Eric Christian Olsen has shared the screen with many different actors during his tenure at NCIS: Los Angeles. All of their characters have had a special place in Deeks’ lore but never one as interesting as the Gurkha. This mysterious warrior became a kind of Confucius to Deeks’ Grasshopper as he sagely advised Deeks on the best way to cross his personal frozen lake during the episode of the same name. The actor who brought to life one of our favorite characters on the series has been a fixture in the martial arts scene since he was a young boy. Ernie Reyes, Jr. agreed to speak with wikiDeeks regarding his role as the Gurkha and what it was like to work with Eric Christian Olsen and the crew at NCIS:Los Angeles. Let’s find out more about Ernie and his role as the Gurkha!
I’ve read where the cast really admires guest stars that can come into an episode and be able to jump right in without having the advantage of working with the permanent cast and crew before. Did you find this was a challenge?
I didn’t really feel that. The environment of the production is so exquisite in terms of the teamwork and you don’t always find that in other productions, whether it’s film or television. The environment was so conducive to feeling comfortable, from the table read and on to the production. I instantly felt very comfortable on set and in particular working with Eric [Christian Olsen]. He was really a character I bonded with and I just felt instantaneously part of the family. I give credit to the cast and production crew for creating that warm environment for the guest stars that are there and so it wasn’t challenging. It was very, very refreshing having been in the business for quite some time now, to be able to walk on to a set and knowing those dynamics can occur when you walk into a foreign land, with people who have been accustomed to working with each other for the last five years, it can be unsettling but I didn’t feel that way at all. It got me to a point that I realized why I love acting so much. For me, the first day I walked onto the lot and sat down for the table read, I realized this was a great team of people.
Did you know anything about Gurkhas before you were given the role?
I wasn’t even aware of what a Gurkha was! I had to do some research and I did some reading and it was awesome. Once in a while you get a chance to play a character where it actually affects you in a personal level and in a positive way. That character did that for me. When my mind started to wrap itself around who this person was and what they stand for and the type of people that the Gurkhas are, I really set out to adopt their mindset and it was great. I felt that it was affecting me in a good way and affecting me on a personal level and that’s not always the case when you are playing a character.
Did you identify with their ideals and beliefs?
Tremendously. Having grown up as a martial artist and having been raised by my father who is a martial artist and having an ideal that no place or person is going to take over your mind, and these were concepts that I grew up with. So to see what their motto was- ‘It’s better to die than to be a coward’- those kinds of things resonated with me instantly. Being somebody that is kind of small in stature and then going through a process of training to become these warriors were all things I could identify with having grown up as a martial artist. But it kind of took it to another level because martial arts can be a discipline and an art. And I can relate to them in terms of their ideology and it’s still affecting me in a positive way after having played that character.
Did you have to approach this character differently from roles you played in the past?
No, it was really just the mindset and the purity of the character. Although he got into a funky situation there, I really felt like this person is constantly on the pathway to do the right thing. So it was more from a kind of a mental perspective that it was different. In terms of the action, I go into it with the attitude of bringing my whole life of martial arts training to those roles, whether it’s a Gurkha or something else. But it was the mental aspect that was a little bit different to me because I felt like I had to play it to another level. It was a very strange experience for me, because even when I wasn’t on set and I was driving home from work, I would feel like the energy of Thapa was with me and it was so refreshing. I mean not only was I getting to be around an amazing cast and crew but the character that I was playing was just elevating me as a person to another level which I’ve never been. I’ve never had to put my life on the line in that kind of way and it was just an amazing and refreshing experience all the way around. Also working with [Dave] Kalstein and his understanding of Sayoc and martial arts in general, it was infused into the character in a way where other writers may have had a challenging time trying to write for that character if their mindset wasn’t into it all of the time.
Speaking of Sayoc, what was it like to work with Tuhon Rafael Kayanan on the fight scene that you had with LL Cool J and Chris O’Donnell?
Normally when I’m doing martial arts, I’m jumping and kicking and moving all around and that is why the character was kind of different for me. Rafael being a Tuhon in the Sayoc system and having that kind of in-depth knowledge with the blade is a very different experience, especially when you’re doing martial arts like kicking and punching versus carrying a weapon like that. The choreography was very different from anything that I had ever done. But at the same time it was so refreshing because I’m not doing another jump kick here, I’m getting to do other kinds of things. What’s great about combat choreography is that it’s always based upon logic. Sometimes you get into things for the sake of entertainment and it may not be based on reality but this was real, which was awesome.
In terms of working with LL, I grew up in sixth grade rapping along with his songs and it was a very kind of instrumental moment of my life since I was just getting into the entertainment business at that time, and I remember listening to his records and my dad shouting in the background to get back to my classes. So to work with him was like coming full circle to the kid who was listening to LL Cool J to being a teenager and then being able to work with him. It took me a little time to adjust- ‘That’s LL Cool J!’ Those guys, including Chris, are such pros and it was great to be able to learn from them as they have gotten to this level artistically in their careers. [It] was just an awesome experience for me.
Any great stories you can share with us?
I’ll tell you one thing, LL Cool J is not a small guy! He’s very agile and light on his feet for being so big. This guy is a world class athlete and known for being an actor and musician, but having worked with people like Dwaine Johnson and high caliber action people in the past, it was awesome to work with him because it takes sensitivity and subtle ability when you are moving that fast. That fight scene when we did the first master shot, JPK [J.P. Kousakis] said we were going to take it up to this particular point. So boom! Action! And we come barreling around the corner and we get into it and it’s going and there is just no cut happening, and we are able to get through the entire fight scene in the master shot in one take! Which is unheard of. And JPK comes running up to me and said ‘I just couldn’t say cut!’ That was to the credit of both Chris and LL because we weren’t even planning to go through the whole scene but it was so smooth, going so well, that we were able to get through the whole scene in one take. That’s pretty much impossible to do when you are dealing with fight scenes like that. Everything had to fall into place and it did, which made it a great shot!
The part I want to recognize is that JPK gave me a big hug at the end and it was just an awesome moment in time in terms of working with him for the first time, and I want to make sure I give credit where credit is due. He was at the helm at that episode and there was so many things going on from complicated action sequences to sensitive, subtle and emotional moments with the Deeks and Kensi characters, and he was phenomenal to work with, and he was just so kind as a director. For an actor he was just so kind and made me feel so comfortable. He guided me when I needed guidance and left me alone as well. It was just a great working experience.
When you were in the boatshed with Eric Christian Olsen, did you get together to discuss how you would approach that scene?
The one thing I have to say about Eric Christian Olsen and my character and the relationship they had, there was a rare moment in time where you meet an actor and have to jump into these scenes and without saying very much, I instantly felt that there was a connection and there was a truth and honesty between both of us. Sometimes it takes a while for that to build, and that didn’t have to happen here. My character, I believe, had a tremendous sense of loyalty to Deeks, and that is not always something you can synthetically create. For me, as soon as I was starting to do those scenes, particularly that one, it was just there. There wasn’t a lot of preparation of us sitting down and figuring out how to play it. It just kind of happened that way. I can honestly say those scenes are some of the proudest scenes I’ve ever done because it felt like it was so effortless to work alongside Eric and I never thought I wasn’t authentic. Our communication was always very truthful and very honest. It was the most enjoyable time I’ve had as an actor, where you are acting alongside of somebody and you feel like you are connecting on a level that’s honest and truthful and you are expressing yourself openly and I felt that with him. That’s a kind of rare connection that you don’t get all the time.
Did you know beforehand that your character and his advice was going to affect the Densi relationship so much?
No, I had never watched the show and wasn’t really following the storyline prior to that, but it worked in a good way too because I didn’t have all these preconceived ideas of what I was supposed to do or what I wasn’t supposed to do. But now having continued to watch the show after having worked on it and falling in love with it, but not because I was in it, I think about the cast and crew and their teamwork and I just love it. It’s one of my highlights of the week to sit down in front of the tube and watch the show and these guys. But I didn’t know the impact my character would have in terms of the relationship between Kensi and Deeks. It’s kind of cool I played an instrumental part in their development.
Did you do any research on the Frozen Lake metaphor or talk to Rafael or Dave before you started?
Yes and no. There was never any direct conversation between us regarding the frozen lake concept, but it continued to grow after the show as I continued to see my own frozen lakes. My character was giving out some sound advice to someone who was struggling and in a very emotional situation. So I didn’t really understand all of that when I was filming but I knew enough to know that this was a life changing moment for this character, and that what I was telling Deeks was a way to help him cross that threshold. So I approached it from that standpoint and not in Sayoc terms because it never was in the script. The frozen lake to me was just a kind of an idea and it was me imparting what wisdom I had about life to the Deeks character and understanding what he was going through at the point. That was why I was so affected by the character, because this is so relevant in day to day living regardless of whether it’s a relationship or a career or anything. It’s universal and that’s what I connected with.
Did you and Eric realize how special that scene really was and how it resonated for many episodes to come?
I didn’t at the time but as I continued to watch the show I could see he was continuing to follow the advice that Thapa gave him. When we filmed that scene, I really felt Deeks was connected to receiving some sort of help from somebody else. When I recall having filmed the scene, I believe Eric did recognize this as an actor too. But what I was saying was universally true and would have a long lasting impact on anybody who was willing to following the Gurkha’s ideas.
The scene in the meat locker was very exciting but was also very dark. What was that like to film?
We were in very close quarters there. I don’t know how many people were in that scene, in close quarters with the meat hanging, but there was a lot that was going on. For me, I felt he [Thapa] had gotten himself into trouble trying to help, and I believe that Thapa’s heart was in the right place but he made a mistake and got himself into trouble and put the rest of the team in a bad position, and that was not something he was happy about. From an acting standpoint, it was me having to put not only me but everybody else in a compromising place, but it also set the tone for the following scene in terms of the Gurkha having the opportunity to redeem himself in sharing some great wisdom to the Deeks character.
That final scene in the ambulance was special and made a big impact on Deeks. So with that being said… we are hoping that the Gurkha might make a return one day!?
I would be so thrilled, you have no idea! Because I carry the Gurkha with me all the time now. In my own personal life when I look at a situation, I take my time, look at everything, because we all can find ourselves standing on a frozen lake. It’s made a great impact on my life personally and also I began to develop a great relationship with Kalstein and Rafael, and I would be more than willing to work with them again and revisit that character and work with the best cast and crew around.
We would love to see you back as well and I know that the fans on our site would love to see you return too. So what’s next for Ernie Reyes, Jr.?
At the time I was brought into NCIS:LA, I wasn’t focusing on acting. That experience alone, coupled with meeting with Kalstein and Rafael and seeing a high level production and work ethic, fired me to get back into acting. Until that point, acting was something that was still very far from my mind. But through the process of working on the show, I was reminded how many things I was grateful for, and it kind of reunited the passions I grew up with and carried with me but that I had put to the side. So now I am looking forward to a career in acting full time again and that hasn’t been my mindset for almost 10 years. I’m planning on getting back to the world of acting and pursuing that full time. I’m very, very excited. Working with that cast and crew inspired me to return to my career as an actor. This episode has changed my life and without sounding corny, it reignited my passion, and sometimes you lose that passion along the way but that scene with Deeks and the Gurkha and my character expressing to him that he was indebted to him because Deeks believed in him, is something that resonated in me beyond the script and beyond the show.
We would like to thank Ernie for spending the time to speak with us and for being such a great supporter of wikiDeeks! We enjoyed hearing about his time spent on set and hope that someday the Gurkha will return to the streets of Los Angeles!
Diane Volpe is a Contributing Editor at wikiDeeks.com. Follow her on Twitter: @phillydi