NCIS star Michael Weatherly knows how fortunate he is to be taking his first turn behind the camera on TV’s No. 1 drama, with a supportive family-like cast he’s worked with for eight seasons and a crew he’s now able to appreciate in a whole new light. “I’ve been spoiled and forever ruined for any other experiences,” he says. In tonight’s episode “One Last Score” (CBS, 8 p.m. ET), NCIS discovers that one of its former investigative assistants found dead was selling details for how to rob a warehouse full of valuable possessions (including Steve McQueen’s sunglasses) belonging to the Madoff of the Navy (guest star JoBeth Williams). As always, there’s a lot going on in the hour.
“I think I had 12 or 15 main stories that I was trying to tell,” he says. “That’s a lot.” One of those is the arrival of a new character, NCIS Special Agent Erica Jane “EJ” Barrett (played by Brothers & Sisters‘ Sarah Jane Morris), who’ll figure prominently into the end of season arc. “What happens for Tony is, for the first time, he’s genuinely interested in someone who’s real,” he says laughing. “It’s not a blowup doll. It’s not the coffee girl who’s a college student. She’s not a Mossad assassin. I felt that is was this great opportunity for Tony to kind of develop a crush maybe, and possibly explore normal feelings about someone, as opposed to going undercover and then falling in love with the girl who doesn’t even know your name and whose father is an arms dealer you’re trying to bust, for instance.” (We remember that arc well, we tell him. “What’s fun is [the series] plays now on USA on an almost constant loop, right, and people say, ‘Ah, that was a long time ago.’ Well, not if you were watching USA. It was yesterday,'” he jokes.)
That said, Weatherly insists tonight’s episode, written by Jesse Stern, is still focused on the core characters. “I was really thrilled ’cause I got to direct a car chase where Gibbs [Mark Harmon] catches a bad guy… or does he?” he teases. You’ll see a fair number of rearview mirror shots and close-ups of Gibbs, which is an homage to Bullitt. Weatherly storyboarded that sequence with Patrick Barrett, who also storyboarded the underwater rescue in Season 5. (Weatherly himself storyboarded a running chase.) Another sequence he’s proud of: They shot scenes with Williams, who plays Leona Phelps, at an actual women’s prison in California, which stood in for Camp Cupcake (where Martha Stewart stayed). “The actual prison wall in the dormitory had a saying painted on it. It said, ‘She who plants weeds cannot expect to pick flowers,’ and I fell to the floor laughing,” Weatherly says. “I thought, Ohmygod, it’s got to be in our episode. So we had them paint it on another wall closer to where Gibbs is gonna be interrogating Leona. We start the scene on this saying, and that kind of stuff, it’s divine inspiration. I think it’s what makes NCIS so fun to watch, too. It’s playful and there’s energy, as well as a cracking good story.”
Is Weatherly already thinking about directing another episode? “Yeah, what we’re thinking is there’s a young couple on the bow of a boat, and they’ve just fallen in love. Has that been done before? No, you know what I’m thinking: How about if there’s a genetically-engineered girl and there’s a guy in a wheelchair. No wait a minute, that sounds familiar,” the former star of James Cameron’s Dark Angel cracks. “No, I can’t wait to do it again, and I’m proud that I was allowed to join another union.” In the meantime, he’ll just practice. “Cut,” he says, when we end the interview. “See how I did that?”