WATCH Magazine: December 2022: Wilmer Valderrama

go backward. Particularly in a landscape where Lati- nos are still vastly underrepresented (despite being 18.5% of the population, Latinos had only 6.3% of broadcast roles in the 2019–20 season according to a 2021 UCLA study), Valderrama was uncompromising in his need for agency behind the camera. “When I first got on set, I had a big sobering conversation about what we’re going to do and not—what [Torres] is not going to sound like. In my experience, a lot of writers and directors need it so that authenticity in storytelling doesn’t fall apart and the story gets to the audience in a way it needs to be told.” Everyone was receptive to his input, he says, thus beginning a more than 120-episode journey that has seen Torres blossom into one of the most complex and compelling characters across the franchise. “I love the character I’m playing,” he says. “I love the freedom the writers have given me to collaborate. That collaboration keeps me coming back— and my cast. At NCIS , they understand the importance of evolving.” Torres helped usher in a decided tonal shift for

the series—a subtle shift, but a change nonetheless. Torres came to the team with baggage: abandon- ment issues from his father, difficulty trusting women as romantic partners, an aversion to even being on a team in the first place. He says that he and Mark Harmon, whom he misses greatly, worked hard to give Torres and Harmon’s Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs complementary inner lives—to make it so that both the characters and the audience would see their similar instincts and ways they needed each other. “We ramped up the action, too,” says Valderrama, who hits the gym in his home nearly every day, from 4:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. on days he has to get to set. “But the biggest factor we changed was tonal. With Torres, it became way more personal. It wasn’t about the case of the week; it was about the people solving the case. We went deeper, and the show evolved into something more grounded and more real.” He’s evolved, too, a process that’s now accelerat- ing at double speed. Among the initiatives on his roster: his film and television production company, /


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