This is Cote de Pablo’s Biggest Challenge in Playing Ziva on ‘NCIS’

Most recently, the biggest challenge Cote de Pablo faced was how to keep her return to NCIS a secret. Her character, Ziva David, dramatically reappeared in the season 16 finale after a six-year absence. 

While de Pablo was a series regular; however, it was having to learn an entire monologue in another language. While the Chilean-American actress is bilingual, even she shuddered a bit at having only 48 hours to learn how to speak Hebrew.

She covered that and many other personal topics in a 2012 interview, and that was a bit unusual for an actress who fiercely guards her privacy

Cote de Pablo had to learn a new language

Cote de Pablo
Cote de Pablo | Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images

De Pablo faced a variety of challenges during her years on NCIS. When Prevention magazine asked her what the most daunting challenge was, she said: 

“I had literally forty-eight hours to learn a monologue in Hebrew. That was terrifying. I used to look down on people who were, for example, playing a Latin role, because I could tell that they didn’t speak Spanish. It would get on my nerves. Then I realized, ‘Oh, God, I’m in that place right now.’  Everything I had judgments on has turned around and bitten me in the butt.”

What made it all the more daunting was that challenge came very early on, when she auditioned for the role of a former Mossad agent who was Israeli. However, her nationality was not entirely clear at first. 

In an interview with CBS This Morning, she explained: “The character was European but it was kind of generic. They didn’t quite specify where she was from.” For that reason, she auditioned with a Czechoslovakian accent. 

It was only after she got the part that she learned the showrunners specified that Ziva was Israeli, which meant that de Pablo had to learn Hebrew. But as skilled as she was, de Pablo couldn’t possibly learn the intricacies of a language in only two days. 

Asked during the CBS interview if they should ask her to speak Hebrew, de Pablo replied with a laugh: “You should not. I learned that phonetically, and it’s not like Spanish that rolls off my tongue.”

On ‘NCIS,’ watch out for flying vegetables 

The challenges on NCIS only mounted, and sometimes it became dangerous. Real NCIS agents might have to worry about dodging bullets, but de Pablo and her co-stars had to duck other things. She told Prevention how she once injured her neck on the show during the filming of a fight scene. 

“We were supposed to be in a big restaurant kitchen, and I was being hit by flying cabbage–I still have the bruises on my legs. [A few days later] I woke up in horrible neck pain. My mother always used to say, ‘You don’t think about your teeth until you have a cavity'” It was the same thing with my neck. But it’s 100% better now. Because of that injury I’m going back to yoga.”

Despite these unusual challenges, de Pablo took to the role of Ziva David well and quickly became a fan favorite, particularly for her chemistry with Michael Weatherly, who played her fellow agent and lover Tony DiNozzo. 

Somewhere along the way, however, the actress grew unsatisfied with how Ziva was developing in the scripts, and she left the show in 2013. NCIS said that she had died in a mortar attack that happened offscreen. Since her body was not found, that gave fans hope that one day she might return.

Ziva is back. Now what? 

They got their wish. In the season finale, during the very last scene, Ziva appeared before her old boss Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and told him he was in danger. The show said that Ziva would appear again next season to explain her re-emergence, although all indications are this return is only temporary, and de Pablo will probably not be a series regular again. 

Even if she doesn’t return full-time, the actress is proud of the impact she had. Her character made NCIS popular in Israel, and she told Prevention this anecdote: 

“It’s funny because right now I’m acting with an Israeli girl. She came up to me and said, ‘You could pass for Israeli.’ I thanked her, and then she mentioned that her friend is playing a Latina, but she’s an Israeli. And that’s the beauty of it. If you can convince the people you’re supposed to convince that you are whatever it is that you’re playing, well, that’s your job, isn’t it?”