One of the most recognizable faces on TV, Scott Bakula has played prominent roles on shows such as Quantum Leap, Star Trek: Enterprise, Chuck, Men of a Certain Age, Behind the Candelabra and Looking. Now the 59-year-old actor is back playing Dwayne Pride in NCIS: New Orleans, CBS’ latest spinoff in its smash crime franchise. He spoke by phone to the Los Angeles Times from the set in New Orleans. The show premieres 9 p.m. Tuesday on CBS.
Will this be the same “NCIS” fans know and love?
I’m trying to say to people that it’s going to be the same but different. Look, the franchise is beyond successful. I’ve never been a part of anything as wildly successful as this show has been. It’s the most watched show on the planet. I can’t get my head around that.
Your character is based on D'Wayne Swear, who really did run the NCIS unit in New Orleans and now serves as a technical adviser on the show. What’s he like?
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The real D'Wayne is a lot like this guy that I’m playing. He’s hugely passionate. He absolutely loves his job. I met him on the phone. I was getting background. He said, “I’m at your disposal. You can call me any time you want. Well, no, don’t call me on Thursday, because I’m helping out on a case that’s out in such and such a parish.” I’m like, “Wait a minute, I thought you were retired?” He said, “Well semi-retired. Now it’s a pretty big case, and so they asked me to come in.” He loves his work. He has his own way of doing it. He’s a little bit of, I think “rebel” might be too strong of a word, but he gets the job done. He’s not always super-worried about what the correct procedure is or the rules are. He knows everybody in town. He knows all the police in each parish that we go to.
You’re already correcting people’s pronunciation of “New Orleans.” It’s not “Nawlins,” right?
The locals, they cringe at that. And they cringe at New Or-LEANS. It’s “New OR-lins.” I work with a dialect coach. We’ve done New York cops, we’ve done Appalachia. I’ve always loved dialects. I did it many times in the theater.
You started shooting in the middle of summer, when the Louisiana heat and humidity were at their peak. How are you dealing?
It’s difficult. It has been difficult on the crew. We’ve had people with heatstroke; we’ve had many different challenging situations already. You just melt. I mean, it’s not pretty. You’re chasing somebody, and when it’s over you’re completely saturated. I grew up in St. Louis, and I don’t know if you’ve ever been to St. Louis in the middle of summer. There are days in the summer sometimes, weeks in the summer, where the temperature can be over 100 degrees and the humidity can be 100%. I’m not a stranger to this. But I haven’t lived in it for this amount of time for a very long time.
You’re in New Orleans shooting for five days a week, but your family is back in L.A. How’s that working out?
Well, we’re all discovering that. It’s a process. We’re in the middle of shooting our fourth episode, and we’ve all agreed that we’re going to be flexible and try and determine how this is going to work. Nobody is talking about what this will be long term. We’ve got an order for 13 episodes, and we’re trying to make this 13 as great as we possibly can and see what happens. I don’t know that I would ever move here, but if we get picked up for longer I would get more of a permanent kind of residence that I would go to when I was here.