“They haven’t held back”: Harbour views and big toys on NCIS: Sydney
There are choppers, battleships, aircraft carriers, action and, for actor Todd Lasance, a dream role in the new Paramount+ series.
“I loved it. I got to do some big cable work, explosion pullbacks, landing on the ground, concussion stuff. It was awesome. I mean, that’s why people tune in!” actor Todd Lasance says of NCIS: Sydney.
He’s not wrong. NCIS, now at 20 US seasons, has been a ratings blockbuster for CBS, spawning offshoots NCIS: LA, NCIS: New Orleans and NCIS: Hawaii.
Time for a little perspective from the other side of the Pacific which, according to Lasance, splashes Sydney Harbour across the screen.
“Our HQ is literally on Sydney Harbour… we open the doors and look to the right and the Harbour Bridge is above us.
“I know people say it’s priceless but you can’t put a price tag on that kind of view. Then we’re shooting with the Australian Navy on their bases, on the aircraft carriers. We were in the Seahawk helicopters, on the battleships, on the base with Navy personnel.”
Indeed the new series by Endemol Shine Australia lets the boys and girls play with big toys all in the name of naval investigation and security down under.
“We used the Rural Fire Fire Brigade HQ command (which they use for) a statewide bushfire operational command. It looks like a war room and we had 150 Naval crew in there,” Lasance continues.
“Stepping onto these bases, we all had to get clearances and go through the security checks. It was next level!
“This is actually happening!”
“I remember one shot in particular. Mackey (Olivia Swann) and I are flying the chopper and we’re on the deck of this gi-normous aircraft carrier. We’re in a Seahawk helicopter and we look over to the left and there’s the Harbour Bridge in the distance and we’re like, ‘This is actually happening!’ A chopper roars in on top of the carrier, everyone’s got their gear on, helmets for sound protection. Standing under the helicopter when it was 20 metres above the ground and the blades are nearly knocking you on your face… it’s awesome. They haven’t held back.”
Lasance, whose credits include Without Remorse, Spartacus: War of the Damned, True Spirit, Rescue: Special Ops, The Secrets She Keeps and Bite Club, plays AFP sergean Liaison Officer Sergeant Jim ‘JD’ Dempsey, thrown together with Former Marine Corps Captain turned NCIS Special Agent Mackey (Olivia Swann) when an American Submariner dies during a ceremony, marking the AUKUS agreement.
“We’ve got two sides clashing and that creates the friction”
But it’s not a welcome partnering, which differs from the unity that often exists in procedural investigation teams.
“Usually it’s ‘here’s your family and we’re gonna go on the journey’, whereas we’ve got two sides clashing and that creates the friction,” he continues.
“We’ve got those elements where we butt heads and keep each other on our toes. There’s also these beautiful, vulnerable moments and emotional elements peppered throughout the series. We get a bit of an insight into why they are the way they are. They save each other’s lives and rely on each other as well. So it’s the best dynamic, and the cast, I swear to you, is one of the greatest casts I have ever worked with. It’s like I have extended my own family.”
The crew also comprises AFP Constable Evie Cooper (Tuuli Narkle), Special Agent DeShawn Jackson (Sean Sagar), Forensic Pathologist Doctor Roy Penrose (William McInnes) and young Forensic Scientist Bluebird “Blue” Gleeson (Mavournee Hazel).
“He’s always paying her out, talking about ‘my jurisdiction'”
“JD is a dream role. He’s a country boy, the larrikin of the show. He’s kind of the comedic relief and the clash with Mackey, who comes in all business-like. She’s the maverick of the series and JD is breaking down her walls, and he ribs her all the time. He’s always paying her out, talking about ‘my jurisdiction,'” he explains.
“There’s cultural clashes between the Australianisms and the Americanisms and all that sort of stuff. But he grew up as a school teacher, and then ends up joining the AFP. He’s the head negotiator so he’s the leader. But obviously, the NCIS team is having to work side by side, to form a new kind of unit, which is a unique part of the show.”
Lasance also tackled all but one stunt in character.
“All the Spartacus training and the SEAL training I got to deal for Without Remorse and Black Site, comes into play. But I also like to do the stunts, because they get to use the shots. They don’t have to cut around those intense reactions. And then Liv who played Mackey kicks arse. She’s a weapon. She was stunt training, fire training, doing extracurricular stuff. She would finish on set, go straight to the stunt gym, do her fight training. We’re all hitting the gym, making sure we’re physically on point!”
“The enemy could be within”
In addition to the weekly crimes, creator Morgan O’Neill has woven in a further threat, if somewhat shrouded in mystery, across the 8 episodes.
“There’s an overarching enemy that could be embedded. So the enemy could be within. But there’s also an enemy that’s operating on a far bigger scale than what we realise. That’s the core of where our series goes and the finale episode heavily relates to my character too. It comes to a real head and the threat is on a huge scale,” he warns.
“If you’re really paying attention and you watch each episode, they start layering it in, and you start putting the dots together.”
After its World Premiere in Australia, NCIS: Sydney is fortunate enough to win a network screening on CBS next week. Are the writer / actor strikes to thank for this profile scheduling? Lasance isn’t sure but grateful for the exposure.
“All of our contracts are obviously local through MEAA, a local production company, through Paramount+ here. There was nothing relayed to us, initially, in the process. All of our deals are local and obviously, that’s why we had the SAG clearance when the strike happened,” he continues.
“The strike… in a weird way, it’s kind of helped NCIS: Sydney”
“The strike has reduced how much content is being put out, particularly on a global scale. So in a weird way, it’s kind of helped NCIS: Sydney and the franchise itself, because they’ve created an entire series that’s been allowed to shoot and continue production. I think it was us and the Game of Thrones spin-off in London.”
A second season will obviously depend on its performance in Australia and abroad, but Lasance is hopeful Australians will feel a sense of pride in having a local series elevated onto US network television. That may lead to more episodes and ultimately, more casting opportunities.
“It opens up those opportunities that you would never normally have access to. It allows you to pick and choose a little bit more and go after the roles that you really want to go for… it’s all about the heat…. but when you don’t have the heat, it’s a bit of politics that goes into the castings. You can miss out on jobs because you don’t have the profile at the time,” he says.
“I feel the pressure”
Lasance adds, “There’s such a massive following for NCIS, but I feel the pressure. I hope that they love the new series but the Australian audience is tough to win over sometimes. So I hope they’ve got a sense of pride to it. It’s shot here… local production, all local crews, Australian directors. Olivia and Shaun are from the UK, but everyone else’s Aussie on board.
“So we’re hoping that Australia then gets behind it.”
NCIS: Sydney premieres Friday on Paramount+