Jon Cryer thought he’d be prepared for his guest spot on NCIS as Dr. Taft, a celebrated Navy surgeon, thanks to more than 10 years playing a chiropractor on Two and a Half Men. But nothing could have prepped him for the task at hand: saving the life of protagonist Gibbs (Mark Harmon), who was shot in the last season finale. The actor spoke to EW about what it was like donning the medical gloves for the show. (NCIS premieres its 13th season on Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We know Dr. Taft’s great at his job. What’s his personality like?
JON CRYER: He’s kind of the Jeff Goldblum of naval surgeons. Bit of a wiseass. Way too comfortable making jokes in the operating room. Can probably play a mean jazz piano.
Is he a good guy, or can we expect something more sinister?
I think he’s a good guy. But I’m also one of those people who believe that the right set of circumstances can turn a good guy bad.
What will NCIS fans find most fascinating about Taft, and what do you find most fascinating about him?
So far, the writers have only hinted at the depths of him. What I’m looking forward to is seeing his friendship with Gibbs. He’s not the kind of guy Gibbs usually takes to.
How did you get into character? Did you do research on the life of a surgeon?
This role came up so fast. I got a call while I was on the train to Comic-Con in San Diego this year, and within a week I was shooting. So I didn’t have much time to prepare. I spent a day working with a surgeon who they ended up hiring to actually assist me during the scene. In fact everyone at the operating table with me in the scene was a trained medical professional. So it was only me, the guy who was supposed to be the badass doctor, who didn’t know what he was doing. I kept thinking “I played a chiropractor for 12 years, that’s gotta count for something!”
What was it like working with Mark Harmon and having the life of NCIS‘ main character in your character’s hands?
Two and a Half Men and NCIS actually started the same year, and ever since, every time I would run into one of the actors from NCIS at CBS functions, I’d hock them incessantly for a chance to act on the show. I’ve loved it from the first season, but I always wanted to be one of the characters who die entertainingly in the first two minutes of the show. Then you’d see me dead on a slab in Ducky’s [played by David McCallum] lab with my genitals all lit up later on. That would’ve been great! So when I first read the script and realized the importance of my character I thought “Sweet lord! What part of ‘I just want to die entertainingly in the first two minutes’ did you not understand?!”
Dr. Taft is set to appear in three episodes. Could your relationship with the show continue beyond Taft’s arc this season?
I’d be happy to come back. But don’t tell them that, I’ll never be able to ask for a raise. Actually I kind of hope I don’t come back. I mean, how many times can they shoot Mark Harmon in the chest?
An edited version of this interview runs in Entertainment Weekly issue #1376, on newsstands Friday, Aug. 7.