What Michael Weatherly Learned About Leading a Show From Mark Harmon

Michael Weatherly starred alongside Mark Harmon in NCIS for over a decade. The two acted side-by-side. Weatherly played Gibbs’ (Harmon) second-in-command, and the one accustomed to receiving head slaps from his boss. Together, they took down the baddies and grew to respect one another — for both their differences and similarities. They approached cases from different perspectives, but they both knew how to catch the criminal.

Michael Weatherly NCIS
Michael Weatherly | Desiree Navarro / Contributor

After working alongside Mark Harmon for so many years, Weatherly got a few life lessons for free — he learned about what it takes to lead a show and how to go about the challenges a leading actor will inevitably confront. 

Now that Michael Weatherly leads the CBS series Bull, he gets to put his lessons gleaned from Mark Harmon to the test. During an interview with Franck Ragaine, Michael Weatherly explained that he’s learned a lot from Mark Harmon, specifically the considerations one must take into account when leading a series. 

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Michael Weatherly on the lessons he took from his former ‘NCIS’ co-star Marm Harmon

When talking about Bull, Michael Weatherly explained that the “hours are incredible” and there’s a “pressure to carry a show.” He went on to note that the main character must “stay complicated” even when those behind the show may push such characters toward pure heroism, which can work to minimize three-dimensionality. Weatherly stated:

I learned from Harmon that your job is to stay complicated, and to keep that, and to be rigorous with that. And luckily, we have a great writer…he makes sure that I’m very complicated…much more complicated than I am in real life

Michael Weatherly | Franck Ragaine 

Michael Weatherly hints at a conundrum that often arises in hit shows — the lead character becomes an emblematic placeholder — a figurehead that represents the show’s themes and narratives, rather than a human with complex views and gray morality. Yet, he learned from Harmon that it’s on him to keep his characters complex; however, he’s got some great writers in his corner who are helping on that front. 

Michael Weatherly also seems to have acquired Harmon’s tendency to credit others for success 

While many will note Mark Harmon’s presence when coming up with reasons NCIS has stayed on the air for so many years, Harmon often refuses to take credit. Harmon always notes that the show succeeds because it offers up quality writing and a great ensemble. 

While many would argue that Harmon is a large part of the show’s triumphant history, it’s usually his co-stars who give Harmon credit. Cote de Pablo once highlighted his contributions to the show when he wouldn’t take credit for its unparalleled success. 

Similarly, during his interview with Ragaine, Weatherly noted that when the show succeeds, it’s everyone’s responsibility, but in failure, he feels it’s his doing. Weatherly shared: 

If it fails, you are, in some large part, responsible for that success or failure. In success, I know it has nothing to do with me. But, in failure, I would probably take all the blame.

Weatherby | Franck Ragaine

In short, it seems Weatherly has learned a great deal about humility and responsibility from Harmon.