'NCIS': Wilmer Valderrama on Torres' Dad Heartbreak, Bishop Romance

Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Tuesday’s episode of NCIS.

Nick Torres may have gotten answers about his father, but they it ended in heartbreaking fashion.

Tuesday’s episode of NCIS unpacked Torres’ heartbreaking family history, digging into the real truths behind his nonexistent relationship with his absent father, who walked out on Torres and the family when he was five years old and who he believed was dead. It turns out, his father, Miguel (guest star Steven Bauer), had been alive this entire time, working on dangerous undercover missions for various government agencies over the years — most recently for the CIA. Though Torres understood his dad to be a deadbeat and a liar, the NCIS agent was surprised to discover that the elder Torres kept tabs on him and even helped the family financially (through the church) over the years. 

After a dramatic confrontation between Torres and his father against a rogue CIA agent, there was a moment when Torres believed he lost his dad — again — after he was shot multiple times. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case (whew, bulletproof vests!). Even though there were decades of estrangement between father and son, Torres extended an olive branch, inviting him to dinner and even proposing he make up for lost time with other members of the family. Miguel agreed. But when Torres arrived at his hotel later that evening, he was nowhere to be found. Gone, again. Instead, Torres ended up at Gibbs’ house and the two friends shared a silent moment of understanding. His dad wasn’t his family, his NCIS team was. 

“We’ve been bread-crumbing a lot of what Torres is to this team and who he is for years now. That’s what’s exciting about this is weeks before [the episode] was even written, the writers and the showrunners came up to me and said, ‘Hey, we really want to do a Torres episode where we find out a little bit more of his past, where he came from so we can have a deeper understanding of who he is.’ I was excited about that opportunity,” Wilmer Valderrama tells ET. 

Following the episode, the actor discusses Torres’ bittersweet revelation about his dad, his character’s slow-burn of a relationship with Bishop and what he’s looking forward to in season 19.

ET: When you got the script for this episode, what were your initial thoughts about exploring Torres’ relationship with his estranged father?

Wilmer Valderrama: It was exciting. I had shared with them my real dad’s journey back when I was younger and in Venezuela. My dad was there for me; he was really there for me. We started playing with, “What if he wasn’t? Maybe that is a beacon that really led him into a world of undercover work and allowed him to capture the bad guy, and being emotionally unavailable because he never had that permission.” It was really fun to have that conversation. As we started thinking about it, what it meant and what the case was and how did it all pop up, it became even more thrilling to know that, “OK, we’re going to catch his dad.” We started thinking about people to come forward. I had done a pilot with Steven Bauer called Four Stars. It was about two four-star generals, and Bruce Greenwood and Steven Bauer played four-star generals. I played Steven Bauer’s son in that pilot. That was the pilot that CBS used to basically offer me the NCIS invitation. I started thinking to myself, “Man, this would be pretty awesome if we had Steven Bauer,” and everybody was like, “Yeah, what about Steven Bauer?” He showed up and it was everything we needed it to be. I’m so thrilled with how it all came out. 

You learn a lot about Torres’ father and the actual truth behind his absence in Torres’ life. What was it like to really dig into Torres’ family history and filling those blanks for you? 

The truth is that for Torres, he’s been hanging on to how things were literally and emotionally at home, and not understanding the pain his father possibly went through. But also for his father to not understand the pain that him and his mother even went through, I think that was a big revelation. It’s a big moment and a big iconic moment for Torres to really understand what sacrifices were made back then for the possibility of him being a man who he could be or he could grow up to be. The circumstances were what the circumstances were. When he looks at the new information, it’s like he doesn’t want to believe it. He still wants to be mad because he’s talking about 30 years of being mad at somebody. “Hey, I can’t just undo that hate, it almost deconstructs who I am.” That was a very tough conversation for all of us, the writers and the producers. Even with Bauer and I in our dynamic, we had a lot of conversations on the phone about that. “What do you mean by that? Where are you coming from? How are you feeling when you say those things?” When we went to set, we wanted to have a notion that Torres really knew where he was coming from and he felt a certain way. Then that new information really challenged everything he was and what he became, because had he been given that information when he was younger, who knows what Torres’ vision would be for a father. I think Gibbs has accidentally become the father that Torres never had. This team of NCIS also became accidentally the family he never had.

In the last couple of years, you’ve seen Torres softening up a little bit and being more of a positive team member, and about his teammates, and about having each other’s backs. In this episode, you really see it come to a dramatic halt. When Torres walks into the hotel room, what does that mean when his father is not there? It’s almost a confirmation of everything that Torres was before, it’s a confirmation that maybe he should go back to who he was before, “Yeah, exactly, that’s the answer I wanted. OK, cool, you broke my heart again. Now, how do I believe everything you said to me before this?”

In the final moments of the episode, there’s still hope on Torres’ side that his dad has maybe turned a new leaf. Then he sees that his dad has left. What was going through Torres’ mind in that moment when he realized, “He is who I thought he was for all these years…”?

They had just fought for each other’s lives. He thought he almost lost his dad when he got shot. He saw that moment as, “I now know too much, but not enough. Please don’t die.” Then when he survived and to get through that, then there is this notion of, “While you’re here, might as well meet your niece and see your other daughter. Let’s go eat or something?” When he says “yes,” Torres actually truly believes it. I don’t think Torres assumes, “You’re going to be my dad now. Let’s play catch.” He just thinks, “I need an opportunity for me to know who my dad really was and what he’s been through because that will be healing.” He was excited to heal, he was excited to move forward. He was excited to show his dad, “I know you sacrificed a lot for my mother and me and everybody else in our family, but don’t worry, we’re cool. We turned out OK.” When he was walking up to that hotel and he saw the hotel room empty, Torres in that moment realized, “Wait a minute, did anything he said to me have any truth? Did he betray my trust again? Told me a movie and now used it to exit left again?”

When he shows up at Gibbs’ house, he doesn’t know that he’s driving to his house. When he walks in, he wasn’t there to have any conversation, he wasn’t there to process anything. He goes, “I’m not trying to be emotionally available either.” I think Gibbs understands when Torres says, “I don’t want to talk about it.” He goes, “Then you came to the right place.” That is their way. These are two seasoned bulls dealing with emotions. For Torres, I think it means, “Maybe this is why I went undercover for so long. This is why I wasn’t emotionally attached to anything. That’s why I trained myself to not be at one place for too long, to become anything but me to get the bad guy.” It confirmed that he shouldn’t trust anyone anymore. That is going to do a number on him, and something fractured and broke in Torres. You’re going to see that play out. He’s not going to trust many people. The only people he really knows to put his trust in is his team, because he knows that they’ve been through worse together somehow.

Torres and Bishop’s relationship has been quite a slow burn. What can you say about what viewers can look forward to with their close bond?

The fans have seen the seeds of a closer and deeper connection between the two of them. I think they really, truly have a very special and honest relationship. They can trust each other. They know they’re not emotionally available to one another or to the world. I mean, they’ve been through too much for them to break their own rules and figure out how you make that work. I think that’s why it’s so slow. They just don’t really know how to be in a relationship. You wear the badge for that long and you give yourself to service, and then when it’s time to do something for yourself, it’s really hard to do that. For Bishop, the few times that she’s tried to be emotionally available has really backfired for her. The same thing for Torres. Most of his relationships were part of an undercover scheme for him to get the bad guy. It’s hard for them to really know how to make a square fit in the triangle. It’s this Tetris. They’re playing Tetris with their minds and they don’t really know where they fit with one another. But I will tell you, this is the season you’ll find out.

Oh really? 

Yeah. There’s something exciting that you can explore the psychology of both of them or where they come from. Whatever the fans have been wondering about — what it really is, what it isn’t, they’re going to get their answers this season… It’s vague but it’s incredibly loaded. That’s all I can tell you.

Congratulations on the season 19 renewal. What are you looking forward to with another year on the show and kind of getting to at least another year of work for you on the show?

Because we stopped our season 17 abruptly, we weren’t able to have a proper season finale. Even though we came back, we had a shorter order. We had a 16-episode order, and there were a lot of challenges — where you could go, how many characters could be in one scene and all of that. It was hard to thrive as a season, but I look at it as a huge testament to our fans that kept showing up every Tuesday night and almost breaking 10 million every week. To go into this season and have all the major protocols, and have a time and place… We just didn’t know what was going to be of the show. Being able to pull off a season, do 16 episodes and be able to be back on television for the fans when 30 percent of our industry was working of what traditionally shoots. We feel very fortunate, and I think we nailed our protocols, and we were excited to show that we could be at work and be safe. Now, in this [upcoming] 19th season, we finally get to give the fans the season finale they’ve been wanting or needing or wanting to see. We were able to have a real season finale that leads us into a season premiere, and it’s a major one. It’s a major, major season finale.

That’s what’s exciting about what’s to come. The show is not slowing down. If anything, it’s the same magic but different energy. It’s different dynamics that continue to take us to different places on the show. As long as they keep watching, we’re going to keep showing up. That’s how I feel about that, and I’m grateful that at such a historic time in our industry and the world, we can in a very, very, very, very small part be a contributor to a little bit of sanity. And if we can just stay on the air and we can continue, that is everything you want as an actor and as an entertainer. I’m glad and I’m happy.

NCIS airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. For more, watch below.

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