‘NCIS: Sydney’: Olivia Swann Talks Mackey’s Past & Getting Vulnerable

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[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for NCIS: Sydney Episode 4 “Ghosted.”]

NCIS: Sydney offers a little insight into team leader Mackey (Olivia Swann) in the latest episode, with the investigation forcing her to open up about her past.

While the team has someone in custody claiming he killed the victim, and Mackey is willing to believe it at first — she is very much against deserters, as Frank (Linal Haft) was after serving and receiving the Navy Cross — it soon becomes clear there’s more than it seems to the case. He couldn’t have killed the victim for the reason he claimed (blackmail) since the other man was repatriating the medals he’d found.

And so, in an attempt to get Frank to talk, Mackey reveals that while she was stationed in Afghanistan, three guys wandered off base and wound up in a village on the wrong side of the border. She disobeyed a direct order and with two others, went to rescue them. The three guys made it home to face the music, but the two with Mackey did not.

Below, Swann talks about Mackey opening up, filming that scene, a possible connection to NCIS‘ Gibbs (Mark Harmon), and more.

I like Mackey!

Olivia Swann: I feel like she comes in so hot that I think it could be 50-50 whether people are going to like that or be a bit taken aback by it, but I’m thrilled that you like her. I love her.

We finally see her opening up, but she does it reluctantly and only for the sake of the case, and she turns off the microphone so JD (Todd Lasance) can’t hear her. So how much did that take out of her, not just because of what happened, but also because it’s something she doesn’t talk about?

Yeah, I think it’s such a pivotal moment for Mackey, and it really does kind of add this different layer to her. She’s always someone who will put herself, her job, and her body on the line for a case, and this is no different, even though I think it affects her way, way more. And I also love that choice to switch off the microphone because it still shows that no matter how she’s clicked with JD, there’s still this element of, she’s not okay being vulnerable in front of him just yet. And I love that. It still creates space for them to do more connections and more delving into each other, and figuring each other out. But I think it’s a big moment for her. It really is. And like you said, she’s doing it for the case, but it’s a moment for her that, I think, takes a lot to go there.

Olivia Swann — 'NCIS: Sydney'

Daniel Asher Smith/Paramount+

How was it filming for you? Because it’s the most vulnerable that we’ve seen Mackey thus far.

It was a very interesting day on set. Usually days on set in this season were full of laughter, just nonstop laughter and messing around and hanging with everyone. But it was just myself and Linal Haft, who plays Frank so incredibly, and I knew that I had to get into a zone and into a space that reflects where she’s at in that scene. From even just going into the makeup trailer in the morning, I had music, and I was trying to stay as much as I could in that emotional state, which was tough because I love going into work, and it’s always such a wonderful vibe, but I had to make sure that I was honoring where she was and the emotions and the feelings she was having. So it was quite a somber, intense day, but it was necessary for that scene, and I’m glad that I was able to get to a space where I could do justice to that emotion and also the beautiful writing that Tamara Asmar, who is the writer on this episode, had done. I just wanted to honor it.

What is it going to take for her to open up to someone else from the team, other than DeShawn (Sean Sagar), who knows about her past, to tell JD about this?

I know I’m intrigued, too. I have no idea what it’s going to take, but she’s the kind of woman who will probably keep her cards as close to her chest for as long as possible as opposed to facing being that vulnerable in front of people that she’s growing to care for. I think also part of her is used to being stoic and strong and the leader. She’s used to not showing any cracks or vulnerability. I’m not quite sure what it will take for her to willingly give up that information, so we’ll see.

Mackey and JD reluctantly started working together. How is their dynamic going to continue to evolve for the rest of the season?

I think we definitely just see them falling more into this seamless teamwork that was very clear from the beginning, but like you said, they were both very reluctant to maybe allow it to become a thing or allow it to exist. But I think we started to see Mackey actually genuinely enjoying JD’s company and seeing how he operates and kind of respecting that. I think the wonderful thing about the two of them is that no matter how much they respect each other and grow to respect each other and like each other, they will always hold each other accountable for their actions, and they’re not afraid to disagree with one another. And I think that’s where the respect comes in. They get each other, but also they’re trying to run their own show. It forms a really, really cool dynamic.

I have to say I really like the dynamic between Mackey and Blue (Mavournee Hazel), and I felt so bad for her with that bird.

I know! Oh my God, I adored filming those scenes because I love Mav so much. But also, I hated them because I had to be so kind of blunt, and I don’t know, whatever the word is, standoffish, and all those things direct to her, but I also love that dynamic. I think it’s just so fun, and it reads so well onscreen.

In the premiere, Mackey says it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, Gibbs’ rule 18. When I asked Morgan O’Neill if that means she knows Gibbs, he said, “there was a certain former NCIS agent who reached out to her at her lowest moment and dragged her back into the organization. And that agent may or may not be Jethro Gibbs.” So, what can you say about the possibility of that agent being Gibbs?

I think Morgan summed that up perfectly. I don’t have to say anything different. Can I copy his answer? Because that’s exactly what I would’ve said, too.

And what can you say about whoever that was, what does that person mean to Mackey, and what happened there that shaped who she is now?

I think, in that moment, that person gave her a lifeline, and she’s extremely grateful for that. What we see of her now is that lifeline that she has been given, and she kind of leads with it with such pride and such honor, which is why I think she takes her job so seriously because it was given to her in a really dark time and a time that she really needed it.

NCIS: Sydney, Tuesdays, 8/7c, CBS

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