The chapter has come to an end. For the first time since his character’s final appearance on NCIS last fall, Mark Harmon spoke out about his departure.
“What has always drawn me here is the character I play and keeping it fresh and challenging,” the 70-year-old actor, who played special agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on the CBS show, revealed during an interview featured in the season 19 DVD release, according to Entertainment Tonight. “From a plot standpoint, this character has taken the path that it has.”
Harmon went on to say that he thought Gibbs’ journey was “honest” and assured fans of the long-running procedural that the agent was still present in the NCIS universe. “I’m not retired,” he stated flatly. “As far as I know, the character resides in Alaska.”
The California native first appeared on NCIS in 2003 and will continue to do so until 2021. Harmon made his final appearance in the season 19 episode “Great Wide Open,” in which Gibbs informed his partner, Timothy McGee (Sean Murray), that he planned to stay in Alaska after solving a case there.
“I’m not going home….” “I haven’t had this sense of peace since [my wife] Shannon and [daughter] Kelly d1ed, and I’m not ready to let it go,” Gibbs explained, telling McGee, “and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better to watch my back for the past 18 years than you.”
In a statement at the time, executive producer and showrunner Steve Binder addressed Harmon’s departure, praising the actor for his dedication to the series. “As an executive producer and dear friend, Mark continues to be an integral part of the fabric of the show,” Binder said. “Staying true to our characters has always been our north star, and that truth has always guided the stories we tell and where those characters go.” So, as longtime fans of the show may have noticed over the years, Gibbs’ future… Never underestimate Leroy Jethro Gibbs.”
Season 19 concluded in May, and Binder told TV Insider after the finale that Harmon’s return was not out of the question. “There’s always head space for him to come back,” the executive hinted. “I think it just has to be the right story to get him excited about it and get us excited about it.” It’s a card to play, and I don’t believe we want to play it lightly. I believe that when we do play it, we must do the right thing.”
“We work on a different timeline than other shows,” Binder explained. Other shows may only have a year or two, or they may not know how much time they will have. We just operate on a much longer time scale for these things than other shows, for better or worse.”
The screenwriter stated that “Gibbs put his stamp on the team in a huge way” and received the proper sendoff, adding, “I feel like we left Gibbs in this magical place… I saw him in a river, smiling with a knife in his pocket and fish in the boat, which I never see him do. That’s how I picture him, and that’s how I intend to keep picturing him. So, when we do bring his memory back to life, it’s always the ghost of Gibbs at NCIS, not necessarily where he is now.”
While Harmon’s most well-known role was on NCIS, the former college football player is also well-known for his work on The West Wing. Harmon was nominated for an Emmy in 2002 for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his role as Secret Service agent Simon Donovan in season three of Aaron Sorkin’s drama. He co-starred in Freaky Friday with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan the following year.
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