It’d be tough to imagine NCIS without Tony DiNozzo’s sense of humor and pop culture references, not to mention the Tiva tension, the Gibbs slaps, and the sibling-esque rivalry with McGee. But if all goes according to plan, fans of TV’s No. 1 scripted series won’t have to. Earlier this week, we sat down with Michael Weatherly in New York to chat about his contract negotiations for Season 8, as well as May 25’s season 7 finale (sadly, one martini does not produce spoilers). We also administered an EW Pop Culture Personality Test, which you can read on PopWatch next Tuesday. (It’s a good one. Even his wife, Bojana Jankovic, a doctor who observed her husband’s final interview before his hiatus — and their vacation — truly began, learned a few new things about him.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s get the tough question out of the way first.
MICHAEL WEATHERLY: Are we talking about my weight? [Laughs]
What can you say about your contract negotiations?
[Thinks for 10 seconds, choosing his words] It’s a very exciting time for the show, and I would like to know as much as anybody whether or not I’ll back in season 8. But I am 100 percent confident that the people in charge of negotiating these things, which would be my representatives as well as the network, will come to some accord — and probably sooner rather than later as Upfronts [when the networks present their fall schedules to advertisers] are coming up. Coming up front. [Laughs]
You’ve already shot the season finale. I’m assuming there’s no loophole in it, like, Oops!, maybe half the team doesn’t have to be there next season… Then again, the show has separated you all before.
What might happen in Season 8, if everything were to go sideways, is that Ducky finds a time machine and suddenly we’re solving crimes in the Civil War, and it’s just Ducky and Gibbs in, like, NCIS: Civil War. [In announcer voice] “It’s the North versus the South. They’re bringing 21st century crime procedural to the 19th Century.” It would be pretty cool. That’s when you know we’re out of ideas, when we find a time machine. I actually think the show can absorb more than your average procedural drama, but I’m not sure about a time machine. Or aliens. Or ghosts.
What can you say about the finale?
I do feel that it is as if Stanley Kubrick is in charge of our season finale. There’s a sense of dread that permeates the last several episodes, specifically surrounding the Gibbs story. His crisis, which it really is, throws everything that you might expect him to do in certain situations out the window. Because he’s in a new spot that is outside the Gibbs comfort zone, for sure.
Can you give me a little bit more about Gibbs’ crisis? Or should I wait until you get some alcohol in you and try this line of questioning again?
[Laughs] Well, it’s difficult because, of course, it’s not my storyline, so I don’t want to speak to it in any real specific way, but I will say that watching Mark [Harmon] behave and perform these scenes, I saw him do things that I’ve never seen him do before as an actor. I’ve seen him do tears, I’ve seen him do a lot of things. In particular, a scene in the interrogation room is stunning. It’s a stunning moment for that character. Whether you would call it losing control… [The drinks arrive.] That’s quite a glass. Cheers.
Cheers to you doing your best not to reveal anything.
I am. I mean… Gibbs in hell [laughs] might be what it comes down to. It’s interesting, looking around at this mural [of the famous Palio horse race by Sandro Chia], I think it’s what it looks like inside his head during the last episode, the last few episodes.
That is true. And another one is injured. What’s interesting on NCIS are the allegiances, and everyone is loyal to Gibbs and unquestioning of the decisions that he makes. And Jesse Stern, who is responsible for the finale this year, who also wrote the season premiere this year, I think he does a really great job of playing on those audience expectations. He loves the show as much as I do, if not more. Sidebar, several years ago, Jesse, who lives right next to us, is in his early ’30s, went to Yale, and is a genius, called me and he says, [doing his voice] “Hey, so I just spent four days watching every episode that was ever made of M*A*S*H.” He watched literally 10 years of M*A*S*H in four days. He’s like, “NCIS and M*A*S*H have a lot of in common.” And I was like, “How do you see that?” And he went on to talk about how it’s a character-driven show. Is it a medical drama, is it a war comedy, is it about surgeons at the battlefront? It’s really just about these people trying to get through an unclear time when there is a specific threat of the war and the incoming helicopters. The choppers always pinpointed stuff, and the episode where there were no choppers just created a sense of whoa! If you have too much time on your own in Korea in the 1950s, with nothing to do except think about what you’re doing in Korea… I think Jesse is the guy who looks at something like M*A*S*H, looks at the whole 10 years, thinks about what they did right, and then he applies it. It’s not by accident that people like our show… This finale, with that dread — and I know it’s non-specific — but there’s this sense that this series is not done by any means. I personally don’t think any of the actors will disappear this year. I think it would be a great sadness if everyone weren’t back to continue what we’ve been doing. If you watched every episode this season and paid attention, you’ve seen the cloud coming and the last three episodes, the air gets humid and it’s like thunder clouds. I would put it on par with that season 2 ending where Sasha Alexander’s character, Caitlin, got killed [one of EW’s 20 Most Shocking TV Deaths]. That was more about a lightning strike with no thunder. I still have people come up and go, “Ohmygod, I just saw that episode on USA!”
What’s in store for Tony?
Tony ends up on a mission of his own at the end of the year, in a sense…. Where all the characters are headed — it is not resolved at the end of this year. [Laughs] Although what they do in soap operas, “Now playing the part of Anthony DiNozzo…” That won’t happen though.
It must be hard for you right now: You love the show, we know you don’t want to go. And yet, you’re negotiating, so you don’t want to give that away.
Yeah, and even as far as those negotiations go, they must be very busy because I just haven’t heard anything. Oh wait, there’s my phone now. [Laughs] We knew Sasha was leaving the show, and when we did press, we were told not to say that she was leaving. This is not that. That wasn’t stressful to me. We just had fun with it. “Who’s leaving the show?” “I don’t know. It could be me.” We played that several times as a cliffhanger. What show doesn’t play with that notion? But I don’t think that’s what makes people watch this show — because they think someone’s gonna die. I think people watch the show because they like that Klinger wears dresses, and Radar answers the sentences of the other guy, and Hawkeye has to go back to the swamp and make a drink. Again, that M*A*S*H feeling. I think Jesse is a genius. I used to think NCIS, we were like Huey Lewis and the News. “I’m like, ‘Right?'” He’s like, “I don’t think that makes any sense. What do you mean, ‘The Power of Love’? ‘I Want a New Drug’?” I just meant, it’s a popular hit, but I don’t know if NCIS is cool, or if it will ever be in the Bullseye in the back of your magazine. I don’t think anyone’s throwing a dart at that. To our credit, nobody’s trying to be very cool on the show. [Laughs] I remember one time reading a criticism of the show, “And Tony’s jokes aren’t even funny.” And I was like, “That’s the point. He’s the guy who thinks he’s funnier than he is.”
I find him funny. Now I’m questioning my sense of humor.
[Laughs] Well, I think he’s funny, too, of course.
That Life Goes On joke in the Coast Guard episode…
The Corky joke? Scripted.
Scripted. And I was very like, “Really? We’re gonna make a Corky joke. Okay…” [McGee explains that while the Coast Guard Investigative Service may not have NCIS‘ track record or “je ne sais quoi,” they are still their legitimate sibling. “Like Corky in Life Goes On,” Tony says.] I think the writers really like the show. We’ve had the same writers for, like, the last five seasons, and George [Schenck] and Frank [Cardea] have been there since the beginning, and I don’t know if that’s that common. I think it’s a testament that nobody wants to leave. Everybody kind of gets a kick out of it. I enjoy watching Castle. I see Nathan Fillion’s role and go, “Oh, that would be fun to do.” Or what Simon Baker gets to do on The Mentalist. Those are fun characters, but I think I have a better job. I think I get to be goofy and do alarming things on this show. If you’re kind of the top of the pyramid, you kinda have to be a little bit more responsible. I think it’s the irresponsibility that I get a big kick out of. But I am very responsible… he said as he reaches for his wife’s hand. [The Ukrainian waitress approaches to ask if we need another drink.]
[To waitress] Can I ask you a question?
Weatherly: How are your contract negotiations going?
Waitress: How is my contract — what do you mean?
Weatherly: Well, let me just give you a hypothetical situation. Let’s say you’ve been working in this bar for seven years.
Waitress: Seven years? I hope it’s not my destiny.* [All laugh]
But it’s a great bar. People love your bar.
Waitress: That’s why I stay.
Weatherly: Well, there you go. I think you have just answered the question, because I really love the bar.
* She’s studying biotechnology.