Die-hard fans of rapper/actor LL Cool J already know that he hasn’t completely abandoned his music career now that he is starring in the hit TV series “NCIS: Los Angeles.” (NCIS stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service.) Although his hectic schedule with the series doesn’t leave him much time to do a new album, LL Cool J (whose real name is James Todd Smith) has found a way to make his new music a part of the TV program’s first soundtrack. (The soundtrack’s release date is to be announced.)
While the stars of “NCIS: Los Angeles” were at Comic-Con International 2011 in San Diego to promote the show, I sat down with LL Cool J for an interview before the “NCIS: Los Angeles” discussion panel at Comic-Con. During our chat, LL Cool J talked about his music plans for the “NCIS: Los Angeles” soundtrack and what the future may hold for his “NCIS: Los Angeles” agent Sam Hanna and lead agent G. Callen (played by Chris O’Donnell), as well as which of the show’s cutting-edge technology has impressed him the most. The third season of “NCIS: Los Angeles” premieres September 20, 2011, on CBS at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time.
What’s the technology that has impressed you the most on “NCIS: Los Angeles”?
When it comes to the technology I’m most impressed with, there was this exoskeletal titanium-played suit that would give the woman of your size the strength of 60 men. This is real technology. That is something that I discussed with a certain company. I thought that that was incredible.
Some of the other technology was amazing: powder that you can sprinkle on somebody and track them all over the world. There have been some really interesting things from a technological standpoint.
In your household, who’s the most tech-savvy person and who’s the most techno-phobic person?
As far as the most tech-savvy people in the house, it would probably be my 10-year-old. I’m probably the biggest techno-phobe in the house, but I’m fairly savvy when it comes to technology. [He laughs.]
Sam Hanna is an ex-Navy SEAL. Can you talk about any experiences you’ve had meeting real Navy SEALS as research for your role in “NCIS: Los Angeles”?
I went down to Camp Pendleton and met with the special ops guys. It was primarily Marine Corps, but there were some Navy SEALS there and some other guys there. They were special ops guys, and we talked about a lot of interesting things and life in general and what it means to risk your life for your country and for your team and for the guys around you and for the man in front of you and behind you. And that was a powerful experience for me because you get to understand that it’s bigger than life and death.
It’s just about total and absolute commitment to the mission and to the men. And that’s something that most people don’t get an opportunity to experience in real life, because most of us, we kind of expect other people to take care of the dirty part of our lives. We like to keep our hands clean.
But when you’re dealing with these guys, what they’re doing is clean, but it’s dirty, if you understand what I’m saying. They have to do things and deal with things that are pretty ugly. They risk their lives to do it. That’s an amazing thing.
My father was in the Navy, and my grandfather was in the Army. So I grew up around people where there was a military sensibility in my household and in my life. My father also has a “Born to Raise Hell” tattoo on his arm, but he was very focused.
Sam Hanna on “NCIS: Los Angeles” is your first starring role in a TV drama series. What’s it been like doing this character on this TV series?
It’s different. You learn a lot about discipline. You learn a lot about commitment. For me, something as simple as sticking to a schedule, that’s pretty new. Before I did this, I was waking up pretty late.
But I learned that you’ve got to get up in the morning and do what you’ve got to do. And it’s about discipline and focus and commitment. And that’s a lot of fun. And then on the creative level, I get to explore my own artistry, which is also fun.
When do you have time to work out?
You get it in when you fit it in. If you’ve got to get up early in the morning, you do it. If you’ve got to do it late at night, you do it. It’s just a responsibility that has to be taken care of, because if you’re not on top of your game, then the game’s on top of you.
Will there be any romance for Sam Hanna in Season 3 of “NCIS: Los Angeles”?
[He laughs.] A little romance for Sam? You want Sam to put his toe in the pool and all that? We’ll see. I don’t know exactly what’s in store for Sam. I kind of like the fact that he’s a mystery.
It’s kind of cool that we don’t know a lot about him right now. It gives the show someplace to go in the future. I do get that question a lot, because so far we’ve been focusing primarily on Callen’s background, but I think you’ve got to start somewhere, and that’s OK. Just give it some time.
What are some of the new things that will be on Season 3 of “NCIS: Los Angeles”?
I don’t know if you can do the same old same old, because you can’t win this year with what you did last year. Every situation has to be dealt with, based on the circumstances in the moment. Whatever the storylines and whatever comes up, we’re going to do it.
Will Callen find out more about Sam and his past?
He always does. Sam is Callen’s friend and Callen’s partner. And obviously, he backs him up 100 percent. When it’s time for people to discover what Sam’s about, we’ll discover what Sam’s about.
On another note, on a creative level, we’re also dabbling with the soundtrack to “NCIS: Los Angeles.” I just did a song with this British rock group Kasabian. We did this crazy mash-up record that’s really wild. And there are lot of other cool people on the soundtrack, and that’s coming as well. And that will be a lot of fun, so something different for me artistically.
[Says jokingly] Will Chris O’Donnell be performing on the soundtrack too?
[He says jokingly] Oh, yeah. Definitely. He’s writing all the music. Without a doubt. And he’s doing all the styling. I’ve been saying that all week. He’s my stylist.
How would you describe your chemistry with Chris O’Donnell?
We clicked right away. It’s like a blind date. You sit down at the table — and it’s “on” or it’s “off.” You know what it is. You can’t pretend. “Oh, we’re starting to like each other. We’re warming up.” It doesn’t work like that. We clicked. It was good.
Do you have any plans to work on your next album of your own music?
I did a couple of new songs with Jim Johnson. He’s a producer. He’s done a lot of cool songs out there right now. We did a couple of songs. We’re figuring that out. DJ Z-Trip and I did something as well. I might put some music out there at some point, but I’ve been focusing on the TV show right now and doing that.
But I’m going to do some music. I just want to make sure that when I do it that it really matters to me and that I’m tapping into something that’s new and original and it’s not me doing business as usual. It’s something that pushes the envelope forward. Because if I don’t feel like the music is going to move the culture forward or move hip-hop forward, why would I do it? I would just be playing myself, and I’m not going to do that.
For more info: “NCIS: Los Angeles” website
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