The 40-year-old actress stars as Jane Tennant, Special Agent in Charge of NCIS Pearl Harbor, in the upcoming CBS series. She is the first female lead in the NCIS franchise. Upon landing the history-making role in thespin-off, Vanessa told ET's Cassie DiLaura she had her husband Nick Lachey's full support when packing their bags and heading to Hawaii.
"It was a talk that I had with my husband and I said, 'What do you think?' and...he's like, 'Hawaii, umm, it could be worse.' And he was like, 'This is awesome!'" Vanessa recalled while on the set of the new show. "And I'll never forget him saying, 'This is your time and you've been there in the past for me.'"
"But we definitely do try 50/50. When he's on tour, I try to be home. When I'm shooting something, he tries to be home," she explained, adding that they started to try and work together like on Love Is Blind and other projects to be there for their kids. "So this is working. This is a thing that would take our whole family out of the mainland and bring them very far away, and he was on board to support me. I told the kids and they were gung ho because they think that Hawaii is water slides, play. I ask them all the time, 'Are you happy or no?' And they're like, yeah! So they're very happy here, they love it here. They're island babies. I didn't even realize I had island babies until I brought them here."
Vanessa and Nick are parents to three children; sons Camden, 8, and Phoenix, 4, and daughter Brooklyn, 6. When they started school at their new home in August, the proud mom shared the sweet moment on her Instagram.
As for how their little ones are adjusting, Vanessa says "kids are more resilient than adults." The actress was a "military brat" and went to eight different schools for her first nine years of school. Vanessa's father, Vincent Minnillo, served in the Air Force and she was born at the 13th Air Force Regional Medical Center at Clark Air Base in Angeles City, Philippines.
"That was a lot and I wouldn't change anything and how it made me," she expressed. "But I can imagine how much stress that was on my parents now that I'm in it. But for my kids it's great because I think that there's something that you can't teach your children, the whole leading by example verses telling them when they see different kids in different states and different cultures and different economic backgrounds…I just want them to be in a more multicultural lifestyle."
NCIS: Hawaii sees Vanessa's character as she and her team balance duty to family and country, investigating high-stakes crimes involving military personnel, national security and the mysteries of the island itself. As for being the first female lead in NCIS franchise history, Vanessa is honored.
"It means a lot," she expressed, adding that "it's something I definitely don't take for granted and something that I will not take lightly. But it's an honor and it's even evolving the NCIS franchise..I got some big shoes to fill with the fellas before me."
"All eyes are on us! And not just me specifically, all of my team," she noted. "We have so much respect for the NCIS franchise...So when you talk about the pressure we feel, I just want fans to know we're not trying to replicate what the show is, we're just evolving it into another layer as the times go on, as the characters evolve."
Vanessa shared that her military background helped her prepare for the role. But it was getting the job that made her realize what a full circle moment it was for her.
"This is everything that I've ever wanted, dreamed, envisioned. Without even realizing it, this is the job!" she exclaimed. "This is something that I didn't even realize was something [I wanted] my entire life. And now that it's here, I've realized that all of my work and all of my work ethic, and how I try to be as a person, as a woman, as a mother, as friend, as a coworker, is all encapsulated in this moment."
"It did help me to have a military background. I didn't need additional training in the military respect, love, honor side of it, I needed training with the gun," she explained about the physical aspect of the role. "There is definitely something that you feel when you are born and raised in the military. I was born in an Air Force base in the military, we grew up in Hawaii, I've lived on multiple Air Force bases...This is my history. And when I see fallen soldiers in the script, there's just a respect. There's a way you stand, there's a way you honor, there's a way that you look at somebody and know what they went through when you see the ribbons or you see how many stripes they have. I understand all of that."
Vanessa, meanwhile, can't get enough of Hawaii, where the temperature is normally 98 degrees, "and rising," she joked, referencing her husband's boy band. She also can't wait to show the island and its people in a whole new way.
"Being on the island, getting to represent this team, getting to show the island in a way that is more beautiful than a postcard, there's so many amazing unbelievable layers to Hawaii that people only know from TV and movies," she explained. "And we get to show the heart, the depth, the culture, the heritage, the family. That's the biggest thing is the ohana that you don't really talk about, it's all here. And there's a magic aloha spirit that I immediately felt when I got here. And I think it's translating onscreen pretty well, so I'm excited for the world to see."