NCIS:LA fans were pleased and excited when it was announced that Ernie Reyes, Jr. would return in the role of Jemadar Thapa, the warrior Gurkha. In “The Frozen Lake”, Deeks befriends Thapa after the wise Gurkha counsels the detective on his relationship problems with Kensi. Deeks recognizes a kindred soul in Thapa and is pleased to welcome his friend again when he returned to LA to participate in another dangerous mission for his government in the episode “Expiration Date”. Deeks is still seeking advice from Thapa but this time, so is Kensi. As they fight alongside their friend, they are reminded of the impermanency of life and how quickly one can lose a trusted comrade. It was a compelling performance for all the actors involved but especially for Ernie Reyes, Jr., as his character charmed his away into our hearts again. We wanted to know a little more about the making of this episode and what it was like to return to the set of NCIS: Los Angeles. So we asked Ernie if he would join the wikiDeeks staff to answer some of our specific questions regarding his work on “Expiration Date” and he graciously agreed… (warning, spoilers below)
Diane: When we spoke last October, did you know you were going to be coming back to reprise your role on “The Frozen Lake”?
No, I didn’t. When I spoke to you last I did not know I was coming back. I found out about it the following month and then we were recording it the next month. So it all came about very quickly. I had no idea when I was working on “The Frozen Lake” that I would come back. Of course, I was hoping but you never know these things until you come to that bridge. So when I got the call, I was ecstatic. It was awesome! Then I read the script and I was totally blown away.
Diane: It must have been exciting to read a script that was centered around your character this time.
For myself as an actor, it takes time to discover who the man really is and the first time during “The Frozen Lake” it all happened pretty quickly and I didn’t get a chance to really live with the character for really long and then it was gone. But the next time, because I already had this experience I was able to bring the character to life in my own mind. I was able to discover who he is more than the first time around.
Diane: Did you spend time talking with Dave Kalstein about the character and how the role would evolve?
We talked mostly about the context of the story and how the pieces fit together and he explained the story to me from his perspective and laid it all out pretty clearly to me. And over the course of the time I tried my best to find the moments. It was great with Terence (Nightingall) because he was able to guide me as there was a bigger range of emotions that I was dealing with. There were some pretty emotional moments here and on a personal level… I may feel a certain way but in Thapa’s mindset he may react to things like death differently than I would as a person. But that’s the great challenges you get from playing great characters like that.
Colleen: What do you think of the viewer/fan response to not only the episode but your character? Did you learn anything new about Thapa this time around?
First of all, the response to the character was overwhelming. It was unbelievable and to me it was amazing. There were a lot of people who were touched by this character. But going from the first episode to this one, I learned a lot like trying to filter through scenes where you are being betrayed and still through a sense of brotherhood you have to maintain a different perspective… like when Thapa learns that he is a target and he tells the dying Gurkha “Once brothers, always brothers”. Things like that go against the grain, and if someone was trying to kill me I don’t know if I would be at the place he was. Facing things like death… when someone can look at death and know that it is an inevitable thing. It shapes your perspective because no matter what… I’m dying, and we can become bogged down in that because it is something that I don’t think about on a day to day basis. But that was ingrained in Thapa, this kind of warrior code.
It’s pretty amazing to play that kind of scenario out where your reaction to events are from a place where as a warrior you can see through everything and that it’s all temporary. The impermanence of things, whether it be relationships or even your own life. It’s pretty freeing if one can live like that. I’m definitely not at that place, but it’s something to aspire to. Even for myself having to play that and work through it so it can be honest and real was an amazing experience to me. Even for a moment in time to think from a perspective that is this clear and deep was very rewarding.
Karen S: What was the atmosphere or working environment like on set this time around? How would you compare your two experiences working on NCIS: Los Angeles? Was anything different the second time around?
I felt this time the first day in the makeup trailer when I saw Daniela and Eric I wasn’t a fish out of water. I was in somewhat familiar territory and I had a relationship with them. For me, it felt much looser and relaxing than the first time. It was awesome the first time to work with all these people and the second time I was able to build off of all of that and I had so much fun because I got to spend a lot of time with Daniela and Eric which really didn’t happen the first time around, especially with Daniela. But we got to spend a lot time together and the scenes we got to play were so great. For me, I was just having the time of my life!
Karen P: This time Thapa got to display a sense of humor. Were you surprised to see this element added to his character? What was it like to play the lighter side of the Ghurka?
Those were my favorite moments. It was like being able to get to get to know the character better by having those lighter moments, humorous moments. Those were my favorite because Dave had done such a great job building from that first episode and rounding out the character and we were having so much fun, laughing our heads off and sharing personal stories it was great to play those light, fun scenes. Those were my favorites.
Karen P: What was it like to play the emotional side of Thapa? The scene in the gun range was wonderful but emotional and dialog-heavy. Was that challenging to play? How did the rapport you built with Eric Christian Olsen on “The Frozen Lake” help?
It was the first scene up that I had shot and I hadn’t seen everybody for over a year and here we are the first scene up and it was an emotional scene… then I saw Eric on set and that alone kind of relaxed me into the space. That comfort that you have with another actor to jump into the first day, first scene and have that kind of heavy scene would have been a lot more difficult if I hadn’t had that rapport I had with Eric to make me feel comfortable as an actor who hadn’t done a scene since “The Frozen Lake”. It relaxed me a little bit. I was nervous because it had been awhile but as soon as we got into the first take, it went away and I started feeling very comfortable. Dave had told me that he thought that was the most important scene out of the entire episode. So after we got past that scene, it was like ‘Phew, now I can relax a little’!
Colleen: How much discussion was there between you and Eric regarding the scene in the armory and how it would play out? Eric is known for his ad-libbing skills. Did you improvise any of your scenes together?
Not really. Not in terms of dialog. But the one thing in terms of working with Eric and staying within the lines the writers have given us, it always feels like a constant improv. That’s what I love about working with him. It’s very alive, it’s very organic. It’s happening in the moment. So you never know what you are going to get. He’s awesome to work with and definitely it always feels like an improvisation with him.
Lindy: It was very difficult to watch your character die in “Expiration Date”, and I wondered how you prepared yourself for that scene and how it might have affected you emotionally. Was it tougher for you or for Eric?
That’s a good question. I can’t say how it was for Eric but I ended up playing it a couple of different ways. My initial instinct was I had tears rushing from my eyes and I was very sad which I think was how I was feeling since we were filming close to the end of the episode. I had this kind of emotional, overwhelming feeling and then Terrence guided me in a couple of different ways… he’s a warrior and these are things I’ve learned by playing characters like this– they are complete in acceptance and embracing these moments and they are not scared by death. We ended up playing it where he was at one and at peace. But my initial reaction was for me emotionally I was shedding tears because I felt bad I was going to be missing my friend and wouldn’t be hanging out with Eric/Marty anymore. It was over. But I guess that’s the whole point of the story that there is an expiration date and the expiration date is the end of that relationship in that form but you move on and you are at peace with that. It was a surreal experience because I love the cast and I love the crew and I knew that was the end of my time on NCISLA. So there was this emotional thing going on for me personally and then I tried filtering it from Thapa’s perspective which made it easier for me to be going.
I miss Thapa every day just from being able to look at life from his viewpoint and it was an amazing experience as an actor and loving a character so much and wanting him to continue and then knowing it’s over. But at some point you have to let go of that too, but it’s difficult because it was such a great character. Time allows you to get to know someone too and I didn’t get to have enough time with Thapa so that is one thing that I am sad about.
Brenda: I would be interested in your take if there is any symbolism in Thapa’s death for Densi- that they no longer need his guidance and are able to navigate what lies ahead without him. Do you see any significance or symbolism there?
I haven’t looked at it from that perspective. I believe that he has been and will continue to serve as something that was positive in the Densi relationship flourishing and prospering but I know that like any couple to not have a source of wisdom and sometime inspiration that allows for a different perspective is definitely a loss. They had a kind of friendship that was a mentoring one and that is now over. I don’t know if that is a great thing for Densi or not and I’m not sure what Dave’s thought process was so I can’t speak to that.
Tess: I’m interested in that final fight scene – it was remarkable in such a small space. Were you involved in any of the design?
That was pretty much all Rafael Kayanan. For me in my experience doing fight scenes, I make suggestions along the way in terms of adding a beat here or there or taking a beat away in terms of rhythm. I always make suggestions in terms of what is going to be the most comfortable for me in executing these movements and most people I have worked with, like Raf, are fine with that because it makes sense with the choreography. But there are always little things here and there I suggest as an actor and performer that I feel will allow the fight scenes to breathe or allow me to take a beat or to create an extra movement. It was great to work with those guys and everyone in that fight scene were highly trained martial artists as well.
Diane: If you had to pick just one, which was your favorite scene in “Expiration Date” and why?
There are so many, honestly. I loved the moment sitting on the Cadillac with Eric and talking about life and when Kensi comes back from looking around and I say “Ready to investigate Kay-Kay!” and I was ribbing her at that moment… that was one of my favorite moments.
What was really revealing and was fun (and I know I’m giving you more than one because I can’t whittle it down to just one!), when we are talking about women and relationships and I say “I’m a Gurkha, not a monk”. That was such a great moment and very revealing. Deeks’ and Thapa’s interaction is one I’ll never forget.
The last one I remember is one where we are walking together, and there is a three shot and Kensi is saying to me if more men would listen like you, less women would be called crazy? That one also one of my favorite moments as well.
Gayle: If you could give Deeks or Densi one bit of advice, what would it be?
That’s a great question! Let me think about this… Stay true to your integrity and move forward with faith and know everything will turn out as it should.
Gayle: Any upcoming projects? TV? Film? Collaborations with NCISLA cast/crew?
Nothing that I can speak about at this particular point. But I definitely hope that someday our paths will cross with many of the people at NCIS:LA because it’s been an absolutely pleasure to work with everyone.
Thanks go out to Ernie Reyes, Jr. for answering all of our questions. We truly appreciate his support and the time he spent with us. Unfortunately, the Gurkha is no more but his performance as one of the show’s most beloved characters will be cherished and remembered for a long time to come. Thanks, Ernie!