Laissez les bon temps rouler is the catchphrase of the second “NCIS” spinoff, which is set — and filming — in New Orleans, and premieres its first standalone episode on Tuesday, Sept. 23. After launching as part of the regular “NCIS” season, crossovers are kept to a minimum in the first episode, with Ducky (David McCallum) the sole “NCIS” staffer being consulted via video conferencing to help with the case.
This murder is a personal one for Special Agent Dwayne Pride (Scott Bakula), who has to find the killer of a young man he took under his wing when he was just a boy. Now in the military, the question is: Did he revert to his old gang ways, or was he murdered by someone stationed in New Orleans?
The rest of the Pride’s team is comprised of Special Agent Christopher LaSalle (Lucas Black), who plays hard but works harder; and Special Agent Meredith “Merri” Brody (Zoe McLellan), a charismatic and tough interrogator who transferred from the Great Lakes office in search of a fresh start. Supporting them is coroner Dr. Loretta Wade (CCH Pounder), who is as eccentric as she is smart, and her brilliant and quirky Forensic Scientist, Sebastian Lund (Rob Kerkovich).
Before the premiere of “NCIS: New Orleans,” Bakula touched base about how he almost took the role of McGee’s (Sean Murray) father on “NCIS,” which would have precluded him from doing this part; working in New Orleans, what he likes about Pride, and more.
Were you a fan of the franchise? Had you watched it often?
I had not watched it often. I was thinking about that the other day. I’ve known Mark [Harmon] forever, and obviously it was created by Don Bellisario, whom I’ve known forever, and so…
Was that the main attraction?
No, no. This wasn’t created by Don, but when it started, I was very familiar with all those people. I don’t know whether it was because it was at 8 p.m, and I have little kids. There was like that hour of life is never there, and I know we have DVRs and all that stuff, but it hit at a time when I was working, and I just never got into it. My wife ended up doing an episode a few years ago, but I never had.
I’ve been asked to do parts, and I had turned them down, because of scheduling, or I was waiting for a different kind of part. Ironically, and happily, I had not said yes, because even as recently as last season, they asked me to come on and play Sean’s father. I was considering it, and then something else happened, and I couldn’t do it.
Scott, you’ve been part of establishing an existing franchise with “Star Trek: Enterprise.” What lessons from that are you bringing to what you’re doing here?
Many of them are the same, which is: Don’t count on anything, work very hard, don’t expect anything except that we have to earn our position. I’ve never been in anything in all of my years, where we had an introduction like this, to be following a show like “NCIS.” Very few people can say they’re following the No. 1 show on the planet.
I’m a little overwhelmed by that. It’s hard to even comprehend that, except everywhere you go, people are just crazy excited about it. Whether I’m in D.C.; I was in D.C. two weeks ago, and everybody was, “Oh, my God. We can’t wait.” Everybody has a relationship with New Orleans, whether it’s like, “I’ve never been there, I can’t wait to get there, or I’ve been there, it’s my favorite town, or I hate it, or the Mardi Gras thing.”
It comes with challenges, because we’re not trying to separate ourselves from “NCIS,” we’re trying to be just as we did in those two episodes, we’re trying to be a part of it, be embraced by it, as they were generously embraced us, and gifted us. Then we also have to be able to stand on our own two feet.
What’s been your relationship with New Orleans prior to this show?
I’d never been to New Orleans. I’m from St. Louis, so I’m literally up the river. The best part of my relationship with New Orleans is that I understand humidity, coming from St. Louis, so I get that already. Everybody was complaining in March about, “Oh my, it’s so hot.” I said, “Oh guys, you have no idea what’s coming.”
But I shot a movie there more than a year ago called “Elsa & Fred,” starring Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer, and a bunch of other wonderful people. It was my first time there, and I lived in the Garden District. I was there in and out, so I was popping in and out, and I loved it, but it was like a little taste. We got to do a couple nice restaurants, I met a bunch of people down there, I talked to the crew, and I had this gentle introduction of saying, “Oh, this is really interesting.”
What do you like about Pride?
I like everything about him. He has a huge appetite for life, he loves this city, he cares about it, he knows it inside and out, and he has an opportunity to behave in a way that is not what you would traditionally call the NCIS way. He still has to work within the confines of the Navy, and the regulations, but it’s something he bridles against. He’s very intent on doing things his own way. It’s a small office; he’s a little bit off the radar, so he can get away with things.
“NCIS: New Orleans” premieres Tuesday, Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.