Fall TV Preview 2009

Sunday Conversation

(By Scott Schaefer -- Cbs)
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Sunday, September 6, 2009

We'd usually expect to find LL Cool J on a concert stage, but his new work address is a Paramount Studios soundstage, home of the new television show "NCIS: Los Angeles." The Grammy-blessed rapper surveys the set from the second-story balcony and, down below his diminutive co-star Linda Hunt looms large as she maps out the next scene's moves. "Can you imagine what it's like to come to work every day and work with an Academy Award winner?" asks the rapper, who was born James Todd Smith. The producers of the CBS crime series have renamed him yet again -- this time he's Sam Hanna, a naval investigator.

LL Cool J may have left Def Jam Records after a quarter-century ride, and while it's not likely he is done with music entirely, he repeatedly stresses that the "NCIS" spinoff is getting his full focus: "For me to come in sleepy and tired because I was out moonlighting at Madison Square Garden is not fair."

-- Melinda Newman

Your character is an intelligence expert. Has that changed how much attention you're paying to current events?

Well, I've always paid attention. . . . He's a former Navy SEAL, so I met with guys down at Camp Pendleton. . . . One of the guys that I was studying with was a [Marine Corps master gunnery sergeant]. He's also an Afghanistan and Iraq vet [like the Sam Hanna character]. There's a certain level of responsibility [to playing a vet]. Obviously, what I want to give America and the rest of the world the opportunity to do is forget about their troubles, take an hour and just relax and have some fun, but that being said, it's nice to represent, you know.

What advice did "NCIS" star Mark Harmon give you and co-star Chris O'Donnell?

We talked a lot about providing the right leadership for the people in the cast and on the set . . . Something as simple as trying your best to always be on time so that the hairdressers and the makeup people -- not that I need a hairdresser -- don't feel like they've been waiting six days or 10 months for you.

Did you and Chris O'Donnell know each other before this?

[No], but we clicked instantly. It's very interesting because not only are we racially different, we're culturally different . . . I think he will help me get to know those housewives in Montana, who, quite frankly, may have heard the name LL Cool J once, but aren't very familiar with me. And hopefully, I'll help him meet those inner-city Joey Biceps and the inner-city crew (laughs).

Any plan to use any of your music in the show's background or is that too much of a cheat?

What I don't want to do is shove my ego into the process. If CBS wants me to do something from a marketing standpoint, fine, but I'm not like Lenny Good and Plenty [where] I'm opening my trench coat and I've got [my] album here, I got the clothing line here, I got the show here, I got [my] fitness book here and I'm selling it all at once. We're going to take it easy.

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