Top dog

NCIS’s Mark Har­mon is a se­ri­ousri guy – both in real life and as his char­ac­ter Gibbs.

TV Plus (South Africa) - - STRAIGHT FROM HOLLYWOOD - NCIS LA Sea­son 10 Sun­days SABC2 22:00

It’s been over a decade since NCIS first brought us the crime-fight­ing naval team, headed by stern, se­ri­ous Leroy Jethro Gibbs. It’s be­come the most­watched se­ries in the US and thrust its lead star Mark Har­mon into the spot­light. Mark is now the high­est-paid ac­tor on a US drama se­ries, pock­et­ing over $500 000 (R5.3 mil­lion) per episode – and the show was just re­newed for sea­son 12, so there’s more money com­ing his way. But it turns out that way back in sea­son 1 in 2003, the se­ries strug­gled to get off the ground…

You’ve been play­ing Gibbs for so long. How do you still find him in­ter­est­ing?

I’ve always been at­tracted to the char­ac­ter’s un­der­belly. He is an odd guy in many ways. I’m con­stantly handed pieces of info about his char­ac­ter. He’s an un­easy guy, even when he’s alone, and that’s always fun for an ac­tor. Af­ter so many years, we’ve at­tracted quite a back­story on all th­ese char­ac­ters. The real thing that keeps me com­ing back is that the writ­ers chal­lenge me to in­tro­duce new things and as long as that con­tin­ues, I’ll want to come to the dance ev­ery day.

And can you ex­plain the longevity of the show?

From the be­gin­ning there were cer­tain pin­nings to the four main char­ac­ters from the orig­i­nal group, and I’ve looked at that as the hub of the wheel. The first day on set was 21 hours, the sec­ond was 20. It didn’t get rapidly bet­ter quickly. We didn’t have scripts. We’d come to work and have 10 pages of di­a­logue. You couldn’t pre­pare. We shot in Santa Clarita, 50 miles from LA. We weren’t good enough to get at­ten­tion from the press. I don’t know that any­one thought that of the 17 shows that de­buted that year, that we’d be “the one”. All we did ev­ery day for a long time was just try to do the best work we were handed. That was the only con­trol we had.

How did that af­fect the team? We had to bind to­gether. We were so far from LA that the net­work didn’t want to drive out and that gave us the chance to de­velop. We had the chance to get to know each other, to work re­ally hard. Peo­ple leave and then you use the re­place­ment to try to get bet­ter and grow, or it kills you. There’s no one per­son do­ing it all. We all get bet­ter col­lec­tively; it’s been that way from the be­gin­ning.

So what’s the hard­est part of do­ing the show?

I’ve always felt that it looks eas­ier to do than it is – you need to give a lot of peo­ple credit for it. There’s huge pro­fes­sional group who come to work ev­ery day and do ex­tra­or­di­nary work. I couldn’t be do­ing this show ev­ery day for as long as we have if we weren’t en­joy­ing it. We’re still push­ing char­ac­ter devel­op­ment and sto­ry­lines. That’s why the show is a suc­cess.

The naval crime-fight­ing agency re­ally ex­ists. How im­por­tant is that in the show?

We have a tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor, a 30-year NCIS Spe­cial Agent who was a Ma­rine Ma­jor be­fore that. The writ­ers lis­ten to him to get ev­ery­thing right. We’re not do­ing a doc­u­men­tary, but in terms of rep­re­sent­ing the agency, it’s the form of the show and we don’t always get it right, but there’s a real ef­fort to do it right.

Your son Sean’s played a younger ver­sion of your char­ac­ter in var­i­ous episodes across sea­sons 6, 7 and 9 (2008-2012). What was the ex­pe­ri­ence like of having a fam­ily mem­ber on the cast?

He came in and ob­vi­ously had cer­tain qual­i­ties that made him right for the role, but he earned it. I’m more proud of that than any­thing. As a child he was on this set a lot, so he had the great for­tune to have this be his first set ever. He was sur­rounded by friends. We’re all a prod­uct of the set we were on and who we worked with – that ef­fects things later.

OUR CELEBRITY COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Mar­garet Gar­diner is a mem­ber of the Hol­ly­wood For­eign Press As­so­ci­a­tion. Born in SA, the for­mer Miss Uni­verse win­ner now lives in LA. She’s writ­ten two books and reg­u­larly in­ter­views show­biz’s big­gest stars.

Mark’s son Sean played young Gibbs

on the show.

Very few shows get to 200 episodes, but NCIS has made it look easy.

Mar­garet Gar­diner.

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