‘NCIS’: Why Mark Harmon Grew a Mustache for the Show

by Suzanne Halliburton

NCIS fans, did you ever have an opinion on Leroy Jethro Gibbs and his mustache?

Mark Harmon usually plays the clean-cut everyman. And on NCIS, playing the highly-disciplined former sniper for the Marines, Gibbs didn’t seem the type to sport facial hair. He was so no-fuss, matter-of-fact, a mustache didn’t seem a viable part of the Gibbs vibe. He could give a bad guy the stare and make him crack in the interrogation room. A mustache would just be a distraction.

Yet, he did sport a ‘stache. Briefly. Let’s go back to the start of NCIS season 4. Gibbs retired from NCIS at the end of season three. He was involved in an explosion on a ship. But he did wake up from a coma, not knowing who he was. At the beginning of season four, Gibbs is living in Mexico. And he’s sporting a very undisciplined look, including a beard and mustache. It was all by design.

So why the mustache in 2006? According to TwoRedDots.com, producers of NCIS asked Harmon to stop shaving. They wanted Gibbs to look “gruffer.” And they wanted his gruffness to be authentic, so Harmon needed to grow the facial hair.

It only lasted a few episodes. Gibbs went back to being clean cut. And here’s a fun fact about NCIS and Gibbs. Fans send Mark Harmon vintage shirts from the Marines. And he wears them. That’s really cool.

NCIS Wasn’t First Show That Mark Harmon Sported Facial Hair

NCIS wasn’t the first time Harmon sported facial hair. He wore a mustache when he played Dr. Robert Caldwell on the medical drama St. Elsewhere. This was the 1980s. Mustaches were definitely in. Think Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum in Magnum P.I.

In his first significant TV role, Harmon played a plastic surgeon. He stayed on the show for four years but wanted off of it. But St. Elsewhere was terrific for Harmon’s career. People magazine named him the Sexiest Man Alive in 1986. He had a bit of scruff on the cover, but no mustache. If anything, the future face of NCIS looked like a happy, relaxed beach bum.

Now, throughout the summer, NCIS fans are pondering everything about Gibbs. We don’t know what season 19 holds for him. The final few seconds of the season 18 finale showed his boat blowing up, as Gibbs swims away from the wreckage. It’s unclear how many NCIS season 19 episodes will include Gibbs.

Back in 2017, Harmon told TVLine that good ensemble casts have turnover. And that’s cool, he claimed.

“Change is healthy, Harmon said. “Any actor can depart this show and it will survive. In my mind, there is nothing unclear about how I got here. You go to different shows and hear the chirping about who’s No. 1 on the call sheet or who has the biggest trailer. For me, it’s about doing a job as well as you can. If your job is to get somebody coffee—and I did that in my early days—then make it the best cup of coffee possible. Do the work. And do it with pride.”