The three series in the “NCIS” franchise – “NCIS,” “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “NCIS: New Orleans” – have all featured men as the major central figures. Vanessa Lachey is changing all of that as she takes the crime investigation spotlight for the latest offering in the franchise, “NCIS: Hawai’i.”
The series launches at 10 p.m. Sept. 20 on CBS. In the premiere episode, an experimental Naval aircraft crashes on Oahu, and the NCIS team must find who is behind it before classified state secrets are exposed.
Lachey plays Special Agent in Charge of NCIS Pearl Harbor Jane Tennant, who splits her time between investigating high-stakes crimes involving military personnel and being a mom. As soon as Lachey landed the role, it all felt very familiar.
“Without me realizing this is actually my life. Art imitates film, in terms of, I have my three kids here now. Yesterday, for example, I went to work at 6:30 in the morning and I came home and it was around 9:45,” Lachey says. “My oldest son was up. And I walked right in and I put him back down to bed, because he had gotten up from a bad dream.
“Then I had to do the dishes. And then I studied my lines for today’s work. So, it’s about juggling your family as well as your work. And for Jane, it’s her family as well as her country and work. And I love that imitation.”
The connections started long before her present life. Lachey was born at the 13th Air Force Regional Medical Center at Clark Air Base in the Philippines and spent much of her young life traveling the world because of her father’s military service.
She stresses that being an “Air Force brat” means there are layers of the military in her blood. She takes on this job with a great respect for those who serve and for those who sacrifice for their country.
Everyone can see the comparisons now but getting to the point of casting Lachey in the key role for the series was not an easy task. Executive producer Jan Nash explains that selecting a female lead was always their intention as one of several ways they could separate the new show from the three others.
The key was finding the right person who could make both the investigation scenes and home life work.
Executive producer Christopher Silber says, “It’s one thing to imagine and create an iconic leading character for a legacy franchise, like Jane Tennant. But then you have to find the actor who can play the role, who can bring this idea to life.
“We had a lot of good luck finding all of our amazing cast. But looking for Jane Tennant, someone who was going to be this charismatic leader, became challenging. And luckily Jane Tennant found us. Vanessa Lachey’s audition just stood out in a way that helped ease the neuroses and the anxieties of writers who were pretty sure that we had set up an impossible task.”
Lachey has been working steadily in television since she was named Miss Teen USA in 1998. Her credits include “Call Me Kat,” “Hawaii Five-0,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “30 Rock,” “Psych,” “Dads,” “Truth Be Told,” and “People Presents: Once Upon a Mainstreet.”
She’s also appeared as herself including filming season two of Netflix’s dating show “Love Is Blind.” Her additional hosting credits include MTV’s “Total Request Live” and the Emmy-nominated series “Top Chef Jr.” In 2017, Lachey was a celebrity contestant on “Dancing with the Stars” with her husband, singer Nick Lachey.
Being cast in “NCIS: Hawai’i” is different for Lachey from the past roles she has played. Lacey is taking on the role with a very humble and honored approach because she knows there are real female NCIS agents.
Lachey adds that the role in the procedural is perfect because she’s not playing someone who has super abilities but is a real human who is driven to protect her country and her family.
“It’s something I don’t take lightly. I’m grateful for every day. I think what it’s going to do is just kind of normalize women in this position,” Lachey says. “I can balance my love and my country. I can be a mom and try to get my daughter off to school, and deal with my ex-husband, as well as take down a multi-million-dollar crime operation.
“I do want – not just little girls because I have two boys as well – just littles and women and men, and everyone to see I can do that, too. When everyone says a woman, a minority, can lead this operation and lead this team, and hopefully do it with grace and compassion and vulnerability, but also honor and respect, then I can, too.”