Fast- talk­ing, tat­tooed and ut­terly charm­ing … wait a minute, is that Pauley Per­rette or her NCIS char­ac­ter? As Guy Davis found, the lines can get a lit­tle blurred.

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Now seven years into its run, NCIS – which fol­lows the crime-bust­ing ad­ven­tures of the Naval Crim­i­nal In­ves­tiga­tive Ser­vice – is not only con­tin­u­ing to at­tract a huge au­di­ence world­wide, it’s draw­ing even more view­ers with each pass­ing year.

Per­rette, who is al­most as an­i­mated as her highly caf­feinated NCIS char­ac­ter, said: “ In tele­vi­sion, that’s amaz­ing. And ex­tremely odd.”

“ We’re get­ting big­ger ev­ery year. Sea­son seven was big­ger than six, six was big­ger than five – usu­ally shows will start with a bang and fade out over time. But we’re the op­po­site.

“ We had very lit­tle pro­mo­tion when we be­gan in the States but we’ve had this steady build-up of view­ers. You see it once and you’re like ‘ What the heck was that?’ You watch it again to fig­ure that out and then you’re hooked.”

The key in­gre­di­ent, she said, is the show’s off­beat sense of hu­mour, which she ad­mits a lot of peo­ple prob­a­bly wouldn’t ex­pect from what ap­pears at first glance to be a straight­for­ward pro­ce­dural drama.

“ That’s the se­cret: it’s a crime drama that’s hi­lar­i­ous. Noth­ing in life is 100 per cent dra­matic or 100 per cent hi­lar­i­ous. Life will throw you a com­bi­na­tion of both, and we ac­knowl­edge that on NCIS.”

The show’s in­trigu­ing line-up of char­ac­ters, and the fa­mil­ial re­la­tion­ship they share, is of­ten cited as an­other rea­son for its pop­u­lar­ity, and Per­rette said she was thrilled that Sciuto – a tat­tooed, black-clad wild­card with an ir­rev­er­ent sense of hu­mour – is an in­te­gral part of the team.

“ It makes sense that she was this ge­nius who was so com­pletely ca­pa­ble and fo­cused on her work,” she said. “ But the thing about NCIS per­son­nel is that these peo­ple are civil­ians – they’re not mil­i­tary. It’s a fed­eral agency but it’s not mil­i­tary, so they can hire who­ever they want. I’ve heard peo­ple say ‘ You wouldn’t be able to dress like that in the mil­i­tary’. Guess what? She’s not.”

View­ers of NCIS have learned more about the show’s char­ac­ters as the se­ries has gone along, but the mak­ers of the pro­gram have re­sisted any urge to take them in un­ex­pected new di­rec­tions, some­thing Per­rette ap­pre­ci­ates.

“ There haven’t been wild changes with Abby, and I like that,” she said.

“ I think there’s some­thing cool about her con­sis­tency. I mean, she’s al­ready the smartest per­son in the world, and ev­ery week we’re find­ing out some­thing new about her – some new hobby, some new tal­ent. So it’s a mat­ter of just un­cov­er­ing new lay­ers rather than chang­ing the essence of the char­ac­ter.”

That un­cov­er­ing of new lay­ers has re­sulted in the char­ac­ter dis­play­ing some hith­erto un­re­vealed tal­ents … and Per­rette rapidly pick­ing up a few new skills of her own.

“ They try to throw me as many curve­balls as they can,” she laughed. “ Over the last seven years, I’ve lost count.

“ Dur­ing the first year of the show I was at home study­ing my lines when I got a phone call – ‘ Oh, by the way, we’re go­ing to have Abby do­ing her lines in sign lan­guage, so there’s a guy com­ing over to teach you sign lan­guage’. My door­bell rang, and sure enough there’s a guy to teach me sign lan­guage.

“ And I’ll get scripts where Abby’s on roller­skates or turn­ing cart­wheels or do­ing yoga – there’s al­ways some­thing, and that’s great.”

At your ser­vice: Inset, the cast of naval in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Web of in­trigue: Kat Ste­wart’s il­lus­tri­ous co-stars in­clude ( clock­wise from top left) Ben Men­del­sohn ( as Vince), Jus­tine Clarke ( as Ally), Matt Day ( as Gabriel) and Cather­ine McCle­ments (...

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