NCIS is celebrating its 10th season by giving us some fantastic episodes, but that's not all that's happening on the hit CBS series. Brian Dietzen, who plays Jimmy Palmer, talked to us about what it's like to be on a show that's still going strong after a decade on the air.
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What can you tell us about the special TV Guide covers for NCIS?
Brian Dietzen: It's cool. We're celebrating 10 years obviously on the show right now and TV Guide -- they've always been amazing with the show and our audience always likes to collect the covers -- they came to our people and said "we would like to do 8 different covers, one for each one of the characters on the show." So each one of us got our own individual cover.
Then they said after the shoot, "How about we do four more covers, where you are paired up?" [They have] McCallen and I, and Mark and Pauley, Cote and Michael are together and Rocky and Sean are together. Twelve covers for one week, which is pretty cool and will drive collectors nuts because they'll have to get them all. It used to be that they'd only do collector's additions every once in a while, 4 ot 5, but 12, I couldn't believe it. It's pretty neat. I haven't even gotten mine yet, but I'm looking forward to it.
Palmer got to be the lead ME for a couple of episodes, what was that like to play?
Brian Dietzen: I loved it. It was great. I think I loved it a lot because we all knew where the scripts were going to be headed and obviously [we'd be] bringing Ducky back into the fold. It's always neat with a show like this -- where the characters are so ingrained and you know what their strengths are, you know sometimes what their weaknesses are -- it's neat to be able to surprise yourselves or have the characters surprise the audience [by] taking on new assignments or new responsibilities for a character.
Because invariably we'll go back to the "comfort food" of the show; the standard way that the show has been for the last decade. So getting curveballs here and there thrown at us is always exciting, especially knowing that things will return to the way they once were. But in the meantime it's pretty exciting, in the same way that Ducky got to basically be an agent on a case this year. You know that's not going to be the norm, but boy it's fun to play.
Why do you think Palmer's been able to have a "normal" home life when no one else on the team has, except maybe for Vance?
Brian Dietzen: Vance keeps a very clear distinction - he comes through the doors of NCIS and he's this total hardass, and then we've seen him at home as well and he's a loving father and husband. He really keeps the two separate. Where I think Jimmy is the only one who brings the love of his life to work.
I love playing Jimmy Palmer; he's such an open book. I think he's also to an extent a bit less damaged than the some of his teammates: think of the stuff that the character Ziva has gone through, the torture, being kidnapped, the same with Tony DiNozzo -- how many girlfriends of his have either gotten killed or seen him a traitor and left? And then McGee's had his certain struggles with his love life, and Gibbs has been married four times. So it's interesting. You look at Jimmy and you're like "how's he dodging all these bullets?" and I think that he's a genuinely happy person. He likes where he's at and has the gift of not over-thinking his relationship and just appreciating what he has. And I really like that.
I've talked with Gary Glasberg about it extensively, our executive producer, and he said it's gonna be nice to have one character who actually is happy in his love life and one character who is actually happy at home. Vance may be happy at home but he certainly won't talk about it with people, won't share that. So it's nice to have that one character who has that and also having that serves to highlight that the others don't. So it's kind of a cool ying to their yang, and I hope that it sticks around like that for quite a while because I think the show kind of needs a balance point like that; something to keep us going straight and true. If everyone is thrown into chaos in their personal life then that's what the whole show is about as opposed to having some normalcy. Who would've thought that Jimmy Palmer would be doing that?
Where would you ultimately like to see Palmer end up as a character?
Brian Dietzen: I think one of the comforting parts about playing a character like Jimmy is that each week you know where he's going to be coming from and there are little curve balls here and there that he can throw and be thrown that'll challenge his current state. As far as changing that massively towards the end of this season or in upcoming seasons -- you know, I love where the dude is at. Every step that he's taken -- because he's certainly a different character now than he was nine years ago -- it seems natural and real and organic, and I think no matter what happens with the character I'm going to like it.
I would hate to say, "Oh I'd like for him to end up here" or "I'd like for him to end up running his own autopsy" or anything like that. Because really anywhere he's been at it seemed real; it seemed like the right place to go. So I would hate to call my shot on this one because it's been so fun playing him at each one of his different points. And ten years in, I love the fact that this character can still get the Death Stare from Gibbs and retreat a little bit and not feel like he's necessarily running the show. I think that's real, I think that a lot of people do that their entire lives and they grow in many different ways. I love where the character's at, and wherever the writers tend to take him, I know I'm going to enjoy and it love playing it.
Editor's Note: At this point Dietzen apologized for his "long-winded" answers, but I assured him the fans wanted to hear everything he had to say, so he continued:
Seriously, after ten years I really, really love playing on that show. I love playing the character and so does everyone else in the show. People keep asking "What the secret of success on the show, how is it number one after a decade?" and I really, really do think that it's the fact that everyone that's there wants to be there. I talk to friends that are regulars on other TV shows and you always hear stories of prima donnas and people that are demanding bigger trailers and this and that, and our show has never been about that. It's been about showing up and doing the work and enjoying what you've got while you've got it, you know?
We've had weddings in these last ten years, personally, and babies being born and kids going to school and stuff. We really have spent a decade with one another. It's been awesome, it's been a great ride and the fact that we still have the ratings is pretty incredible to me. We just gotta keep rolling.
Stay tuned for the rest of our exclusive interview next week, where Dietzen talks about the upcoming holiday episode, the Tony and Palmer friendship, the possibility of Palmer becoming a daddy and much more.
NCIS airs Tuesday nights at 8pm on CBS.
(Image courtesy of CBS)