BEVERLY HILLS, CA—It took Michael Weatherly to finally explain his former co-star Cote de Pablo’s departure from NCIS.
After eight seasons as special agent Ziva David, de Pablo announced last June she would not return to the series. CBS wanted her back. The producers wanted her back, but de Pablo stuck to her guns and walked away from TV’s No. 1 drama. (It airs Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. on Global.)
Ziva and Weatherly’s character, senior special agent Anthony DiNozzo, had a long-running will-they, won’t-they relationship on the show.
“It was really with the arrival of Cote that I think something special happened there,” Weatherly told a gathering of international press earlier this month. While it was “never a love story, never rolling over and pillow talk,” there was always a great deal of chemistry between the characters. He compared the big orange squad room on NCIS to the newsroom in the classic film His Girl Friday, with DiNozzo and Ziva having an intense love-hate connection like Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in the movie.
What happens next? Weatherly says his character is finally getting in touch with feelings he never knew he had. “Kind of like you don’t know what you’re missing till it’s gone,” he says. This leads to some soul searching and then, next Tuesday, on the Nov. 19 episode, the arrival of a new actress and a new love interest for DiNozzo: Emily Wickersham, who joins the cast full-time as NSA analyst Eleanor “Ellie” Bishop, a specialist in international terrorism and global preparation.
“I think the audience is going to be extremely interested and rewarded,” says Weatherly. “The chemistry is magical.”
“We’re thrilled to have her,” Mark Harmon, who plays DiNozzo’s boss Leroy “Jethro” Gibbs, told the same reporters one day earlier. “We’re all intrigued and satisfied with the actress.”
Still, Wickersham has some big shoes to fill. De Pablo’s arrival led to a sharp upturn in popularity for the series. As Harmon noted, she had been with the cast eight seasons. “That’s high school and college.”
There was the usual speculation at first that de Pablo’s departure was a negotiating ploy; that she was holding out for more money. All involved insist that that’s not the case. The actress simply wanted a break from the series.
“It’s a very tough commitment,” says Weatherly, who adds, “Boo-hoo, go cry in a bag of money.”
The New York native can never stay serious for too long. He quotes Oscar Wilde’s line, “Life is too important to be taken seriously.”
Weatherly suggested that de Pablo was simply at a different stage in her personal life than some of her more settled cast members, “No weddings, no funerals, no birthdays,” he said of the long hours and total commitment a 22-episode network TV drama demands. “You’re just deployed.”
While Weatherly and others seem to have their lives lined up for now, “Cote’s still figuring out the life part,” he says. “She just wanted a break.”
He says he’ll miss her sense of humour on the set. “She is cosmically funny,” he says. “We never really saw that side of Ziva because she was always kicking people in the face.”
Weatherly’s life became a lot more settled after he met his second wife, Bojana Jankovic, at a rock concert in Vancouver in 2009. The couple have two children, a 19-month old girl named Olivia and a baby boy named Liam, born just a few weeks ago.
Having two children under the age of 2 “is like having 30,” he says. “It’s like running a pre-school. Good thing I married a doctor.”
The new boy only has eyes for his mom, says the 45-year-old actor. “When you’re not lactating, you’re not interesting.”
Weatherly is part of what his co-star, Pauley Perrette (forensic specialist Abby Sciuto), calls the “Core Four” of the series. She, Weatherly, Harmon and veteran actor David McCallum (chief medical examiner David “Ducky” Mallard) have been with the popular drama all 11 seasons.
Perrette told reporters she got the news de Pablo was leaving one morning when she woke up to several text messages from fellow cast members and producers. “I thought somebody died,” she said. She called Harmon first and got the news.
“At the end of the day, not only can you not make decisions for other people, but often you can’t understand theirs,” says Perrette, who says she would not leave her “dream job” under any circumstances. “Part of the problem with the rest of us being left or saddled with answering this question to other people is that it’s really not an answer.”
There’s no cover-up, there’s no drama, “I guess it was just a life decision,” says Perrette.
Weatherly says he’s looking forward to his character’s own “lightning bolt moment” on the series. Fans should not be surprised to see DiNozzo settling down. It may even be time — as Weatherly’s “dad” on the series, Robert Wagner, apparently suggested — for some little DiNozzos. “I think the dude is ready for some love,” Weatherly says.
Asked what he thought de Pablo should do next, Weatherly, once again, went for the funny.
“I’d put her in a space suit: a very tight space suit,” he says. “Oh, oh, somebody just optioned that. We just sold, ‘Sci-Fi Ziva.’”