Mark Harmon on ‘NCIS’

Harmon tells us about playing Special Agent Gibbs for nine years and offers his thoughts on the longevity of the series.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Mark Harmon has been on TV longer than most of the people I’m interviewing this week. NCIS reached its 200th episode earlier this year, a fact which was highlighted during a panel at the Television Critics Association to mark the occasion. I got lots of questions in with Harmon and he had a lot to say.

 

CraveOnline: How did Gibbs get the boat out of the basement?

Mark Harmon: I don’t know. They didn’t tell me that either. All I know is one day I got there and it wasn’t there. Yet I did read an article about a guy in Rhode Island who actually did this, a friend knocked down a basement wall and pulled it up and they did launch it.

Though Gibbs lives in the city so it’s a little harder but there are certain things about this show I don't know that they ever plan to unravel but it doesn’t mean that they won’t play with for years to come. It might go back in the basement, I’ll just say that.

CraveOnline: What story would you like to see on NCIS?

Mark Harmon: You know, I’ve never been one to get up with the writers and try to influence any of that or try to talk to them. I’m very easy with the idea of getting a script and reading it and finding out what happens.

CraveOnline: Why are you always intimidating Jimmy Palmer?

Mark Harmon: You should ask Brian [Dietzen] that. Brian and I get along great.

CraveOnline: When you think about 20 million people watching you every week?

Mark Harmon: 21 last night.

CraveOnline: How do you process that?

Mark Harmon: We don’t. In the beginning, we didn’t start there. I don't know where we were in the beginning but it’s taken time. It’s taken a lot of patience and a lot of time and people just doing the work. It’s different now. The show carries a different banner. We’ve processed it over the years and gotten better doing it. I think we’re thankful but I also think that we’ve earned it.

CraveOnline: Is it hard to play the same character for nine years? 

Mark Harmon: You know what? It's not. It's a pleasure. This remains fresh.  We just celebrated 200 episodes. It doesn't feel like 200 episodes. Doesn't feel like nine years. There are other things on this show more important than the size of your trailer, and it's always been about the work. I've felt that we've always, in the beginning we had control over nothing except what we did each day in the work, and I believe that remains the same.

These writers continue to challenge us, and there's new things in these characters all the time. You might play something for six years, and all of a sudden the seventh find out that something you've been playing was a little bit changed, but that's because these writers keep digging. The challenge is still there. We just did the 200th episode, and that was as challenging as any episode we've done.

For everybody, not just the actors, for the entire crew, which is one of the great treats of being part of this team is watching this crew get a script in advance and you start hearing the rumblings. "Oh, that's hard because what we've got to do, we've got to move this diner down underneath the 6th Street bridge. How are we going to do that?" And they start game planning. They start putting on their game face.

By the time we get to shooting, there's a real gathering of so many usually talented professionals on this show who are just asked to do their job and not worry about looking over their shoulder. They just do the work and it's a fun place to work for all of us because of that. Gary [Glasberg] heads that.  That's his doing.

CraveOnline: How do you get into Gibbs mode?

Mark Harmon: Just find the back of Weatherly's head and hit it. That's it.

CraveOnline: Is it weird when your son plays Gibbs and does he imitate you at home?

Mark Harmon: He doesn't live at home anymore, which is a good thing. No, I'm proud of him doing his homework and I'm proud of him getting an opportunity that he earned. Then it's about him doing the work, you know.

It's become a nice little thing for him and on one side, I always think that's a great opportunity and good for him. On the other side, I think the only set you've ever been on except for one other time on a different job he had was this set, and this is not like every other set.

This is a gracious place to work, and I'm happy that he has that opportunity and we'll see what he does from here.

CraveOnline: How long do you personally see the show going on and you staying with it?

Mark Harmon: You know, people were saying what was it like to do the 200th episode and I said we had a cake and there were speeches and then we went back to work and now we're 201 and next week we'll start 202. Certainly being No. 1 is a lot more fun than being somewhere else but I don't think anybody here is confused about what it took to get here or what it will take to stay here.

Because of that, I think it's important to go to work on this show and to be gifted enough to work opposite everybody who's here and with everybody who's backstage right now still working and really, in some ways, give thanks to the opportunity that we have before us, because it's so rare and we know that.

We know that. I'm not confused at all at what it took to do this and that we're still here and doing it well and in some ways doing it better than we ever have before. I think you have to give credit to the people who have stayed there and done the work.