Talk it up


The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - TV Guide - - FRONT PAGE -

Tues­day, 8.30pm, Ten

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.

Ahead of the sea­son 10 se­ries-en­der air­ing in Aus­tralia this week, the show seems un­stop­pable and un­dentable.

A world­wide hit, the po­lice pro­ce­dural led by Mark Har­mon’s su­per­vi­sory spe­cial agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, in 2011 was Amer­ica’s favourite tele­vi­sion show.

In the US it closed its 10th se­ries as the most­watched tele­vi­sion se­ries in the States 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. 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.’’

He in­sists ev­ery­one hit the ground run­ning at the start of this se­ries. ‘‘It was great to be back.’’

In­evitably we come to the sig­na­ture on-screen 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 brain-dam­aged’’ but 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 real-life 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,’’ Weatherly says.

Still Har­mon – like Gibbs – is an ac­com­plished car­pen­ter who makes toys for or­phan­ages dur­ing the off­sea­son, Weatherly re­veals.

He also pays trib­ute to de Pablo as ex-Mos­sad agent Ziva.

‘‘She is a very hot lady, who also hap­pens to have done Shake­speare. She can do any­thing.’’

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 Jessica Alba. Then he en­dured grief over the tragedy his niece, ac­tress 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,’’ he 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.’’

GRITTY DRAMA: Hank Par­sons, John M Jack­son and Mark Har­mon.

POWER GROUP: Michael Weatherly (seated) with his fel­low NCIS co-stars.

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