NCIS: LA star Renée Felice Smith Talks About Nell’s Decision & Reflects on Her Favorite Moments


NCIS: LA has officially said goodbye to the Wonder Twins, with Eric Beale (Barrett Foa) recruiting Nell Jones (Renée Felice Smith), who has been filling in as operations manager while Hetty Lange (Linda Hunt) has been MIA this season, to co-run his company’s international office in Tokyo with him.

In the finale, retired Navy Admiral Hollace Kilbride (Gerald McRaney) told her she had to take Hetty’s position permanently or resign. She opted for the latter. (This season, Eric has only worked as a consultant for NCIS.)

“The door is always open for Nell at NCIS,” Smith says, “but it may be time for her to be pushed out of the nest a bit and see where this new opportunity takes her.” “With this new chapter, we’ll just have to wait and see.” Nell is similar to many of us. She’s a wise young lady who chose stability for a long time because it was the wise decision. It was the safest option. Although she will always be dedicated to her team, which has essentially become her family, I believe she needs to prioritize herself when making such decisions, and I applaud her for doing so.”

Smith discusses saying goodbye, Nell’s time at NCIS as well as her own on the CBS drama, and the future of Nell and Eric in the video below.

So this is your final farewell?

Renée Felice Smith: Yes, it’s official. Nell has left the building. It’s strange to say this aloud, but I believe the time has come. I believe I spent more time watching NCIS: Los Angeles than I did in my entire school career. [Laughs] I believe it was grades K through 11. I was there for 11 seasons, and it was a true gift, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It turned into a mini-film school for me. I directed my own short films. I created a feature that premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW) and then was picked up by Hulu. I’m currently working on a few television projects, which is very exciting, and we recently published our first children’s book [with Chris Gabriel]. Many creative juices have flowed and will continue to flow.


Last season, Nell attempted to leave NCIS. Did she require this time back with the team before deciding it was time to move on?

I believe so. I believe Nell was primarily fulfilling the wishes of her boss, her mentor, Hetty, who had called her back in and asked her to fill in for the time being. And I believe she had to make this difficult choice when confronted with the people on her team who had become her friends or family, her entire world, and she had to truly put herself first and make this choice for herself. It wasn’t something she brushed off.

She says she isn’t sure about the job in Tokyo, but she is certain she does not want Hetty’s job. What is it about this job in Tokyo that she thinks will help her figure out what she really wants?

I believe it is simply safe. I believe she requires some time and space away from NCIS: Los Angeles. She was a nice young lady. She made the wise decision. For so long, she had chosen stability. But now it’s time for Nell to ask herself the hard questions: What does she want to do with the rest of her life? She’s the one in charge. She is now her own boss, which is extremely liberating. I believe she has a promising future.

Nell and Eric claim this will be “strictly business,” but can they make a relationship work away from everything that may have reminded them of why they couldn’t make it work before?

That is a possibility! We need to get you into the writers’ room. I believe that spending so much time with someone at work and then outside of work can be taxing on a relationship. In terms of what will happen with Eric and Nell in the future, your guess is as good as mine. I believe they have a wonderful mutual respect for one another. They truly value one another’s intelligence, which is always the best foundation for a long-lasting relationship.


Discuss working with Linda Hunt again in that final scene.

Linda Hunt’s return to set on our final day of the season was quite emotional, and that scene was shot on our final day of the season. She was essentially sidelined this year by the pand3mic, so being able to see her in person, let alone share a scene with her, with the Oscar winner, was a chef’s kiss, the perfect sendoff. However, this scene was extremely bittersweet. Nell’s reunion was bittersweet. She wishes she could stay and catch up with Hetty, her mentor who has been MIA for the majority of the season, but she is unable to do so. Eric is expecting her.

She’s committed to this opportunity in Tokyo right now. It’s the “goodbye for the time being” scene. But we had a great time filming it. Linda is a dear friend of mine, and being able to spend that time with her was a true blessing. It’s like a masterclass whenever I can watch her work; I’m just a student, and I bow down bowed down to the great Linda Hunt.

I was relieved to see Nell say goodbye to Kensi [Daniela Ruah], as that has been one of my favorite relationships over the years.

I adore Daniela Ruah as an actor, a person, a friend, a mother, and a dog mom. She’s simply the most generous and giving scene partner. We have this mutual respect for one another. Nell and Kensi do as well, and I believe it shows in our scenes. We simply have a great time working together.

Among the most entertaining scenes this season have to be anything involving Kilbride, and you’ve been a part of a number of them. What has he contributed to the show?

Mack is a living legend. He’s an invincible scene partner. He never makes a mistake. Sharpening iron sharpens sharpening iron. He’s witty, he’s prepared, he’s everything you want in a scene partner, and I’d work with him forever. Maybe we should go watch NCIS: New York or something together because he is simply unrivaled. I adore Mack, and we have wonderful conversations away from the camera. He’s a good friend.


And Kilbride has really pushed Nell to make career decisions.

Without a doubt. Kilbride recognizes all of Nell’s potential, and I believe he has a different bedside manner than Hetty. Whereas Hetty will mysteriously put the puzzle pieces together in your favor and lead you along the path with breadcrumbs, Kilbride simply says it. As a young woman, it can be startling when an older male figure speaks to you with that stern tone. “Wow, OK, just relax, dude,” you say. That is, at least, what I do. “Apply the brakes.” That was Nell and Kilbride this season, with Nell encouraging him to “chill” and pump the brakes, and Kilbride not really getting it. These two characters admire and respect one another. Despite coming from different worlds, they recognize each other’s worth and, most importantly, they respect one another.

When you think back on Nell’s life, what moments stand out to you?

I’m wearing elf ears. Eric Beale in the mistletoe scene. Hetty and I are riding in the Jaguar. Deeks, you’re going out with Eric [Christian] Olsen. Many fans exclaimed, “Oh my God, it’s Velma and Shaggy,” a Scooby-Doo reference that I thought was perfect whenever we were paired together. Daniela was pregnant at the time. The show was great in that it would morph and kind of accommodate Daniela’s pregnancies, which were truly a gift to me and my character because I was able to go out into the field and do some action sequences, such as jumping up on the desk and roundhousing the guy to the face, sprinting.

Because I was moving so quickly, the cameramen in a golf cart realized they needed to drive faster. I was a sprinter on my high school track team, and yes, I can run very fast, but our crew had no idea because I was always in the office. When I was out in the field with our incredible crew, these fun discoveries would happen.

I really enjoyed a recent scene with Sam — LL Cool J is an incredible scene partner. And we were talking about how this scene added a different flavor to the show because Nell is usually quick with a quip, but she doesn’t often drop the hammer. [There was] a squabble between the two of them, and Nell just happens to have this stern moment. It was great just to see Todd’s reaction as the scene unfolded.

And I recall our cameraman saying, “Ooh, you scared me.” “I would do whatever you said I should.” It was refreshing for Nell to play something different. This season, I appreciate it as well.


I think of the episode “Kill House” every time I see Nell in the field.

That’s correct. That was a fantastic episode. Daniela’s character Kensi has a brief conversation with Nell at the end of that episode. Then we walk away, and Daniela grabs my hand, wraps her arm around me, and leans in. I believe she kissed my head or something similar. That was the beginning of my on-camera love affair with Daniela Ruah.

When I spoke with her earlier this season, she mentioned it as well.

Oh, please! That’s insane. It left an impression on both of us.

You mentioned writing a children’s book. What made this the appropriate time for you to tell that story?

Hugo and the Impossible Thing was written as a celebration. Hugo, our canine son, overcame a life-threatening illness, a brain tumor that nearly everyone said would be impossible to beat, but with great determination on his and our parts, and with the help of some truly amazing doctors, Hugo made it to the other side.

We knew we wanted to share his message, but we didn’t know what metaphor to use. Enter “the impossible thing,” a labyrinth of raging rivers, thorny mazes, massive boulders, and towering cliffs. We were determined to reframe the concept of “impossible.”

I feel like we’re frequently told that something is impossible to accomplish because it’s simply never been done before, when in reality it’s just extremely difficult, but it’s possible, you just need someone willing to try, someone brave enough to try. We wanted to share Hugo’s message in the hopes that it would inspire both children and adults to overcome whatever obstacles they faced.

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