Smashing Interviews Magazine

Compelling People — Interesting Lives



October 2022



Daniela Ruah Interview: "NCIS: Los Angeles" Star Talks Season 14

Written by , Posted in Interviews Actors

Image attributed to CBS

Daniela Ruah

Daniela Ruah was born in Boston to Portuguese-born parents and lived in the US until she was five. She attended St. Julian’s School in Portugal where she grew up, landing her first acting role at the age of 16. Two years later, Ruah moved to London and received a BA in Performing Arts at the London Metropolitan University, having finished with first class honors.

Ruah has played the same character (Kensi Blye) in three different series: NCIS (2003), NCIS: Los Angeles (2009) and Hawaii Five-0 (2010). She is currently shooting season 14 of NCIS: Los Angeles, which premieres on October 9, 2022. The series also stars Chris O’Donnell, LL Cool J, Eric Christian Olsen and Gerald McRaney.

"The best part of playing her is the fact that she’s a flawed human being like anyone is, and she grows from her mistakes."

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Daniela, let’s talk about the new season of NCIS: Los Angeles. We have Kensi and Deeks fostering Rosa. What kind of parents will they be in this situation?

Daniela Ruah: I think they’re still trying to find their voices as parents and their position as parents as well. I think any first-time parent, including myself, could say you feel pretty insecure in the beginning when you have a baby, like am I feeding it too much? Am I not feeding it enough? But you really get to know that child as they age with you, what food they like and don’t like, what toy they like, what makes them tick.

In this situation, we’ve fostered a teenager, so she’s a full-fledged human with previous experiences, some positive, some negative that we have not been privy to. So they’re just trying to get to know her, but they already love her, and they already want to care for her. Kensi obviously met her under very distressful circumstances, which was trying to pull her out of Mexico where she was under threat. So there’s that added layer of how Kensi got to know her at first. She was her savior essentially, and Rosa was her savior in return because she’s filled this huge gap in her soul of wanting to be a mom even though she spent so many years figuring out that she wanted to be a mom in the first place.

I think Kensi, in particular, is overly worried and maybe overprotective where she should take a step back. I think we’ve all been through something like that in different circumstances. But it has been much more stressful. So I think she’ll find a way to just take a breath and relax. It’s going to be okay.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: What can you say about finding Hetty?

Daniela Ruah: It’s a mystery to me as it is to you. I personally have no idea what Scott Gemmill, the showrunner, is thinking for that scenario. The last thing we know is that a body was found in Syria around the last place Hetty was seen, and that’s all I know. I do know that this is a hovering concern over everyone but to Callen in particular because of the relationship that they have. He is set to marry Anna, and he proposed in the finale of last season. But there’s a part of him who needs Hetty, and she’s not there. I think that causes some friction between Callen and Anna, and that’ll be interesting to explore as well.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: What it like working with storied actor Gerald McRaney?

Daniela Ruah: I would say he’s one of my favorite people. It was an honor for him to join us on occasion just because of his experience and how much we have to learn from him on so many different fronts. But now that he’s joined us as a regular, I’ve actually sat with him so often just hearing his stories and sharing. I mean, he’s so in love with his wife, Delta, and he’s so passionate about many things. He’s so experienced in the job but also in life in general. He really leads with love and respect for what’s around him, and it shows.

I feel very comfortable around Mac. I really like working with him. The first time I directed on the show, I was like, “Mac, I’m a little hesitant about giving someone like you any notes whatsoever other than step left or step right.” He’s like, “Are you kidding me? I want to know what you’re thinking and what your process is. This is something we do together.” He just put me at ease to be able to experiment with him, and it’s been so wonderful to do that. He doesn’t have an ego like, “I’m an experienced actor. You’re an inexperienced director. Therefore, don’t tell me what to do.” That is so far from what Mac is.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Didn’t you and Mac work on the film Red Tails a few years ago?

Daniela Ruah: Was Mac in Red Tails? If he was, he wasn’t with me (laughs). I would be incredibly embarrassed if Mac had been in that movie, and he and I never talked about it. Now, I’ve got to look it up. I honestly … are you sure? Oh, God! Here it is (laughs). We have a lot to talk about. Thank you! I don’t know if he knows I was in Red Tails! Wow! I’m both embarrassed but really excited now and will bring this up with him.

I was 24 when I shot that, and it was isolated from everybody else in the movie because my scenes were only with David Oyelowo. I was never with Gerald, never with anybody out of the nucleus of the pilots. Then the movie got made, and we saw the movie maybe four or five years after we did the movie. We shot it way before it actually came out. But that’s crazy! I have to ask him if he even knows was in it.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: In case there are some viewers left on the planet who are not aware, you are married to David Olsen, the older brother of Eric Christian Olsen who plays your husband on the show, Marty Deeks. So Eric introduced you to David?

Daniela Ruah: So let’s see. Eric joined us right at the end of season one, I believe. Then, yeah. He brought up David and mentioned how we’d be good together and that I should meet him and Sarah, Eric’s now wife (girlfriend then), also said “You’ve got to meet Dave.” Then we did meet and turns out, it worked. Two children later, we’re here (laughs).

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You and Eric have great onscreen chemistry. Is that because you two are actually family?

Daniela Ruah: I mean, I’d like to think we had chemistry before I met Dave, and that’s why it worked so nicely. Yeah. I think we’ve always had chemistry. I think we just work well together. We understand each other’s sense of humor and sort of play off of it and bounce off of it, and it’s really fun. Becoming family was just an added bonus to that.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’re directing two episodes this season?

Daniela Ruah: Yeah, episode five, “Flesh and Blood” and I am on the roster for episode 14, but sometimes, we get shuffled around.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is it difficult when you are acting and directing?

Daniela Ruah: It depends on the scenes. I prefer to be not in the episodes that I direct. I’m still learning so much that while being Kensi is second nature at this point for me, you know, I call action and hurry and say cut, and I’m back to myself. I don’t have to think about that transition. I don’t have to think about her voice, how she banters when she’s upset or whatever it is. All that is second nature at this point.

Directing is obviously not second nature. I’ve only been doing it for three years, and it’s such a hefty responsibility when you’re sitting in the director’s chair. There’s the responsibility of telling a cohesive story, of visually elevating an already great script and making sure that the transitions from scene to scene makes sense or that they bring rhythm to what you’re watching on TV. There’s the ending aspect to it. We only have 10 hours a day in seven business days to shoot an episode. So how can I be efficient? You’ve got to cut it in your head before you shoot it so you know exactly what you need and if you have time, get a couple of bonus things to complement that cut in your head. Anyway, my point being is I’m running a million miles an hour when I’m directing. I think you can see that my speech just changed just by talking about it. That’s because everything just starts moving faster. It’s so that, plus the added responsibility of behaving like another human even though that’s second nature.

It’s a lot, but I have to do it. It’s part of the job and actually really good to be thrown in to the deep end of directing a show that’s very efficient, a show that moves fast, a show that every genre involved, action, drama, comedy, all that stuff rolled up in one. Am I going to have to learn to swim in the deep end? Yeah. But that just makes me even that more efficient and functional in any other directing job that may come my way.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Will there be a crossover event this season?

Daniela Ruah: I hope so. That would be pretty fun. I always loved the idea of crossovers. I believe the other shows just did something together.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: It was the first ever special Law & Order premiere with the three NBC dramas.

Daniela Ruah: It was Law & Order. There you go. I also remember when Pauley Perrette came over to our show, and the fact we were launched on the original NCIS, I think the audience that enjoys the shows would love to see our characters interact. So I hope so.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Were both your parents physicians, Daniela?

Daniela Ruah: My mother is an audiologist, so she worked with people on hearing aids and such things. So I don’t think that audiologists are considered physicians, but it’s definitely the medical field. My dad’s a surgeon. Both grandpas were, and my grandmother was a nurse.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: And yet you decided to pursue a career in acting.

Daniela Ruah: I asked my dad once if he wished that I’d gone into medicine and shared an office with him the way he shared one with my grandpa. His response was, “God, no! You have no idea what a dog’s life this is.” (laughs) So I don’t think anyone was disappointed. At the same time, I grew up sitting with my grandpa watching CSI and Law & Order and all these procedurals that he was always a big fan of. His bookshelves at home were just filled with procedural books. But they were super supportive when I wanted to act. Then I was like, “Hey, I’m going to be doing a procedural.” It felt full circle if anything. I was just fun, you know.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You started out in soap operas?

Daniela Ruah: Yes. Soap operas in Portugal when I was 16 years old. I was working full time at the same time I was completing high school. That was a challenge, but it got done. Then I took three years off from acting to complete college and get my BA in Performing Arts, and I didn’t want any undue influence to distract me from my studies there because I remembered how hard it was in high school to do both basically in my time. It may have changed.

But in my time, when I was a teenager, the schooling support system was not there. So it was like, “Just do your homework and whatever gaps you have, good luck.” There was no you have a minor on set, you can only work so many hours a day, and there’s a tutor that does schoolwork with them. There was a very different support system. It may have changed now in Portugal, but that’s the way it was in my time (laughs). I can go back and say that now, “In my time, it was different.” It was more of a struggle, but again, out of struggles, out of pressure come diamonds. So I felt pretty invincible once I was done with both high school and work at the same time.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did you actually appear in just one episode of Guiding Light?

Daniela Ruah: (laughs) I would like to be specific with you. It was one scene in one episode (laughs). I played one of the lead character’s trainers, and I think my lines were something like, “You can jump off the treadmill now.” I don’t remember the rest. It was so minor. It was just basically three lines of an inconsequential scene. But the casting director from Guiding Light was the one who introduced me to my agent who I am still with 15 years later. So good things come.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Then came NCIS, which was your big break.

Daniela Ruah: I don’t remember the gap of time but, yes. It must’ve been within a couple of years.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: You auditioned for the role of Kensi?

Daniela Ruah: Yes. I auditioned when I was still living in New York. Then the callback was in LA, so they flew me out for the studio audition, then the network audition, and the rest is history.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: What’s the best part about playing Kensi?

Daniela Ruah: The best part of playing her is the fact that she’s a flawed human being like anyone is, and she grows from her mistakes. She’s intelligent. She’s fiercely independent, but after all these years, I think she’s grown to understand that it’s okay to emotionally depend on someone else. Her own traumas of losing her dad, not having a present mom, running away from home as a teenager, living on the street for a while, gave her a sense of no one’s going to give anything to you. You’ve got to go for it yourself and depend on yourself.

After meeting Deeks, she evolves into the fact that it’s okay to emotionally depend on someone else. Not everybody’s going to leave you. So, yeah. There’s so much I love about her. At this point, I am her, and she is me getting bad guys and handcuffing people and shooting people (laughs). Taking the professional side away from her profession, we’re very similar human beings at this point. It would be difficult to play the same character for 14 years and not have something in common.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: And you’re happy playing her for as long as it lasts?

Daniela Ruah: Of course! I am so happy. I love the team we have. I love the cast. I love the crew. We’re a family at this point. You break bread with your cast and crew. Crew members were at my wedding. They were there when I met my husband, and they were there when I was pregnant with my kids in season five and eight. They were sending me messages when I had the kids. We’re all very, very close.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Are your kids used to the fact that mom and dad are on television?

Daniela Ruah: Oh, yeah. They don’t care. What they care about is when I come home and show them a video and say,” Look at this cool stuff that daddy did today,” or “Look at this fight mom had to do today. It’s so cool. Look at what my stunt double did.” I do some of my stunts but definitely not all of them. I have very, very talented women who step in for me. But the kids love seeing that.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: What’s your favorite thing to do as a family?

Daniela Ruah: Our family is really a tight nucleus. I’m not talking about grandparents and stuff in this instance but the four of us. We all go to both kids’ soccer practices. We all go to someone’s game. We’re always moving in a family pack. I think that’s such an important thing. Fortunately, both David and I have the flexibility to make those games. Occasionally, we’ll say, “Hey, I’m working late and can’t make it.” But our show is pretty predictable in terms of its schedule at this point. So we try and plan things.

We love going to a new restaurant and trying new foods or experimenting in the kitchen with cooking. My husband is an amazing cook, and River loves it, too. I always ask them what they want for lunch because I always pack their lunches and snacks. Sierra was like, “Oh, I want that white sauce that River makes.” I said, “So you want pasta with River’s white sauce?” It’s butter, milk, a little flour, and he adds some cheese in there. I said, “Okay.” Sure enough, that morning I’m boiling the pasta, and River is making the sauce for him and his sister for lunch. We have movie nights. We do almost everything all together, and we really enjoy it.

I want the kids to feel like this is a safe port. Go out. Enjoy. As you get older, have your friends and see what life has to offer, but you know this safe port is here for whenever you want to come back.

Smashing Interviews Magazine: Anything you want to add about the new season?

Daniela Ruah: It’s going to be a good one. We have some recurring situations like the horrible bad guy who sews body parts together. So we revisit that. We explore obviously the personal side of these characters, which, I think, is the beating heart of the show. I think it’s going to be more of what people love to watch so far.

© 2022 Smashing Interviews Magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.