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Michael Weatherly Cracks Wise 02/11/09
Michael Weatherly Cracks Wise
NCIS fans who’ve been waiting for Michael Weatherly to get a chance to really show his stuff have been well-rewarded lately. First came a season 7 premiere that seemed almost expressly designed to show off his acting chops. Now, with a song on the NCIS soundtrack coming out this week, his singing and songwriting chops are on public view, too. (To read about and hear Weatherly's music, click here.) The ever-waggish Weatherly spoke with TV Guide Magazine about Special Agent Tony DiNozzo reverting to some of his more juvenile ways this season and why he won't be doing a crossover with the show's spinoff. For more on NCIS, check out the cover story of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands now!
by Chris Willman November 02, 2009 12:13 PM EST
Everyone is talking about how NCIS is the No. 1 show on TV so far this season, period—no longer just the No. 1 non-reality show.
I think we’re better than the real thing. We have a very relaxed, cool thing going on here. That’s what I’m afraid of with this recent explosion in the ratings. I just don’t want anything to change. No. 3 is kind of better. They’re still not gonna cancel you if you’re No. 3. But now everyone’s looking, going “We’ve gotta get that.” It’s kind of like when they give you the ball in football. [laughs]
I had to laugh when there was an aside in a story in one of the trade papers after the third episode, where they remarked that the third week was the first episode of the season not to set record-high numbers for the show, like that was a downer.
It’s like, you only had three orgasms. It is weird. I think when we first got the ratings in, the first night, we were like, “So is all viewership up?” Because maybe all boats rise. The first week, it was like yeah, yeah, sure, football will beat us, or CSI hasn’t been on yet. Nobody really paid attention. And then the next week, it went up from the first week, and for about 10 minutes before we started shooting, we were like, “So… what’s going on?” Sean Murray was like, “I don’t know, do we like that? I’m a little uncomfortable.” And then Mark Harmon walks by: “Back to work! Let’s go!” And now we’re back to arguing about “No, I want to stand here, you don’t get to say that.” And then you forget that’s happened. But it’s sort of like, you go back to your car and you’re like, “Oh yeah, there’s a bag with a million dollars in it! I totally forgot that I had that bag with a million dollars in the front seat of my car. I must remember to put that in a safe place.”
The show has been so undervalued for so long in so many media circles that it may still be hard for some people to grasp it sitting atop the totem pole.
My friend Adam sent a funny email. He works in advertising, and they were talking about 30-second television spots, and he said to this room full of New York advertising people, “Guess what the No. 1 show in television is right now?” They were like, "CSI?” “No no no.” “There’s that Mentalist.” “No no no.” And then somebody said “NCIS: Los Angeles?” Adam was like, “No, that’s the No. 1 new show. But the No. 1 show on television is NCIS.” Crickets. The whole room is like, “Really?” It’s funny. I mean, it wasn’t as if no one had heard of it. It was just that no one knew what to say to that. It’s like if we just decided that Norman, my makeup guy, is now the secretary of defense. You’d be like, what? What’s he in charge of? “Robert Gates is gone, it’s now Norman Page, they put him in charge of the nukes.”
For some of the younger viewers discovering it, it might as well be a brand new show.
We had such a stinky stigma with the Navy NCIS and Diagnosis CSI and the JAG-Off—whatever terrible, slightly controversial Navy procedural thing was attached to us. But I think that the young people today, when they see the show at face value, free of any association, they just think, “Oh, that’s funny, I like it when he hits him in the head.” They don’t know about the Navy, and they don’t care if it’s cool or not, for some reason. And for some reason they seem to be finding CBS at 8:00 on Tuesday. That’s the craziest part of the whole thing.
Do you think the publicity for the spin-off had any effect on the original show as well?
Oh, I think the bounce off that was really good. Especially in major markets. Because we don’t get billboards and posters. I mean, I've never seen them. I've never been driving down Sunset and gone "Oh, look, a season 3 poster.” That never, ever happened. [laughs] I think you’re right. There was definitely a reminder: Oh yeah, Tuesday, Sept. 22, cool.
Next: Why you won't see Weatherly on NCIS: Los Angeles
What are you feelings about the spin-off?
That’s really tough, because we’re a spin-off, and we never did any crossover stuff with the other show, with JAG—never did anything like that. We just kind of waddled our way through the years, and slowly grew. I think the hard thing for the other show is, they have the same name, so the comparisons become really odious. I think it’s difficult to become your own show. In some ways it’s sort of like being the son of a famous or very successful person, in the sense that there's all these expectations that have been foisted on you that you don’t deserve. You’re just a bunch of actors trying to do a procedural crime drama on a network in a way that is interesting. And it just so happens that the marketing people have figured out that one of the best ways to ensure at least a tune-in is to name it CSI: Miami.
That’s one of the reasons I won’t do a crossover thing, unless they put a gun to my head or something. But I would never do one, because it doesn’t help them, and also... That character is really only valuable in the context of Ziva, Gibbs and McGee. Robbed of his context, that guy might really be inappropriate. And that might be funny, it might have value for an initial tune-in; they want to see what it would be like, but I don’t think I want to see what it would be like. Because this crew, this cast, the group, the writers, they know me. They know that I riff, that I talk way too much, so it comes out. If I get on someone else’s set and I do this s---, they’re gonna think I’m a terrorist or something. This is safe here.
When the spin-off was announced, there was a segment of the audience that needed some reassurance. My parents kept asking, “Does this mean they’re phasing the other show out?”
It does, it causes a lot of that. Both of my parents thought immediately that meant I must be losing my job to someone. “You’ll have to look for work again.” I hired a trainer and I’m on a meal program now. Because after the second episode aired, my mom called me from Rhode Island. She said, “Really? It’s a big year. You don’t want to maybe bring it down like two inches off the waist?”
And you took Mom’s advice?
I hired Sting’s trainer, because Sting, that guy, boy he looks good. Juliet, my trainer, has all these different names for me. My trainer refers to me as Chuck when I look particularly swollen and out of shape. She’s like, “Okay, Chuck, let’s keep it moving.” I’m like, Chuck? She says, “Chuck. Michael doesn’t look like this.” I figure if I’m gonna be doing NCIS into my 50s, I should get in pretty good shape for that. I don’t think we’re going home any time soon. I mean, I don’t think we’re going away. Barring some tragic turn of events—like, suddenly the whole country just goes, “No, we’re done. Done with it.” [laughs]
Why is the show appealing to people in their teens and 20s now after having been pegged as an older-demo show for so many years?
Kids like the whole bratty sibling thing. Somebody came up to me yesterday and they said, “You were very annoying on the show the other day.” And I said, “Then I’ve got my job.” Because the last thing you really want is your Tony DiNozzo not being a complete [irritant]. It’s a little bit like the beautiful girl who’s not always beautiful. Like, sometimes she’s beautiful, and other times, what are those, cankles? And then all of a sudden you see how stunning she can be. I think our show’s a little bit like that. [laughs] In certain lights…
Early in this season, you were kind of torturing Sean Murray again. And there was some fan controversy over that. They thought you’d been maturing, and you here you were reverting to your old immature self.
It was very irreverent. In terms of maturing, Sean has been doing this growing thing where I started referring to him as Tim [and not “Probie”]. But you don’t want to get too far away from it. Because Rob Reiner was Meathead and Archie called him Meathead. And the minute Rob Reiner didn’t want to be called Meathead anymore, it went from being called All in the Family to Archie Bunker's Place and he owned a bar and Meathead wasn’t on it anymore. You know what I mean? Probie does have to be Probie. And as much as I might feel like I want to maybe do less of the Jerry Lewis/Jim Carrey stuff, for me, I think those beats are kind of part of the show in a way. And the people that hate it, I think they like to hate it, in a way. I do. I think it’s sand in the Vaseline. It’s like an important irritant. Because otherwise if I just stood there and was very sober and earnest and with an occasional bon mot, like Remington Steele, that’s a different show. And it sort of blands out a little bit. If everyone’s trying to be Gibbs, then who is Gibbs getting mad at? One of the things audiences often don’t think about is the reason Tony is a jackass is so Gibbs can correct him, because then Gibbs looks authoritarian, which is what he is. If I just behave myself, then you have Thomas Gibson and Joe Mantegna on Criminal Minds agreeing with each other all the time in very sober terms. I mean, I love both those guys. But part of the dynamic of the show is that Tony irritates people—but when he’s not around, they kind of miss him.
So there’s a limit to how suave you can become on the show?
One of the great things that happens too, is like the episode “Bounce” last year, where Tony put the wrong guy away three years earlier when Gibbs had retired, and now the guy had gotten out of jail and it turned out that he didn’t do the embezzling. He was trying to clear himself, and I had to lead the team because Gibbs was like, “Well, it’s your case.” It was ostensibly my episode, so I had to lead the team. And when it aired, my mother and my father were both like, “Well, you weren’t very convincing as the lead.” And I said “Right! So, job well done.” And they’re like, “What? No, wasn’t the point of that episode…” I said, “No, dad, the point of the episode is that I can’t. That I’m inept in some way, which is why I have to stay under the tutelage of Gibbs. If I’m actually James Bond and really good at my job, what the f--- am I doing being a second banana on some crime squad? Why don’t I go run my own team, right?” You have to be sort of an idiot and juvenile so that Gibbs can play the father figure.
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