NCIS’ Cote De Pablo Explains Why She Thought Michael Weatherly Was Trying To ‘Sabotage’ Her Ziva David Audition

 Michael Weatherly and Cote de Pablo near overhead luggage compartment aboard plane.
Michael Weatherly and Cote de Pablo near overhead luggage compartment aboard plane.

One of the first major NCIS status quo shifts occurred at the end of the Season 2 finale, when Caitlin Todd was killed by terrorist Ari Haswari. It didn’t take long for the second shift to occur either, as Cote de Pablo’s Ziva was introduced at the top of Season 3 as Ari’s half-sister and Caitlin’s replacement on the team. De Pablo went on to me a main cast member for eight seasons and returned for some appearances in Seasons 16 and 17, and now she’s on deck to lead the officially-titled NCIS: Tony and Ziva spinoff with Michael Weatherly that will stream exclusively to people with a Paramount+ subscription. So naturally she and Weatherly are pretty tight after all these years, but back when de Pablo was audition for the Ziva role, she initially assumed the Tony DiNozzo performer was trying to “sabotage” her audition.

The story behind this misunderstanding unfolded in the first episode of Weatherly and de Pablo’s new podcast, Off Duty: An NCIS Rewatch. The actors primarily talked about how their NCIS origins, i.e. how they came to join the show, so naturally such conversation also touched on what happened when they met for the first time. Right before she got the role, de Pablo tested with Weatherly immediately after another actress, and here’s how it unfolded:

All of a sudden, I meet you and I had no idea who Michael was or who Tony was, but we start doing the scene. And halfway through the scene… the infamous moment when you go off script and you sort of touch my face and you go, ‘Oh, you're so pretty. You remind me of Salma Hayek.’ And at that moment, I clocked something, and I was like, ‘Oh, this guy's trying to sabotage my audition.’ And I immediately perked up, and there was a moment there where it was Rage Against the Machine. It was that moment, and then it got really serious for me. It was after that moment that I saw a complete switch in the room, and they started thinking whatever was going on was really funny. And they started laughing. I mean, genuinely laughing. Before, what I was hearing was you and the girl, they were auditioning, laughing. You guys were having fun. This time, they were laughing at the dynamic that was absolutely established by you doing something that sent me into a frenzy of anger.

Given that Cote de Pablo hadn’t seen either of NCIS’ first two seasons when she went in to audition to play Ziva David, there’s no way she would have known that Michael Weatherly was simply channeling Tony DiNozzo rather than being deliberately obnoxious. So it’s understandable why she started to get angry, as she assumed that her scene partner was messing with her. It was only after the other people in the room started laughing that she realized this wasn’t at her expense. Weatherly then explained what his thought process had been during the audition, saying:

And of course, you didn't realize that DiNozzo, being a huge movie buff, would always tell people or refer to… constantly like, ‘That guy looks a little like Hal Holbrook. Did you ever see Magnum Force?’ Or, ‘You know what she reminds me of? Ginger Rogers, but only from the back.’ There's constant movie references in the show, so when I ad libbed that, I was looking for a way in that scene, because you were so different in your approach already coming into the scene than the prior audition. The way that I said, you know, you were meeting the terrorist, I was looking for the the way in and I was looking for a disruption. ‘How can I blow up this pipeline so you don't get any more oil? What can I do? What can I do?’ And you had no idea where the hell it was coming from.

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So maybe Michael Weatherly didn’t make the best first impression, but the tradeoff is that the dynamic established in this audition resulted in Cote de Pablo being cast as Ziva David, with NCIS co-creator Don Bellisario sharing the good news with her shortly thereafter. Initially Ziva was only going to be a guest character, but starting with Season 3’s fourth episode, “Silver War,” she was billed as a series regular, which she remained until Season 11’s second episode, “Past, Present, and Future.” As mentioned earlier though, Ziva resurfaced in Seasons 16 and 17 after it was initially assumed that she died offscreen towards the end of Season 13.

Meanwhile, Michael Weatherly departed NCIS as a series regular in the Season 13 finale, when he learned he and Ziva had had a daughter together named Tali. Weatherly returned to NCIS earlier this year for a cameo appearance at the end of “The Stories We Leave Behind,” the tribute episode for the late David McCallum’s Ducky Mallard. Now NCIS: Tony and Ziva will finally bring the title characters back together onscreen for the first time in over a decade, with the streaming-only series seeing Tony and Ziva going on the run in Europe after the former’s security company is attacked.

It remains to be seen if NCIS: Tony and Ziva will air on the 2024 TV schedule or be saved for 2025. That said, NCIS showrunner Steven D. Binder is open to Michael Weatherly and Cote de Pablo returning to the flagship show before their spinoff begins. If that happens, we’ll let you know.