Late last year, NCIS mainstay, Mark Harmon, made his exit from the show, leaving a hole virtually impossible to fill. Not only was his character, Supervisory Special Agent Gibbs, a fan-favorite, but Mark Harmon had been with the series from the very beginning. He predated NCIS, in fact, his role stretching all the way back to the show’s predecessor, JAG.
Knowing the actor’s departure from the show would be a difficult challenge to overcome, NCIS producers knew they needed someone with experience, someone who wouldn’t be intimidated by the task of filling Gibbs’ incredibly large shoes. They called Gary Cole, an actor with nearly 40 years of experience to his name with credits ranging from slapstick comedy Talladega Nights to political satire Veep.
Though Gary Cole’s resume predominantly features comedies, he wasn’t nervous about a more serious role on NCIS. In an interview with Watch Magazine, Cole said that for him, there’s no real difference between genres. “Whatever character I’m playing, it’s always the same,” Cole explained. “You find a hook that brings you into the world you’re creating, you get comfortable, and hope people connect.”
It’s true that Gary Cole is known for his comedy roles, but he did play in another crime story early in his career, with procedural legend William Petersen. “This was many, many years before he did CSI,” Cole recalled. “I had a tiny part in To Live and Die in L.A. I don’t recall if my character lived or died in the movie, but I remember almost dying from how much running I had to do that day.”
Gary Cole Reveals the ‘Trick’ to Remembering Tricky Lines on ‘NCIS’
Perhaps the most difficult part of acting in a police procedural like NCIS is the dialogue, as there’s no shortage of complex jargon. With his decades-long acting career, however, Gary Cole didn’t find the rapid fire dialogue of NCIS to be overly challenging.
For Cole, the key is to think of lines as actual conversation. “The trick isn’t memorization as much as staying human with it,” the NCIS star said. “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.”
“I take pride in making Parker sound like he knows what he’s talking about while also behaving, you know, normally. It can be a challenge,” Cole said. “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.”