NCIS Star Daniela Ruah Opened Up About How Her Rare Birth Defect Has Affected Her Acting

Best-known for her role as Junior Field Agent Kensi Blye, Daniela Ruah is the leading lady in long-running procedural NCIS: Los Angeles. The Portuguese-American has actually portrayed the character since the show first aired back in 2009. And regular viewers may have noticed a distinctive feature when it comes to her eyes: her right iris is completely black. As it turns out, though, this unique attribute has impacted on her experiences of Hollywood. The actor has subsequently opened up about some of the hardships she’s faced as a result of this in a particularly candid interview.

The star actually first publicly addressed her eye defect in a frank discussion with Esquire magazine. So although the eye defect that Ruah was born with thankfully doesn’t affect her vision, she has admitted that it has sometimes had a negative impact on her filming experiences. But Ruah certainly hasn’t let her career suffer for it – as we’re about to find out.

Interestingly, Ruah first caught the acting bug before she’d even reached adulthood. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1983 to an ENT surgeon father and otologist mother, the young girl moved back with her family to their Portuguese homeland at the age of five. The future star resided here up until her late teens, and it was in this country that she began to dream of the bright lights of Hollywood.

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And it seems that her aspirations were to come true. Yes, a 16-year-old Ruah landed the part of Sara in Portuguese telenovela Jardins Proibidos (Forbidden Gardens). The hopeful actor returned to the screen in 2001, when she played Constança Valadas in another soap opera: Filha do Mar (Daughter of the Sea). That same year she also appeared as Zezinha in TV movie Querida Mãe (My Dear Mother) as well as taking on the role of Monica in miniseries Elsa, uma Mulher Assim (Elsa, A Woman like This).

In a 2018 interview with Billboard, Ruah offered something of an explanation for her fascination with being in front of the camera. According to the star, it appears that she’d actually been something of a show-off from a young age. The actor said, “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.”

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Luckily, Ruah’s parents had no problem with her career choice. In 2012 she told CNN, “I remember asking my father if he had preferred that I’d gone into medicine, and his exact words were, ‘Are you crazy? You have no idea what this lifestyle is like. It’s a dog style life: being on call, sleeping at the hospital, studying for the rest of your life because of medical developments… It’s such a long time to educate yourself in the field.’”

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After turning 18, Ruah relocated to a new country once more – this time to the U.K. to study performing arts at the London Metropolitan University. Impressively, the young woman graduated with a First before moving back to Portugal to resume her small-screen career. And upon her return, she happily landed the role of Verónica Botelho in TV drama Inspector Max.

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Ruah then returned to the soap opera world in 2005, when she was cast as Rita Cruz in Dei-te Quase Tudo (I Gave You Nearly Everything). A year later her profile received a major boost when she signed up to compete in Dança Comigo (Dance with Me) – Portugal’s answer to prime-time hit Dancing with the Stars. And Ruah impressed the judging panel and audience alike, it seems, as she was eventually crowned the winner of that year’s series.

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In a 2018 interview with Watch!, Ruah admitted that she’s always had a competitive streak – but that there are limits as to how far she’ll go to beat her opponent. She said, “If I didn’t win fair and square, I didn’t win. And I want to win if I’m genuinely better than my competitor.”

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Following her dancing victory, Ruah assumed the role of Daniela Pinto in telenovela Tu e Eu (You and Me) and also appeared in short film Canaviais (Reeds). However, the actor had ambitions of making it beyond her adopted Portuguese homeland. And in 2007 she moved to the Big Apple to hone her craft further at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute.

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By all accounts, Ruah’s decision to relocate to the U.S. soon paid off. Shortly after her move to New York, you see, she landed parts in a series of English-language shorts including Safe Haven, Blind Confession and Midnight Passion. The actor also appeared on U.S. TV screens for the first time in 2009, when she guested as Gigi in long-running soap opera Guiding Light.

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That same year, though, Ruah managed to bag the role that would change her career forever: Kensi Blye in NCIS: Los Angeles. In fact, the show’s producers were apparently so impressed with her audition that they were willing to change her character’s background. Originally, you see, the junior agent character was written as a “20-something Asian-American.”

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But the show’s writers still kept in the harrowing part of Blye’s back story: the agent suffered great heartbreak at the age of 15 when her father was brutally murdered. And after discovering who was responsible in NCIS: Los Angeles’ third season, Blye emotionally reveals that she ended up homeless in the first 12 months after his death.

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Alongside the likes of Sam Hanna, G. Callen and Nate Getz, Ruah’s character, Blye, made her NCIS debut in the backdoor pilot episode named “Legend.” She was initially teamed up with Agent Dom Vail. But following his tragic passing, she established both a personal and professional partnership with Liaison Officer Marty Deeks.

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Interestingly, Deeks is played by Eric Christian Olsen – whose stunt double and older brother just happens to be Ruah’s husband, David. The pair wed at a ceremony in Portugal in 2014 and have two kids together. Son River Isaac was born in 2013, while daughter Sierra Esther arrived three years later.

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Luckily, Ruah doesn’t have a particularly big problem with having to kiss her brother-in-law on screen. She told Parade in 2016, “The first time we read that there was a kiss in the script, we [said], ‘Okay, not sure either one of us would plan this.’ But for one, these characters were bantering and flirting even before I met my husband.”

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And while speaking to Collider in 2010, Ruah revealed another secret about NCIS: she enjoys the fact she’s something of a lone female on the show. The star said, “It’s fun. I have to say, in my own specific case, it just so happens that all my life most of my friends have been guys anyway. So it’s not an environment that I’m unfamiliar with – to be mostly surrounded by guys.”

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Ruah remained a NCIS: Los Angeles fixture throughout the 2010s and also appeared as Blye in a crossover episode of Hawaii-Five O. And her performances in the first season helped her land Newcomer of the Year at the Golden Globe Awards (Portugal). She’s also picked up a nomination at the Teen Choice Awards for Choice TV Action Actress.

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In 2018 Ruah told The Debrecen Sun that she couldn’t believe how much life had changed during her time on NCIS: Los Angeles. She revealed, “A lot of us got married on the show, we had children on the show, we bought our first houses on the show… Think about what you were doing in the last nine years?! I turned 25 on this show, and now I am 34… It’s a whole other level of maternity and responsibility.”

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Then in 2012 Ruah briefly switched her attention to Hollywood, when she appeared in Red Tails. Set during World War II, the military drama focuses on the African-American U.S. Army Air Forces group known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Ruah played an Italian woman named Sofia who falls in love with Lightning, David Oyelowe’s fiery pilot.

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That same year Ruah also landed her first voiceover role – and in a Pixar movie to boot. Yes, the actor helped to bring the fearless Scottish princess Merida to life in the Portuguese version of animated family hit Brave. And she also added to her list of short films with an appearance in Excuse.

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But Ruah hasn’t only restricted herself to on-screen appearances. In 2013, in fact, she ventured on to the American stage for the first time. She was cast in Proof, a drama penned by esteemed playwright David Auburn. The actor starred alongside James Whitmore Jr. in the production at the Hayworth Theatre in Los Angeles. And Ruah seemed to impress audiences and critics alike as Catherine – a 20-something struggling to deal with the passing of the mentally ill father whom she had spent years caring for.

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In 2018 Ruah added yet another string to her bow when she co-hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. Yes, the actor joined Silvia Alberto, Filomena Cautela and Catarina Furtado on stage at the musical spectacular held at the Altice Arena in Lisbon. The contest was staged in the Portuguese capital after Salvador Sobral had triumphed a year previously in Kiev, Ukraine.

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And it turns out that Ruah’s husband, Olsen, played a big part in her getting the gig. In 2018 the actor revealed to Billboard that after watching the previous contest, he eventually encouraged a rather skeptical Ruah to call her agent and put her name forward as host. Her agent also agreed with Olsen that this was a great idea, and just a few months later the star landed the job.

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Ruah also opened up about her husband and their parenting approach in an interview with Watch! She said, “[Olsen] and I share the philosophy that it’s our job to show our kids the world, and then it’s theirs to let us know what they love about it, and we’ll focus on those things. And every decision we make, whether it is about disciplining them or appreciating something they’ve done, all comes from a place of extreme love.”

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As well as being an actor on both the stage and screen, a dancing contest winner and TV host, Ruah is also regarded as something of a style icon. And the star has one very distinctive facial feature that makes her stand out from the crowd: one of her eyes is noticeably lighter than the other.

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But what causes this unique look? Well, it turns out that Ruah was born with a defect in her right eye known as the nevus of Ota. The condition is around five times more likely to affect women than men, and it’s more commonly found in someone of Asian rather than Caucasian heritage.

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The defect was first discovered in 1939 by Japanese doctor M.T. Ota. And it’s caused when cells called melanocytes become trapped in the dermis’ upper third. In roughly 66 percent of cases, the white of the eye – otherwise known as the sclera – is also involved. Worryingly, this can lead to a greater chance of the patient developing glaucoma.

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So even though the defect has a relatively well-established history, it was still a topic of discussion for the star when she was interviewed in 2011 by Esquire. But instead of giving a straight answer, Ruah decided to have a bit of fun about its origins. She joked, “It happened when I was a kid. You know how Barbies have the little plastic hands? One of them stuck in my eye when I was sleeping.”

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After coming clean and revealing that the story was a lie, Ruah then divulged the real story. She said, “It covers the whole white of my eye and darkens it. The square of the eye – the white part – is completely dark on my right eye. [It’s] not just the iris… It doesn’t affect my vision or anything like that.”

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Far from trying to hide the defect from view, though, Ruah revealed that she is in fact proud to have it. She also admitted that it drives her crazy whenever her eyes are Photoshopped in images to make them appear to be the same shade. She said, “This is my eye – my little trademark.”

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Ruah’s enthusiasm for her defect doesn’t stop there, either. In fact, the star gets positively ecstatic whenever she sees a photo of herself that hasn’t been tampered with. She added, “Not long ago, I started adding a smiley face when I sign an autograph and one of the eyes is darker.”

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And although some people behind the scenes believe that the actor’s birthmark needs to be covered up, most of the showbiz industry thankfully seems to think differently. Again referring to her eye defect, Ruah told Esquire, “It starts the conversation if anything. But I don’t think it’s ever gotten me a job – or lost me a job.”

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However, Ruah’s nevus of Ota does apparently sometimes require a little extra work from the lighting team when she’s on set. The star told the magazine, “When we’re shooting, sometimes they need to light my eye in a slightly different way. Otherwise, it looks like there’s a big shadow over it.”

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Of course, Ruah isn’t the only celebrity who has two different colored eyes. Shadowhunters actor Dominic Sherwood, for one, has a left eye which is half-brown/half-blue. In April 2018 the star reassured a youngster on Twitter who was being teased for his particular eye defect. He wrote, “Your eyes are beyond beautiful. It took me a long time to realize that about mine.”

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Then there’s Kate Bosworth, who is one of Hollywood’s most famous examples of a star with heterochromia. The actor – who shot to fame in surf flick Blue Crush – has one blue eye and one that’s colored dark hazel. Jane Seymour, best known for her role as Dr. Michaela Quinn in Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, also has two different colored eyes: one green and one brown.

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And the sporting world has its own famous faces who boast different eye colors. Max Scherzer – a baseball pitcher for the Washington Nationals – has dramatically different irises, with one appearing very dark and the other being relatively light. Returning to stars hailing from Hollywood, though, actor Alice Eve has one green eye and one blue. However, Eve once admitted to Conan O’Brien that one particularly unobservant boyfriend apparently failed to notice this unique trait for around nine months.

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So it seems that Ruah is in excellent company when it comes to her defect. Yet despite the star’s glamorous reputation, she certainly isn’t high-maintenance when it comes to getting into character. Speaking to CNN in 2012, Ruah revealed that during her first appearance in the NCIS franchise, she noticed one particular thing about co-star Cote de Pablo. Specifically, she only spent 20 minutes in hair and make-up.

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And this served as inspiration for Ruah. She told CNN, “[It] made me go, ‘That’s what I’m going to do. I refuse to be called in at 5:00 a.m. to get hair and makeup. I’m an agent; let’s keep it simple, a ponytail. The way they work and support each other. I really like those guys, I really do.”

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However, Ruah still enjoys getting a little more glammed up when it comes to photoshoots. In between posing for Esquire magazine in 2011, she said, “I’m generally very reserved with this stuff. But you know what, I’m a woman, and I enjoy feeling sexy once in a while. Why not have a little fun?”

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