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Oscar winner Linda Hunt brings something extra to CBS crime drama
By Kate O'Hare | Zap2it

Hetty Lange (Linda Hunt) works with a crew of younger agents as the operations manager for the Los Angeles office of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in CBS' "NCIS: Los Angeles."


Oscar winner Linda Hunt stars as Hetty Lange in "NCIS: Los Angeles."


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Published: 11/20/2009 12:03 AM

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It's 101 degrees in the produce section - of downtown Los Angeles, that is.

Tucked amid food warehouses and wholesale distributors is DC Studios, home to a variety of standing sets, many of them modeled after buildings in the nation's capital.

It's also temporary home to many different TV series, including CBS' military/crime procedural "NCIS: Los Angeles," the freshman spinoff to the very successful "NCIS," which precedes it on Tuesdays.

On this searing day, Hetty Lange (Linda Hunt), the operations manager for the Los Angeles office of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, has come to Washington, D.C., to answer questions before Congress. There to greet her is NCIS Director Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll, who plays the role in both series).

He's reassuring, but she's wary. Over several takes, the two actors - who both have extensive stage experience - hone the lines to perfectly reflect what's being said and unsaid.

Then, during a break, Hunt, an Academy Award winner for 1982's "The Year of Living Dangerously," is asked to record a line of dialogue that will be looped in later. It's only a few words, but each time she says it, Hunt varies the timing and emphasis to alter the meaning and tone just a bit.

"Yes," says Hunt in an interview on her day off the following week. "I have learned that over years of doing a lot of voice-over work. It's fascinating. Before, when I started to do voice-over work, probably 25 years ago, I was very bad at it.

"As an actor, I'm not really very conscious of my voice. What I learned in the process of getting to be good at voice-over work was how to use the voice as an instrument.

"It's fascinating to see how tiny an adjustment you can make and make a huge difference in the meaning or the impact of what you're saying."

Hunt's skills have not gone unnoticed among her fellow cast members.

"She's so specific, and she brings so much joy to her performances and so many interesting beats in them," says LL Cool J (aka James Todd Smith), a rapper-turned-actor who plays NCIS officer and former Navy SEAL Sam Hanna. "She can say one thing, and suddenly that one sentence can just have so much subtext and meaning and fire and energy."

Although they come from very different backgrounds and generations, the diminutive actress and her bodybuilding co-star have formed a tight bond on the set.

"Oh, yes," Hunt says, "except I feel as though I haven't seen him forever, and I feel as though we haven't worked together in a while, but I adore him. I'm crazy about him. He's got the best spirit."

In "NCIS: Los Angeles," LL Cool J - or Todd, as he's known on the set - is partnered with Chris O'Donnell, as NCIS Agent G. Callen.

As to what she's learning from her younger co-stars, Hunt says, "Oh, wow, that's a very good question. I don't know if I can answer it. If anything, I would say that, from both Chris and Todd, because they have so much to do on a daily, weekly basis, I am learning to just let it go a little bit, because they have to.

"They couldn't possibly do what they're doing and have that output of energy if they worried every moment of it. I tend to be a worrier anyway, certainly as an actor."

Hunt represents a common element with "NCIS," which also has a veteran actor, David McCallum, as part of the cast.

"I'm the oldest one on the set," Hunt says, "and I think we're all aware of that. It is an interesting dynamic.

"It makes the stew richer, definitely, from a lot of points of view. It is nice to have an older person mixed in with these young frys. It's wonderful from a personal point of view to see the mix of ages, and it's also wonderful from the point of view of one's experience and how different it is."