It’s impossible to separate Mark Harmon from the character of Leroy Jethro Gibbs. The actor inhabited the role from the moment he appeared onscreen, and despite being gone, he remains the most iconic figure in the history of the NCIS franchise. Not a bad legacy. The thing is, Harmon nearly missed out on the role.
Harmon, who had made a name for himself as a journeyman actor in the 1980s and 90s, was not on the shortlist of actors that NCIS creator Donald Paul Bellisario had in mind. Bellisario had one specific name in mind when he first conceived of Gibbs, and it kind of melted our brains to think about.
Who was considered for Gibbs on NCIS?
According to Express, Bellisario originally wanted Harrison Ford to play Gibbs. The man who had already achieved eternal fame as the star of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises could’ve added yet another iconic character to his resume, but he was reportedly unenthused about doing TV and turned the offer down.
While Ford has gracefully transitioned to TV in recent years, with acclaimed shows like Shrinking and 1923, we can understand why he was hesitant to do so back in 2003. He was still among the biggest names in Hollywood, and TV had yet to accrue the artistic credibility that it has today.
What’s even more interesting about the casting process for Gibbs is that Bellisario was hesitant to cast Harmon. He wasn’t sure if the actor had the chops to accurately portray a stern military man, but Harmon’s audition dispelled any such concerns. By the time Bellisario talked to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 2003, he had completely changed his tune. “I am so lucky to have Mark Harmon as the lead”, he told the outlet. “You have no idea. Harmon is a Middle American guy, even if he was raised in Southern California. His values are exactly the same as mine.”
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In a fun bit of self-awareness, the made reference to the fact that Ford was nearly cast as Gibbs. The pilot episode, “Yankee White”, takes place on the same airplane set as the film Air Force One (1997), in which Ford played the President. The characters in the pilot make reference to the film by acknowledging that the plane looks identical.
All in all, we’d say everybody came out a winner. Ford got to reprise his iconic film roles in massive sequels, and Harmon got to play his iconic TV role for nearly two decades.
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