CCH Pounder Opens up about NCIS: NEW ORLEANS and Dr Loretta Wade
CCH Pounder is exactly the kind of interview I thought she’d be – very open, friendly, down-to-earth – just a joy to talk to. And, of course, one can’t talk to Pounder without bringing up FX Network’s The Shield. It’s just inevitable. And, in a way it is relevant to Pounder’s current role on NCIS: New Orleans. When she was asked to play Dr. Loretta Wade, Pounder worried that expectations might be high that she play a copy-cat tough-as-nails, authority figure like Captain Claudette Wyms. That touch of fret made her just a bit apprehensive about taking the Wade role. She said, “I was very concerned that that was what I had to establish.” But, all things considered and the character still being “new,” Pounder now refelects, “As I’m working with her I’m beginning to see a lot of areas that might open up, so I think I’m gonna have a lot of fun with this before it’s all said and done.
“The one thing that I need to do is sort of create a character and say, ‘ok that’s it,’ even though we just started the series. And, even though it’s television, in my mind, I’m always thinking of the longevity of someone.
“When I first got the job, I had an appointment at the Coroner’s Office to get a ‘feel’ for my character’s line of work. And, I was told that I should wear clothes that I didn’t care about and would probably want to burn or throw away. I was also told that the smell would stay with me and not to wear perfume, because then I would put the smell of the perfume with what I was smelling at the morgue. The thing is, though, I got to the Coroner’s Office and thought I was gonna see one autopsy. I saw 23. I thought I would be horrified by the odor, but I was actually more fascinated with how upbeat the people were. Everything that I had been told, for me, was the opposite. I realized then that this job had so much more to do with spirit than with body. So, I wanted to reflect that in Dr. Wade. I wanted her to have a real solid sense of spirituality. And I still want to use that throughout the whole run of the series. That would be Dr. Wade’s way of showing her concern for people. Then the body becomes the thing to investigate to help the living. Also, I didn’t feel any type of spirit in that autopsy room. I didn’t feel that anyone was still trapped in their body. I didn’t have any epiphany of that kind.
“Obviously, you’re in the confines of a script that gives you framework but how you do it is I’m sure why I’m here – because the Producers think I’m “different” enough. When you tell people you play the Coroner, they’re like, ‘which one are you? Are you the NCIS Coroner, the CSI Coroner, the Law & Order Coroner, which one are you?’ So to distinguish myself, to be the ‘Coroner’ is the least bit of information I want the public to be aware of. I would love for them to be aware of Dr. Wade as that particular woman who solved the mystery for you. In that way, I think people get to know her as a person as opposed to a jacket that has ‘Coroner’ emblazoned on the back.”
Pounder’s approach to a role is always unique. She continues, “I think my energy level is very different from a lot of people’s. One of the things I told the Producers is the fact that Dr. Wade is already a doctor, which means she already has what it takes to do the job of a Coroner. Once a person is confident in what they do, then you let other things show up. That’s what I think makes for memorable characters. And, that’s what I’m working on for Dr. Wade.
“Also, what I’ve always said – and I do this with every single show I’m working on – I look at other characters in the show and say, ‘How come she’s got a boyfriend and that one’s got a husband?’ things like that. So, this time, I just said to myself, ‘Remember, this is a living person and surely somebody likes this girl.’ Things that happen outside of a workplace can always come in and impact the workplace every now and again. I think that’s important. Television is such a powerful tool. And, after you do the job of what’s written and not written, I like to weave little extra things in – kind of like a sense of humanity.”
Though she has a background in dancing and singing and friends and family thought she’d choose singing as her career, Pounder always wanted to be an actress. “Sometimes I cut off my nose to spite my face,” she says. “When I became a professional actor, I thought, ‘what a great loss. You could have been acting and dancing and singing.’ I do it for fun now, walking down the hallway, and in the shower. But now I also have a lot of friends who have voices that are really incredible. I have a fantastic group of friends with amazing talent. So, I can enjoy it now without having to be part of the work.”
Another unique area in Pounder’s life now is just being in the city of New Orleans. Filming there is quite unique. “Once you pass Mardi Gras, there’s so much more to this place. It’s got so much history. It has fascinating architecture. I think it is truly a unique American city. I don’t quite understand how it got to be what it is. It has oil, fisheries, great tourism, and, of course, it has amazing food. Everybody seems to know how to cook except me. It should be like a Caribbean Paris. It should be.”
One culture shock Pounder has experienced since her arrival in New Orleans is the fascination with sports all around her. She confides, “I’m not a sports fan, I’ll just say that, very clearly. I didn’t know who the Saints were. I didn’t know about any of that. Everyone else here wears the colors of the teams. When I first walked into the hair and makeup room, everyone in there was dressed in the colors of the Saints. The colors even covered the chairs. So, they’ve all had great fun ribbing me about this. I was just amazed at all of it. I can’t imagine people spend that much time on a game. But they do here. It’s big money. And it’s a Holy Grail kind of situation. I looked out my window one day, and I thought, ‘There’s a protest in the street. Where are all those people marching to? And they’re all wearing the same color, black and gold.’ They were going to a football game. I thought they were protesting immigration or something.”
Pounder teases that bringing New Orleans in as a character will definitely be part of the series’ upcoming Thanksgiving show. “These people have more festivals and more parties. I don’t know when the work gets done or how it gets done. This is a party city. And on our Thanksgiving show, it’s like New Orleans has opened up and we said, ‘ok let’s do it.’ We’ll use the word ridiculous. A PR person would probably say it’s amazing.” Watch for NCIS: New Orleans Thanksgiving show on November 25 at 9 P.M. on CBS.”