LL Cool J ‘Didn’t Read the Final Script’ for ‘NCIS: LA’ Before Filming: ‘I Let It Surprise Me’ (Exclusive)
As the 14-year run of NCIS: Los Angeles comes to an end, LL Cool J told PEOPLE why he wanted to be surprised by the series finale
“I didn’t read the final script,” the actor, 55, confessed to PEOPLE at the series wrap party in March. “I actually backed off it, you know what I’m saying? I played it scene by scene and I let it surprise me a little bit.”
The first of the two-part finale aired May 14, leaving fans to wait a week for the final episode on Sunday, May 21, which the series teased as “earth-shattering” in a recent tweet.
Rather than reading the last script of the series, LL Cool J said he chose to focus on giving the best portrayal of his character, Senior Special Agent Sam Hanna.
“I just felt like I was in the zone of, I just wanted to do the work,” explained the actor, whose real name is James Todd Smith. “I mean, I knew where I was coming from, I did my homework, but I just didn’t want to read that last scene and get into that.”
On the final day of production, LL Cool J said it felt sentimental to reflect on everything the cast and crew had been through since the drama series began in 2009 — making it difficult to say goodbye.
“I think the the experience was amazing because you mature, because you grow as a human being, because you make new friends, new relationships, all of that, right?” he explained.
“I think the only thing I’ll miss really is just the day-to-day working with all the men and women, all the people on the set,” he shared. “It was just so many relationships — you know, we’re talking about 14 years, so I’ve seen people have kids, babies go to college, I’ve seen marriages, I’ve seen everything in between, and so I will miss working day to day with people who became friends.”
He also recalled the exact moment when filming wrapped — and how reality set in for the cast and crew.
“It was amazing. You know, I mean this is 14 years later,” he noted. “Normally they’ll be like, ‘Alright, that’s an episode wrap,’ but this was an episode wrap and a show wrap and a series wrap. It was big, it felt big, but it felt like we accomplished something.”
“I know everybody’s got feelings and there’s a melancholiness on some levels, but you know, we made a huge accomplishment,” he continued, emphasizing the fact that NCIS: LA is now the longest running NCIS spinoff.
“This is one of the longest running shows in the history of TV, man,” he said. “Like, come on, that’s something, so I feel good. It’s like winning crazy Super Bowls or something.”
NCIS: LA premiered in 2009 and followed undercover agents Sam Hanna and Grisha Callen (Chris O’Donnell) as they work in the Los Angeles-based Office of Special Projects, a branch of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service that takes down criminals deemed a threat to national security.
The CBS series netted a total of 322 episodes, hitting a rare 300-episode milestone with last year’s season finale.
In addition to LL Cool J and O’Donnell, the show also currently stars Daniela Ruah, Eric Christian Olsen, Medalion Rahimi, Caleb Castille and Gerald McRaney.
NCIS: Los Angeles‘ series finale airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.