‘NCIS’: Why Cote de Pablo Was a Surprisingly Good Fit to Play Ziva

We haven’t gotten to see Cote de Pablo fire a gun yet since she returned to NCIS –not that there was an opportunity to do it in her very brief but dramatic return in last month’s season finale. However, the show has confirmed the much-missed actress will be back in the fall to continue the storyline, and we might very well get to see some gunplay at that point. And if it does, we wonder if the actress will need some refresher training.

Firing a gun is no small thing, even if it’s only a fake one on TV. You have to at least look like you know what you’re doing, and before she was on NCIS, de Pablo had never even held a gun, much less fired one.

Cote de Pablo got on the job training

Cote de Pablo
Cote de Pablo | Photo by Jacopo Raule/Getty Images

The actress appeared on CBS This Morning some time back alongside John Miller, who had  been a real-life deputy director of the FBI and had worked with the real NCIS, which stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The actress explained that the cast and crew work with Leon Carroll Jr., a technical advisor and former NCIS agent.

Asked if she was nervous about having to fire a gun, de Pablo said: “Was I nervous? That’s an understatement. The first day I went to the shooting range, I was there with Leon and a couple of very nice men … I remember holding the gun and just trembling. I kept on just saying (to myself) ‘Just get it together, just get it together!'”

She finally squeezed off a shot and felt an immense amount of relief. Without the trainers, she never would have been able to pull if off, no matter what her skill as an actress was.

“We are actors, and as actors we are very curious people by nature,” she said. “We may have an idea of how to do things, but the reality is that we are not trained. We have to ask, and we rely on our curiosity to sort of do things the proper way. Thank god we have somebody like Leon Carroll every day at the stages who is able to clarify certain things in order for us to do our job well.”

Cote de Pablo didn’t know Ziva was Israeli at first

De Pablo hails from Chile, so she was a good choice for a character with an ethnic background. The only thing was, even CBS didn’t know what nationality Ziva David was before the show started filming.

“The character was European but it was kind of generic. They didn’t quite specify where she was from,” she said. For that reason, she auditioned with a Czechoslovakian accent that turned out to be unnecessary. It was only after she was cast that the writers finally specified that Ziva was Israeli, which meant that de Pablo had to learn Hebrew.

“I learned that phonetically, and it’s not like Spanish that rolls off my tongue,” she said.

Other actors have gun stories

Other actors have amusing stories about working with guns for parts that seem at first glance, not to be natural fits. Elizabeth Olsen is used to letting visual effects teams supply her “weaponry” in the Marvel movies, but she did have to use an actual gun when she played an FBI agent in the movie Wind River, where she co-starred with her Avengers castmate, Jeremy Renner.

She told Sam Jones: “I got to do gun work for three months at least … what I wanted was to be confident enough holding a gun on camera that people watching wouldn’t be like, ‘She doesn’t know how to hold a gun.'”

She found a surprising example of what not to do thanks to watching Mel Gibson.

“In Lethal Weapon, he’s like the best shot, right? But he blinks every time he shoots the gun .. it bothers me so much when I watch Lethal Weapon now,” she said. “If you’re a great shot, you’re eyes are going to stay open.”

Among other reasons, that’s why shows like NCIS make such an effort to look convincing while also being safe. Miller, the FBI agent who appeared with de Pablo in the interview, said NCIS does a good job looking authentic.

“The cases they choose in the storylines are largely from NCIS cases. It’s close enough for TV, and it’s pretty real,” he said.