Cote de Pablo Spills Secrets!
by Chris Willman October 23, 2009 07:03 AM EST
It’s hard to say Cote de Pablo was typecast as Ziva David on NCIS when, for starters, she’s of Chilean origin and the character is a former Israeli. Also, de Pablo hasn’t killed nearly as many people. But you can’t help but be struck by some of the off-screen parallels, especially when it comes to both Cote’s/Ziva’s sober professionalism in the face of DiNozzo’s/Michael Weatherly’s goading goofiness. All of which we saw on ample display when we dropped by the NCIS for this exclusive Q&A.
So Ziva gets to be “probie” for a while now?
-Wellll, as probie as Ziva can be. She gets bothered and teased specifically by DiNozzo, who just finds it the funniest thing in the world. But I think it bothers her tremendously.
Your character has gone through some attitude changes lately, from angry and defiant at the end of season 6 to repentant at the beginning of this one.
-When you first saw her come in [during season 3], she didn’t really know who these people were. She finds this group of people and makes them her family immediately. And yes, she’s got what I think you could call anger issues. I wouldn’t say she’s gotten away from it. I think right now she’s gotten in touch with a lot of pain. I think she’s been sort of quote-unquote “betrayed, “or at least she thinks she’s been betrayed, by something that’s very close to her, which is her family, particularly her father. And it’s a big deal to her. Which would explain her love and relationship with somebody like Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
When you put “betrayed” in quotes, you make it sound like maybe the relationship with her father back in Israel has not been wrapped up and put away for good.
-No. In true NCIS fashion, it kind of gets tapped with and not really dealt with. So it should come to nip me in the bud, so to speak, later on this season. I sure do hope so, that that particular story line doesn’t go away, because I really enjoy it, and I think there’s a lot still to explore.
So Michael Nouri, who played your dad, may be back?
-Yeah, he definitely may be back. The great thing about this show is, [the actors] never know what’s gonna happen. And the writers sort of tease you every once in a while, but they don’t give it all away.
You were the last major piece of the NCIS puzzle, at least for the core group in the squad room. You’ve been here four years now. How long did you feel like a probie?
-I never felt like a probie on this show. I always felt like I just belonged, like I was just a part of it from the very beginning, as soon as I stepped on set. Even if there was a part of me as an actor that was like “You’re gonna work for a couple of episodes and we’ll see,” I never viewed it as anything else but “This is my role and this is my family and this is what I do.”
Can you describe the screen test that got you the job? It’s kind of legendary; everyone else in the cast always talks about it.
-I was about to open a Broadway show in New York, so I was coming from a structured, very prepared, very polished background, where obviously all your lines were completely memorized and you never went off-book. That would be completely betraying the writer; it was a disrespectful thing. We do that now so often, but it just so happens that that’s how the show works, in many ways. It’s part of what makes the show what it is, the ad libs. But when I came in and did my audition, Michael Weatherly went off script, and I just thought “Oh my God, this guy is sabotaging my audition!” And I immediately perked up and went “I will not allow this actor to do this to me.” So what people saw in the audition really was a person fighting the other person back and not giving an inch. He was trying to flirt with me. He grabbed my face and said, “You know, you look so much like Salma Hayek.” I thought it was disrespectful and completely unprofessional. And it was just all the things that I think later on translated to the relationship that Ziva and DiNozzo had and still have. And that’s what makes that particularly dynamic interesting.
Now, did Michael do that with the other actress who was auditioning, or just pick on you?
-No, he totally did it with the other actress. There was only one other girl, and he pulled that little stunt with her, and apparently she sort of flirted back with him, and she was sort of open. Which is what actors do! They’re sort of open. But I was just so shut to it. And funny enough, luck was on my side, and I got the part because I responded to it the way they felt was right. I had no control over that, and I definitely was not gonna go and laugh at his little stunt. [laughs] I didn’t think it was funny!
Did it take you a while, then, to get away from the theatrical notion of the script being sacrosanct? Not that things are totally loose on the NCIS set, but…
-It’s not totally loose. Every once in a while I add things, but for the most part I’m nothing like Michael. He adds a lot, and it’s part of what makes the character so wonderful, that Michael is able to sort of go and do his own thing. I, however, stick more to the script, and I like it that way. For me, it works.
The “Tiva” love/hate conflict seems to be going a little bit more on the back burner. Undoubtedly it’ll always be part of the dynamic between you and Michael. But do you think viewers were satisfied with how it played out? Especially in first two episodes of the season, the two of you had some scenes that seemed to bring something to a head, but not really resolve it.
-I don’t think this relationship’s ever gonna be resolved. And I think fans will always find things that will make them kind of sway their opinion as to where they think that relationship will go. We never have an idea of where this relationship is gonna go. In many ways, we can add and sprinkle scenes with elements of whatever we feel at the time should happen. But Michael and I are not on the same page. He thinks sometimes things should be done a certain way, and I think sometimes should be done a certain way. And that’s sort of what makes the dynamic interesting. We don’t talk about what we’re thinking or where we’re going. It’s sort of very much like a real relationship in life: We kind of want it to be what it is. We’re not really trying to manipulate it. And I think the writers pick up on it, so they kind of write according to what we do. And at times it gets feisty and at times it doesn’t, and at times it gets really passionate and at times it doesn’t. Michael and I have that with each other. We don’t really mess with it much. We don’t really ask questions. Also, with Michael, if you tell him you’re gonna do something, he’ll turn around and do the complete opposite, so you want to keep him in the dark for the most part.
The bathroom scene you had with him in the second episode was terrific.
-It was fun. Bathroom scenes are always fun. Well, they’re always fun because they always just so happen to be with Michael. Those scenes for me are loaded with emotional stuff. These characters have gone through so much together, there’s this underlying sort of unfulfilled sexual tension, and this undeniable love for each other; may it be a brotherly love or however you want to label it, there is love. So when you put these two characters together, there’s a lot to explore, and a lot of elements that are interesting for us to play with.
Next: Michael Weatherly barges in!
[Michael Weatherly walks over to join us in the area where monitors have been set up for the nearby filming.]
Weatherly: You are my Hoover dam!
De Pablo: [skeptically] Really?
Weatherly: You hold it back. But I’ll flood… [Pretending to notice the reporter for the first time.] Oh, I apologize in advance. Can I just say something? Her whole thing is so crazy… [whispering] It’s cray-zee!
De Pablo: Can I just say something?
Weatherly: Hey, I’m trying to speak to truth. I’m trying to be honest about who you really are. I’m talking about opera early in the morning.
De Pablo: True.
Weatherly: I’m talking about singing at the top of her voice. I’m talking about dancing in her trailer.
De Pablo: It’s true.
Weatherly: We used to have bathrooms that were back to back…
De Pablo: Okay, that’s it! That’s where the conversation ends. Do you want to go somewhere else?
[We retreat from the edge of the shooting set to a nearby stairwell.]
De Pablo: This can be our little interview nook.
[But within a few moments, a giant bulging eye appears, spying, over the top of the nearest rail. It’s Weatherly doing the peeping, of course, and de Pablo can’t help but crack up. Is this life imitating art, or…?]
De Pablo: He’s so stupid. Look at him.
Weatherly: Oh, are you guys having a private conversation?
De Pablo: Yeah, get out!
[With her antagonist safely gone, we resume.]
You do love to sing, and you even had an on-screen number at the beginning of season 6 that ended up on the first NCIS soundtrack album. Any desire to take music out of your trailer and onto the stage?
-Singing is a huge passion of mine. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to do it as much as I’d like to. Hopefully that’ll change. I’m not sure if musical theater is on the path to my future, because of the time issue, not because of the desire issue.
How many years do you think you’ll be here?
-Not that we never thought we’d be here now, but we never in a million years thought we’d be No.1 in our seventh season. That’s sort of unheard of, in many ways. We’ve been on in the top 10 for a while now, which has been really nice. But for us to be No. 1, it’s like, woo, that’s kind of insane. You ask me how long do you think we’ll be around? I don’t know. I mean, however long Mark wants to stick around! However long we all want to stick around. I think the show has a couple more years left, definitely.
When a show gets to this level, we usually start to hear about infighting or contractual negotiations or other things threatening to bring it down. Yet everyone insists this is a pretty happy set, and the show doesn’t seem destined for doom in any obvious way.
-You know, we all take pride in the relationships that we have built, and that we are friends. However, I always say that it’s important for people to know that just because we get along doesn’t mean that every single one of us can’t come to work and have a really bad day, and we all have to roll with the punches. Sometimes people have things that are going on in their personal lives. We’re here a lot, so we have to deal with all that. It just makes us human and just makes us real. So we are all sort of crossing our fingers and hoping nothing like that happens. You can never say never. Hopefully we’ll just be able to take care of things and ride the wave smoothly.
Your character and Harmon’s are the most serious ones on the show, other than Vance. You’re a trained assassin, and he’s a former sniper and now a team leader, so the two of you can’t be goofballs. But you do get to play some comedy.
-Oh my God, which I think is the best thing about the character: that I get to go into really deep areas, and then I get to have fun whenever I choose to have the fun. I think Gibbs and Ziva see that in each other.
And this season is exploring the trust issue between the two characters.<b/>
-I think probably the only person Ziva truly, truly trusts is Gibbs. I don’t think she’d put her life in anyone’s hands but Gibbs’. I mean, she loves everybody else. But she’s been able to explore different things with this person, and he’s sort of a father figure in many ways, so I think she feels safe with him, and I feel that he’s been the only one really who’s seen that level of vulnerability from her. That is their little secret, which is what I like about the relationship.
<b>Do you have a sense of the arc of the rest of the season?
-No idea. I have no idea what’s gonna happen. The fact that she becomes a part of this team and the fact that she’s officially an NCIS agent—as opposed to a Mossad liaison officer—is a big deal to her. But nothing really changes as far as the work. Hopefully things can begin to settle as far as her emotional stuff. Hopefully she can start to enjoy things a little bit more and maybe take a breather. But for a person like Ziva who’s been through so much, I feel like it’ll just take a little bit to adjust. In real life, a person that has gone through all that stuff, I don’t think it’s just from night to day. It’s just not gonna change that easily.
Viewers may not want her to see Ziva pent up all the time, but it might seem odd if she were totally relaxed all the time, too.
-I’ve had the pleasure of talking to people who have been to war. I went to Israel… People who do this for a living, that do undercover missions or are out there putting themselves on the line, seeing death and all those things—there’s a point when they sort of disconnect, and then they’re able to put that aside. It doesn’t mean that they’re done with it or they forget it. it’s just that for the moment, they allow themselves to have fun and go away from that bubble and be able to enjoy something else. I think she has to be in the moment. I think she can’t wear the backpack of her past, per se, at all times. Like a human being, there are moments of absolute and sheer pleasure, and moments when she’s gonna think, “Oh my God, that guy is really good looking,” or moments that she questions with DiNozzo, or hysterically funny moments. However, her past is also gonna be there at the end of the day, too. It’s something she’s gonna have to deal with and make a part of her life.
We start thinking of her as this haunted figure, and then all of a sudden the writers give you zingers.
-I love that side of Ziva. And God knows I have so much fun playing that side of her—of sort of getting lost in translation, and at times not completely fitting in. I love that. You always find moments within every show that you find are fun to play. I personally for my own selfish reasons love that whole thing with my father. I love scenes that have nothing to do with spewing out exposition, or just delivering facts. Anything that has to do with my being trapped in an elevator or being in the bathroom, anything that has to do with building emotional scenes with people and exploring relationships, those are my favorite scenes. That’s sort of my forte.
Personal details are parceled out so sparingly by the writers. Every fan of the show is waiting for that moment they find out just a little more about you or the other characters, and they have to wait and wait, because nobody reveals a lot at any given time, and it’s not like the show follows characters home from the workplace into love life. It’s almost like they throw obsessed fans a bone here and there. It’s a tease, never giving out too much at once.
-I think you’ve said it. It is a tease. I think that’s what these writers do so well. Because you have to understand that for us as actors, we want sometimes what the audience wants, also. But when they give us just that little bit, and we run with it, we’re able to create either more or less or steer away from it completely or go full-fledged. It entices you as an actor. It makes you want more. Which is what you want in year 7—to be passionate about your work, to be passionate about these characters, to be passionate about building these relationships.