‘NCIS’ Star Mark Harmon Described Why He Was ‘Thrilled’ with His Early-Career Roles

by Leanne Stahulak

Mark Harmon‘s most iconic role might be as Agent Gibbs on hit crime show “NCIS,” but he got his acting start long before that.

After a successful football run at UCLA, Harmon turned down offers to play professionally so he could focus on acting. Back in the early 70s, the “NCIS” star took on several no-name roles just to keep working.

“In the beginning, if you needed someone to take his shirt off and kiss the pretty girl, that was me. If you needed someone to say, ‘Ma’am, can I see your license?’ and get shot, that was me,” Harmon told Variety back in 2012.

But Harmon never let these smaller parts affect his positive mentality. Self-doubt and overinflated egos are some of the most effective career killers in the entertainment industry.

“You know what? I was thrilled with all those roles. … I got the part! The idea is to work,” Harmon said.

The “NCIS” lead’s persistence eventually paid off, resulting in one-episode stints on hit TV shows like ‘Ozzie’s Girls,” “Emergency!,” “Laverne & Shirley,” and “The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries.”

But Harmon’s big break came in 1983 with his role as Dr. Bobby Caldwell on hospital drama “St. Elsewhere.” According to Variety, Harmon’s plastic surgeon character “made history as the first primetime lead character to contract, and die of, then a mysterious disease called AIDS.”

Thirteen years later, Harmon hit the jackpot again with a 95-episode appearance as Dr. Jack McNeil on “Chicago Hope” and a 4-episode spot on “The West Wing” in 2002 as Secret Service Agent Simon Donovan. One year later, Harmon’s life changed forever when he landed the lead in CBS’ newest crime drama “NCIS.”

How Mark Harmon Channeled a Team Mentality Into “NCIS”

By all accounts, Harmon’s Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs is the star of the show, having appeared on 414 episodes over 18 seasons. Even Harmon himself is a big behind-the-scenes player, becoming an “NCIS” executive producer back in 2008. He has a huge role in the TV series both in front of and behind the camera, and yet he insists that there are others who “work harder.”

“Honest to God, I don’t care who’s No. 1 on the call sheet,” he told Variety nine years ago. “I don’t care how big my trailer is. I’m here to be a job, do it well, and be a part of this whole team. I’m not here to stand out. On this show, there’s always someone here longer and working harder than I am.”

Despite coming from celebrity origins (his father Tom Harmon was a star football player and his mother Elyse Knox was an actress), the “NCIS” star has remained incredibly humble.

“I’ve never been the most talented, as an athlete or as an actor,” Harmon admits, “but I understand the work ethic. I try hard but make mistakes all the time and try to better those mistakes. My daily thing is to learn something today that I didn’t know yesterday, and that’s the way I intend to live the rest of my life. That’s the way I play the game.”