The Emmy-nominated actor talks about the new season of his hit CBS show, NCIS.
Actor Mark Harmon
Tavis: Always pleased to welcome Mark Harmon back to this program. The Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated actors stars, of course, as Special Agent–I love this name. I say this every time you come–Leroy Gibbs.
Mark Harmon: I love it.
Tavis: Let me get it right. No, Leroy Jethro Gibbs [laugh].
Harmon: That’s it [laugh].
Tavis: In the hit show, “NCIS”. The show begins its 13th season tomorrow. Before we start our conversation with Mr. Harmon, a look at a clip from the season premier of “NCIS”.
Tavis: I was telling Mark for those of you who are “NCIS” fans, which means most of you since everybody watches it, I was saying to Mark, “I guess you survived those gunshots at the end of the season because you’re sitting here talking to me.” So you’re back.
Harmon: I’m back.
Tavis: You’re back.
Harmon: I’m with you.
Tavis: Yeah. Let me just jump right in and see if I can get something out of you. So I wonder what surviving being shot a couple of times means for your character. You going to be a little more emotional, a little…
Harmon: I think Gary Glasberg who runs the show, I think he’s decided and what he wanted to investigate was that it changed the character. You come that close to death, he talked actually a lot about the relationship between David Letterman and his heart surgeon, and I think that has an effect on not only Gibbs, but also obviously the team.
But it’s also a different enemy that we’re having to fight now and it’s about recognizing that and how does that affect the team and maybe what we’re doing not being the right pursuit of that. So there’s going to be some changes both emotional and physical and I think it’ll affect not just Gibbs, but the whole team.
Tavis: What do you make–set your modesty aside just for a second. I promise you can do this for a second. What do you make of the fact that this thing has not just lasted 13 years, but you’re still kicking butt 13 years later? I mean, ratings–wise and everything else. It’s a huge…
Harmon: You know, Tavis, the last time I was here with you, I’m not sure we were doing that then, but we’ve become that. It wasn’t that in the beginning certainly. The show took a while to grow, five or six years.
Tavis: Which is a testament to the producers.
Harmon: You bet it is.
Tavis: Because, as you well–like I’m telling you something you don’t know. You don’t hit it out the gate these days, you don’t survive.
Harmon: No, you don’t, and guys like Mark Horowitz and Charles Johnson and Mark Schilz, those guys’ names you don’t hear a lot of, those people kept it going when there was no reason or no possibility they could keep going through those lean times.
And now I look at what we’re doing and it may look easy. It’s really hard what we do [laugh] and that’s fine. But the show has undergone a lot of changes both in front of the camera and behind the camera, and some of those changes are changes that we’ve been given and we adjust to and others are surprises.
And all those changes, I think have been responsible for why we are still on the air and doing well. It’s a very collective group that responds to sometimes really not knowing where it’s headed and finding a way to get it done, and we kind of started that way in the beginning.
I always say that we were not good enough to get all that notice, we’re not bad enough to get canceled. We shot way out in Santa Clarita. No one wanted to drive out there. Some days, all we had was the one scene to prepare that we had to do, and that still remains. It’s still about the work, still about the character.
Tavis: You’ve always struck me as a person who’s full of gratitude. I sense that every time you come on the show that you’re a grateful person, which leads me to ask. You’ve had great success for this now 13th season here.
To your point about how hard this is, I mean, why work so hard, this, meaning you? I mean, there are folk who step off of a show at a certain point in time and say, you know what, I did that for a long time. To your point, why work so hard?
Harmon: Tavis, I could ask you the same question.
Tavis: No, I ain’t working as hard as you are [laugh].
Harmon: You know, I’ve talked to actors about this. You know, you talk to them, they’re doing something. They’re doing it well and go to talk to them and you say, “Hey, how you liking your job?” They’re going, blah, blah, blah” because actors always grumble. I said, “You know what? There’s nothing wrong with loving your job.”
Nothing wrong with loving the people you work with every day. The fact that I get to come to work with all these friends of mine that I’ve been knowing for 13 years here, and it’s certainly a great job for that reason. And on top, it is the number one show in the world.
Harmon: So you go, “What’s not to like about that?” And I talk to younger actors about that all the time. We have David McCallum on our show, and David who is 80-some years old and works harder than anybody on this show, and you look at his perspective on his life in this business and the roles he’s played and the choices he’s made, and you want to talk about someone who has appreciation for what this is? You should learn from that.
Tavis: Let me put that question in. I mentioned that you are a grateful person, as I sense. How grateful then are you that this has lasted for 13 seasons? That’s just tough to do these days.
Harmon: I’m grateful because I know the work that’s gone into it, and I know what it will take to stay there. It won’t go on forever. I think this show has a creative footprint.
Tavis: It doesn’t need to. You got spinoffs everywhere. This New Orleans thing is kicking. It’s doing well.
Harmon: Well, it’s doing well and they’ve had…
Tavis: You a producer on that?
Harmon: Yeah, exec on that and Gary Glasberg as well. It’s been a great first year. Now they make it their own and that’s what they should be doing. But I love that it shoots in New Orleans. I love that that office was something that we all found special in telling that part of the story, but I’m also anxious to do things away from that as well. And that’s something I’m looking forward to being involved in in the future.
Tavis: I was down there some months ago. C.C.H. Pounder is a friend of mine, so I stopped by the set one night and watched the night shoot. It was pretty cool just to hang out.
Harmon: Isn’t she great?
Tavis: She’s a wonderful person.
Harmon: And she wanted to play that role and come to that dance. You know, that was a big thing. That cast coming together, you know, you try to write a script that not only services the mother show, which is us, but you’ve got to introduce new characters and you’ve got to introduce them well enough that actors like C.C., actors like Scott and Lucas and Zoe, those people come to that dance to say I want to play these roles and, oh, yeah, by the way, you’re moving to New Orleans.
Tavis: Not a bad place to hang out [laugh].
Harmon: No, it’s not, and it’s as much a part of a character as any character in that piece. But from the very beginning, it was designed like that and they’re finding it now which is really been fun to be part of.
Tavis: So now, given the success of this and the other stuff you’ve done, you’re doing more of the producing stuff. I read somewhere I think you’re producing–you’re doing something else for CBS?
Harmon: I am. I’m doing…
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. Can you talk about…
Harmon: I’m doing the bestselling book called the “Red Circle” with a writer-director named Todd Robinson and Brandon Webb who wrote the book. We have a script deal on it. We don’t have a go on this, but our job right now is to deliver the story. It’s a bestselling book that I was attracted to. Todd’s a friend. I met Brandon through Todd. We’re a good team, and it was a very successful pitch in May that got this pushed forward…
Tavis: Is more of that into your future, more the producing thing beyond just the acting?
Harmon: I don’t know. I’m attracted. It’s hard to do that at CBS. They got a lot of riches there and they’re not looking for…
Tavis: And not open space [laugh].
Harmon: No, there isn’t, there isn’t.
Tavis: Not at CBS, yeah.
Harmon: And it’s funny because, you know, over the years–I’ve done this for a while, but over the years there, they tell you what they’re looking for. I want to do a hospital show, I want to do–but you bring them a hospital show and it’s like they don’t do it, you know [laugh].
So I’m feeling good about the “Red Circle”. I like the material a lot. I like what we’re trying to do. If we get a pilot out of it, that would be wonderful, but that’s down the line yet.
Tavis: Here’s a silly question. I assume that you got past this a long time ago. But given that you’ve been on this 13 seasons and it shows no signs of slowing down, if this ends up being the character, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, if this ends up being the character that you are most known for, I assume you’re okay with that.
Harmon: I like the guy. Like his name.
Tavis: Yeah, so do I. I love it. You know that.
Harmon: No, no. I think we talked about this the last time. I always loved the name. And they tell the story. I’m sure I didn’t tell it here, but when I first read the script, it was Leroy Jethro Gibbs and it stopped me. I just went, “What a name. I love that name.” And then there’s history with that name, you know. But then like I got a rewrite of the script like a week later and his name was Bob Nelson.
I went, “Wait a minute! [laugh]” So I called up the exec and said, “Wait, wait, wait.” He goes, “Well, you can’t play someone named Leroy Jethro Gibbs.” I said, “Why not?” So it stayed, but I loved that. I loved that from the minute I read it.
Tavis: I’m glad you love it. and you play the heck out of it.
Harmon: Thank you, man.
Tavis: “NCIS” is back for season number 13 tomorrow night, in fact. And like me, I’m sure you’ll be checking it out because I love it and obviously you do too, millions of us do. Mark, have a great season.
Harmon: Thanks, Tavis.
Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.
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