Zoe McLellan Interview: "NCIS: New Orleans" Star Loving Life in the Big Easy
Image attributed to Zoe McLellan
Zoe McLellan is currently starring as Special Agent Meredith Brody on the CBS hit series, NCIS: New Orleans, which premiered on September 23, 2014, following its parent series NCIS. Set and filmed in New Orleans, the show also stars Scott Bakula, Lucas Black, C.C.H. Pounder and Daryl “Chill” Mitchell.
Other television credits include Silk Stalkings, Diagnosis: Murder, Star Trek: Voyager, JAG, Dirty Sexy Money, House, Royal Pains, The Mentalist, NCIS and Perception. McLellan appeared in films Imaginary Crimes, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Inventing the Abbotts, Dungeons & Dragons, Conversations with God and One Fall.
"I always ask people, “Where do you feel like you’re heard, seen and needed the most?” We are all needed somewhere. Where do we shine? Whatever your religious background, there’s a place for you. That’s why I love that idea and would like to do more speaking to kids in school. I do love chatting with people about that."
Season two of NCIS: New Orleans premiered September 22, 2015, on CBS.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Zoe, thanks for taking the time out of your hectic filming schedule!
Zoe McLellan: Today is actually a rare day off. Isn’t that amazing? I have the day off. I have my mom in town right now. I wanted to go to City Park, so I could walk and talk, get some air and enjoy the outside.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you living in New Orleans now?
Zoe McLellan: Yes. We’ve been here a little over a year. We moved here last June. My great grandparents are actually from New Orleans. I have a ton of cousins here and other family members. There’s a big clan of family here, which is nice.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m in Birmingham, so I do love it when Lucas Black (as Special Agent Christopher Lasalle) says, “Roll Tide!”
Zoe McLellan: I know (laughs). I love your accent, too. I just love it! It’s so great.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Thank you. Do you and the cast have a favorite haunt to go and chill after a long day on the set?
Zoe McLellan: There’s not a ton of time for hanging out, I’ll be honest. We work so often together that usually we go off to be with our families on the weekends. I personally love City Park. We shot an episode here. That’s where I am right now and where I like to take my little boy. Apparently it’s bigger than Central Park. I love it because there’s just so much to do. There’s a place called Morning Call, and they make delicious coffee and beignets. It’s just really fun. There’s an art museum here. It’s my favorite spot. We live super close to it, so I’m here frequently.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Does your son know what you do for a living?
Zoe McLellan: He just turned three. This season he asked to see the show, so of course, I have to cover his eyes for the scary parts. What’s fun for him is that he visits the set pretty much every day, so he knows everybody. He’ll say, “Oh there’s Scott. There’s Chill. There’s CC.” I think he’s starting to understand what it is.
He’s comfortable and sometimes sits on my lap when I’m getting my hair or makeup done in the morning. I think he understand that “Rolling” means we have to be quiet, and “Cut” means we can talk again. Actually for someone who just turned three, he’s got it down (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Hopefully he knows that mommy doesn’t really shoot people.
Zoe McLellan: I don’t let him see that stuff. I just let him see the sweet stuff like in the office when we’re just chatting. I don’t let him see any of that other stuff.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I understand that Annie Potts visits the show as Meredith Brody’s mom. Tell me about their relationship.
Zoe McLellan: It looks like there’s a little tension between the Brody mom and daughter. What was interesting about actually working with Annie is that we got along so well that the director, at one point, said, “Am I going to have to separate you guys in between takes?” There was supposed to be so much tension between us, and there we were laughing and having a good time.
The real life Annie Potts and I got on great, but on the show, there’s quite a bit of tension. Brody’s mom definitely likes things a certain way. She’s pretty tough on Brody, and it’s probably because she’s tough on herself. You’re going to see a really interesting dynamic. One of the things I love about it is that I feel like so many mothers and daughters are going to be able to relate. They’re going to be able to say, “Oh man. I know this. I have this relationship in my life.” It could be a grandmother or a teacher. We’ve all been there. But Annie is just so great in the part. It was a lot of fun. She’s awesome. We’ll be seeing more of her, I’m pretty sure.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Does Brody’s mom help her come to terms with the death of her twin sister?
Zoe McLellan: Yes. There’s definitely going to be more that needs to reveal itself as the season goes on. It’s kind of stretching out, so we’re going to dive deeper into it than the episodes we see where we introduce Annie Potts’ character. You’re going to see more of it throughout the season because there’s actually more of a mystery than I even know the answer to yet. The writers aren’t telling us. They like to not tell us things (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): If I had a nickel every time someone told me that (laughs).
Zoe McLellan: Right? You’d be loaded (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m sure the fans wonder why Brody and Chris Lasalle (Lucas Black) aren’t romantically involved. It appeared that the writers toyed with that idea in the first season, and then stopped.
Zoe McLellan: I’m wondering if they took it away because so many people were asking, and they really wanted to keep it more of a working relationship and friendship. That’s what I’m guessing. But I know that when people watch a TV show that (knock on wood) goes on for a while, they may root for that to happen.
I don’t think that’s the angle they’re going for here. I’m pretty sure they’re just going to go for a working relationship and continue bringing in different love interests for both Brody and Lasalle. I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re doing. But again, they don’t tell us. They don’t tell us (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you feel like you have come full circle from JAG, NCIS’s parent series?
Zoe McLellan: I think those two characters are in such completely different worlds. Even though I know this is a spinoff of a spinoff, I don’t ever really think about Petty Officer Jennifer Coates and Meredith Brody in the same world because they’re such completely different shows. It was such a long time ago.
I guess the one thing that does make me feel full circle, though, is when I chat with Mark Harmon or some of the crew members that are working on NCIS and have been there for years on the mothership NCIS and on JAG. That brings me back and makes me smile. That’s pretty cool. But in terms of being out here in New Orleans and playing this character, they’re just so different. They’re in such different worlds.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I understand you’re a singer, and we know that Scott (Bakula) is a pianist. Any chance you two will make music together?
Zoe McLellan: I would absolutely love it if they would bring that into play a little bit. I love to sing, and I write music as well. Something the writers would need to look at is how comfortable Meredith Brody would be with singing. I feel like I’m more outgoing than Brody, although she’s a little sassier this season. But I almost wonder if she’d need to have a drink or something (laughs).
Brody would need to be in the bar and have a cocktail, and someone would need to dare her. Maybe she’d be undercover. I don’t think that Brody would just bust out a tune in front of people. She might do it in her shower, but she’s definitely not someone who’s just going to be comfortable with that right away, which could be a lot of fun to play with. But yes, I do love to sing and would love to sing on the show.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When did the interest in acting begin for you?
Zoe McLellan: I remember when I was little, and I would gather my cousins. I was more of a director because I’d get everybody all dressed up, and we’d actually wear the Mardi Gras beads that my great grandparents would send to us. This is with my family in Minneapolis. We would do shows, and I’d direct and be in them. I was putting on shows at four years old. We’re doing everybody’s makeup and all of that.
I think it was just definitely in the blood, and then it’s something that comes very naturally, that just feels right like I’m supposed to be doing it. I think it was just in the cards, a very natural thing that I needed to do that’s a part of me. I feel weird if I go too long without doing it for a while (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is there a discovery story?
Zoe McLellan: I have many different steppingstones as to how I got where I am today. But way back I was living in Portland, Oregon, at the time and went to this agency. I was right out of high school, and all I had was a headshot from high school and had done some high school theater. She just looked at me like, “Uh huh.” I said, “Send me out on one audition, and if I book it, you become my agent. If I don’t, you won’t ever hear from me again.” She said, “Okay.” She called a couple of weeks later and said, “I have an audition for you, but it’s a cattle call.”
Of course, I didn’t know what a cattle call was, but she did warn me that there’d be hundreds of people. It was for a reenactment for America’s Most Wanted to play one of the victims who was killed. I went and booked it, so she became my agent. So that happened in Portland. When I moved to Los Angeles, a similar thing happened. I went to this agency and said, “I’ll book something within two weeks. If I don’t, you don’t ever have to hear from me again.” I think it was five days later that I auditioned for a small part in the film Inventing the Abbotts. I booked it, and they became my agents. I like to dare myself.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And to challenge yourself?
Zoe McLellan: Yeah, and I like to make promises to myself. I’m definitely a go-getter. When I moved to LA, I wasn’t going to parties. I was in bed at eight o’clock. I was running around town from audition to audition. I’ve always had that work ethic. There’s this part of me that loves to go after my dreams.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Speaking of going after your dreams, you are also an inspirational speaker?
Zoe McLellan: Yes. You know how I’ve said that acting comes very naturally to me, and it’s in my blood? I feel like there are two places where I get shaky in the knees, nervous and excited. That’s when I speak and when I sing. Maybe it’s because when I’m doing those two things, they’re coming straight from me and my heart. I’m not hiding behind a character. I’m me speaking.
I’m starting to realize that my favorite thing is to inspire people. I’m speaking to different schools and different groups about following your heart and finding your passion, finding what it is that brings you joy and takes you outside of your comfort zone. These dreams, whatever they may be, are what keeps us alive. They keep us thriving and growing. I love to speak and get people inspired and on their path, to help people follow their hearts. That’s my favorite thing to do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Does that have anything to do with a religious faith?
Zoe McLellan: No. It’s not religiously based, although I was raised Catholic. There’s no religion connected to it. It’s more of a heart-centered thing. It doesn’t matter what I feel or what religion you are. We all have a divine path. We all have a place in the world where we’re meant to be.
I always ask people, “Where do you feel like you’re heard, seen and needed the most?” We are all needed somewhere. Where do we shine? Whatever your religious background, there’s a place for you. That’s why I love that idea and would like to do more speaking to kids in school. I do love chatting with people about that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s coming up, Zoe?
Zoe McLellan: Right now, we’re in the thick of the season. But there’s definitely more writing happening. Eventually when the time is right, I would like to produce a film. It’s a love story that, when the time is right, will reveal itself. I definitely want to put on my producer hat, but currently the writer’s hat is on. The film is also super inspiring and hopefully another way I can inspire people. That’s what is brewing right now.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Other than hanging out in City Park, what do you and your son enjoy?
Zoe McLellan: Right now he’s in art class. He really loves painting, drawing and coloring. But we’ll go out for hours and just kick the soccer ball around. He loves the zoo here, especially in the summertime. We’ve spent a lot of time at the zoo which is so much fun. We’re excited about Halloween coming up. He’s going to be a fire truck. Not a fireman, but a fire truck.
People really get into Halloween here. I’m not working that day, so we’re going to truck or treat and take the wagon around. Apparently in our neighborhood, they play music and all the parents have to dress up, too. We’ve been hanging up decorations, and I’ve been trying to explain to him what Halloween means. You get to knock on doors and ask for candy.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’d have to leave your son at home, but the Halloween party to attend is the annual Vampire Ball. I understand that Anne Rice will be attending this year.
Zoe McLellan: That’s another inspiring person! Anne Rice is so inspiring. My goodness! I’ve not met her, but she is another example of someone going for their dreams! What an inspiration she is! That’s so cool.
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