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'NCIS: Los Angeles': Barrett Foa talks Eric's first undercover mission (and secret relationship with Nell?)

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Barrett Foa
Monty Brinton/CBS

In a series first, tech operator Eric Beale (Barrett Foa) goes undercover tonight on CBS’ NCIS: Los Angeles to ensure classified technology remains secure after a rocket-engine expert is killed. (“They let the monkey out of his cage,” Foa jokes. “They promptly put him back in.”) The most obvious change was wardrobe. He got to temporarily trade in Eric’s standard surfer-dude flip-flops and shorts. “I’d look in the mirror and say, ‘Oh my God, I’m actually [wearing] shoes with laces and long pants. Who am I?’ My ankles have never been so warm.” But there was also the joy of location shooting. “I think the only time that Eric has been out of the ops center was to take Abby Sciuto [Pauley Perrette] from NCIS on a date, and she promptly got kidnapped on his watch. I think he was more successful this time,” he laughs. Really? The story called for filming in the desert, at an airport hangar, and on a farm. “There’s a horse that won’t behave — neighing and bucking during takes, and some guy with a stick chasing chickens trying to get them in the shot,” he recalls. “I was like, ‘This is different than the computer room in the ops center.'” 

Naturally, Eric is nervous about the assignment, but Hetty calms him down. “Eric is scared that there’s gonna be some danger. He’s like, ‘Oh, do I have to carry a gun? I don’t know how to shoot one. I’m just a computer guy.’ And Hetty is like, ‘If I thought you were gonna be at risk, I wouldn’t put you out there. Don’t worry about it.’ Well, of course, Eric gets himself into some trouble, but some good kind of offbeat trouble,” Foa says. “He barely scrapes by, but he kinda saves the day. He comes back to the ops center with a new perspective on life on the outside. He’s a little cocky, which is fun. And of course Nell [Renée Felice Smith] is like, Give me a break….”

Speaking of Nell, Foa says to expect “some more of the good ol’ fashion Shane Brennan tease — you know, Kensi and Deeks, Ziva and Tony, Eric and Nell, Sam and Callen,” he laughs. “Are they gonna do it or not? We don’t know. I was about to say I’d love to know, but I actually wouldn’t. That fine line that it rides is so great… As an actor, you do kind of fill in holes and make things up. There was an episode recently where Hetty rattled off Deeks’ address. She’s like, ‘Eric, put this address in the computer.’ And suddenly we’re looking at a camera looking at Deeks’ house. Everyone was like, ‘Wait a minute, you know where we all live?’ And she’s like, ‘I wouldn’t be a good operations manager if I didn’t know where you live.’ She was teasing Sam about overwatering his lawn. But then I was like, ‘Hey, Renée, let’s put a little look in here to each other, so it’s almost like, Does Hetty know? Has she seen you going into my house, or me going into yours? It was just a look that didn’t mean anything,” he says, laughing. “But they kinda kept it in. There was like a little glance. So who knows? Maybe they are hookin’ up outside of work and havin’ dirty, sloppy, Nell computer geek sex and no one knows about it.”

Heading into the season finale, Boa says you never know what to expect on a Shane Brennan series. “I think definitely this season was about getting a group to gel, and I think it totally succeeded with the appearance of Nell and Deeks. Everyone’s paired off. It’s a really good group. But anything can happen. We lost two series regulars last season, two great guys who everyone loved. Everything that you think is solid might not be, you just don’t know. It’s an exciting time. I’m keepin’ my fingers crossed. I have not bought any big houses,” he jokes. “The foundation could shake at any moment, but that’s what keeps us on our toes and it keeps the audience on their toes.” Eric has to stick around. “I would still love to see Mr. Beale with a gun his hands, and something tells me that in seasons to come that might happen just because it’s a funny visual,” he says. “Keep your fingers crossed for that. Season 9.”