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Why Abby Nelson From NCIS: Hawaii Looks So Familiar

Nothing's more distracting as a TV viewer than watching your favorite show and recognizing one of the performers, but not being quite able to place them. We're here to help.

So far, CBS' "NCIS: Hawai'i" has aired 16 total episodes since its Season 1 premiere back in September 2021. Like its predecessor series, "NCIS," "NCIS: New Orleans," and "NCIS: Los Angeles," "NCIS: Hawai'i" follows a group of criminal investigators who deal with cases related to the U.S. Navy.

The fifth episode of Season 1 is titled "Gaijin," and you're most likely reading this because one of its guest stars has a familiar face. The episode begins when a Japanese sailor, Shogo Oda, is stabbed to death while drinking with his friends. Soon, Tennant (Vanessa Lachey) and the team discover that Oda was working on a secretive project Operation Iron Cloud, and this his girlfriend, Yuki, who also worked on the project, was similarly murdered the year before.

At the time, Japanese investigators suspected Yuki's American roommate Abby Nelson for her murder, but couldn't press charges due to lack of evidence. Then, Nelson was extradited home to the U.S. She's a main suspect in the case, but we won't spoil the ending in case you haven't seen it yet.

Abby Nelson is played by actress Madeline Zima. She currently has 80 film and TV credits on IMDb, including many well-known TV shows. There's a good chance you've seen her in one of these.

Madeline Zima's breakout role was Grace Sheffield in The Nanny

Madeline Zima has been acting since she was two years old, and her big break was landing the role of Grace Sheffield on the classic CBS sitcom "The Nanny," which ran from 1993 to 1999. The show starred Fran Drescher as a larger-than-life fashionista from Queens who become the nanny to three children from an upper-class British-American home in Manhattan. Grace is the youngest daughter, the most matter-of-fact and cynical of the three Sheffield kids.

Years later, Zima described the experience to ABC 7 News' "The Morning Show." "I was on ["The Nanny"] for the early part of my life, from the ages of six to 13–so those are pretty intense years to be involved in something like this!" she said. "It was a wonderful learning experience. I got a first-hand masterclass in sitcom comedy and professionalism."

In particular, she looked at co-star Fran Drescher as a role model, pointing out that Drescher sold the series on her own initiative. "If you're introduced to somebody like that at a young age, you can see what's possible with a lot of ambition, if you believe in yourself. So that was a really great role model to have."

Madeline Zima's next series regular role was Mia Lewis in Californication

After "The Nanny" ended, Zima continued acting, appearing on TV shows like "Gilmore Girls" and "Grey's Anatomy." Her next big role came in 2007 when she was cast as Mia Lewis on Showtime's "Californication," the dark comedy series that starred David Duchovny as a temperamental Los Angeles-based writer Hank Moody, while also exploring the lives of his friends and family.

Mia Lewis is the daughter of Bill (Damian Young), the fiance of Hank's estranged partner Karen (Natascha McElhone). In the pilot episode, Hank is unaware of her relationship to Karen or the fact that she's underage, and they have a one-night stand. This inspires Hank to outline a new novel, which Mia later steals and publishes herself. Mia was a major character in the show's earlier seasons, appearing in 28 of the show's 84 overall episodes.

In an interview with Glide Magazine, Zima admitted that manipulative and mostly amoral Mia is the complete opposite of her real personality. "It is surprising that I have been able to understand [Mia's] personality more and more," she said. "And it's surprising also that I'll forget things that I do, or moments that are really subtle that are really in the vain of the character, and when I watch them, I'm thinking, 'Oh, wow, that was really appropriate.' I don't know where they come from, these little idiosyncratic things that just really make you feel like this is a real person, and they've got a whole other life going on, that you only see a little piece of, here and there, so I do surprise myself in a good way sometimes."

Madeline Zima played Claire Bennett's roommate Gretchen Berg on Heroes

One year after landing a big role on Californication, Zima was hired for yet another prominent role on a TV series when she joined the cast of NBC's "Heroes" in 2009. Created by Tim Kring, the show premiered in 2006 and follows a group of everyday people who discover they have superpowers. They're led by a high school cheerleader named Claire (Hayden Panettiere), who can spontaneously regenerate. Zima played Gretchen Berg, Claire's roommate when she goes to college. Gretchen also has a crush on Claire, and this culminates in a kiss during the episode "Hysterical Blindness." Overall, Zima appeared on 10 episodes of the show.

After heroes ended, Zima has continued acting steadily throughout the 2010's, appearing on shows like the Amazon Prime Silicon Valley sitcom "Betas," the Showtime reboot "Perry Mason, and the Showtime reboot of the mind-bending drama "Twin Peaks." "NCIS: Hawai'i" was the third TV series she appeared on in 2021, along with "Hacks" and "In Treatment," both on HBO.