Daniela Ruah stepped behind the camera to direct her fifth episode of NCIS: Los Angeles with the November 6 “Flesh & Blood.”
Her approach to directing hasn’t changed since she did so for the first time in Season 12. “I think I’m just as obsessive with the details as I was in the beginning in the sense that I want to make sure I don’t miss anything,” she tells TV Insider. (The Directors Guild of America provides a workshop for first-time directors, then she evolved from there.) Something she’s learned is to “make sure you have an answer for people,” no matter which department might have a question, and she tries to avoid making the same mistakes twice.
“Every episode that passes I fall more and more in love with the craft and I’ll never leave acting because I’m too much of a show-off and I love being in front of the camera, but visually storytelling through a camera is definitely a passion that has been growing exponentially for me,” she shares.
Here, Ruah shares more about directing and previews “Flesh & Blood.”
Do you enjoy directing action or more emotional character driven scenes more?
Daniela Ruah: I like both. I love the intimate scenes, but I think that comes from my own experience as an actor and how fun it is to dive deep into your emotions and feelings and interpret a situation and play that. And then maybe the other actor gives you something a little bit different, and so you’re listening to them, so you shift what you thought you were gonna do and it’s an animal that finds its own shape in the room in the moment, especially in a show like ours where there’s very little rehearsal time.
But the action sequences are so fun and I tend to be pretty loud and excited when we get a good shot. I will say that the action sequences and bigger days like that are definitely still more challenging for me, I think just because I have to grow my skill set. Fortunately I’m surrounded by a really, really experienced crew and they always are very helpful with everything. Our special effects teams, the Frazee family, they’re unbelievable, and Troy Brown, our stunt coordinator — everybody is just so good at working together as a team and pulling off really hard days in very few hours. I want to do more action sequences just so I can learn more. It’s a lot to think about, a lot of logistics. You need to be very on it with your prep and when people are fighting and falling and blowing things up and shooting, safety is a huge concern always.
This episode you get both. Set up the case.
Because of the cold open — there’s blood on [the victim’s wife] and she’s trying to open the door and he’s dead on the floor with knife wounds — we presume that [she] killed him, but really his death has nothing to do with her at all. … Some episodes, the case is the focus and some episodes like mine, the characters are the focus, their personal journeys. We explore some really important issues here and we allow ourselves as well to get to know Deeks [Eric Christian Olsen] a little bit better and his life experiences, which he connects with Marnee Carpenter’s character and her experience with domestic violence.
It’s always so much fun when Roberta (Pamela Reed) is around, and we got some great scenes with her and Kensi, including one about parenting, which was sweet in a Mama Deeks way. What can Kensi learn from her about being a parent?
Both Kensi and Dani are going to learn things from Mama Deeks. It’s funny, the scene where I’m like, “I feel like I’m always missing something,” that doesn’t happen to me personally as much as my kids are much younger. I think when they become teenagers, they maybe open up to their friends, not always with you as much as you’d want them to — hopefully my kids will. But you do feel like you’re missing out on a little something here and there. And when she’s like, being a parent is like being pecked by something. And I’m like, I thought that was gonna be a more positive piece of advice. And she goes, “What are you talking about? It’s a slow death.” As horrible as that sounds, she means you have time, enjoy the time you have with your kid because it’s not short. Enjoy every day, enjoy every moment, learn from it and move on. She just decides to describe it as a slow death.
Pamela’s wonderful. I wish I could put in every single take that she does. And then the end of the episode, [part of the conversation between Deeks and his mother] was written [but then she added some] improv.
Speaking of parenting, I have to say how much I enjoyed the chaotic feel of Kensi, Deeks, and Rosa (Natalia Del Riego) getting ready in the morning early on in the episode.
I felt like being on a steady cam adds a little bit more movement and allows the camera operator to move around in a more flexible way than if he’s on a dolly or something like that. It’s representing the hecticness and people are coming out from different parts of the house and she’s tying her shoes and looking for a backpack and Kensi’s trying to shove food down her face quickly before she needs to go. And oddly enough, Deeks is the one, after he catches a bag, who just kind of stands there and is looking at everybody else running around like headless chickens, kind of cool as a cucumber.
And that phone call, oh my gosh. We were very particular about the car we chose for Pam, by the way. That was a very conscious choice to have the one with the wood on the sides, that like old school, soccer mom car.
It fit her so well.
Perfectly. And then with all her camping stuff and all her stuff behind her in the car. Those things become a little bit of background, but at the end of the day in prep, those are the kind of things that we put more thought into than you would think. What car would she drive? Now we’re establishing that car for future episodes. What kind of junk would she have around her? I remember specifically saying she wouldn’t have a loud speaker in that car because it’s an old car, so let’s get one of those phone holders and put it right in front of her on the windshield. Details like that that really sort of show what kind of a character she is.
What can you tease about the three-show crossover?
It’s been shot and it went really well. It was extremely fun. Some of the actors I already knew. For example, I’ve known Wilmer [Valderrama] for a few years now and it was so fun to catch up with him and show pictures of the kids and the spouses and all that. And then I got to meet the people, for example, from NCIS: Hawai’i. They came over, I hadn’t met any of them before, and it was just wonderful. Everybody was just happy to see each other and happy to be together.
I was happy to see that LA is involved because it’s mostly been single characters for your show.
Yeah. The thing is logistically, it’s kind of a nightmare for the producers of every show because you have a set of characters that are coming to our show or whatever we’re doing, [but] they have to maybe be on our show in the morning and then, for the regular NCIS, drive back to Santa Clarita to finish off the day up there. The coordination of schedules was a big, big deal for the producers and kudos to them for making it work.
What else is coming up for Kensi?
On a less emotional note, I got some really good fight scenes coming up.
I love when Kensi gets fight scenes!
I know, me too. It’s one of my favorite parts of playing Kensi is the fact that I get to do a bunch of fight sequences. I have an amazing stunt double Kim [Shannon Murphy], and she choreographs everything for me. She does all the really dangerous stuff, but she’s very kind to let me do large portions of the fight sequences. I’m not allowed to get flipped over on my back or be in the car in driving sequences.
And I’m directing Episode 14, so we’ll have another directed episode by me this season.
Is there anything you can share about more with Kessler (played by writer Frank Military)?
Not that I’ve heard of, but bringing back Kessler is definitely one of my hopes.
Those two in an interrogation in the boatshed would be amazing.
I think so, too. And Frank Military is a very good friend of mine, so it’s always fun when you already have that trust and comfortability with another person and to just see where it goes in the scenes.
NCIS: Los Angeles, Sundays, 10/9c, CBS