IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Brian Dietzen Talks 'NCIS' and its Upcoming 200th Episode

Monday, 06 February 2012 22:18 Written by  Rocio Anica
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Brian Dietzen Talks 'NCIS' and its Upcoming 200th Episode

Hollywood insiders were surprised last fall to hear that NCIS, a series in its ninth season that has pretty much always flown underneath the radar, was suddenly the number one scripted show on television. But it completely makes sense once you consider that the show’s audience transcends demographics and includes both men and women, young and old, rich and poor, Republican or Democrat. In fact, the show will reach a unique and honored television milestone when it airs its 200th episode of the series tonight, February 7th on CBS.

The show revolves around a fictional team of special agents located in Washington D.C. known as the Major Case Response Team, a division of the primary security, counter-intelligence, counter-terrorist and law-enforcement agency of the U.S. Department of the Navy. They are basically the people who deal with high-profile shenanigans. The team is comprised of Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon, The Presidio), Special Agent “Tony” DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly, Dark Angel), Timothy McGee (Sean Murray, JAG), Goth-chick Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette, The Ring), Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard (David McCallum, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and his assistant, Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen).

I recently had the chance to speak with actor Brian Dietzen about his role on NCIS and the show's longevity. The actor discussed the popular series, his character, it’s upcoming 200th episode, what it’s like to speak to fans that happen to be in the military, and working with fellow actor David McCallum.

Here is what he had to say:

IAR: To begin with, the 200th episode of NCIS is set to air tonight, how will you be celebrating?

Dietzen: We had a nice celebration on set when we were shooting earlier last month, right when we got back from our hiatus. Nina Tassler (President of CBS Entertainment) and David Stapf (President of CBS Television Studios) came up to the set, and we all celebrated with a nice big cake, and our whole cast got together and did tons of interviews and kind of celebrated the fact that we’re stronger in our ninth season. So it’s been pretty great, it’s a momentous season that we’re all extremely happy about. The ongoing joke on the set is that we’re halfway there. But as far as Feb. 7th, I’ll celebrate it the same way I celebrate every show, which is pretty much sitting at home with my wife and checking it out and watching my friends and coworkers on TV.

That’s kind of a significant milestone for you and your character because you were supposed to only be on one episode, and that one episode has now turned into nine years of work. Are you surprised that the role and the job have lasted this long for you?

Dietzen: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. You never know where your next gig is going to come from and what job is going to beget what. Initially, I thought that I was to be hired for one day’s worth of work, but they liked the chemistry between David McCallum and myself. I became friends with everyone, and they asked for one more week, and then one more week, and then one more week; they kind of kept that up, and so eight years later, I’m still showing up for work. So you don’t really know which jobs are going to do that and which ones are going to be just one and done. It’s interesting, though, because it affects your character choice. You show up on the first day of work for a character like Jimmy Palmer, and you try to make very strong character choices, of nervousness and needing to impress his employer, and all that sort of stuff. I didn’t really have anything like that on my reel, so I figured I’d make some choices like that. They seemed to like that. But how do you sustain that, after eight years? Well, fortunately, the writers have given me tons of cool avenues to go down and explore new stuff as well.

Over the course of nine years, I would imagine that this work has led to a lot of growth for you as an actor and as a person, what would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from working with the cast, the crew, and playing Jimmy Palmer?

Dietzen: The biggest thing that I’ve learned is that hard work really does pay off. The show really is a big testament to hard work paying off. It’s also a big testament to what can be done in Hollywood when you don’t have massive, massive egos on a set. Everyone has a really great time on our set, and thankfully in our ninth season I’m happy and proud to say that we’re all still friends. We all get alone really well and we have dinners together and whatnot as a cast. But the reason that we still are working is because everyone brings his or her A-game. Everyone works very hard at this job. And it’s not to say that other shows don’t do the same, I’m sure they do, but we have a wonderful mixture of personalities and people that make this show something unique. The reason that we’ve been so successful is that everyone just works his or her butt off, and it’s fun while we’re doing it. So, those are the two big lessons: working extremely hard, and being sure to enjoy it while we can. These things don’t happened twice in a lifetime.

Do you have a favorite episode from the series so far?

Dietzen: Yeah, there was a memorable episode for me, and my character especially, it was called About Face. It was one in the fifth or sixth season where Jimmy Palmer has a gun aimed at him and he’s the only one who can identify the killer. He kind of has to dig down deep to gain a little bit of courage to identify this man. And then also this year, we shot an episode called the New Born King. It was the Christmas episode. I love all the NCIS Christmas episodes, and in this one my character had quite a bit more to do, with standing up to his future father-in-law, played by Larry Miller (Pretty Woman). That was a blast to shoot.

In what ways would you consider yourself similar to your character, Jimmy Palmer?

Dietzen: We have the same pants size. That’s about it! I really like exploring characters that have some sort of insecurity about them, because that’s a common trait that all people have. We’re all insecure about certain things in our life, and we choose not to delve down deep into them too often; otherwise we’d all be nervous wrecks walking around. But as an actor, it gives me a fun opportunity to explore that part of myself, the part that’s not so secure, the part that is questioning myself. It’s fun to do, but I got to say, if I were Jimmy Palmer in real life, it would be exhausting. It would be the constant need for validation and feeling insecure around some of his superiors at work. But it is fun to play because I think all of us do have that side of us.

It sounds like you find meaning through exploring that type of character, is that a fair statement?

Dietzen: Yes, I love it. I think, performance-wise, when it comes to actors, that people are intrigued by the weaknesses. So when you can show how human a character is, it’s something to latch onto, where people can say, “Ah, I felt that way before. I know what that guy’s feeling right now. He may be taking it to an extreme, but I’ve been in his shoes before.” I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, “I feel that way sometimes when I’m around bosses and stuff, like, nervous and the words don’t seem to come out right.” I think that’s kind of cool that I can play on that theme with this character.

Do fans that are in the Navy or the Marines ever approach you and ask you questions or share their stories?

Dietzen: It’s interesting that you bring that up because, actually, a few days ago I met a serviceman. He told me that he loves watching TV shows that are not procedure-based or law-based, because he thinks it’s so funny how Hollywood-ized it all is; how everything is solved in half a second, how they can just bring people in without the proper warrants. You know, Hollywood cheats a lot of that sort of stuff. He said, “I love watching your show, because your show doesn’t do that.” I thought that was pretty cool that he recognized that our writers, producers and actors go to great lengths to try and keep it real, or as real as possible, while giving it flavor. So, yeah I do get certain people, servicemen and women, who say, “Aw, thanks, I love your show,” and because we play on the Armed Forces Network they catch a lot of the show. I get “thank you” from them a lot and from other people who have retired, as well. It’s a very big show amongst our servicemen and women. I’m really glad that we can do something to entertain, because they do a lot for us.

Finally, it seems that the show really values their consultants to maintain that degree of accuracy and realness. Even actor David McCallum, who you share most of your scenes with, researches a lot of the dialogue to make sure it’s on-point and accurate. Is that something that has just become part of the job description for you now throughout all nine seasons on NCIS?

Dietzen: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Fortunately, we have Leon Carroll, who is a retired NCIS agent and is our liaison and technical consultant for all things NCIS. And then Craig Harvey, who is a Los Angeles County coroner, comes by to specifically answer questions from David and myself regarding cases. He also gives David and me a heads-up. He gives us yearly tours around the morgue and shows us what new technologies are developing and how forensics helps them catch criminals. But its interesting how David McCallum has a very keen eye and a knack for keeping things real and true as to the real biological breakdown of materials, decomposition or fingerprint techniques or DNA sampling. He wants to make sure that everything is as real as possible in forty-two minutes, and he’s pretty great at it. One thing I’ve learned from David McCallum is to always double or triple-check the facts when it comes to spouting out technical or medical jargon.

NCIS airs its 200th episode February 7th on CBS. 

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