Coming off of what showrunner Gary Glasberg has called a “tumultuous” Season 11 — during which two casting changes took place, the seeds were planted for a New Orleans spin-off and the passing of Ralph Waite was written in — CBS’ NCIS is back in “classic” form, Sean Murray tells TVLine.
The Season 12 opener (airing Tuesday at 8/7c) thrusts Murray’s McGee into a Russian hot zone with boss man Gibbs (played by Mark Harmon), paving the way for the introduction of a new adversary. Here, Murray previews all that and more.
TVLINE | Where do things pick up when the season opens up on Tuesday night? Are McGee and Gibbs already in the thick of things?
There’s an Internet technician, an IT guy, who’s in Russia and is supposed to be delivering the body of his dead uncle back to the States. Gibbs is sent to go ahead and escort him, and he picks McGee to go along with him. And then it all happens pretty quickly. Right from the get-go they’re in Russia and in a helicopter.
TVLINE | And then things go sideways?
[Laughs] And things go sideways, yes.
TVLINE | At least looking at the previews alone it looks like quite the fun two-hander for you and Mark.
It was. And Mark and I had a really good time doing it. I mean, we had long hours, it was a lot of outside, night, exterior nights, and forests…. But it was a good episode. We wanted to kind of connect, to show the relationship between McGee and Gibbs a little bit more, and McGee kind of in a little bit of a more mature light, if you know what I mean.
TVLINE | Because when around Tony, there’s the temptation to goof around.
TVLINE | How would you say the McGee-Gibbs dynamic has evolved over all these years?
Well, I think Gibbs has a lot of trust in McGee and allows him to take part in a number of things that the old McGee would never be allowed to do. He has run interrogations and has taken the lead on a number of investigations, and just has more to give. Gibbs is almost a father figure to us, and we’re all like his children in a way, so I think that the bond between them has sort of tightened as McGee has “grown up.” There’s been a lot of character progression, especially from the early years. I mean, if you see some of the old episodes, McGee is a different guy.
TVLINE | All told, what is your favorite relationship to play on the show?
Hmm. That’s a tough one, because it’s totally different with everyone. In Abby’s lab, McGee is a lot more kind of loosey-goosey and relaxed than he is reporting in the squad room. I really like the McGee/Tony relationship a lot; it’s one of my favorite things on the show. Bantering with Michael [Weatherly], he can be very inventive, with lots of ad-libbing, and I appreciate that. It makes for good reactions, and sometimes you get some fairly good moments out of that.
TVLINE | I know Gary Glasberg was really excited about bringing on Alex Veadov as this season’s adversary. How would you describe this recurring Big Bad?
Oh, he’s a good one. I actually just saw the [premiere] for the first time yesterday — we were kind of separated while we were shooting, so I didn’t have a lot of scenes with him — but yeah, he’s a tremendously nice guy, and when I saw the episode I thought he was just perfect. He talks very kind of low and has a real foreboding presence…. I think we got a good one.
TVLINE | Gary also has talked about how last season had to serve many different masters, and he wanted to really get back to the “classic” NCIS formula with 12. Is that something you’re seeing in the early episodes?
Definitely. We’re sort of doing the more classic, serialized version of NCIS, whereas last year we had a lot of things to sort of address with Ziva leaving and the entrance of the Bishop character. There was a lot going on last year.
TVLINE | What is the state of the McGee-Delilah union? I have to imagine she’s worried about him over there in Russia. Does she get mentioned?
I believe she does get mentioned — if not the premiere, in the second episode. But there’s plenty of talk about Delilah (played by Margo Harshman), and I think we are going to see her at some point this year. That relationship will continue, as far as I know.
TVLINE | What kind of surprises does the Ducky flashback episode (airing Oct. 7) have for us? Anything that made you go, “Wow, I didn’t expect that”?
Well, just that “going to England” in the ‘60s with these flashbacks was really fun. The team and everyone in production worked really hard on trying to make it authentic, and Adam Campbell (Mixology) as a twentysomething Ducky is just perfect. He did such a great job, not mimicking but sort of showing us Ducky as a young guy, and it works. He looks a lot like him, he sounds like him…..
TVLINE | I can almost hear, like, Austin Powers music playing in the background as you describe the episode.
[Laughs] Exactly. That’s something that was fun, to read and see happen.