Vanessa Lachey on how 'NCIS: Hawai'i' gets her close to her childhood dream of playing Wonder Woman or Lara Croft.
There have been two-way crossovers among the NCIS shows, but tonight is the first-time ever that there will be a three-way crossover when a case begins on NCIS, moves to NCIS: Hawai’i, and then concludes on NCIS: Los Angeles.
It all begins in Washington, D.C. when a beloved FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center) professor who taught multiple members of the three squads is found dead on the eve of an event to celebrate him, and the hunt begins to find the mystery man responsible for his death.
As they begin to uncover clues to his identity, members of the team are kidnapped, and all the agents must work together to take down the assassin and save their own. And NCIS Hawai’i’s Jane Tennant (Vanessa Lachey) plays a big part in leading the investigation as she is the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the Pacific Rim.
“It’s a really awesome role that I get to play,” Lachey tells Parade in this exclusive interview. “I’m so honored that I get to be her because she does it all. She’s a mother, she’s a friend, and she’s a SAC of not only Hawai’i, but obviously as you see in the L.A. episode, also of the Pacific Rim. And because of that I, am now in charge of the case. I love that that’s truly how it is in the real world, and that we’re portraying that on television as well.”
Tennant is among the agents who had a relationship with their beloved former instructor with a weird code name, “The Cockroach,” so she has a little extra motivation to help track down the hitman.
“It’s really brilliant how the writers managed to show how this person [who was murdered] specifically has touched all of us in a positive way, has affected us in our careers,” she continues. “And so, we’re all in it. Yes, we are in it because of our positions, but also, it’s a personal matter to us and that’s why we go to the ends of the earth for this person. We need to find out who this mysterious hitman is, and it brings us together.”
TV shows aren’t necessarily filmed in order that the scenes play out, and this crossover was even more complicated because they shot it backward with L.A. filming first, then Hawai’i, then the mothership.
“I remember coming to set and I’d look at the director and I would just say, ‘Okay, hey, good morning. I know what I’m doing today but have I met them yet at this point in it? Have we walked in?’ We would just have to take a quick five, 10 minutes before the day and re-establish where we all were in this massive crossover. And a lot of times, because the last portion that we shot was the mothership, they also hadn’t written the script. We didn’t know how we all came about.”
That said, tonight viewers will be able to see how the writers, directors, actors, and the crew made it all come together.
During our conversation, Lachey also talked about how she and husband Nick Lachey were also filming their Netflix show during this time, how she was juggling trying to make her children’s school events, whether Nick may guest star on NCIS: Hawai’i at some point, and how she wanted to play an action hero like Wonder Woman or Lara Croft when she was younger.
A lot of coordination goes into doing three-way crossovers on the production end, but as an actress, yes, you had to fly from Hawaii to Los Angeles, but how crazy is it for you? Is there something in a three-way crossover that makes it more difficult, more challenging?
I think it’s both the most amazing thing I’ve gotten to do as Jane Tennant on NCIS: Hawai’i, but it’s also been logistically the hardest thing I’ve had to do. But I easily will take on those difficult logistics for such a fun job. Not only was I shooting the three crossovers in the month of October, but I was also shooting from top to bottom, The Ultimatum for Netflix, and the finale reunion for Love Is Blind on Netflix. So, it was the ultimate planes, trains, and automobiles. I was going from Hawaii to L.A., to Charlotte to L.A., to Charlotte to Hawaii.
And to add to that, my most important job is mother. I have three little kids who are in school in Hawaii and had a lot of fun events and presentations and concerts happening that I wanted to make sure that I was there for. So, logistically it was a very hard month, but I managed. I actually remember sitting back and realizing how surprised I was that I wasn’t extremely stressed.
I was just so grateful that I am in this opportunity to represent both Hawai’i in this crossover and my husband and I do what we get to do on Netflix. So that part, yes, it’s taxing, but it’s a great flight and I get to watch movies and read scripts. The hotel, I get to get grilled cheese and French fries with ranch dressing, and eat it in bed and be guilt free at 11 o’clock at night because I just flew in. So, there’s silver linings to all of it.
Putting L.A. into it makes it more difficult because they normally air on Sunday night.
Yeah, I think it makes it more fun and interesting. I don’t think it’s difficult in terms of the script because we are one franchise. It makes it difficult maybe logistically again to what I was saying. But Todd [LL Cool J] and Chris [O’Donnell] were so lovely and easy to mesh with that it was seamless. And as they say here on NCIS: Hawai’i, one team, one fight. It’s truly that with all three of the shows, we are all in it together.
There were no egos, there was no strain, it was just fun. I learned so much watching these seasoned actors. I enjoyed being on set even though I was running on fumes because it was just a crazy month. I never had a moment of, “Get me off,” it was just all enjoyable. I hope it comes across on screen, I’m excited to see it.
Of all the NCIS shows, you’re the first woman who’s been in charge. Even though this is your second season, is it still meaningful?
It’s meaningful on so many levels. Not just for me as a woman, as a mother, but also me as a minority. To be able to know that none of those descriptive titles hold me back, but in fact propel me not only in this role but in my position in the franchise, has made me super grateful.
And so, when I see not just little girls, but little boys, or minorities come up to me, or people on the island saying, “Thank you for representing us in such a positive way, such a strong way.” When I see mothers say, “Thank you for proving we can do it all and still have time to put a smile on our face.” It’s tough.
What’s crazy is it’s not so much the physical side of the job, because I have an amazing team both behind the camera, at home, and on the show, but it’s emotionally taxing. And that to me, I think, is the hardest part, being able to compartmentalize but still obviously have the true emotion of all of the different balls that I have in the air that I’m juggling, and still tackle the matter at hand as gracefully and as strong as I can. So, for both CBS studios and the network to recognize that and to allow me this opportunity in the franchise to just show what not only I can do but what women can do, it’s incredible.
One of the things we love about Jane is she is a badass. Talk about doing the action. When you started acting, did you ever think that you would be playing such a physical role?
No, but in the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to, so maybe I subconsciously manifested this. I grew up wanting to be Wonder Woman, and then as I got older it became Tomb Raider. There was the game and then it became a movie, and I’m like, Tomb Raider! So, I’ve always just dreamt of being this strong woman who not only was a badass but had a warm heart.
I’m not even joking. When I got the opportunity to audition for Jane, I thought, “This is it.” I wasn’t searching for it firsthand, but subconsciously it was always there. I think like I said, you can lead and be a badass with grace and with a warm heart. There are many facets to being a powerful woman and I love that I get to dive into that and portray that and be that on television.
So, yes, it’s something that I always wanted to do, and now that I get to do it, I’m willing to get the bruises and the scrapes and all of that to play her. It’s so fun. Whenever I do it, I’m like, “This is my job, I can’t believe it!” I still can’t believe it; I get tickled all the time.
The episodes where they include a bit of the history of the islands are always extra. How much do you appreciate how great it is to learn about the culture but also have it be part of your job.
It’s extremely important. The island of Oahu and all of the islands of Hawaii are a character in our show, and I love that the mothership and L.A. get to experience that. It’s called mana, it’s when you feel it, and the ʻāina is the land. And truly, I’m not just saying this because I get to be a part of NCIS: Hawai’i, but it is what made me feel a part of this show and feel a part of this community, and it’s what’s grounded me.
There was a moment specifically that I was on the beach, and it was three o’clock in the morning. I was going into the ocean, and it was very rough waters, but we have an amazing water safety team that I’ve actually known. My very first acting gig was 20 years ago, believe it or not, and it was the same water safety guy, so I’ve known him.
And I looked at the ocean and I looked up at the sky and I actually talked out loud and I said, “Please take care of me and I promise I will always do you justice and take care of you and do right by you.” I just literally felt this wave of love wash over me. I’m like, “I’m home.” And I called my husband and I said, “You guys have to move here. We’re not going to do this back and forth to L.A.”
And within the next two weeks, Nick and the kids were all here. They came on the Fourth of July last year. And we now have a home here, and we’re here for as long as the islands are willing to have us and CBS is willing to have us. I do believe that the more you respect the islands and the people, the more that it will give back to us twice fold.
Since the family moved to Hawaii and Nick is on the island. I can see the producers not wanting to do it too early until the show is established, but any talk about him doing a guest starring role at some point?
We have talked about it and we’re just trying to find the right fit to make it fun. But yeah, why not, right? Because he, just as much as I’ve always wanted to be Wonder Woman and Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, he’s always wanted to be Bruce Willis. He’s like, “I want to be an action star!” So, I’m like, “All right.”
It’s funny, because the first season he was like, “No, no, no.” He’s not comfortable in acting, he loves singing. He loves singing in front of thousands of people, he loves hosting, he loves being himself. And acting, you kind of dive into a role. But I’m like, “You can use your tools of being yourself into a role.” And he’s like, “No, no, no, I’m okay.”
And then he watched the first season, and he was like, “Man, this is pretty badass.” He’s like, “I think I would love to be a part of this.” And he hinted towards it and I said, “I would love that, too.” So, I spoke to the showrunners, and I love that they’re open to the idea. We haven’t had anything set yet and they’re not forcing it, they’re not just going to insert Nick here. But if something fun comes along, he’s open to it, I’m sure you will be one of the first calls.
The NCIS, NCIS: Hawai’i, and NCIS: Los Angeles three-way crossover begins tonight at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.