‘NCIS’: Mark Harmon Reveals This ‘Changed My Course’

NCIS is one of the longest-running TV shows in history. Thousands of viewers have followed along with the crew of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service since the show first debuted in 2003. Fans love the show for the realistic scenarios portrayed, the nail-biting drama and, of course, the complex and interesting characters.

Mark Harmon
Mark Harmon | Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images

One of the show’s fan-favorite characters, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, has become a truly iconic television presence. The part is played by veteran actor Mark Harmon, an inimitable force of nature. While it’s hard to imagine Harmon doing anything but acting, there was a time when Harmon wasn’t sure exactly what he would end up doing, and only found his way to acting by a twist of fate.

Why did Mark Harmon become an actor?

Harmon was born in 1951, the youngest of three children. His parents were somewhat famous themselves: His father, Tom Harmon, was a Heisman Trophy-winning football player turned sportscaster and his mother, Elyse Knox, was a well-known model. In high school, Harmon gravitated towards football, just like his father, and ultimately played quarterback for the Bruins at UCLA. 

Post-college, Harmon wasn’t sure which course he should pursue. While he toyed with the idea of working in advertising or even going to school to become a lawyer, strange circumstances led to Harmon to acting. When Harmon’s older sister married music star Ricky Nelson, Harmon began spending a great deal of time with Nelson’s family, including well-known bandleader and entertainer Ozzie Nelson.

As Harmon explained in a recent interview, he would often hang out with Nelson. At the time, Nelson was filming a TV show called Ozzie’s Girls, and when he needed a stand-in for one of the young actors on the show, he asked Harmon if he would be up for the challenge. Harmon agreed, and the rest is history. He became hooked on acting, and he admits that Nelson’s offhanded offer “changed his course.”

Mark Harmon is one of TV’s top actors

Harmon quickly became a familiar face on television, working on shows such as St. Elsewhere and even scoring film roles. Some of the movies that Harmon has appeared in include Wyatt Earp, Freaky Friday, and Summer School. Still, it wasn’t until 2003 that Harmon would get his most iconic role ever — that of Gibbs on NCIS. He has become the face of the show, and after sixteen years, many fans know him exclusively as Gibbs.

What’s next for Mark Harmon?

Harmon’s time on NCIS has not been without drama. In recent months, a feud has erupted between Harmon and former NCIS actress Pauley Perrette, one that he has steadfastly refused to speak out about. Some fans wondered whether or not the drama would keep Harmon from committing to the show for many more seasons. Still, Harmon has been spotted on the NCIS set filming for the upcoming 17th season, putting fans’ fears to rest.

As for how long viewers can expect to see Harmon filling the shoes of Agent Gibbs, Harmon hasn’t set a clear timeline on it. In a recent interview, he admitted that he won’t play Gibbs forever, and he thinks that if there ever comes a time when the writers aren’t really sure what to write about for the character, that’s when they as a group will call it a day. In the meantime, fans can see what’s next for Gibbs when the season 17 premiere of NCIS returns in late September.