Weatherly acting up a storm
KEEPING Michael Weatherly quiet must be a huge challenge for the crew at NCIS.
When an on- screen shrink described his character Tony DiNozzo as a “brilliant chatterbox” he could have been talking about Weatherly. And Weatherly’s own style in interviews at least suggests there is a lot of DiNozzo in there.
Ask him a question and he is off and running the challenge is to rein him in.
The same could pretty much be said of the juggernaut that is NCIS.
On the eve of the season 10 series- ender airing in Australia this week, the show seems unstoppable and undentable.
A worldwide hit, the police procedural helmed by Mark Harmon’s Supervisory Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs also won the coveted honour of being named America’s favourite television show in 2011.
In the US it closed its 10th series as the most- watched television series in the US during the 2012- 13 TV season, with more than 20 million viewers a week.
And there’s more to come, with an 11th season approved.
For this interview, wisecracking Weatherly is talking at the MIPCOM entertainment market in Cannes, where he’s helping to celebrate the 10th anniversary of NCIS, or series ‘ X’, as he calls it. “We’re into Roman numerals now,” he says.
Dapper in a three- piece suit but open shirt, his mission is to talk about the show but he quickly diverts the chat to raving about his Australian friends and his love of our country.
“I have an absolute ball in Australia,” he says, reminiscing particularly about his Logies appearance. He knows Rove McManus well and is “great mates” with Hamish Blake and Andy Lee.
We get him back to business by asking about the fast- tracking of the series into Australia and how they are coping after so many years.
“Our enthusiasm hasn’t diminished,” he says of the cast and crew. “The energy is still there.”
Inevitably we come to the signature onscreen slap the hand flick Gibbs delivers to the back of DiNozzo’s head to keep him in line.
Weatherly is quick to point out that Mark Harmon himself is not aggressive.
But he reveals later that it was a joking Harmon flick to keep him quiet when Weatherly was making mischief off- camera that started it all. The humorous reaction led to it becoming a signature part of the show.
Weatherly wants it known he is “not braindamaged” but he ruefully strokes the back of his head as he talks about it. He reels off the time taken to film each episode and scenes.
“Five minutes can take 12 hours,” he says. “That’s a lot of slapping.”
While there may be a fine line between reallife Weatherly and fictional DiNozzo, he says Mark Harmon is far from the serious Gibbs.
“Mark Harmon is a very funny guy and very loose. He is the practical joker on set,” says Weatherly.
He plays on Cote de Pablo’s fear of bugs by leaving fake insects around her desk.
Still Harmon like Gibbs is an accomplished carpenter who makes toys for orphanages during the off- season, Weatherly reveals.
A decade of NCIS has not dimmed Weatherly’s enthusiasm for the show.
He insists everyone hit the ground running at the start of this series. “It was great to be back for all of us.”
He says the interplay of the actors and crew makes the show with its mix of humour and drama.
“This is a show that has heart and pathos but also comedy,” he says.
Off- screen, behind the wisecracks, Weatherly’s ability to deal with deep emotion is renowned.
He was shaken by the end of his romance to screen siren Jessica Alba. Then he endured grief over the tragedy his niece, actor Alexandra Breckenridge, suffered when her boyfriend died from heart complications.
“I put myself in Tony’s circumstances and in my own personal life there has been a lot of stuff going on, so crying was not as hard as I thought it would be,” Weatherly says of shedding tears for the camera.
Though he has strong acting credentials, dropping out of college to pursue the arts did not win the approval of his father, millionaire businessman Michael Weatherly Sr.
“He was not pleased. He wouldn’t pay for me in drama school or my rent while I was trying to find work,” Weatherly says.
“But he has always supported me as a father. He instilled in me, my brother and our sisters a certain work ethic. We were on our own and I am grateful for that.”
Weatherly has 11 siblings after the third marriages of both of his parents.
Discussing his family is like relating a soap- opera plot, he says.
“I have many steps and halves. It reaches a point of saturation and the brain can tolerate only so much.”