Behind the scenes at ‘NCIS’: Q&A with Cmdr. Smith

By Terryl Asla, Asst. Editor

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Yes, Mark Harmon is a heck of a nice guy. That’s according to Cmdr. Mark Smith, USN, public affairs officer for Submarine Group Nine who arrived here in February 2016.

KMT: Tell us a little about yourself.

Cmdr. Smith: From November 2007 to May 2012, I was deputy director and project officer at the Navy Office of Information for Motion Picture, Television, and Documentaries in Los Angeles — the Navy’s “Hollywood office.” I assisted the entertainment industry with requests for Navy support.

In addition to “NCIS,” while I was there I also advised on “NCIS: L.A.,” the “Transformer” movies, “Battleship” starring Liam Neeson, and “Captain Phillips” with Tom Hanks. I still stay in touch with members of “NCIS” cast.

KMT: So, is “NCIS” realistic?

Cmdr. Smith: The TV show mostly gets it right when it comes to military details. You have to understand, “NCIS” is first and foremost entertainment. So, they sometimes make changes for the sake of storytelling or budget. The series features a team of NCIS agents based at Washington Navy Yard. But, in the real world, NCIS headquarters isn’t in the Navy Yard anymore. It has moved [onto Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia]. But it didn’t make financial sense to build new sets at the lot in Valencia [California, where the show is filmed], so the TV NCIS HQ didn’t move. Likewise, the morgue isn’t in the same building as NCIS headquarters.

But as for the details, haircuts, uniforms and such, the producers want to get it right. There’s an urban myth that movies deliberately mess up the arrangement and order of service ribbons and patches on uniforms to confuse any would-be saboteurs. That’s not true. If it’s a show that has the Navy’s support, we always try to help get details like that 100 percent correct.

KMT: What was it like on the set of “NCIS”?

Cmdr. Smith: It was different from any other show I worked on. The cast and crew were like family. The cast and crew ate lunch together. They all got together to watch a new episode on the night it was released. They sat around on rickety chairs and at picnic tables and laughed and joked and watched the show on a big, flat screen TV. I think it might have been the one from Ducky’s lab.

KMT: What are the cast members like?
Cmdr. Smith: Mark Harmon [aka Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs] is a very nice guy. Loves to talk about sports. He’s the big leader on the set. He’s the father figure.Pauley Perrette [Abby Sciuto] is very talented. She’s in a rock band called ‘Stop Making Friends’ and is into kickboxing and working out. She doesn’t like to see people bullied or wronged. She an activist-type person.
Sean Murray [who plays Agent Timothy McGee] is a military brat. His dad was in the Navy.Michael Weatherly is as funny as his character, Anthony DiNozzo.

KMT: What about the Scottish actor David McCallum, who plays the medical examiner Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard?

Cmdr. Smith: He loves the part. He actually went and studied with a coroner. He used to drive around in a Jeep that had ‘Ducky’ written on the back.