Isn’t it the actor who usually tears up during an interview, not the journalist? Last week, we met up with NCIS‘ Cote de Pablo for lunch in New York City to talk about the tension that’s about to explode between her character, former Mossad agent Ziva David, and Michael Weatherly’s Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo in season 6’s final three episodes (CBS, Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET). SPOILER ALERT! If you were hoping that Tony questioning Ziva’s loyalty to NCIS after uncovering her connection to the mysterious Michael Rivkin might somehow be one of those situations in which anger turns to passion — stop. “We could not be farther away from kissing,” de Pablo says. “I’m telling you, it’s not ‘I hate you’ [kissing sound] anger; it’s ‘I want to kill you’ anger. Like, ‘I want to shoot you in the head, but instead I’m gonna put my gun on your knee’ anger….He does something to her that is almost unforgivable. However, the reason he does it is because he truly believes it’s going to help her. Little does he know that he almost kills her.” Metaphorically or physically, we ask. “Physically and emotionally,” she answers. Our eyes get a little misty, which we point out to her. “Tell me when you watch the end of that episode,” she says, “because I want to be sitting next to you.” Here, de Pablo talks about the Tiva chemistry, what makes NCIS work, and why she doesn’t have a TiVo.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why do you think the show has gotten its best ratings ever — in season 6?
COTE DE PABLO: People don’t watch this show because of the crimes we solve. They watch the show because they want to see how people relate within the show. We’re like a little dysfunctional family. I’ve always thought of Ziva as the adopted kid who comes in and has this really funny thing with one of the siblings, which is Tony. It’s funny how the audience caught on.
And what’s interesting is that you’re able to do that character stuff without sacrificing the logic of the cases. Or maybe it’s just because the character stuff is so well written that I don’t stop and try to find holes in the plots.
We all have a really great chemistry and when we get a script, we get together, and we make it work. That’s one of the things about the show — and about us — that is still sort of remarkable, and Mark Harmon always points it out: Isn’t it fantastic that during our sixth year, we can still come to work and question a scene to the point where we won’t go out there and shoot it unless it’s clear to all of us? We make sure we all understand what’s going on, that we’re all on the same page. So many shows out there, they’re just doing the words. We love our jobs, and we care about it so much that we show up and we add our input to make it better…Daddy Mark Harmon. We love him. [Laughs] He’s our dad.
You watched “Legend (Part 1)” [the first half of the two-parter that introduces the cast that would lead the as-yet-untitled NCIS spinoff; Part 2 airs tonight]. What was your reaction to OSP [Office of Special Projects]?
I think that will be very interesting. God knows, we all wish themthe best of luck. It’s a tough thing: They’ll go on their journey,they’ll find their chemistry, and they’ll gel. It happens for everyshow. I thought Michael Weatherly was so, so good in that episode.
Tell us one moment from these next episodes that is going to floor us.
When I almost shoot Michael in the knee. [Laughs] I keep saying Michael, but it’s Tony. I’m not shooting Michael, I’m shooting Tony.
When did you know that you and Michael would click as well as you do?
Michael and I clicked immediately. We sort of hated each other immediately, and loved each other immediately. I walked into the audition and he thought, Ohmygod, she’s gonna be so hard to work with. She’s so complicated. And I thought, This guy’s so incredibly unprofessional. During the audition, he grabbed my hair. He would not follow the lines. He totally went off script and started improvising, and this was my final audition with the heads of CBS. I thought, This guy is sabotaging my audition. So immediately I went, Oh, I’m gonna show this guy. I’m gonna show him. So he tried touching me, and I literally like [mimes slapping his hand away]. That relationship was established the moment that we met. Nothing changed, it was just enhanced. And we loved each other as well. We realized we’re so drastically different and so much alike that there was an immediate attraction.
Some fans are worried that Ziva won’t be on the show next season. What can you say about that?
Oh, you never know. All I can tell you is that there’s a fantastic cliffhanger, and in order for them to continue the show, they’d have to at least bring me back to tie up some loose ends.
But you know how the story arc plays out, right? Or has [exec producer] Shane Brennan kept even you in the dark?
The thing you need to know about Shane is that Shane will always keep everyone in the dark. He’s the dark master. He’ll give you hints of where he wants to go with things, but there’s secret pages coming out on the day you shoot. So there’s always mystery. You’re never quite sure what’s going on, which quite frankly, is kinda nice. You start creating scenarios in your head. It keeps the ideas and creativity flowing constantly.
So do you know what happens in the Season 7 premiere then? Not that you have to tell me, but do you know?
Let’s say the team has to get together and they have to help someone because they’re in a desperate situation…I gave you all of it, don’t look at me like that. [Laughs] I’m not saying that much! I’m not saying that much! You’re good. Your little sweet face. The tilt of the head.
Okay, we can move on to the Pop Culture Personality Test portion of the interview. When do you yell at the TV?
The Millionaire Matchmaker. It’s the saddest thing. It’s an addiction. It’s like watching a train wreck all the time. I just think Patti is the funniest person in the world. For the most part, I love Bravo shows: Project Runway, Top Chef, it’s what I call “fine reality.” I love period pieces. I really liked Rome. Now I’m really liking The Tudors. If you asked me what my dream would be — obviously, NCIS is a dream to me — I’d like to be on a period show. I love the Discovery Channel. I love all sorts of medical shows. I love a show called Diagnosis: Unknown.
How many TiVos do you have?
I don’t have a TiVo.
But you do tape shows somehow?
No. I’m not a technology person.
It’s one button!
No, I don’t know how to do it. When I have time off, I usually go to the beach. I stay at a rustic place where TVs are non-existent. I’m drinking some fruit juice with a surfboard under my hand. That’s how I want to spend my time. Or this: Walking around the city. Sitting down, having great lunches. I love food. [She enjoyed a bloody mary and pear salad with us; then left for a second lunch, where she was going to have a steak.]
The last movie you saw in the theater?
I used to love going to movies, but when you work the way we work, which is a lot, the last thing on your mind is going to a movie theater. Then when the Oscars come around, you feel so left out. Within two or three weeks, you try to watch all the movies. The last movie I saw in the theater was actually a really bad scary movie, The Last House on the Left. And by bad, I mean really entertaining. Like the scary movies usually are. If it were really, really good, I wouldn’t be able to stay in my seat. I would never watch Poltergeist.
The movie you have to watch every time you spot it on cable? Like, if I see Baby Boom, it’s over. I’m watching it.
That’s a good movie. There are so many comedies: Wedding Crashers. When Harry Met Sally…
The person or band you still need to see in concert?
I’d love to see Brazilian Girls and Erykah Badu….I would’ve loved to have seen Eva Cassidy and Judy Garland. I love music. I’d really love to go see a great opera [in NYC], but I don’t think I’ll get to see one this time around.
What is your position on karaoke, and what is your song?
If I did it, I would probably sing “Crazy For You,” Madonna. I’ve never done karaoke. I don’t think I’ve ever been drunk enough to do karaoke.
You need more vodka in that bloody mary.
I used to go with friends, and they were always like, “Come on. You sing!” “No, you go ahead.” I’d watch my friends bomb on stage. I loved it.
Name something from your childhood you wish you still had.
There are entire outfits that I wish I still had. My taste in clothing has not changed. I used to dress exactly like this when I was 7. Shirt off the shoulder. My hair wild. Hat. Jeans. Back then, obviously, it was a lot cooler. Now it’s just normal. But I was like a little tomboy. I had a very defined sense of style. The stuff I liked then, I still like now.
What is your pop culture blind spot?
Ohmygod. I feel so out of it sometimes. I don’t even know. Like what?
Have you read Twilight?
Have you read Harry Potter?
Do you get the Jonas Brothers?
No. I have no idea what they are. Keep on going, you’ll find out how incredibly removed I am from that.
Name something you think is underrated in pop culture.
Pauley Perrette [NCIS‘ Abby Sciuto] and I have always thought instead of models or actors on the covers of magazines, it would be great if we could have, like, the best teacher of the year. I think if education was celebrated in pop culture, we’d live in a better place.
Now that you’ve finished your drink, I’m gonna try one more question about NCIS: Will Tony and Ziva ever kiss again?
The first question I always get is, “Are these people ever gonna kiss?” And I’m like, “I don’t know if you remember, but my first season, we did kiss.”
“Under Covers.” They’re like, “No, no, no. We mean, like, a real kiss.” And I’m like, “I think that was pretty real.” Michael and I talked about all of those scenes right before we did them. We had a totally different way of looking at it. In our minds, we thought the characters weren’t faking anything. They just got carried away. Then all of the sudden after that, they saw each other in a different light. That’s how Michael and I wanted to play it: If something really happened during that, it was okay. Tony was willing to go there, and Ziva certainly didn’t mind. She doesn’t care about that stuff. We’ll leave it to anyone’s interpretation….I think that was the beginning of something, and at a certain point, it will have to be addressed.
Watch clips from Season 3’s infamous “Under Covers” episode
More NCIS and EW Pop Culture Personality Tests:
Photo Gallery: NCIS‘ Shane Brennan takes us inside “Legend” and the would-be spinoff
Bill Hader: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test
Nathan Fillion: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test
Harold Perrineau: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test
Bobby Cannavale and Sarah Paulson: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test
Melissa McCarthy: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test
Megan Mullally: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test
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David Boreanaz: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test
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Jason Aldean: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test
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Heidi Newfield: The EW Pop Culture Personality Test