This Monday on NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS, 10/9c), the episode title – “SEAL Hunter” – could not be more apt, as Sam is arrested for the murder of a woman, the deck improbably stacked against him. Will Callen & Co. be able to salvage their colleague’s good name? Chris O’Donnell spoke with TVLine about directing this intense episode, which features one of the high-octane series’ most unique fight scenes, as well as shared his thoughts on the NCIS crossover he’d most like to see.
TVLINE | Talk about the set-up for this episode. What’s the main narrative thrust?
Sam has been taken in, accused of murder, which has left the team in disbelief. And as we investigate it, his DNA is all over the crime scene, everything is against him…. Needless to say, it makes it a very personal episode for everyone.
TVLINE | Well, it was good having LL on the show all these years. He had a nice run.
[Joking along] It was nice. I thought he would stay for a little longer, but we got five-and-a-quarter seasons out of him. [Laughs] But no, there is something bigger and more ominous at play, and it ends up with one of the best fight scenes we’ve done thus far on the show, and in an unusual location, which was kind of fun. Todd [aka LL Cool J] just nailed it, which was great.
TVLINE | And Callen is partnered with Granger during the investigation?
Yes – and you know, I don’t get a ton of scenes one-on-one with him in general, and I really enjoy Miguel [Ferrer] personally. He’s also such a talented actor, I relish any chance I get to spend time interacting with him. I spend so much time with Todd every day — and I love him, he’s my man — but it’s fun to mix it up and have scenes with Linda [Hunt], and Miguel….
TVLINE | That was actually my next question: What are your favorite dynamics to play on the show?
I really enjoy the scenes with Linda, with the whole exploration of Callen’s family history. Hetty seems to definitely know more than she lets on, and this thing has agonized Callen his whole life, the struggle to understand his background. And though you will read a script and hear the words in your head, you can never guess how it’s going to come out of [Linda’s] mouth. She has such a command of the language and a unique spin on things, so that’s always a pleasure. And the scenes that are my bread-and-butter, of course, are with Todd. We sit there on set just busting each other’s chops all day long, so then to get in there [and do a scene as Callen and Sam]…. It’s not too far-fetched from what we’re doing anyways!
TVLINE | What was the most interesting challenge in directing this particular episode?
The most daunting thing was trying to coordinate this big fight scene. We had a huge day filming, outside, with 100 extras. And then at the end of that day, after Todd had already had a big day of filming, he had to do this massive fight sequence, and he rose to the challenge. I always said, “Once we get through that day, this episode’s a piece of cake,” and that kind of was the case. I’ve learned from directing in the past that so much of it is your prep work beforehand. The more work you out in those eight days of preparation, the easier it is when you get on the set.
TVLINE | TV is seeing some truly great stunt work these says, on shows such as Arrow and Banshee, and NCIS: LA obviously films a lot of great action sequences…. What do you find is most integral to capturing a fight scene?
We have a terrific stunt coordinator, Troy Brown; I’m actually surprised he doesn’t get more recognition. But there are guys that have worked on the Batman films I did, everyone we bring in is the best… But like anything, it’s about the preparation. I remember when I was doing Three Musketeers, there was the repetition, day after day, going through these sword fights with Bob Anderson, who did the Stars Wars movies and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think [a fight scene] is Todd’s favorite thing to do, because of who is and his physicality. Me, I would much rather have a five-page scene with Linda Hunt, but Todd really relishes it. I’ve had to do it a couple of times, but boy, you don’t want to be opposite Todd even for a staged fight! He is very physical.
TVLINE | What I like, especially from a close-quarters fight, is a variety of camera angles, so I can appreciate what exactly is going on. I need to see limbs flying, have a sense of who is where.
Wait until you see this one – we have a couple shots that are anything but tight, because the setting was so unique and beautiful.
TVLINE | The NCIS franchise is a bit crossover- happy these days, and Rocky Carroll’s Vance even returned to LA earlier this season. Anybody else you’d like to have swing by?
We’ve got to get [Michael] Weatherly over. It’s funny: When we were filming this episode, he was driving down the street randomly. We were at a deli on location, and all of a sudden this [SUV] pulls over and it’s Weatherly. It’s kind of like your long-lost cousin you haven’t seen in a while! He came in like, “I’m coming on this year!” I was like, “Great, let’s do it!” I just enjoy him as a person. He’s very quick-witted, so it’d be a lot of fun.