Monday, February 12, 10/9c, CBS