They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in the case of the CBS Fed drama NCIS, there’s a lot of truth to the rumor. The show, a spin-off of JAG, and a Mark Harmon star vehicle, is enjoying historic, mid-life success with viewers and critics alike. In fact, CBS is paying the ultimate tribute with a new spin-off that will have its roots in an episode airing later on this season.
But the big story is next Tuesday’s episode, titled “Knockout,” which focuses on the fairly new and endlessly intriguing character of Director Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll) and whether or not the nagging question will finally be answered… is Vance a good guy or a bad guy?
I caught up with the talented actor on his way to a meeting while he graciously answered my questions. All I can say is, you may want to write up a few of your own to fire away when you get your own chance come Thursday when he participates in a live chat on Fancast at 12 Noon PT.
Rocky, last time we spoke I mentioned that maybe one of the reasons why NCIS is gaining in popularity is because of your character, Director Leon Vance. At the time you modestly laughed it off, but as it turns out it may be true. What is becoming known as “The Director Vance” episode is hooking sweeps week for the show. Congratulations on your continued success.
Thank you very much. You know. it’s kind of like when you’re on a ball team. If you get the right reliever, or the right guy on defense, it shores up the team as a whole. If I’m an important piece of the puzzle, and everything holds up, that’s great. I’m still kind of modest about it because these ships will sail with or without you. As an actor you can believe that you are the reason for a show’s success, but these things are a brand name now. They’re like Coca-Cola. It’s like, with or without you, people are still gonna drink it.
And CBS has the mentality for giving shows the chance to grow in the heart of viewers. Coke wasn’t a worldwide obsession overnight.
And the business model that CBS has, if the ratings slip a little, is to stay with it, let it grow and find an audience. Other networks are a little too quick to pull the trigger.
That’s great for you as an actor, but it goes further than that. This character is really causing some buzz.
The dynamic is really working. You know it’s funny, the Director character is the one character that’s been there since day one, it’s just that now, for whatever reason, it’s clicked. It’s become an intricate part of the storyline.
It’s even being called “The Director Vance” episode, where we finally learn whether or not this guy is good or bad.
One of the things that works well with this character is there is such an enigmatic quality about him. Me being the guy who gets to play the role, I like the fact there’s a sense of mystery about him, and it’s human nature. When something intrigues you, you want to know more about it. But it’s a tough balance, especially for writers, not to get too wrapped up.
There are so many shows I’ve seen in the past where you see a character and you think, “I’d like to know more about that character” and when you get it, you realize it and you say, “Okay. I’ve had enough.” Even when you’re creating a show that intrigues people, the tendency is to pile on a truckload of it, and they’ll like it even more. The fact that Vance is not in every episode, and that he’s a person we’re in the dark about, I think that’s the thing that really hooks in an audience.
It’s like raising the hemline slowly above the knee. The mystery is gradually revealed.
How much do you get involved with the writers before filming? Are you the kind of actor who wants to know what’s happening with your character beforehand?
I’m kind of like the guys on the old Mission: Impossible. You know, “Your mission, Mr. Phelps, should you choose to accept it” is kind of like my approach. There’s gotta be a level of trust on everybody’s part. I think part of it is the writers and the producers are trusting me as an actor. By putting me in a scenario , we know you’ll run with it, and I’m in a great position as an actor. I’m joining a well oiled machine. I don’t necessarily have to know. As an actor, you can think your way out of a lot of good things sometimes. I trust my instincts as an actor, and I trust the instincts of the creators, so it’s a good combination.
You’ve been getting great press about your skills as an actor, so it’s all coming together. It only took 20 years to become an overnight success.
You know, there’s an old saying, most great careers are 15 to 20 years in the making. In our American Idol type of society these days, it’s kind of like, “Hey, I’ve been waiting 6 weeks for fame and success. How come things haven’t taken off?” For me, in the 19 years I’ve been in this town as an actor, I’ve seen the hottest names come and go. There’s an art to being a good actor, there’s an art to being a celebrity, and there’s an art to longevity. Samuel L. Jackson is a friend of mine, and he’s one of the few people who have mastered it all. He’s always good, he stays current, and he understands the public. It’s the art of surviving in this town.
It must be working. The ratings are up, there’s a lot of buzz for the upcoming episodes, and now there’s even a spin-off. How involved are you with those guys?
We just had our first read through with those guys. They’re in the embryonic stage now, and we just got a chance to sit around the table with them. The fact that it’s an NCIS product is very much to their advantage, but you know, it’s kind of like when you bring somebody home to meet the family. Eventually you’ve got to make your own relationships. Hopefully the viewers will respond and that show will have as long a run as NCIS.
Is that the same production and writing team?
Generally yes. Shane Brennan is running the show. They will have their own staff of writers, once it gets up and running, but our Executive Producer is their Executive Producer.
So the vision is shared. From what you’ve seen, does it look like the same tools are being used? The timely topics, intense drama and lots of character?
I think it’s a very tough thing to do. How do you remain true to the original brand, with a twist in your own right? I think that’s going to come with time. The first episode, viewers are not gonna just say, oh this is the same thing as NCIS. The viewers will be seeing there’s a great deal of individuality for the show, and that’s gonna take some time.
The subject matter lends itself well. It’s the government, there are world shaking events happening, and it’s not just the same team dealing with these problems over time. There are teams upon teams of people in those situations.
And they’re also undercover, which gives it a whole different element.
Well, I’m sure viewers are gonna eat it up. I know you have to run, but I wanted to say thank you for thinking of them by doing the live chat on Thursday.
No problem, I’m looking forward to it.
Don’t miss the next episode of NCIS: Knockout when Director Leon Vance shows his true colors while investigating the death of an old boxing buddy when it airs during next week’s Sweeps, Tuesday at 8 pm on CBS.
In the meantime, stay up to date by watching free full length episodes of NCIS on your favorite TV destination site!