As we all know, some actors get a little nutty when they get a little famous. But not Pauley Perrette, who plays Abby Sciuto on CBS’ wildly popular military crime drama NCIS. While it’s made her one of the biggest stars on TV, Perrette has remained as approachable, kind, and grounded as she was when I first met her fifteen years ago. (That she looks exactly the same as well is just proof, as we all know, that life isn’t fair.)
Consider this: Usually, you interview the star of a big TV show at a fancy restaurant, or on the show’s set, or in the conference room of their publicist’s office. But for this interview, Pauley suggested we go to one of her favorite bars with her fiancé, Thomas, and sit out back. Y’know, by the dumpsters. Which wasn’t the most interesting thing to happen that night.
The big news this season of NCIS is the departure of Cote de Pablo, who played Ziva. Did you guys in the cast know about this before you started filming the new episodes?
Barely. With me, it was within days. I woke up one morning and I had text messages from my castmates and Cote, and I was like, “What is going on?” That happened to me one other time, and it was when someone passed away, so I was really nervous.
I think the strangest thing, as far as Hollywood stories go, is that there was no drama, there were no fights. And if there are fights in Hollywood, yes, people bury it all the time. But this was not the case. We adore her, I love her, and we all love our show. It was just a decision that she made, on her own, for her own reasons, and in that kind of loving environment, we had to respect it. And when I spoke to her, what I said to her was, “What matters to me is that you’re okay.” That’s still what matters to me.
What was the vibe like the first couple days on set, knowing this had gone down?
It was really shocking because, to some of us, it had happened so quickly. So it was like: shock, confusion, and then regroup.
We’re doing this interview on August 27th. At this point, have you shot any of the episodes that take place after Ziva has left?
We are just now shooting the first episodes without her. The first two episodes of the season are really heavy. I don’t even know how to tell the fans to reassure them…. I love TV. I get nervous if one of my characters leave. And I get sad and I cry, too. But I want to reassure the fans that its dealt as respectfully…. Is it heartbreaking? Yeah, it’s a tearjerker. But is it also completely respectful not only to Cote but to her character and her fans? Absolutely.
Cote is, of course, not the first person to leave the show. But she stayed the longest before leaving, as she was on the show for eight seasons. Does this make her departure different from when Sasha Alexander left after two seasons or Lauren Holly split after three?
Yeah, it does make it harder. But I miss Sasha every day, I miss Lauren every day. But, luckily, if someone is killed off the show, I can still call them.
This is the eleventh season of NCIS. When shows have been around as long as yours have, they sometimes get a little loopy. Are there any plans to do anything weird, like an animated episode, or a musical one, or NCIS…IN SPACE?
Nope. We will not do that. Since we’re almost all musicians on there, people always ask if we’d do a musical episode, but no. We care so much about our fans, we’re very loyal to our fans, and I don’t think that’s what our fans want. People rely on it every week. Even with my character, Abby hasn’t aged. She’s like the same age as when we met her. She’s kind of like an anime character. Think about cartoon characters, we don’t want to see them age, we don’t want them to change. So yes, we have characters leaving, but we keep to the core of what the show has always been about.
My favorite thing about NCIS is that while it is a military crime drama, it’s actually funnier than most sitcoms, it’s a hilarious show. And that’s what our fans count on. When you have a show that’s that good and solid, you don’t want to mess with it.
If they were to do something weird, what you want to do? Besides an episode where Abby and a bunch of drag queens fight crime, of course.
Of course. I don’t know. We kind of did one episode when Gibbs was in a coma, and another where Sasha’s character came back and everyone saw her differently; McGee had her come back as a superhero and Tony had her in a Catholic school girl outfit. I don’t think I’d want it to get weirder than that.
But if there was going to be an episode where Abby and a bunch of drag queens fight crime, when would the producers tell you this was happening?
The actors are always the last to know. The producers have seen the script, the writers have seen it, obviously, often times even the wardrobe people have seen it, but the actors are always the last to see it. They probably don’t want us mouthing off about it.
The only exception I can think of was last season, when we did the episode where we went into Abby’s childhood [“Hit And Run”]. The writer, Gina [Lucita Monreal, who co-wrote the episode with Gary Glasberg] came to me and was like, “What do you think Abby’s room looked like? What would she be wearing?” And I really appreciated that. Because several writers have written this character, but I’m the only one who’s played her for eleven years, so I’ve become Encyclopedia Abby. I’m always super grateful when the writers ask me things like that. Though if they don’t, I don’t worry about it because I’m not the writer.
Have there been any times when people have written things for Abby that you thought were wrong?
Oh yeah, yeah. Because I’m Encyclopedia Abby, I’ll be reading a script and it’ll say something like she’s eating avocado, and I’ll let them know that it can’t happen because in episode three of season four she said she was allergic to avocados.
One of the interesting things about you is that you don’t just love your job, but you love the show, and often watch the NCIS marathons on USA.
I do. I love it. I was watching it today before I came here.
Are there any episodes that you just don’t like, for whatever reason?
I prefer the episodes that are back at the house. When they go overseas for whatever, it takes the team apart for me, and I like when the team is all together.
Now, all good things come to an end. And, at some point, NCIS will come to an end.
Don’t say that!
Well, either you guys won’t want do it anymore, or it will become unprofitable…
I’ve told them, and Michael Weatherly has said the same thing, that we’re staying until they kick us out.
Okay, so maybe you won’t have an answer for this, but if the show was canceled, do you know what you want to do next?
I love TV, so I would want to be on another show.
Would you want to do a sitcom? Another drama? A spin-off in which Abby and some drag queens fight crime…IN SPACE?
It would depend on the material. I would just want to do something closer to my house.
How far of a commute do you have now?
In Part II of my interview, Pauley talks about how she spends her summer vacations, the movie she’s making, her bakery, and George Lucas.
In the meantime, you can follow Pauley Perrette on Twitter.