“NCIS” star Mark Harmon is a team player. In fact, the former star UCLA Bruins quarterback adapted his career outlook from lessons he learned on the football field.
In a 2012 interview with Variety, Harmon discussed his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the philosophy he brings to playing any role.
Harmon was “a little uncomfortable with” the honor of a star on the Walk of Fame, the modest actor told Variety. But even when it comes to his modesty, he thanks his parents rather than taking credit himself. Harmon’s father is the Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon and his mother is the actress Elyse Knox.
“I’m a team guy,” Harmon told Variety. “I don’t get the ego thing, I never have, and you can credit my parents for that.”
Success Came Slowly to ‘NCIS’ Star
Harmon had to work his way up in Hollywood. He took unglamorous bit parts and minor roles until he got noticed.
“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 recalled. But he insists, “You know what? I was thrilled with all those roles. … I got the part! The idea is to work.”
Harmon’s breakthrough role was on “St. Elsewhere.” He played plastic surgeon Dr. Bobby Caldwell, who died of AIDS at a time when talking about that disease on television was controversial.
“At the time it was really risky,” the “NCIS” star explained. “But years later it was something people talk about and remember.”
Rather than pat himself on the back for his acting, he credited the writers for their daring plot choices. “What they were saying about that character was simply not being done at that time,” Harmon added.
Harmon Sees Himself As a Conduit for Dramatic Action
Then, after “St. Elsewhere,” Harmon moved on to even more popular TV shows, among them “Chicago Hope” and “The West Wing.” He didn’t seem to mind when he got written off “The West Wing,” taking a broader view that encompasses football as well as acting.
“You play the role, and that’s all I’ve ever tried to do,” Harmon said. “I’m a role player.”
Moreover, as a quarterback, Harmon had to make sure the ball got to where it needed to go for his team to win. As an actor, he similarly sees himself as a conduit for the dramatic action.
“My job was to get the ball to the guy who could do the most with it, without involving my ego. And if you got drilled but could pitch the ball to someone who could get another eight yards, that’s what you did,” he said. “In some ways, that’s what I’m doing now.”