Mark Harmon Breaks Silence on Leaving NCIS after 19 Seasons: I Want It to be “difficult”

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Closing the chapter. Mark Harmon has spoken about his departure from NCIS for the first time since his character’s last appearance last fall.

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“What has always attracted me here is the character I play and to keep it fresh and challenging,” the 70—year-old actor, who played Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on the CBS series, said during an interview shown on the Season 19 DVD release, according to Entertainment Tonight. “As for the plot, this character went down the path he went down.”

Harmon added that he considers Gibbs’ journey “honest” and assured fans of the protracted procedure that the agent is still present in the NCIS universe. “I’m not retired,” he said. “As far as I know, the character lives in Alaska.”

The California native made his NCIS debut in 2003 and remained in the drama until 2021. Harmon’s last appearance was in the season 19 episode titled “Great Wide Open”, where Gibbs informed his partner Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) that he intended to stay in Alaska after the case was solved there.

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“I’m not coming home. …I haven’t had this sense of peace since [my wife] Shannon and [daughter] Kelly died, and I’m not ready to let it go,” Gibbs explained, telling McGee, “I couldn’t hope for anyone better to watch my back for the last 18 years than you”.

Executive producer and showrunner Steve Binder addressed Harmon’s exit in a statement, praising the actor for his commitment to the series. “As an executive producer and dear friend, Mark continues to be an integral part of the show,” Binder said. “Our guiding star has always remained true to our characters, and this truth has always guided the stories we tell and where these characters go. As for Gibbs’ future, as longtime fans of the show may have noticed over the years… never discount Leroy Jethro Gibbs.”

Season 19 came to an end in May, and after the finale Binder told TV Insider that Harmon’s potential return was out of the question. “There’s always a free place for him to come back,” the executive director teased. “I think it just has to be the right story to interest him and us. … It’s a card that needs to be played, and I don’t think we want to play it cheap. I think when we play it, it really has to be right.”

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Binder continued: “We work on a different schedule than other shows. Other shows may have a year or two, or they don’t know how much time they will have. We’re just, rightly or wrongly, working on a much longer timescale for these things than other shows.”

The screenwriter said, “Gibbs left his mark on the team” and received a well-deserved send-off, adding, “I feel like we left Gibbs in this magical place.”… I saw him in the river, happy, which I have never seen. he’s like smiling with a knife in his pocket and a fish in a boat. This is how I imagine him, and this is how I want to continue to imagine him. And so when we revive his memory, it’s always Gibbs’ ghost in NCIS, and not necessarily where exactly he is now.”

While NCIS gave Harmon his most recognizable role, the former college football player is also known for his work on The West Wing. Harmon played Secret Service agent Simon Donovan in the third season of Aaron Sorkin’s drama, receiving an Emmy Award nomination for Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series in 2002. The following year, he starred in Freaky Friday alongside Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan.

NCIS returns with season 20 in September.

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