GROWING IN CHARACTER
Michael Weatherly could not be more different from the frat-boy type he plays in NCIS, but he credits the show for giving him the certainty to become a more content actor and a better family man
With its 300th episode approaching, Michael Weatherly can firmly pinpoint his most memorable moment in 12 years of NCIS.
“I gave Mark Harmon (Gibbs) mouth-to-mouth resuscitation!” he says with a grin during an interview in Los Angeles. “Some things stay with you. ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ circa ’87. I had some of that!”
Weatherly, 46, is charming and entertaining company, often cracking self-deprecating gags. But after more than a decade playing Very Special Agent Tony DiNozzo on the most popular TV drama in the world – watched weekly by 57.6 million people – he’s at pains to point out there are some bi differences between himself and the character.
“Somebody on the set the other day said: ‘Wow, it sounds like you read?’” he recalls. “I said, ‘Yeah, I like to read’. They said ‘For some reason I just didn’t see you reading much’. I thought: Well, I’ve succeeded now in creating a character who seems like an overgrown frat boy who doesn’t read much and is terribly selfinvolved.”
In real life Weatherly’s conversation is sprinkled with references to Samuel Beckett and quotes by Martin Amis, so he’s either well read or very good at name-dropping. In contrast to his character, who he feels is “trapped in a status that isn’t even No.2”, Weatherly couldn’t be more content. Much of this has to do with his 2009 marriage to Bojana Jankovic – who looks like a model but is actually a doctor – and their two kids Olivia, nearly 3, and Liam, 1½.
“I feel very much part of a family but also the head of a household,” he says. “I can see it must be very difficult (for DiNozzo) to think that maybe you could do more, but you’re limited and stuck in a place. I don’t feel stuck myself. I really love my job, I really love my family and I’m having a great time.
“That’s a primary difference between us … Tony makes a lot of really sad choices. I feel very bad for him and I hope that he figures some stuff out.”
When Weatherly joined the JAG spin-off, 275 episodes ago back in 2003, he was best known for James Cameron’s sci-fi series Dark Angel and his engagement to co-star Jessica Alba. Back then, he says, he was terrified of saying the wrong thing about the relationship or the show.
“I was very trepidatious and knew there were a lot of ways to screw that up. Fourteen years on, you’ll find I’m a lot more candid and don’t really give a sh--!”
More than anything, NCIS has given Weatherly the security to put down roots. Before the show came along he says he couldn’t even get a dog as he was always uprooting himself to travel for work to Vancouver (Dark Angel) or Australia (The Mystery of Natalie Wood).
“(I) have cemented aspects of myself that were not always attached to the ground,” he says. “It’s the sure-footedness and the confidence that comes with knowing there’s a job to go to the next day.”
With Janckovic’s punishing schedule and Weatherly’s long hours on the NCIS set as well as his burgeoning production company, their marriage can sometimes seem like a longdistance relationship. So the couple have implemented a regular date night.
“We go once a month and have a little night out by ourselves and stay somewhere great,” Weatherly says of himself and his “extraordinary woman”.
Weatherly’s more relaxed approach to interviews is mirrored in his approach to parenting. He’s a very different dad than he was to his 18-year-old son August, born to his first wife Amelia Heinle. “I was very nervous the first time around,” he admits. “Babies are such a huge responsibility and you can get inside your head really quick about it. Now, as long as they don’t just fall down the stairs or something, you get a bit more relaxed!”
Viewers will have noticed Weatherly looking a lot trimmer in season 12 (currently screening on Ten) than he did last season. He says although he’s always had “weight fluctuations” he began to pile it on during season 11, partly as a result of the stress of two children at home, but also because of his anxiety over the departure of Cote de Pablo, who played Ziva.
“It’s not like I sort of fell into some deep despair,” he says. “But I got to the end of the season and I had had it, I was exhausted and tired.”
He hired a trainer, cut down on carbs and “anything out of a packet”, started boxing and began swimming. “That 35 pounds (16kg) was a real shift and I felt years younger and a lot happier.”
Given de Pablo’s exit seems to have made as much of an impact on Weatherly as the fans, can he see her ever returning to the show?
“I’m not sure how she would come back now, given that Bishop (Emily Wickersham) is fairly entrenched at that desk,” he says. “That would be awkwardness not of the best kind, not of the most dramatic kind, just a weird day at work.”