'Atlas Cannot Shrug' -- LL Cool J of 'NCIS: Los Angeles'
On CBS' hit freshman series, "NCIS: Los Angeles," airing Tuesday (it's a spin-off of "NCIS," which airs right before it), rapper/actor LL Cool J (a.k.a. James Todd Smith, or just "Todd" on the set) plays Special Agent Sam Hanna of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, who is also a former Navy SEAL.
Asked if he feels the weight of the responsibility of portraying an alumnus of one of America's elite military units, LL Cool J says, "Oh, Atlas cannot shrug, He can't shrug. He must keep the world up on his shoulders, and that's what I'm trying to do.
"Some Special Ops (agents) came by yesterday, actually, and they seemed to be really excited about how we're portraying them and how we are representing them, when we're out in the world, because the show is obviously showing in other countries.
"I'm happy that they are pleased, because ultimately these are some of the people who have to protect our freedom and protect democracy, so we want to represent them properly. That's another part of our responsibilities as actors, when we play these characters, to make sure these guys are seen in the right light.
"That's important to the future of our nation."
Reminded that some recent feature films have taken a more negative view of America's military, LL Cool J says, "You've got to be careful. At the end of the day, we have to be loyal to our values and the principles that built our country, especially if these characters are being seen by potentially millions and millions of people every week.
"We can have some fun and do some interesting stories, but they still need to represent our guys the right way. I think all of us agree that that is the right way to do it."
It's also part of LL Cool J's personal history.
"My family is very pro-American," he says. "My grandfather used to sit me in his lap, and we would watch all of the old World War II shows that used to come on, back in the day. I'm totally on it, totally into it, and I love it. My grandfather, even after we said grace, he would say, 'Chow!'
"Then my grandmother would chime in with the Cuban Missile Crisis and what that was about, So I grew up hearing that kind of stuff.
"My grandmother used to tell me, 'If a task is once begun, never leave it till it's done; be thy labor great or small, do it well or not at all.'"
So, who is LL Cool J's favorite Founding Father?
"You know what," he says, "that's a good question, interesting question. My favorite Founding Father .. wow. Benjamin Franklin was brilliant. I think I will go with Benjamin Franklin first. I would go with Jefferson and then Adams, but I would go with Franklin.
"When he talked about wealth ... his 'Poor Richard's Almanack' was amazing. Him being a scientist; him being an author; him being a businessman; him being an entrepreneur; him being a guy who understood how important it was to be conservative when it came to a dollar, and conserve your wealth.
"I just thought he was a very wise guy. I would go with Franklin.
LL Cool J also admires another American entrepreneur.
"He's obviously not a Founding Father, but you could fast-forward to guys like (Thomas) Edison. These weren't necessarily the most (formally) educated guys, but he know how to put the right people in the right places and ask the right questions and get things going.
"But I think that's the beauty of our nation. That's part of the beauty of America and why it works, because it's not just about specialized knowledge. It's also about vision; it's also about ambition; it's also about your attitude and your ability to mobilize people.
"You can succeed whether or not you have that specialized knowledge. I think that makes a huge difference in this country."
And while most of LL Cool J's reading these days consists, he says, of "NCIS: Los Angeles" scripts, it's no accident that he made the reference to Atlas shrugging.
"I don't necessarily subscribe to all her beliefs," he says, "but I do like Ayn Rand. That's why I made the 'Atlas Shrugged' comment. I think she's interesting. I don't do the atheist thing; I believe in God. But some of it works for me.
"'The Fountainhead' was interesting, those characters, just the idea of you being the architect of your own fortune."
And he doesn't stop with Rand.
"I do a lot of reading," he says. "I read the Bible. That's great. I like Florence Scovel Shinn, 'The Game of Life,' I like her. I think she's very interesting as well. I do a lot of reading."