How 'NCIS: Los Angeles' Star Daniela Ruah Scored Her Eurovision Hosting Gig

Daniela Ruah
Jeff Katz Photography/CBS Studios International

Daniela Ruah

On May 13, 2017, Salvador Sobral won the 62nd Eurovision Song Contest with "Amar Pelos Dois," written by his sister, Luisa Sobral. It was the first win for Portugal in 49 tries over 54 years and broke the longest winless streak of any country. By tradition, the winning country hosts the contest the following year, which is why the 2018 competition will take place in Lisbon on May 12 (following two semi-finals on May 8 and 10). Portugal's state broadcaster, RTP, has announced the names of the four hosts of the 2018 broadcast: Filomena Cautela, Silvia Alberto, Catarina Furtado and Daniela Ruah. While the first three names may not be familiar to most Americans, Ruah is well-known in the U.S. for starring in CBS' NCIS: Los Angeles. It's rare for an American to host Eurovision, though not unprecedented: in 2006, Maria Menounos was one of the hosts of the first competition to be held in Athens, following Greece's win in 2005.

Billboard sat down with Ruah over an early-morning breakfast in Encino, Calif., to discuss her hosting duties and her personal history with the Eurovision Song Contest.

You were five years old when your family moved from the U.S. to Portugal. What was that move like for you as a child?

We had some transitions before that. I was born in Boston, and when I was two and a half, my parents moved to Minneapolis. And then from there, when I was five, we moved back to Portugal. But before that, a lot of family members had come to visit us and we had been back to Portugal many times because my whole family lived there. Both my parents are Portuguese. And so it wasn't weird to transition back. My parents spoke Portuguese to me in the house so I understood everything. I replied to them in English, just because my whole life outside of the house, school and everything, was spoken in English. My cousins would speak to me in Portuguese and I had to reply to them in Portuguese, too. The transition to Portugal wasn't traumatic in the slightest. Everybody was familiar to me. It was just a new school but I'm pretty outgoing, so none of that really affected me that much.

Growing up in Portugal, at what point did you know what your career was going to be?

Early on, my parents noticed an aptitude for being a show-off. I loved attention. I was always saying, "Watch me do this, watch me do that," which I now realize with my own kids is a phase that most kids go through. I love dance and my mom put me in tap dancing when I was really young. I never pursued it but my interest turned to ballet and gymnastics and then acting classes. I was one of the lucky people who found what I loved at a really young age. When I was 16, I got my first job in a Portuguese soap opera and I realized how much I really loved it.

When you were growing up in Portugal, did you watch the Eurovision Song Contest?

Absolutely. It's such a big event back home. It was part of our lives. We'd talk about it in school the next day. It's the longest running televised competition in the world and it's hard not to get excited about it. To this day, when you get together with friends, we ask each other, "Oh, do you remember that old song?" and we start singing something that was performed long ago.

Where were you when you watched Portugal win Eurovision in 2017?

I was at my mom's house in Portugal, and my husband was there too along with my kids and my nieces and nephews. We were all watching even though it was super late but we knew that Salvador had a really good chance of winning. His [jury] points kept going up and up and up and we were on the edge of our seats and we still had to wait another hour until the people's votes came in. It was very exciting. My husband had never even heard of Eurovision before, and he was just as excited. He kept saying, "This is amazing. This is amazing."

How did you feel when Sobral won, giving Portugal its first victory after competing 49 times over 54 years?

I'm very patriotic when it comes to Portugal and to see him win by singing in Portuguese with something so simple, just him onstage, I think every Portuguese person at that moment felt like they had won something, too. Because you're also putting this small country, which is such an underdog in so many situations, on the map. We had 20 million tourists last year. We're a country of 11 million people. So he's just adding into the growing popularity of the country. He's giving it a good name.

Did you shed any tears?

Oh my gosh, yes. The fact that Salvador wasn't in good health and that he was going to need some pretty dire treatment to become well added to everybody's emotion.

How did your hosting job come about?

After we watched last year's contest, my husband said, "So you guys won, which means that next year Eurovision will be in Portugal?" I said, "Yes, isn't that great? The tourism is going to come in." And he replied, "You should host." I said, "You're crazy. That's ridiculous. There's no relationship other than the fact I'm Portuguese." And he said, "No, seriously. You should host. You speak English fluently. The show airs in all these countries that are participating and that will be watching, so you're a familiar face to everybody." It seemed like such an improbable idea to me at the time, but I said I would call my agent in Portugal and see what happens. My agent said, "That's a great idea. As soon as everything settles down, we are going to look into that and see what we can make happen." And within a few months, it happened.

How did you find out you were selected to be one of the hosts?

My agent forwarded an email from RTP saying, "We would love to have her. We're so excited." And then when we had our meetings and were doing our photo shoots, they said, "As soon as we put your name forward to the EBU [European Broadcasting Union], they were super happy about it." I felt very welcome. And the other three women that are also hosting too are amazing. They're in-house RTP hosts, and they're incredibly talented. And for the first time, we have four women hosting.

Do you know the other three hosts personally, or from their work?

We're a very small country, so it's a very small industry, which means you either know people or you are friends of friends. Catarina's husband is an actor and he and I played romantic partners in a soap opera, so there's that connection. When I was on Dança Comigo, RTP's version of Dancing With the Stars, in 2006, she was the host, so I met her many times before. I have a lot of respect for her. She's incredibly intelligent and she's an ambassador to the U.N. and she's a mom. Another one of our hosts, Silvia Alberto, co-hosted Dança Comigo with Catarina and she's interviewed me many times before, so I've known her for a while. And then Filomena and I have a lot of friends in common, so we've met before. It's a very comfortable group and it's a very comfortable environment, and we're all really honored to be a part of this.

You were already known in Portugal for your work there. Does NCIS: Los Angeles air on Portuguese television?

Yes, it's on cable. As I said, we're a very patriotic people. Diogo Morgado is another actor who works internationally, so his work will often air in Portugal. Joaquim de Almeida is another very well-known actor. He's been around for a long time and works internationally. I started when I was 16 years old, and I was some little kid saying, "I'm going to go to Hollywood someday," and somehow it happened. So people in Portugal are very proud.

How will the hosting duties for Eurovision be divided between the four of you?

As far as I know, Catarina and I will be on stage while our other two hosts will be in the green room and conduct interviews backstage. Of course, we all know that anything can change.

When do you wrap this ninth season of NCIS: Los Angeles and when are you needed in Portugal?

We wrap the season April 9, and then I am needed in Lisbon from the end of April until the final on May 12. Everything fell perfectly into place.

How do you explain to your American friends, including your NCIS cast mates, what Eurovision is?

I tell them each country selects a singer to represent them and almost every country in Europe plus Israel plus Australia compete against each other to have an ultimate winner. People who work in television ask me, "What are the viewer numbers?" When I tell them over 200 million people have watched the live broadcast, that makes people say, "Oh! Oh! Okay."

Are there any Eurovision songs you remember from watching the competition in Portugal?

Doce had a song in 1982 called "Bem Bom." I'm also a fan of Rita Guerra [who sang for Portugal in 2003]. Then you have ABBA, Celine Dion and Cliff Richard, all these cool names that have been around for so long now. I just love the vibe.

What are you most looking forward to about the event and being back in Portugal?

I look forward to being home. I'm usually there for about a month during my hiatus time. I look forward to the rehearsals. I look forward to finding out who our songwriters and our singers are going to be and who's going to represent us. I look forward to hearing the song for the first time. I'm looking forward to finding out what we're going to wear. I know that sounds a little trivial and inconsequential. There's also a factor of it's in Portugal and were going to be viewed by all these people. We also want to give a little attention to our Portuguese designers. So I think at least two out of four dresses will be by Portuguese designers. I look forward to working with the other three girls, because I love them. I really thrive being onstage. I thrive on that connection with an audience, being there live.