Havin’ a ‘Deek-tastic’ Time
January 19, 2015
Interview by Dan Deevy
Written by Rocco Passafuime
Eric Christian Olsen’s early roles were in films like Not Another Teen Movie, Dumb And Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, and The Last Kiss, before landing his current gig as NCIS/LAPD Liaison Officer Marty Deeks on CBS’s hit TV series NCIS: Los Angeles.
We spoke with the 37 year-old about the series, which is in its sixth season, and how we don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like it because there’s nothing to dislike about the show. The show has action, heart, laughs, characters that are compelling, shooting of bad guys, and heroes that win.
“That’s really well-said, and I think that I can’t argue with that,” Olsen says, “I think that that’s the formula that they’ve found for all three of these shows is that to have characters that you’re emotionally invested in, to have storylines that are good and exciting with the rise in action, to have relationships in these characters, to have the comedic elements that we have. That’s what you want to do, you want to be entertained for an hour, and I think that’s what this show does really well.”
Our reaction was, ‘Thank God none of the bad guys can aim for anything worse than Stormtroopers can’t hit a wall.’
“But you know what’s true is that no one can?” Eric says, “That’s really hard. That part’s believable, the part that’s not believable is how good of a shot we really are. It’s just like one shot and we’re at 75 yards with a nine millimeter Sig 229 like, ‘Yeah, we got him.’ That’s just really hard to do, especially in motion.”
We commented that it’s like the bad guy’s got a machine gun and the good guy’s got this pebble.
“Yeah, we’ll David And Goliath him all day long through Act 3, we’ll get it done,” Olsen replies, “But, yeah, it is remarkable, but there’s something to be said about that, because I remember when someone came up to me and this was during the middle of after the fall of the market, we were going through what we now refer to as the Great Recession, and people were like, ‘There’s so much uncertainty in the world,’ and talking about foreign policy and where we were with Afghanistan and everything else.”
“He’s like, ‘Sometimes it’s fun just to sit down, you know who the good guys are, we know who the bad guys are, we get some comedy, it’s all wrapped up in 44 minutes, we feel good,’” he adds, “And I can’t argue with that, that’s from the perspective of an artist to make someone happy for that segment of their life, it’s all you can ask for.”
We felt that one of the strengths of NCIS: Los Angeles is because the relationships are so realistic, it’s fun. Even though it is very good guy/bad guy, there are plenty of shades of grey and it makes it compelling.
“Yeah, it’s like all things, it’s all in the details,” Eric says, “And I think that these characters, the reason we emotionally feel attached is because of what you just said. They are incredibly flawed characters and that comes out in the relationships, that comes out in the banter, these people are just stumbling forward and trying to make sense of it all, and I think that we can identify with, because, yeah, they’re not 1950’s superheroes, they’re complex, broken characters and that makes it more fun to play, too, obviously.”
We asked Eric if there is not a more fun relationship on TV today than Kensi, played by Daniela Ruah and Deeks.
“I don’t know, for that kind of format, I don’t think there is,” he believes, “They’re really fun characters and you can see it, too, because I love Daniela, she’s amazing, she’s one of my favorite people, and she’s so good on the show, but we have so much fun working together and that comes across.”
“And one of my philosophies about any type of entertainment is that if you’re having fun doing it, people are going to have fun watching it,” Olsen continues, “And I think that’s really evident with those two.”
We told Olsen that our impression was that as the seasons went on, he and Daniela Ruah had great chemistry and the writers started to play to that. We asked if we were right in those instincts in how the level of banter between the two has increased steadily.
“Yeah, I think that after watching those first couple of episodes,” Eric says, “And I think all writers do this especially for television is they find the strengths of the characters and what works and there is an audience tidal wave of support of those two characters, and all of a sudden, you go on YouTube and there’s thousands upon thousands of videos that people are making and writing fanfiction and they took stock in that and really started writing to that strength of those two characters together, because they do. I’m bring a script that one of my favorite writers, Dave Kalstein, on the show, we’re doing next, and he has four or five of those great scenes between these two characters, and they’re so fun to do.”
“This season’s been really interesting, too,” he continues, “We’ve got a bunch of really interesting episodes coming up, because it’s the first time that I can remember in which so much of these relationships, they tease it out forever, this ‘If they or won’t they?’ thing and they pulled the trigger over the Christmas holiday. That Christmas episode, they were like, ‘We’re doing this.’ It’s all in. And so, it’s now trying to figure out how to navigate that, which is really fun. It has been really rewarding and difficult in the best way possible of scenes that we’ve shot so far.”
We told Eric that the moment where Kensi and Deeks kiss made us so nervous for the next episode, because we thought it was the greatest relationship and it would never be consummated and never actually happen, then it does and it’s about to get silly and sappy. But the very next episode, it’s basically the same banter, the same playful love/hate thing. We felt like the two are destined to be married and end up together in an old spies retirement community.
“You said it,” Olsen replies, “And I think that’s one of the things they’ve done so well is they didn’t even address it in the next episode. It was like it came up to this flash and this moment of passion, and then, it’s these guys doing their job and that’s got to be so delicate is trying to maintain that balance. The good thing about this show, the good thing about this format is it’s not like Brothers And Sisters, where it’s just prime-time soap operas where you got to go like this and find something new every week to put into that relationship to drive the storyline, to find obstacles.”
“We have that naturally based on the fact that it’s a procedural,” he adds, “It comes out in pieces, it comes out in fights and moments, and there’s some really amazing…like we do in our own lives, where it has nothing to do with what it is, the argument has nothing to do with what it is we’re discussing in that moment. We’ve got a couple of those great moments coming up on the show.”
We pointed out to Olsen that the typical NCIS: Los Angeles episode starts off basically with, ‘Hey everybody, we got a case.’ We asked him if he felt there could ever be an entire episode that focuses on the characters’ lives outside of a case.
“That’s actually a pretty good idea because they’ve never done that,” Eric says, “That’s an interesting proposal because so much of these characters are them in their elements, so if you take them out of their element, what happens?”
We complemented Eric on the show’s intros with big action shots, including one that looks like he’s jumping out of a ball of flame, but not CGI.
“It’s not, that’s real,” he reveals, “I don’t, that’s where my brother did that stunt and it’s the most amount of practical explosives that they’ve used on television up to that point. They blew up the whole building and he stutter-stepped and she got ahead of him, so you’ll see her, she goes under the flame.”
“He gets wrapped in it,” Olsen continues, “He had fire-gel over his body, but when he jumped, his shirt came up and he didn’t have fire-gel on his back and it was the last episode of that season, and it just singed his back to the point where we went to a surf vacation in Costa Rica right afterwards and he had just a strip of second degree burns on his back. So, yeah, that was not me, that was my brother.”
We replied in the most sensitive way we could that it was worth it because it was a hell of a shot.
“No, he agrees,” Eric says, “He goes for it, he goes big, there’s a lot of times when you do a stunt and you just go, ‘Oh, I always thought it looked better. Somebody is going to be hurt.’ He’s really good and he goes for it, he launches into the sky, and that thing was six feet high anyway.”
“Instead of just going off it, he jumped up, got burned by fire,” he adds, “And then, fell to the ground. How do you plan your landing when it’s just a fireball around you. It’s tough. The wig that he had on was just toast, it was just burned. Yeah, it’s intense.”
We asked Eric that when he and Daniela play-fight in scenes and spar, how many times has she actually landed punches and kicks because we feel like we might get hurt a bit.
“She’s tough and she’s also very coordinated, but that’s actually my fault,” Olsen answers, “Because she’s very gentle about not hitting me, but I’m a fan of making those moments as real as possible, so I actually get her to try to hit me and I actually try to block it and she hits me and you get those reactions.”
“So when you see her punching me, that’s her really punching me, which is fine for the first three takes,” he continues, “Then you do like eleven takes and you go home and feel like a zebra with marks all the way down you.”
We asked Olsen if he’s gotten his rotator cuff damaged from all those punches.
“She gets a little carried away, too,” Eric admits, “It happens to every actor, that they get really excited in the moment they yell, ‘Action!’ And so you do the steps, you go through it beat by beat, and then, the most important thing is to maintain that speed and composure while the cameras roll, but every single actor goes 20% more, so 20% faster, 20% harder, and all of a sudden, I get hit, and it’s usually they write it that Kensi is beating up Deeks, so I usually get the brunt force of it, and those scenes work because of it.”
We thought another interesting thing about NCIS: Los Angeles is how Deeks’s relationship with L.L. Cool J’s character Sam Hanna has evolved, because of the torture and protecting his wife. We mentioned that it was such an interesting thing to see that really only something like that would change fundamentally Sam’s opinion, that it was so interesting for Eric to play and the emotions involved that changed the dynamic of that relationship.
“That’s well-said,” he says, “I think those moments have to be earned and I think that people were so angry that that relationship of why Sam was so mean to Deeks. I think that it all came down to the fact that his training was obviously very different than what it is that Deeks came from, the world that Deeks came from. It was about proving, the SEALS, that’s about proving yourself, they go through hell, they go through more training than all of their Special Forces guys. I think with Deeks, he was a lawyer, then he was a cop and a detective and he’s just like, ‘This guy, he’s an idiot.’ And so, the fact that we got to play those moments, those very earned turns in that final episode, which, by the way, that summer, I traveled internationally and people would come up on the middle of the streets and people would be like, ‘Tell me you’re OK.’ They want to see my mouth and they would be so angry that it was such a violent ending, it’s in your screens, and some people wrote articles about it, about how violent it was. But if you go back and actually watch that episode, it fades to black and then, you hear that scream after it, but the scream is so desperate and terrified and dying.”
“So to recover from that place, to go to that place for the reasons in which we did, which is to protect Sam and that relationship were such great moments to play and such character-defining kind of moments.” Olsen continues, “Obviously, the next season with him in the hospital bed is trying to articulate that, those are some of my favorite scenes in the show. That’s a really difficult thing for Deeks to do, because he’s not a great communicator, and I don’t think he spends so much of his life perfecting the art of self-preservation and using comedy to defuse situations and not deal with the gravity of loss and his relationship, a lack thereof with his father, and those moments when it actually all falls apart, it’s that much harder, because we never get to see him like that. And especially with someone like Sam, where it’s like a big brother character, but also somebody he’s such a big fan of who he is as a man and what he represents as a soldier and to break in these moments is really gratifying as an actor.”
Read the full interview HERE.