‘NCIS’: Why Mark Harmon Took on the Role of Agent Gibbs

Mark Harmon is best known as Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS. Here’s what Harmon said about his reason for taking on the role of Agent Gibbs.

This experience changed Mark Harmon’s career trajectory

Mark Harmon and Sean Murray | Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images
Mark Harmon and Sean Murray | Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images

Most fans can’t imagine NCIS without Mark Harmon. If it weren’t for his early experience on the show Ozzie’s Girls, it’s possible we could be seeing a different person as Agent Gibbs. Here’s what Parade magazine had to say about the big change Harmon made:

One day, while [Ozzie] Nelson was filming his early-’70s show Ozzie’s Girls, the spinoff of Ozzie and Harriet, he asked Harmon to fill in for an actor who couldn’t be there. Harmon jumped at the chance, shadowing Nelson around the set and into the editing room. After that, he was hooked, Harmon says. “That changed my course.”

What attracted Harmon to the role of Leroy Jethro Gibbs

Mark Harmon on 'NCIS'. | Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images
Mark Harmon on ‘NCIS’. | Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images

Before Harmon landed his role as Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, he was thinking about scaling back his acting career so he could spend more time with his wife, Pam Dawber, and their two sons. However, after Harmon saw the script for NCIS, he changed his mind. In a 2019 interview, he told Parade he loved everything about the show. He said he loved the humor, the character, and even the name Leroy. At one point, the writers were going to change the character’s name, but Harmon fought to have it remain the same. “And then I read this script called NCIS. For a moment, when I started getting interested in doing it, the name changed to Bob Nelson or something, and I just said, ‘Eh… please, can you put the name back?’’

What Mark Harmon thinks of Agent Gibbs

Another reason Harmon likes Gibbs is because he has many layers to his personality. In a 2014 interview with Larry King, Harmon describes Agent Gibbs as a complex character. “[Leroy Gibbs] is complex, which is fun to play. And I’ve always said that I like the underbelly parts of this character more than any of it. I like his flaws… His past is dark,” said Harmon.

Why Mark Harmon decided not to pursue professional football

Mark Harmon speaks at the sixth biennial Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) telecast  in 2018 | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Stand Up To Cancer
Mark Harmon speaks at the sixth biennial Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) telecast in 2018 | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Stand Up To Cancer

Harmon was greatly affected by his experience on the set of the television series Ozzie’s Girls. This is what made him seriously consider acting. Also, according to Parade, Harmon wanted to avoid the challenging career odds and tough training associated with football. Instead, he decided to put his all into getting his acting career off the ground:

After college, Harmon chose not to pursue the rigors—and the odds—of playing pro ball. Although some guys on his team did go to the pros—“and they all made more money one year than I made in the next 15 combined!” he says with a laugh—Harmon instead took acting classes and began getting work on TV shows and in films, where he recalls intersecting with mentors like Jason Robards, Karl Malden, Michael Caine and José Ferrer. “They were all humble; they all gave me valuable time and camaraderie and advice,” he says. In 1983, he landed the TV role that blew open the doors for him, as a series regular on the hospital drama St. Elsewhere, and a few years later he married Dawber.

Read more: ‘NCIS’: Mark Harmon Said the Show Got Better After This Person Joined the Cast

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