I spoke with Renée Felice Smith about her role as Nell Jones in NCIS: Los Angeles. It was such a pleasure to speak with her and find out more about Nell, NCIS: LA, her cast mates, her personal choice for Nell’s love interest (let’s please make that happen NCIS: LA writers), her adorable dog that is also the subject of a new book, and so much more. Renée is confident that you are going to enjoy the season finale and the show has already been picked up so get ready to enjoy another compelling season.
Lena: I love the photos of your dog, Hugo, on Twitter. He loves hamming it up for the camera.
Renée Felice Smith: Thank you. Oh my goodness, yes. It’s so funny because we think he poses for the photos. He knows what it is all about.
Lena: You’re writing a children’s book about him?
Renée Felice Smith: I am. We are getting the final markup from our illustrator later this week. It’s really exciting. It basically follows a day in the life of Hugo and his mom, who is a human. He’s exposed to new activities and new adventures and we get to see Hugo learning new things and it’s really fun. We’ve used Hugo’s personality in the books, and he’s kind of resistant and a little sarcastic at first and then he comes around to it. That’s just like the real life Hugo he’s got that bulldog personality.
Lena: Does he visit you on the set of NCIS: Los Angeles?
Renée Felice Smith: He doesn’t, unfortunately Paramount has a strict policy of no animals allowed on the lot. If he were a working dog, an actor, or professional he would be able to come. He would be a great addition to the show. Someone even suggested, “Why doesn’t Hetty (Linda Hunt) have a little Hugo with her in her office?” He would be a great companion for her, point taken. I think they are right about that and I’ll have to pitch it to the writers.
Lena: It would be cute to get him a guest-starring role.
Renée Felice Smith: That would be great. He and Monty could be buddies. Monty is the other working dog on the show. They would be total buds.
Lena: You must have a great time working with that cast?
Renée Felice Smith: Yeah, it’s a great mix of people, such a cross section of personalities. We are all really different but we come together and it gels as a group. We play off each other and it is a good time, all positive energy. Everyone is really professional. It’s just a great cast.
Lena: LL Cool J has always struck me as being a big prankster on set?
Renée Felice Smith: Yes, it’s not so much that he’s a prankster but he does break up in the scene. He’s the kind of guy that loses it to laughter or something he finds funny and then we all get off track and have to reel it back in. He’s definitely the big personality in the room.
Lena: How often is Eric’s (Christian Olsen) Beerfest role brought up? That movie was hilarious.
Renée Felice Smith: Oh my goodness, he was saying something the other day about lederhosen and how it’s such a good look for him (laughing). He brought it up the other day, and I think he usually brings things up. He’s a funny guy. You’ve got to love him with his big blonde, shaggy, surfer dude haircut.
Lena: Do you have a favorite character on the show that you would like Nell to share more screen time with?
Renée Felice Smith: I would say Hetty just because of my own personal experience of working with Linda Hunt. She’s really a pleasure to work with and so interesting to watch work. It was amazing because she had to well up on camera and just instantly she went into her own world and did it. She’s just a seasoned professional and she’s done it all, especially for Nell to get some one-on-one time with Hetty, who is kind of her mentor. I feel this season we’ve seen Hetty give Nell some missions kind of on her own, especially at the beginning of the season when the team was overseas and Nell was kind of running the show while Hetty was away. I feel like, also the character now, I feel like she’s kind of a young Hetty herself. Hetty sees herself in Nell so I think some more one-on-one time for Hetty and Nell would be great.
Lena: Over the summer I interviewed one of your guest stars, Brea Grant. I don’t know if you got a chance to hang out with her.
Renée Felice Smith: I didn’t get a chance to meet her. I’m a big fan of hers from her work on Heroes; I loved her character.
Lena: She is really nice and I know that you didn’t have any scenes with her, at least that were shown, so I didn’t know if you got to see her.
Renée Felice Smith: We didn’t get a chance to meet, and unfortunately she couldn’t make it to the table read. I’m really a fan of hers, and she really is a unique little lady. I love her hair.
Lena: Yes, it’s such a gorgeous color. Did you watch her in Dexter?
Renée Felice Smith: Yes and on Dexter she plays this flirtatious character, which is really great. She’s really cool. I would love to meet her and I feel that we would get along really well.
Lena: Will we be finding out more about Nell’s background, and maybe even get a Nell-centric episode?
Renée Felice Smith: Last season I pitched a couple of ideas to the writers about Nell and maybe about seeing her in a different setting like out on the field, and it was well-received but unfortunately there wasn’t time for it this season. I hear next season that we may see Nell out in the field a little more and maybe even having to defend herself physically, defend her fellow workers, or even civilians. That’s kind of cool to have on the horizon. I also pitched the storyline that Nell would be seen as maybe a young cadet because she is younger than the majority of the rest of the team, so maybe use that to our advantage if some platoon is having some sort of issue and we had to go in and have someone go undercover and do that.
Lena: How do you feel about Nell now as opposed to when you first began playing her?
Renée Felice Smith: That’s interesting, that’s a good question. I think Nell has become more confident and she’s not as insecure. I think myself, I’ve experienced that sort of same situation, just being on set and familiarizing yourself with co-workers and the crew. There is a level of comfort now that wasn’t there in the beginning. We were all strangers and I was the new kid on the block.
Lena: It’s obvious that Nell likes Eric, so do you thing that there will be more to that storyline next season?
Renée Felice Smith: I’m sure they will tease that out for as long as they can, so yes (laughing). It’s fun to have that little flirtation and little connection between the two characters. I think that Nell and Eric play really well together. They have a similar sensibility, similar sense of humor, which Barrett and I connect on those fronts as well. There are no signs of slowing when it comes to that Nell and Eric relationship.
Lena: A lot of your fans really wanted to know about that.
Renée Felice Smith: I know, I know, it’s all over twitter and everyone wants to know what’s the word. When are they going to kiss? I don’t know but I’m sure that won’t happen for a very long time (laughing). Who knows, maybe they will hug (laughing).
Lena: One step at a time (laughing). You guys would make an adorable on-screen couple. How do you get along with him in real life?
Renée Felice Smith: We get along famously. Barrett has become one of my best friends. We really entertain each other, that is the crux of our relationship. We really entertain each other with our antics or silly voices that we are doing or something that we find funny that is happening on set. We are up in that Ops room all day, sometimes for 16 hours so you kind of get a little kooky and Barrett is a lot of fun to have around when that happens.
Lena: What was the best and hardest part of filming season 3?
Renée Felice Smith: There are so many great moments but I have to say one of my favorite moments was the flower scene with Nell and Eric. It’s probably a tie between the flower scene with Nell and Eric and the scene with Nate (Peter Cambor) in “The Patriot Act” discussing her feeling for Eric. It was great to play a really messy human being who really didn’t have it together. She usually really has it together so it was great to play the other side of it, where we get to see Nell kind of cracking under the pressure and confessing that she sent the flowers to herself. The Nate interrogation, as I call it, she basically has a little awakening to her possible feelings for Eric. It was so much fun to play. The hardest part, by far, was a speech involving the city Cerritos, California. I could not say Cerritos. It was this whole big long speech and Cerritos was at the end and I kept saying Cerritos wrong. I’m not from California, I’m from New York, so a lot of the pronunciations I don’t really know how to say it. I’m not a native Californian and we probably had like 15 takes on that. That’s not me, usually I’m pretty solid and I don’t have a lot of takes but that was pretty frustrating. The crew was loving it because I don’t have too many of those flubs, so they were cracking up at my expense. I’m glad that it was funny for them because it was excruciatingly painful for me (laughing).
Lena: Can you describe all of your co-stars in one word?
Renée Felice Smith: Barrett I would say is true. Daniela is goofy. Eric Olsen is smart. Todd (LL Cool J) is loud. Chris is composed. Linda is mighty.
Lena: What undercover work would you like Nell to do if she went undercover?
Renée Felice Smith: I would love Nell to go undercover. I think it would be great to see Nell undercover as a young cadet or something where we could use her youth, maybe as a college freshman in a college dorm. I think she could get younger people to talk to her. She could blend well in that sort of situation. My dad really wants her to be in like a dance studio crime because I’m a dancer. It would be great if I was in a dance studio and I was undercover in a dance studio, but I don’t know, I think my dad is going to be waiting a long time for that storyline in NCIS: LA (laughing). I’d like to see Nell in a situation where she can use her smarts and use her youthfulness.
Lena: Do you still find the time to dance?
Renée Felice Smith: I don’t dance as much as I used to, unfortunately. I have a back injury that prevents me from dancing but Barrett and I, we both have dance backgrounds, if we have some downtime he will help teach me some step routines or I’ll show him some tap rhythms. We kind of bounce back and forth but I always tap dance under my desk and I will forever. I’ll be an old woman with great grandchildren and I’ll still be tap dancing under my desk (laughing). That’s something I’ve done since I was a small kid. It’s a part of who I am.
Lena: You’ll have some nice and strong calves from always doing that (laughing).
Renée Felice Smith: This is true, my calves are going nowhere; they are sticking around.
Lena: Can you talk about the season 3 finale, and what we have to look forward to?
Renée Felice Smith: It will not disappoint, it’s a huge cliffhanger. We see the team under a lot of pressure and there is a shocking twist, right at the end. The Chameleon comes back and he has the team scrambling. There is a new twist around every corner but we are just not sure of what this guy is capable of. He seems truly evil and is really after Callen (Chris O’Donnell). That is kind of where we leave off and we come back in season 4 with the later half of the story. It’s not to be missed, that’s for sure.
Lena: Do you ever read any of the NCIS: LA fan fiction?
Renée Felice Smith: No I don’t. I don’t even know what that is.
Lena: I know that they do that with pretty much every show. The fans put the characters in whatever situation that they want to see them in. Fans usually have a blog for it or they have a website devoted to fan fiction.
Renée Felice Smith: Wow, I haven’t read any. I guess they’ve grown with these characters and want to see them in other ways. Interesting, I just learned something new today, thank you.
Lena: A fan wants to know what your heart necklace means to Nell? I don’t know if it is something that you can give away.
Renée Felice Smith: I’ve always imagined that her mom gave it to her. It’s not my personal necklace, it’s Nell’s necklace that the costume department has given to me. I imagine that it’s something that her mom gave to her or maybe her grandmother. Since we saw Nell dealing with her family in the Christmas episode, we saw that Nell wasn’t able to go home. We saw that Nell has a really strong connection with her mom and her family and that she does miss them. She really misses them and unfortunately her work permits her from having a normal work schedule and the ability to be home for the holidays.
Lena: Have you ever been to a monster truck show in real life?
Renée Felice Smith: I have not. I’ve seen billboards for them and I’ve seen them on TV. Have you?
Lena: No, that is about my extent of it, too.
Renée Felice Smith: Exactly, I imagine it is quite an experience and probably a pretty good time. I feel like Nell went to a monster truck rally because she wanted to have the experience. I don’t think that she is necessarily a dedicated monster truck fan, but I think that she was up for a good time and for something different, something to check off her bucket list.
Lena: Not one of her guilty pleasures?
Renée Felice Smith: Yeah, I don’t think it’s one of her guilty pleasures (laughing).
Lena: What are you looking forward to the most about season 4 as the show progresses?
Renée Felice Smith: I’m looking forward to learning more about every character’s backstory and what they are like away from work. I hope that we incorporate more of their backstory about where they are from and what they do on the weekends. I want them to peel back the layers of the onion and get to the core of it. I feel like we are learning a lot more about Kenzi and Deeks’ relationship. In an upcoming episode we actually get to see them in a new way, which is kind of cool. I would say to learn more about Nell, where she has been, where she is going, see her undercover, and for the newness of season 4.
Lena: If you were responsible for picking a love interest for her who would you pick?
Renée Felice Smith: Picking a love interest for her not on the show or in the show?
Renée Felice Smith: I think I would have to go with James Franco (laughing).
Lena: Who wouldn’t (chose him)?
Renée Felice Smith: Who wouldn’t, come on let me hang around with some of that (laughing). I’m a big fan of his from even Freaks and Geeks. He’s talented and kind of a weirdo, which I really appreciate.
Lena: He’s adorable.
Renée Felice Smith: Yes, he’s cute.
Lena: Did you ever consider becoming an NCIS agent or something pertaining to that field when you were younger?
Renée Felice Smith: Never, I’m intrigued by it but I thing it’s a very specific type of person that goes into that type of field. It’s really admirable work and totally selfless. You are risking your life and possibly the lives of your loved ones everyday in that situation. It really consumes your life and your personal life suffers. I think that is what we see with Nell too, she spends so much time at work so she has gotten closer to Eric because she works with him. I think because she is so intelligent she has kind of become really wrapped up in her job and in these types of positions you have to be or else you can’t do your job well. You have to be fully dedicated and it’s really admirable work. Definitely nothing that I thought I would be doing in real life or playing on TV. I never thought I would be on this type of crime procedural show. I didn’t think that there was a place for me because I don’t think I look like an officer or an agent, but there are always these quirky personalities that are included to round out the cast. I’m happy to be a part of it, obviously.
Lena: Who have been some of your favorite guest stars?
Renée Felice Smith: I’m really loving, Miguel Ferrer (NCIS Assistant Director Owen Granger) on the show. He has been a recurring guest star. He is also just a wealth of knowledge and information. He’s been working forever and his mom is Rosemary Clooney. He’s really cool to have around, he’s a veteran and also his character, I love that there is sort of a villain in the mix. Not that he’s a typical villain but he’s definitely the darker character of the bunch, which is cool to have around and a great dynamic in scenes. I’m really looking forward to seeing where his character goes and his relationship with the rest of us, especially his relationship with Hetty because there is a history there. It seems that they know each other from another time in their lives, so I hope that that comes to light and we are able to see what they know about each other or experienced with each other.
Lena: I’m looking forward to checking out your movie, Detachment.
Renée Felice Smith: Cool, it’s actually on Video On Demand now and it had a really small release in art houses. I’m not sure if it is still in theaters but definitely catch it on VOD.
Lena: Can you talk about working on that film and with that cast?
Renée Felice Smith: Lucy Liu was great. The film itself is about the downfall of the public education system. It’s about the teachers and their commitment, or lack thereof, to their students and on the other side of it, the students presence, or lack thereof, in the classroom. Lucy Liu plays a counselor and basically my character is having a weekly meeting with her. I’m a troubled teen and kind of a punk who doesn’t really care about her future and doesn’t want to be told what to do. She doesn’t want to have to answer to anyone and Lucy Liu’s character basically breaks down in the film, she cracks wide open and totally loses it on my character and she doesn’t feel guilty afterwards. When speaking with some of her co-workers (James Caan) she confesses that she lost it and she doesn’t know how much longer she can do this because it feels like her efforts are not well-received or received at all. My character represents a fraction of the students out there who probably don’t have much guidance at home and unfortunately they are not connecting with their teachers in school either. It’s a heavy film. I think it is well done and it deals with some real issues that are happening in the education system.
Lena: I love Adrien Brody.
Renée Felice Smith: Oh yeah, he’s tremendous and it’s a huge ensemble cast with Christina Hendricks, James Caan, Bryan Cranston, Lucy Liu, and the list goes on. It was a great film directed by Tony Kaye. He was the director of American History X. He was fabulous to work with, just a whirlwind of energy, vision, and insight.
Lena: He did a great job with American History X.
Renée Felice Smith: He’s really a visionary. He’s really inspiring in that way. He’s an interesting leader to have.
Lena: I’m sure it’s better than Splice (one of the last Adrien Brody films that I saw).
Renée Felice Smith: I haven’t seen it.
Lena: Don’t watch it, it’s awful. It’s not him, it’s just when you watch it your like what the hell am I watching. It’s just one of those things. They take it to a really weird place.
Renée Felice Smith: I get it; I absolutely get it. He’s been doing more indie projects. He was also an executive producer of Detachment.
Lena: What else do you have coming up?
Renée Felice Smith: We are on hiatus so I will be going back to New York to produce and direct a short film that I wrote. I’m really excited for that project, to just have something to work on that is my own creation. I hope to have it in festivals next year.
Lena: When do you start filming season 4?
Renée Felice Smith: We start filming season 4 on July 9th.
Lena: You get a nice little break.
Renée Felice Smith: It’s a two-month break and it’s definitely a nice and healthy break. I get to go home, I’m from New York, and I had to leave a lot of my family and friends to come out here and set up shop so it’s nice to go home and have that time to myself.
NCIS: LOS ANGELES
Renée Felice Smith Interview
NCIS: LA Tuesday Nights, 9/8c on CBS
May 10, 2012
By Lena Lamoray