Gerald McRaney, who has been promoted to series regular on NCIS: Los Angeles Season 13, which premieres on Sunday, expressed astonishment that he is still playing military characters. Prior to this Naval role, he played Marines on Simon & Simon and Major Dad, as well as numerous other Air Force characters.
“I am actually pretty shocked because I am not a veteran,” McRaney said in a phone interview with UPI. “The closest I ever came to this was ROTC in college.”
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigates military crimes, and NCIS: Los Angeles was the first regional spinoff of the CBS hit. It was followed by New Orleans and Hawaii.
McRaney, 74, made his first guest appearance on NCIS: Los Angeles as Adm. Killbride in 2014. He made several more appearances until the series asked him to join the cast this season.
“I guess they decided they needed an old geezer in the cast and that’s when I came in,” McRaney said.
Agents Callen (Chris O’Donnell) and Hanna (LL Cool J) go on an undercover mission in Los Angeles. Killbride will be their supervisor, filling in for operations manager Hetty Lange (Linda Hunt) as Hunt retires from the series.
“I think she’ll probably come back and do some more stuff on the show, just not as much,” McRaney said. “Killbride will be in every episode this season and will be more involved.”
McRaney said he tried to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1967. However, he was married to his first wife, Beverly A. Root, and had one child. At that time, the military was only looking for single men.
“So the U.S. military stumbled on without me,” he said.
McRaney began acting in movies and television in 1969. When he landed the role of Rick Simon in 1981, he asked that his character be a military veteran.
“In the ’70s, every Vietnam veteran on TV was portrayed as this crazy, murderous son of a bitch,” McRaney said. “I got a little tired of that.”
Simon & Simon showed that a veteran could make it big by opening a private detective agency with his brother. In Major Dad, he played a Marine raising three daughters with his wife.
McRaney said he helped develop Major Dad as an executive producer and that his goal with the sitcom was to highlight the sacrifices military families make to support soldiers.
“My sister was married to an Air Force officer and they traveled all over the world for years,” McRaney said. “By the time you get used to a school, you are gone and you have to make new friends and join a new soccer team.”
Killbride retired from the U.S. Navy but did occasional favors for Lange. McRaney said playing officer is similar in the Marines, Navy and Air Force.
“Everybody who’s in the military is ready to fight,” McRaney said. “If you are a computer geek, you might have to pick up an M16 at some point in your career and go to work.”
NCIS: Los Angeles made reference to Killbride’s service in Vietnam. Killbride was also a Navy SEAL.
“I think the only thing I missed was the Coast Guard,” McRaney said.
He said some of the episodes of Season 13 deal with the suicide of a petty officer and coyotes bringing immigrants to California. McRaney said Killbride also goes into the field and does his own stunts.
“Not as much as the regular cast, but from time to time I guess that gets built in because I am not quite that old and decrepit yet,” McRaney said. “It’s a change from the myriad of dialog, which is getting harder and harder for me to learn.”
McRaney also has a recurring role on the NBC drama This Is Us. Since playing Dr. K, the doctor who delivered Jack (Milo Venitmiglia) and Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) babies, he has returned regularly for episodes and won an Emmy for his performance.
This Is Us may call him back as Dr. K before the end of the sixth and final season, McRaney said. It might just be a bit more complicated now that he’s a regular on NCIS: LA.
“I have had some inquiries about taking the role while I am still on NCIS,” McRaney said. “So there may or may not be something there.”
Aside from these many military roles, McRaney said one of his favorite roles was in the movie The Neverending Story. McRaney had a scene as the father of a boy who reads a book and is transported to a magical realm.
“The story overall is about imagination,” McRaney said. “As long as there are people who have imagination, the story will never end.”
NCIS: Los Angeles airs Sundays at 9 p.m. EDT on CBS.