‘NCIS’: Why David McCallum Chose Acting Over Music Despite Early Success

by Joe Rutland

It’s hard to believe but “NCIS” star David McCallum actually had a career in classical music. But he spurned that for a career as an actor.

Why in the world would McCallum, known for his role as Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard on the CBS crime drama, not stick to music? He’s asked a similar question in this 2016 interview from Stay Thirsty.

The interviewer pointed out that McCallum grew up in a family that loved classical music and that he studied it for a while. After his military service in Great Britain’s military, he came back and found success with music.

The interviewer pointed out that McCallum recorded four albums for Capitol Records with one song in the UK Singles Chart’s Top 40.

“As you look back are you happy that you pursued acting over becoming a classical musician like both of your parents?” the interviewer asked the “NCIS” star.

‘NCIS’ Star Left College At 16, Turned Attention Toward Acting

McCallum replied, “I left University College School in London when I was 16 and went to work. I have had no other formal education. “

“Consequently, the considerable knowledge I have learned since then is autodidactic,” McCallum, who also played Illya Kuryakin in the 1960s spy drama “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, said.

“A career in music has many demands: great technique, constant practice, mastery of the instrument and considerable musicianship. Acting on the other hand demands that you look the part and learn your lines. And anyway, I was born to be on stage as an actor.”

Indeed, that appears to be true. McCallum was a superstar in the 1960s with all the attention from playing on the NBC show. But he is playing “Ducky” after 18 seasons on “NCIS.” He’s coming back when the show starts its 19th season on Monday nights this fall.

McCallum Had a Proud Moment When He Published Novel

While he didn’t have any further formal education after leaving school at 16, David McCallum wrote a novel,  Once a Crooked Man, that was released in 2016.

McCallum told Vulture Hound he didn’t set out in writing a novel.

“I sat down about 14 years ago and decided to teach myself how to write,” McCallum said. “I would write a couple of pages and then chuck them away, and I kept on writing stuff, putting it away, writing stuff, putting it away, and eventually, I finished a book to a certain extent.

“But by the time I’d finished it, a lot of it was very old-fashioned and not really up to date,” McCallum said. “Three years ago, I decided it was a shame to just leave it laying about Id had too much fun doing it, so purely for pleasure, I finished it.”