Mark Harmon, who played NCIS fan-favorite Leroy Jethro Gibbs for 19 seasons, has been opening up about his time on the long-running CBS drama as he promotes his new book, Ghosts of Honolulu: A Japanese Spy, A Japanese American Spy Hunter, and the Untold Story of Pearl Harbor.
Speaking to ETOnline, Harmon, who left NCIS in 2022, revealed that he almost never did the show as he wasn’t looking to commit to a serialized drama at that point in his life.
“I didn’t expect to like the script as much as I did when I first read it,” the Emmy-nominated actor said. “I was reading other things, and I was also trying to stay home… young family and I wanted to try and be home more.”
Part of what sold Harmon on the show was his character’s name. “I read ‘Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ and thought, ‘Huh, I like that name,’” he explained. “And then, for a brief second, when I decided that I liked the idea of the project, the name changed.”
For a brief moment, the show’s co-creator, Donald P. Bellisario, was considering a name change to something far less interesting. This was almost a deal-breaker for Harmon.
“Bob Johnson or something like that,” he recalled of the new name, adding, “And I went, ‘No, no, it’s gotta be Leroy Jethro Gibbs.’ [Bellisario] said, ‘No, you can’t play a guy named Leroy Jethro Gibbs,’ and I said, ‘Why not?’ And then it went back, and I was happy about it.”
A spin-off from JAG, the series premiered on September 23, 2003, on CBS, and is about to embark on its 21st season, which is set to premiere in 2024.
As for whether Harmon’s Leroy Jethro Gibbs will make a return, it remains up in the air. However, the actor hasn’t ruled out the possibility of coming out of retirement.
“He’s probably sitting in a stream up in Alaska fishing,” Harmon joked of his character. “Is he going to get out of the stream? I don’t know. But if he is, I don’t know about it.”
The show’s executive producer Steven D. Binder previously told TV Insider it would have to be the “right story” to bring Harmon back, stating, “It’s a card to play, and I don’t think we want to play it cheaply.”
“I think when we do play it, it really needs to be the right thing,” Binder continued. “And we work on a different timeline than other shows. Other shows maybe have a year or two or they don’t know how much time they’re gonna have. We just, for rightly or wrongly, operate on a much longer time scale for these things than other shows do.”
As for Harmon, he looks back fondly on his 19 seasons with the show, telling ETOnline, “I don’t know that any of us thought that the show was going to be around as long as it’s been around.”
In reference to the show’s 20th anniversary, Harmon said, “As an actor, you don’t think in those kinds of terms. You’re thinking, ‘TV series, if it does three years, we’re gifted.’ But they’ve done well, and they’ve worked hard, and so it’s a really good group of people.”
Right now, Harmon is focusing on his book, which centers on a U.S. naval counterintelligence officer working to safeguard Pearl Harbor and a Japanese spy ordered to Hawaii to gather information on the American fleet. The story will focus on the start of the real-life Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
“When I first got the role in the show, I tried to google NCIS to figure out what it was. I never heard of it, there wasn’t much information. And if you google it now, there’s like 25 pages of information,” Harmon told ETOnline on why he felt it important to write this book.