‘NCIS’: Gary Cole Explains What It Takes to Play Special Agent Alden Parker

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)

For NCIS star Gary Cole, playing in a crime drama isn’t as complicated as it seems. Just like any role, the “trick” to pulling it off is acting normal.

Most film work reflects real-life conversations and behaviors. And that’s also true for procedurals. But because of the nature of law enforcement, that means actors are reciting their lines incredibly fast. And in some cases, the heavy lingo can seem like a different language. So stars find it particularly challenging to work in the genre.

But for Gary Cole, the NCIS job just comes as second nature. With nearly four decades in the industry, he’s perfected just about every type of movie and series there is. And just like every drama, there is a special technique to working on procedurals.

“The trick isn’t memorization as much as staying human with it,” he told CBS magazine Watch. “You’re carrying an enormous amount of exposition, with facts and clues and shifting details. You try to incorporate these mouthfuls into real behavior so you’re not sounding like a robot reciting a crawl that’s running along the bottom of the screen.”

But more importantly, Gary Cole is hyper-focused on making his NCIS character look legit. In every episode, the actor makes sure that Parker seems like a normal guy who just happens to be a high-level special agent.

“I take pride in making Parker sound like he knows what he’s talking about while also behaving, you know, normally,” he continued. ” It can be a challenge, especially when we’re in the squad room and there are four people hammering out complicated dialogue. But it works. There’s a reason the show’s been going for 19 years.”

How Gary Cole Jumped from ‘Office Space’ to ‘NCIS’

But in reality, Gary Cole’s secret to NCIS and every other role he takes is experience. The actor got his start in comedies. Some of his most famous characters are from Office Space, Talladega Nights, and Dodgeball. He also won several awards for his hilarious work as Kent Davison in Veep.

But while people may think making the jump from laugh tracks to emotional turmoil seems impossible, Cole thinks otherwise.

“Honestly, it’s called being a working actor for 40 years,” Cole admitted. “There’s no difference between comedy and drama for me. If you’re unprepared in either or try too hard in either, you’re done.”

So what does the star do to ensure he’s putting in the perfect amount of effort? He finds a “hook.”

“Whatever character I’m playing, it’s always the same,” Gary Cole shared. “You find a hook that brings you into the world you’re creating, you get comfortable, and hope people connect.”