The NCIS: Los Angeles season 6 finale saw the team assuming undercover identities to head to Moscow. The new season, premiering tonight, finds G. Callen (Chris O’Donnell) going rogue while the team scrambles to locate him. EW chatted with LL Cool J, who plays Sam Hanna, about challenges facing the team this season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Between presenting at the Emmys last night and the seventh season of NCIS: LA premiering tonight, you’ve had a busy couple of days.
LL COOL J: I’m definitely running on adrenaline. I had a long night last night, as you can imagine. But I feel good. I’m excited about the premiere. I’m excited that we just celebrated our 150th episode. I’m excited about the story line: Chris O’Donnell, his character G. Callen, and my character, Sam Hanna, kind of playing this cat and mouse game because Callen’s decision to go rogue puts Sam in a position where he has to choose between loyalty and following orders and supporting his partner.
What’s that going to do to the dynamic of the team this season?
That remains to be seen. But it definitely derails things for this episode and for some more episodes to follow.
Sam is also facing big challenges that will stretch throughout this upcoming season. How will it affect him?
You know, we find out a lot of different things about Sam and his personal life. We find out his former partners are involved in shady deals. We just find out a lot of things. His integrity is put on the line, [there are] some near death experiences. I mean, it gets crazy.
It has been a lot of fun [to play]. It just feels good to do great character work after six seasons and now into the seventh. The writers are still exited and passionate and connected to the characters and connected to what they’re writing. No one’s phoning it in. We still all have a burning desire to do great work and to dig deep and to give people the excitement that they’ve come to expect from the show, and hopefully this year they’ll continue to watch us and enjoy.
Any chance Michelle [Sam’s wife, played by Aunjanue Ellis] is going to come back this season?
I think there is a huge chance. We’re going to be dealing with the family — which has also been very challenging —so Michelle and the kids will be back on. I’ll be juggling emotional hand grenades once again.
Michael Weatherly’s Tony DiNozzo is making his first appearance on NCIS: LA next month. How does the L.A. team get along with him? Do he and Sam bond over their love of cars?
[Laughs] Ah, that’s funny. Actually, Sam and DiNozzo, their relationship is a little strained at first. I think it may or may not iron out, but it’s a little weird. It gets a little testy. He also gets a little testy with Callen. It’s interesting.
But personally Michael is a great guy, and I loved working with him. He was very supportive when we did our original pilot on his show, and he’s just a great dude.
Does having someone from the mothership on the set kind of change the energy?
You know, it really doesn’t because we actually started over there, and then came to our show. Since the beginning of the show, we’ve been going to upfronts, we did our pilot over there, which was two episodes, Pauley [Perrette]’s been on our show, Rocky Carroll’s been on our show, so we kind of feel like they’re family. [Creator] Mark [Harmon] was very supportive early on and gave me a lot of great advice. We don’t feel disconnected in any way, although we do know that we’re on our own and we’re doing our thing on a different night. But it feels good when they come, it feels great. Everybody’s really welcome.
I think it’s safe to say Sam is the greatest best friend in the entire world. But at what point would you, LL, have just walked away from someone like G.?
[Laughs] Like the World’s Best Boss mug last night? I get the World’s Best Best Friend mug? My Lorne Michaels moment?
These characters have a lot more guts and a lot more intestinal fortitude than I think most people. You’ve got to remember that we represent and we portray people who actually exist in the world, and those are people who put their lives on the line every day, not just for their friends and family but for strangers. So believe me, the first couple of times I got grazed by a bullet or shot in the chest by a sniper, I might have sat it out after that.
Okay, a big “what if”: If the casts of NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, and NCIS: New Orleans competed in a single-elimination, winner-takes-all tug-of-war tournament, who wins?
Oh, boy. That’s tough. I don’t know about that one. All I know is, I want Linda Hunt as the anchor.
NCIS: Los Angeles premieres Monday, Sept. 21, at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.