“NCIS” star Mark Harmon, who plays Special Agent Leroy Gibbs on CBS’ No. 1 drama, segues to another law enforcement character when he takes on the role of Lucas Davenport in the upcoming USA Network movie “John Sandford’s Certain Prey.”
Unlike Gibbs, Davenport doesn’t need his job. He made a small fortune designing computer simulations, but like Gibbs, he loves busting the bad guy – and not just any bad guys – but ones who commit murder.
“I think there is a part of them that would totally understand each other, but most of that would be involved in the work part,” Harmon says of the two roles. “On a personal level, they are total opposites. What they enjoy and don’t enjoy away from the job is totally different. Job-wise there is an arc to the way they get it done that is familiar to me from playing Gibbs.”
In “Certain Prey,” Davenport is called to the scene when a cop is shot after witnessing the murder of the wife of a local real estate lawyer – and at first they suspect the husband. But then he gets some information from the FBI that sets him on the trail of hit woman Clara Rinker (Tatiana Maslany) and high-powered attorney Carmel Loan (Lola Glaudini).
XfinityTV was on a conference call that Harmon did for his upcoming TV movie, but, first he gave us a sneak peek at several “NCIS” episodes coming up in November sweeps, and then he talked about why he was attracted to the dark side of Lucas Davenport in “Certain Prey.”
You have been on “NCIS” for so long, how do you keep it from becoming routine?
It just never happened. This role originally attracted me because it was about character and there was humor. The case didn’t drive the series and I think that is still true. You’ve got a gathering of actors on this show who all like each other. And we all are continually challenged and we continue to grow and it continues to do even better now than last year. So, obviously, we are doing something right, but it is our job to keep raising the bar. From the beginning on the show that hasn’t changed. Even when we weren’t a hit, when we were midline, what moved us along the line was concentrating on the work, trying to get a handle on what we were doing and getting better every day. There is nobody bored here. There is nobody phoning it in in front of or behind the camera.
Some of the things that Gibbs does: the back of the head slaps, the way he sneaks up behind people, the caffine addiction, the redheads, and kissing Abby on the forehead when she does good work, did those all originate in the script in a writer’s imagination, or did you have a hand in them?
I think an honest answer to that in all directions for all characters on the show is that so much of what we do is based on trust. We have worked together for a long time and it is one of the great treats of this show to block a rehearsal with actors who have been there more than 200 episodes. You trust people jumping off in different directions to try to mine things that may or may not work. That is how we work there. The answer to the question is some of them were scripted and some weren’t. Some stuck and some didn’t. It really brings the format to what makes this show different. We are all open and speak our mind. We all team up to get this done.
Catch Up On The Latest Episode Of “NCIS”:
There is an episode coming up, featuring your real-life son Sean as a younger Gibbs, where Gibbs is prompted to look back on his earlier days. Can you preview that?
There is a plane crash and a huge crime scene and an investigation that takes part in trying to identify those remains and, in some cases, remains not being what they are supposed to be. It forces Gibbs to remember a few things from his past and connects him toward this current case. As always on the show, when we do the flashback stuff, it is to give more definition to the characters and answer some of the questions people have. More than that it is about stretching this cast and that is what our writers keep doing. That is a two-parter and then, the third week beyond that is the return of Robert Wagner as DiNozzo’s dad.
If Abby, McGee, DiNozzo or Ziva were to break rule 12, which is never date a co-worker, how would Gibbs react?
He would probably react the way most people react on the job site, which is it is not a good idea for a million reasons and he knows that because he has been there as long as he has. It is also personal with him to some degree. He cares about them being able to do the job. Should they break those rules, which people will, I don’t think it would be as surprising to him as much as a concern as to how they did their jobs.
USA Network runs such a strong diet of “NCIS” reruns. Does that make this a good home for the “Certain Prey” movie because USA viewers are already comfortable with seeing you there?
I see it twofold. That is part of it. They haven’t done something like this since ’05. This is a first step in a new direction should it work. I am thankful to be a part of that and they have been great partners. It doesn’t take much to look at what they do with “NCIS” and the marathons to see that this on top of that is a smart business move. That is the positive side. The negative side could potentially be that this is a very different character and intended to be so. I see risks in both directions, and, at the same time, it made sense to try to develop this in hopes that someday you could do a movie — this at a time when nobody is getting anything done. The fact that USA was willing to pull the trigger on this with me in the role and with the idea of doing more was interesting. I don’t know with my schedule how many I can do a year. We did this in a 20 day schedule. That was 20 days of a 40-day hiatus.
What was it about Lucas Davenport that attracted you to this role?
He is an interesting guy. He is a very successful business man who dresses nice and drives nice cars, and chases the ladies, and yet, what he likes more than any of it is just being a cop. Then there is the other side of it that he is as nasty as anybody he is chasing. That is fun to play. There is a darkness defining that character. Certainly, Sanford gives so much information about that in these 22 novels that it is a field day for an actor. There is so much to lean on and to know about the character you are trying to portray.
Are there any similarities between your role as Gibbs on “NCIS” and Davenport on “Certain Prey”?
I was a fan of John Sanford going back to the ’80s. I read his books and when the opportunity came to meet with people who had the rights to the stories, I was excited by it because I like this author and I admire this character. I think there are certainly similarities, but they are different people to me. The attraction as an actor to play something different is always there, but it is, hopefully, not so far out of the box that it is shockingly unbelievable. Davenport is a different guy than Gibbs. I just hope we honor the book and the material and did it right.
How would you describe Lucas’ relationship with Clara and Carmel?
Adversarial. Part of the appeal of this script was you have two really terrific female bad guys and casting those people was part of that. In a day and age when those kinds of roles are rare, this project had two of them — and one of them will continue. The bookend novel to this Sanford actually wrote four novels distant from this, which is where we would go if we have the opportunity to do a second one, but this is a continuing story and these characters will continue from book to book.
Did you have to go through any special preparation to play Lucas on “Certain Prey”?
We had to grow my hair as long as it could be given the schedule on “NCIS.” We cheated a little bit at the end of the year.
“NCIS” airs Tuesday nights at 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central on CBS. “Certain Prey” premieres on Sunday, Nov. 6 at 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central on USA Network.