When Did ‘NCIS’ Star Cote de Pablo Come to America?

Social media chatter about Cote de Pablo is heating up again after her “surprise” return to NCIS‘s 16th season finale. She’s been around long enough now, though, where some might have forgotten her roots and when she first put up stakes in the U.S.

The story of how she came to America is one based squarely on a fortuitous move here with her parents. Part of this led to an initially different road that didn’t hint toward TV or movie acting.

Take a minute to see when de Pablo moved here and how she gradually became a part of American pop culture on one of our most popular TV shows.

Cote de Pablo didn’t speak English when first in America

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

Some of you likely already know de Pablo was born in Santiago, Chile. English wasn’t her first language either, even when the family moved to Miami, Fla. when Cote was only ten years old.

This is one reason she decided to use the nickname “Cote” because her birth name — Maria Jose de Pablo Fernandez — was too challenging for her Miami friends and schoolmates to pronounce. Fortunately, “Cote” meant the same thing as “Maria Jose,” giving de Pablo the chance to shorten her name without having to Americanize it.

While her parents moved to Miami for career reasons, de Pablo managed to get her education here in America. Her original intention was to either become a secretary or to work on the Broadway stage.

Before she started an unexpected entertainment career, she only knew one English word when attending grade school.

Why the word ‘run’ will be embedded in her soul forever

Only knowing one word of English when living in Miami is a bit of a risk, but she learned only one when attending public school in the region. Thanks to an older teacher at her school who turned into a mentor, de Pablo ended up becoming a track & field star. The teacher taught her one important word: “Run.”

She recounted this story eight years ago when appearing on Late Show with David Letterman. By this time, she’d already been on NCIS for six years, reminding us all how time flies.

Yes, even that interview de Pablo did with Letterman seems like a lifetime ago. One thing we’ve learned is she definitely mastered English eventually to a point where you wouldn’t even know she came from Chile. Nevertheless, she did say in the Letterman interview she goes back to Chile now and again to meet with her family.

As for de Pablo’s American career, she’s likely kept that word “run” in her subconscious as a bit of a metaphor for building and then rebuilding her TV popularity.

How Cote de Pablo became a respected American actress

After appearing on only a few TV shows here in America, de Pablo managed to land the role of Ziva David on CBS’s NCIS in 2005. The only real acting experience she had on TV was appearing on All My Children, one sitcom appearance, plus playing a minor role on a brief Fox drama called The Jury.

Today, it would be interesting to see de Pablo’s 2005 audition for Ziva on NCIS. Despite Ziva also having a foreign background (Israeli in the show), she’s very much on the American side.

Not many American-born actresses would have the guts to quit a show at the height of their popularity because they thought their character wasn’t respected enough. De Pablo doing so hopefully paved a precedent for other actresses to gain more respect for their characters on male-dominated shows.

With this action alone, de Pablo became a true American standing up for the rights of her own character. Let’s hope she can continue this kind of respect if returning as Ziva permanently next season.