Viewers weren’t the only ones taken aback by the farmhouse explosion that ended NCIS‘ penultimate episode of the season. So was exiting star Michael Weatherly, who reveals he hadn’t read the scene in advance.
“I was sort of as shocked as anyone and then as we went through shooting the last episode, every day was a series of electric shocks,” the actor told reporters Wednesday on a conference call in advance of his series exit.
Tuesday’s episode ended with the explosion of a farmhouse in Israel that was believed to be the home of his character, DiNozzo’s, on-and-off love interest Ziva (Cote de Pablo). This is just the latest twist in what Weatherly called “an extraordinary run-up” to his goodbye. Weatherly announced in January that he was leaving after 13 years, giving showrunner Gary Glasberg and the rest of the team months to map out just how DiNozzo would be written out of the procedural.
“The key for me was to make sure that these guys had enough time,” Wealtherly said of his early announcement. (His longtime co-star di Pablo, on the other hand, only announced she would not be returning after the season finale had already aired.) “I love Tony DiNozzo but more importantly, I love NCIS. I’m just a fan of the show. … [DiNozzo’s] departure has to serve that primarily.”
Although he gave the writers plenty of warning, Weatherly said he did not insert himself into the discussions about how his character would leave the team.
“I’m a big believer that there are things you can control and things you cannot control so that was outside of the sphere of control as far as I was concerned,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed the whole ride on NCIS and all the different styles that the show has undertaken over time and I really wanted to leave it up to that creative team.”
The result is a “Mission: Impossible–style” farewell that follows that “provocative” image of the burning farmhouse that closed the last episode. “The fuse has been lit and I think that you’re going to be very surprised by a lot of what unfolds next week,” Weatherly said.
Even Weatherly himself said he was taken aback by a particular character revelation DiNozzo makes in the final episode.
“I discovered an aspect of DiNozzo that had never been revealed before and it really surprised me. I think that next Wednesday morning, people will hopefully say, ‘Holy shit, did you see that scene?!’ Because I really feel I was able to explore something in that character’s experience that truly surprised me, it was very compelling and challenging and exciting and I’m very proud of the last episode and the work that everyone did,” Weatherly said. “It was just a very surprising moment.”
Like the previous episode, Weatherly said Ziva will loom large over the season finale. “I think that the audience will feel very strongly that she’s in the episode in a way that might be a little Shakespearian,” he said. “I think its going to be a very exciting time for the fans of that relationship.”
Does that mean Ziva, who hasn’t not appeared on the show in two seasons, is dead “Shakespeare and Gary Glasberg love killing people,” he said with a laugh. “I think its more than that. There’s a lot more than that. I would almost say that you’re going to finish the episode and go back and watch it again.”
No matter what happens to Ziva, it sounds like DiNozzo might make it out alive. “I think its going to be overwhelmingly positive,” Weatherly said of anticipated fan reaction to his farewell. “[DiNozzo] will live on in the hearts and minds of the viewers and is embedded in the show.”
If DiNozzo does live, does that mean Weatherly might reprise his role in the future? “I would absolutely be open to anything and everything including things that no one’s even thought of yet,” he said.
In the meantime, however, Weatherly said he’s busier than ever with his production company, Solar Drive Productions, which is working on turning the book Thrilling Cities, from James Bond author Ian Fleming, into a possible series. He also stars in a CBS drama pilot, Bull, where he plays a young Dr. Phil McGraw and centers on the talk show host’s former career as a trial consultant.
“All of it is so exciting, but I’m really not allowing myself to get too excited about it until the final episode of NCIS airs next Tuesday,” said Weatherly, who will be watching the final episode at a viewing party with his childhood friends in New York. “It will be very emotional,” he said of watching his last episode.
But Weatherly – who says he kept a pair of sunglasses and a crime scene hat from the show – said he has no regrets. Said Weatherly of his final days on set, “I was not sad. I was very much filled with gratitude and I was deeply humbled by the experience.”
Weatherly’s final episode of NCIS airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. on CBS.