Even the longest-running series can benefit from a new spark.
That rejuvenation is what has been happening in the last couple of seasons on NCIS: Los Angeles, thanks in part to the clever Reserve Agent Shyla Dahr, played by Kavi Ramachandran Ladnier (pronounced Kuvi Rama-chun-thrun Lad-ner).
In an exclusive interview with TV Fanatic, Ladnier talked about how she’s enjoying her recurring role in a call from Los Angeles.
Ladnier landed the role when she auditioned for a different role in which the character spoke the same type of technical dialogue as Shyla. She missed out on that role but was offered the part of Shyla instead.
“Which I love,” she said. “I love playing Shyla.”
Ladnier joined a veteran cast, many of whom had been together for more than a decade. She said they made the transition seamless for her.
“They’re so kind and generous .. the cast, the crew, everyone involved in the show,” she explained. “As an actor, you always dream about being a member of a set family. It’s been a really great environment to work in. I feel terribly grateful to be working with them.”
Shyla remains something of an enigma. When she was introduced on NCIS: Los Angeles Season 13, it was explained that she had formerly worked with Kilbride in Washington. This season, she told Fatima that she’s getting divorced. That’s it so far for her background.
Will viewers learn more during the rest of the season?
“To be honest with you, I’m not quite sure either,” she said. “I hope so. I love that they’ve given her back story.”
Shyla has a familiarity with Kilbride that the rest of the squad lacks.
“She’s probably the only one who can give him some shit,” Ladnier explained. “Shyla definitely knows how to push his buttons, and he hers. It’s great to have that kind of banter with Admiral Kilbride and Gerald McRaney.”
Shyla is a Kilbride whisperer. So what’s the biggest misconception about the admiral?
“He’s a big teddy bear,” Ladnier said. “He cares so much about the team. He’s seen so much in that stern father role. But he’s not all work. He cares about family. And right now, this is his family. He just shows it in a real gruff way.”
Ladnier’s character has worked predominately in Ops but has been out in the field as well. Which does she prefer?
“She loves both,” she says. “The fact that she’s a reserve agent doesn’t mean that she isn’t equally qualified to be out in the field as in Ops. I love that she’s well-rounded. But it’s always great to go out and catch the bad guys.”
Shyla is front and center in the third hour of the crossover. She’s supporting her teammates, as well as visiting agents from Washington and Hawaii, as they search for the missing Kilbride. Ladnier loved the experience.
“It was so much fun,” she gushed. “It was great to be on set with people who aren’t normally there. My scenes were mostly with the guest actors. I was just honored to be a part of this because I know NCIS fans have been really clamoring for something like this.
Another recent acting job that Ladnier enjoyed was portraying Reena, the mother of Bela, on HBO’s The Sex Lives of College Girls, a creation of fellow Indian-American Mindy Kaling.
“It was really so much fun,” she said. “Mindy’s at the top of her game, creating really fantastic shows that audiences are loving. I loved playing Reena because she had such a great relationship with her daughter. It’s so different from Shyla, the other end of the spectrum.”
Two films Ladnier is involved with are making a splash on the film-festival circuit.
First is her one-woman movie, “Now and Never,” in which she plays five roles and produces with her company Art Heart Love Productions.
The other is “East Bay,” where she stars with Constance Wu. It was filmed several years ago but was finally completed in 2021.
Next up for her is the revenge thriller “The 8th Year,” which she will be producing in the first quarter of this year in Vancouver.
Ladnier is also writing a short film with McRaney and a children’s book.
She was drawn to producing because it “gives me the power to put things out into the world that may not otherwise be put out or not having to wait for someone else to give me permission. I love the fact that when you’re producing, you’re in charge of not just the content but of the whole process.
“It’s something I’ve always been interested in. I’ve done it in various ways throughout my whole career, and now I’m just stepping into it in a more full way. I love being able to have a say at the table.”
Finally, Ladnier is proud of her 19-year-old daughter, Leela, who voices the first South Asian protagonist on a Disney Junior show on Mira, Royal Detective.
Ladnier is entering her 28th year as an actress. She has seen progress for South Asian actors during that time.
“Conditions have changed a lot in the sense that we’re not just being asked to play stereotypical roles. Also, there are more roles.
“There are so many more young people coming into the business. So there are more opportunities. It’s really important to honor the positive moves forward. We still have a lot of work to do.”
It helps that there are now South Asian people at all levels of the business.
“The good thing is that we’re seeing [Asian] people behind the camera, in the writing room,” she continued.
“People like Mindy are great influences. We’re seeing people do all the different parts of what it takes to make film or television work. We’re seeing people at the table, a lot of executives. It’s remarkable and wonderful.
“And we need to keep writing our stories so that we’re being represented fully and wholly,” she added. “We’re seeing more of the humanity of people rather than stereotypes. That’s the biggest shift.”
Ladnier’s hopes for the new year? “Hopefully, more Shyla and more acting roles,” she said. “I’m excited about 2023.”
NCIS: Los Angeles airs Sunday nights at 10/9c, and you can watch NCIS: Los Angeles online right here via TV Fanatic.
Dale McGarrigle is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.