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Noah Mills Talks NCIS: Hawaii And The Falcon And The Winter Soldier - Exclusive Interview

Noah Mills started out as a model, most notably walking the runway for Dolce & Gabbana, before landing a role as one of Samantha Jones' flings in 2010's "Sex and the City 2." After a few false starts — appearing in two TV series that never made it past their first season — Mills finally found his footing in 2021, landing the one-two punch of starring in both "NCIS: Hawaii" and "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier."

The former, which airs Monday nights on CBS, is also in its freshman year, but got picked up for Season 2 — not too surprising considering the original "NCIS" series is currently in its 19th season and has spawned two other successful spin-offs.

On "NCIS: Hawaii," which is led by Vanessa Lachey as Special Agent in Charge Jane Tennant, Mills plays Senior Field Agent Jesse Boone, who is Tennant's second-in-command. Together, along with a crack team of Naval Criminal Investigation Service agents who work out of the Pearl Harbor office, they solve crimes related to the military and national security on the island of Oahu.

During an exclusive interview with Looper, Mills opened up about all things "NCIS" — from working so closely with Lachey and meeting Wilmer Valderrama during a major crossover event to what makes his role challenging and the one thing he'd like to see his character tackle.

NCIS: Hawaii films on the same sound stage as Hawaii Five-O

Where are you right now?

I'm in L.A. I just got back from Hawaii a couple of days ago. Hawaii is amazing, but it is far. It's a funny thing because I lived in L.A. for years, probably ten years, and I surf, and people would be like, "You've been to Hawaii?" I was like, "I haven't." I have family East, and people were always like, "That's so crazy you don't go to Hawaii." I didn't t know Hawaii at all. I didn't have any connections there, so I wouldn't really know where to go or what to do. Obviously, you can go there as a tourist and vacation, but I like to get into things a little bit and really discover a place. Then, lo and behold, I end up moving there, and now I'm really getting to dive in.

What's it like filming there? I read that you guys use some of the same set as "Hawaii Five-O"?

Yeah, "Hawaii Five-O" was there for ten years prior to us. They filmed on the same sound stage that we're filming on, which is really amazing and historical. The original "Hawaii Five-O" was actually filmed there. I'm not exactly sure of the dates of the original show, but 40 years later or whatever it is, "Hawaii Five-O" — the more recent one with Scott Caan and Alex O'Loughlin — filmed there for ten years. It's right near Diamond Head, and they have some old placards of the original "Hawaii Five-O." It's a very small, historic, dated sound stage, but it's really cool. I feel super lucky to be filming there because a lot of times, sound stages are in an industrial area because they need the space and all that. We have this really special, historic, cute sound stage, right near where a lot of us live.

Hawaii has been incredible. It's obviously part of the United States, but it's got its own history, its own people, and its own culture. It's a real privilege to get to work there. Coming as a tourist is one thing, and it's beautiful, the water and everything, but getting to work there and work with people from the island is a whole other thing. Hawaii's been so amazing for me. It's reconnected me with the ocean in a way that's sometimes intimidating and challenging. I'm outdoors so much.

The rainbows in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the air quality, the surf ... there's a real, as they say, mana energy there. It's a special place. I feel very privileged to be there. It can be difficult. It's isolated, but there's a certain privilege, the natural beauty of the place really knocks any silliness out of you if you're feeling homesick or angry about the job. You're driving home and the sun's setting, there's a rainbow, and the surf's perfect, and you're like, "Whoa, I get to work here."

Filming is like 'camping with 150 people for eight days straight'

I was going to ask you what the most challenging part of your job is. Is that it, the location? Or something else?

There are episodes you get into that are challenging. I'm always surprised at the logistical feat of filming. A show like ours is scheduled down to the minute. The size and scope of what we're filming can be difficult and tiring, but it's inspired and you're excited to do it as well. There are some episodes where ... one day you're in the jungle at 6 a.m. on the North Shore, and then do a company move — which means they're moving all the equipment down to another location to film — and then one more back to the stage. You can see everybody's like, "whoa," at the end.

It's like a military operation. That 5 a.m. alarm clock goes off, and you're like, "Back at it." Into the van, into hair and makeup, dressed up, pushed out in the jungle doing outdoor stuff. Sometimes, it's physically [challenging] but, at the same time, those are also the most fun episodes where you're really dug in and involved. You've got to care because the hours are long, and you've got to really get along with everybody you're working with because it's really tight-knit. It's like camping. Imagine camping with 150 people for eight days straight, you know what I mean? You're going to either bond, or you're going to be at each other's necks. It's fun. I definitely bonded with a lot of the guys and girls on set, but sometimes you're like, "Jeez, give me a day off."

Now, speaking of bonding ... on the show, you're considered to be Vanessa's right-hand man. What's it like working with her?

She's amazing. Vanessa is so generous. She really is. The way she makes the crew feel, the way she organizes and the energy she brings is really astonishing ... Vanessa is a leader, and her generosity and rallying of the troops in real life, it works so well for the show and for [her character] Jane. I'm a bit of a class clown and a goof, but I mean well. I love picking up the slack and getting everybody together. [My character] Jesse has some of that too. He can give Kai [played by Alex Tarrant] a hard time while also being an older brother to him, and as the second in command to Jane, he can also be a friend to her outside of work. 

That's all stuff that's symbiotically happening with us in real life. It's bleeding into the show and mixing together. Season 1 was a really nice mix of that, and Vanessa was an amazing lead and amazing leader and kept us all together. She fell in love with the island and the crew and everybody, and we all followed suit. She's awesome.

Vanessa Lachey is a 'goof' on set

Any funny stories or memorable moments with her or Alex or anyone that really stand out?

So many. We're a goofy, goofy set. We work hard and we get it done. Alex, when he came [to the "NCIS: Hawaii" set], he came straight from filming "The Lord of the Rings" [TV series] and had a humongous fro. I wish we had pictures of him from then. He's such a cool kid. They cut his hair and brought the Kai out of him. I remember in Episode 3, when he's playing a local, I said, "Man, you're playing the local. You better get your surf game together." He was like, "Dude, I do so many things." He's a rugby player [and practices] MMA, but now, we're working on surfing. We got to get in the water, and I was trying to give him some pointers. He's a fantastic guy, and ... Vanessa's a goof. She's amazing. She's so funny. Maybe some of that stuff is too ... not peachy enough, but, yeah, we have a lot of fun.

Tell me about filming the "NCIS" crossover event. What was that like?

That was awesome. A lot of times when you're on a show, you don't get the opportunity to be part of a universe like that. It's cool that CBS and Paramount are feeling free and loose to mix us. We are all in the same show in the same universe. I was excited. Wilmer's amazing. That guy's been in the business forever, so as a fan and somebody who got to work with him, to see how he works and to hear about how they do stuff at the "NCIS" mothership, it was really cool. It was a nice break. It's new blood.

Katrina [Law] was amazing, too. It was fun to mix the shows and know that we can do that again in the future. They're starting "NCIS Sydney," there's "NCIS: Los Angeles." It's cool to know that potentially I could go and be a guest star on those shows. It builds our brand. I love the way it played out on TV, because it was a really nice, seamless transition into a two-hour block of "NCIS." I was like, "Wow, this is just like a universe." We're very far in real life, but actually a phone call away.

He found it 'inspiring' to meet NCIS' Wilmer Valderrama

I'm a big fan of Wilmer's from back on "That '70s Show." I was a huge fan of that show.

Yeah, me too. I used to watch that show all the time.

Tell me more about what he's like...

He's so inspired. That guy is really doing a lot. He's got a podcast, a production company, he stepped up his role on "NCIS" after Mark Harmon left. He's got a brooding quality that's really fun to watch, which is so different from him on "That '70s Show." It was really inspiring, and he was really generous. When you meet people, you don't know how tired they are or what they have going on, but he landed and I went over to the place he rented and met his wife and his kid, and hung out. He was asking me, "What do you like about your show? What do you like about your character?"

He really believes in what he does. He believes in "NCIS" and the bigness of it and what it can be, a real champion of the brand. [He was] also really curious about the creative acting stuff, and we got to riff about that. I was like, "I'm having difficulty with this sometimes," and he's like, "Don't worry, you'll get the flow, and sometimes you can shrink the dialogue, go and ask." I said, "I don't know that I can mess with the dialogue yet. The writers won't appreciate that." It was cool to see somebody who's been doing it a while and still loves it, still has all the energy for it, and looks really deep into the meaning of it.

That's our job. It can sometimes feel pretty nine to five when you're seeing there's another episode, and another episode. To see someone care so much about it and put a certain responsibility and weight on, it was a good check for me. I was like, okay, cool. I do care about this a lot. The more you work on it, the more you think about it, the more questions you ask, they respond, and the material is better. It was real inspiring to hang out with him.

Is there someone — whether from the "NCIS" world or beyond — that you'd like to see as a guest star on the show?

Oh, man. I'm such a creative person, but ... I don't watch a ton of TV in my own personal downtime. I would love to see the guys from "NCIS: L.A." come out to Hawaii. That would be super fun. Eric Olsen is great. Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J ... I'm going to see those guys at PaleyFest, so I might fan out. I think people coming to Hawaii is already a plot line. There's already humor and fun things to play there. I think any type of law enforcement or military sector where we can create a character from and bring them to Hawaii will be super fun. 

There's so many great actors and characters that could pop up in that manner. It's a really nice, seamless way to be like, "Oh, so and so from the Pentagon is coming out." We'll have a lot of cachet because people want to come to Hawaii. Plus, our show is great, and we can have that banter with them. I'm sure that they're lining up some great people for Season 2.

He wants to see his character's 'darker side'

What would be your dream scenario on the show? Where do you hope to see your character go in terms of storyline?

I love the outdoors, and we're understanding that people love viewing the outdoors. It gives a certain specificity to our show when we are outdoors. I'd love to see Jesse outdoors more and getting into different types of [scenarios], whether it's submarines and ships, jet skis. You're constantly surrounded by and aware that the ocean is there, whether it's fishing vessels, cargo ships, Pearl Harbor, there's the North Shore. I really think integrating the outdoors will happen and will be a lot of fun for me and will support the character that I already was creating.

There's a past that I'd like to expand upon. [My character] was a D.C. homicide detective and wanted to get out of the urban, bureaucratic energy of D.C. There's a reason he came to Hawaii that we're still working on. That would be fun. Maybe something a little on the darker side and see a little bit more of the conflict and challenges he's had and what Hawaii and being there with his family means to him. I think we'll get into that. There's exciting stuff and places for me to go personally, as a character, with Jesse.

I can send my notes to the writers and be like, "What about a towing situation of the wave?" We have the best watermen in the world there — this guy named Brian Keaulana, my stunt double, and this guy Bryan Phillips, who's been a lifeguard at Pipeline. We also have Dave Holmes, one of our camera operators who is a legendary water photographer and filmer for surfing. We have this amazing capability to really go into the water and film some exciting stuff. We're working on getting some of that integrated into the storylines and scripts. It's going to be a kick ass Season 2. I can already feel it. We had to get over that hump.

I saw that from the jump. I was like, "Well, it's serious because it's 'NCIS' and we're dealing with legitimate storylines of what they deal with and crimes involving the military." It can be political, but the show really lives on the fun of it, the banter, and us as our characters and our chemistry. First and foremost, we wanted to get our chemistry and familiarity with each other. Then, we can do offshoots of characters and let people go away from the team and have their own episodes, which will be fun.

Entering the MCU was 'much bigger' than he ever expected

You appeared on "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier." What was that experience like?

That experience was great. I was in a lull workwise. I had done two series for NBC that unfortunately didn't get out of that freshman season, police-driven shows. When I got the job with the Marvel, I was like, "Oh my gosh, I'm stepping into the Marvel universe!" It might not be a huge part or anything, but I was like, "I am going into it." I actually felt that, arriving in Atlanta and going to their studios where they do everything. They have this thing where you stand in the middle of 300 cameras, and they create you digitally so they have your character. I was like, "Wow, this is cool." 

There's very much a fictional universe there that's different than anything I've worked on. The fittings for the masks and everything is very put together. The stunts are always a big deal in films, but there, it really is [important]. They're very mapped out with how they're going to make you appear superhuman.

We shot in Prague, which was amazing. Working with Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie in Prague, running around the streets? I was working with Captain America, getting chased by him, [and] if you've seen the show, getting killed in a square in Prague at 8:00 in the morning with the Captain America shield coming down on my head. There were people around taking photos, and they were pushing them away. I was like, "Wow, that's the bigness of the Marvel universe." You're definitely aware you're in something much bigger than you as an actor. It was fun.

We had a really nice group of people that were the Flag-Smashers. You get close to the cast members that you're working with a lot, and it was really fun to work on something that huge. I was like, "Ahhh, I hope I'm not burning my Marvel card." I might be, you know what I mean? Am I out for playing the Wolverine later on or something?

He'd love to see Marvel 'open up' the Flag Smasher storyline

That's a question I had for you. Since you're now part of the MCU, you never know when they're going to tap you again. Have you daydreamed about taking on a larger role?

Of course. I was a Marvel Comics reader as a kid. You never know, right? There's so many possibilities. Maybe they open up the Flag-Smasher story further, or maybe enough time passes where you can drift away and reappear as a different character. I would love to get into some things that are ethereal and otherworldly. That type of creativity and that type of imagination is amazing. I'm still watching "Dune." I've watched it like four times. It's next level, the story and the set design and the fight choreography and the music and the characters. I love it.

It'd be a dream to get to escape and play something that's separate from reality. I also love historical fiction as well. With "NCIS," it's a real challenge as an actor, maybe more than I thought, because in those shows, you're always playing [serious]. Your job is always to be playing the stakes of something happening in the world. Within "NCIS," it's nice because you have the stakes, but you also have a heartfelt moment with your daughter and joking banter with a colleague in the office, all in one episode, like, "Oh, shoot, a call came in that a ship's being attacked in the Harbor."

Some people scoff at working on TV, but it's a lot in an episode. It challenges all parts of your acting repertoire. Sometimes, the other stuff, your other projects, can be amazing in themselves, but you might not get to play the levels you have as an actor. On "NCIS," we do, especially as a series regular, they really pack it in and challenge you.

"NCIS: Hawaii" airs Mondays at 10:00 p.m. ET on CBS.