Renee Felice Smith Brings Nell Jones to Life on NCIS: LOS ANGELES
Renee Felice Smith plays Nell Jones on NCIS: Los Angeles, but Smith recently revealed to me that the two share more differences than similarities. Smith said, “Nell is kind of Renee times two, I guess I’d say. Where Renee’s brave, Nell is braver. She’s more of the take-the-bull-by-the-horns kind of gal. She’s one of a kind. She’s her own little brand. I’m not as organized as she is either. She’s super, super type A, and she’s got her act together. Renee, on the other hand, is constantly in catch-up mode with this spinning world.”
Jones has changed and expanded quite a bit from her first appearance on the show in Season Two’s “Special Delivery.” Smith confirmed, “She’s a gun-toting girl now. I think we’ve seen her expand a lot. She’s actually been in the field on her own on several occasions, one in which she got in an intense knife fight with a suspect she was watching in a boat shed. She kind of had to defend herself. That was really exciting. For that show, I got the chance to work on choreography for a fight scene, and I’m a dancer, so that was a good challenge for me.
“I think with each venture in the field, we see that she’s able to act independently and whatever training she’s had has been working out, because she’s still alive. She’s totally a Mighty Mouse. On a show, it’s usually the brawn of guys that kind of saves the day. I think it’s nice to show someone who may not be physically threatening, but who has the knowledge of martial arts, become the hero of the day. She’s able to use her size to her advantage. The ultimate Mighty Mouse on the show, though is Hetty. Nell is kind of like Mighty Mouse 2.0. I think it’s great to see a character that’s sort of real, and like a lot of women out there. She can hold her own.”
In the episode airing March 25, “Zero Days,” Jones comes to the rescue of her OSP co-worker, Eric Beale, when he ends up in jail. She uses her feminine wiles on one of Eric’s friends in interrogation. Smith said, “That was a good time. We haven’t seen that side of Nell, haven’t seen her don this character, this undercover character. It’s definitely effective. We use what we have, what God has given us, and Nell definitely gets to use some of her female charm. A highlight of the scene was getting to reprimand L.L. Cool J. I think Nell is a bit of a surprise to him. He sees she’s pretty good with interrogation. Maybe he should let her do that more often.”
Smith lists Linda Hunt (Hetty) as one of her role models. She confessed, “I would just say working with Linda has been the highlight of my acting career. She is just so inspiring, and she’s really a brilliant actor. Nell and Hetty have a sort of intimate scene in an upcoming episode written and directed by one of our Executive Producers. In the episode, Hetty has this emotional break in her character. I was able to watch Linda film the scene, and she’s so subtle, but it’s so effective on camera. It just kind of really reiterates that saying less is really more – on camera for sure – and her emotional life is beautiful to watch on screen. Her subtlety and her instincts are great. Working with her has truly been a highlight for me, and just getting to know her as a person. We’re friends off-set as well. She has a wealth of knowledge. She is truly a sage in a lot of ways. I’m really grateful for that relationship.”
During hiatus from NCIS: Los Angeles, Smith will be producing a short film. She had her directorial debut in a short film in 2012 called Youngish, which she also wrote and produced. She described the project as “a really great experience. I got to work with veterans that were just brilliant. I felt like I learned so much. They were so gracious. It was a great learning experience for me.” Smith was able to take Youngish to 25 film festivals, where it was warmly received.
This year’s project, with the working title Babies,“centers around a woman who goes through a dark time postpartum.” Smith will also act in the project. She added, “I’m really excited about it I get to work with a dear friend of mind. I should be a good time. I would like to say that I like to create my own work. In television, you’re working with someone else’s vision and ideas. It’s nice every once in a while to create my own project, where I can carry out my own vision and ideas.”
Also in post-production for Smith is a “really fun little indie film I shot in New York almost two years ago now. It was a great time. I have a couple of scenes in it. I play a law student who’s unraveling herself. She’s kind of overwhelmed with her work and falls into a dark place. I play a really emotionally beat-up character, which is completely opposite from Nell Jones.” That project is called That Thing with the Cat.”
Another talent that will always be a huge part of Smith’s life is dancing. She told me, “I grew up dancing. It’s my first love. There’s nothing like moving to music that moves you, physically and emotionally. Dancing will always be a part of my life. I dance for fun now, but I used to dance competitively.”
And, Smith is already thinking about her next directorial project…
Catch NCIS: Los Angeles on Tuesdays at 9 on CBS.