Since its 2003 premiere, “NCIS” has had its share of agent turnover, but its latest new-but-familiar face will be staying for a while.
After doing such other shows as “ER,” the U.S. version of “Prime Suspect” and the streaming “Goliath” – plus numerous movies – Maria Bello joins the enduringly and globally popular CBS adventure-drama in its Tuesday, Oct. 17, episode. She’s made a three-year deal to play Jacqueline “Jack” Sloane, a skilled forensic psychologist brought to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service’s Washington, D.C., headquarters by Director Leon Vance (series regular Rocky Carroll, who also directed Bello’s introductory story).
“Let’s just talk about Mark Harmon first,” Bello says of the “NCIS” star who ranks as one of television’s most popular actors as team leader Leroy Jethro Gibbs. “As soon as you meet this man, he is so incredibly warm and open and present, and that’s what he brings to Gibbs. You can tell he comes from sports in a lot of ways, because he’s the captain of the team. We are all motivated by him, and he’s an incredibly strong leader, but he never tells anyone what to do.”
Actually, that mirrors the relationship between Gibbs and newcomer Jack, since she’s virtually the only person in the unit who doesn’t answer to him. Bello explains that Jack has a past association with Vance: “We don’t know how they know each other, we just know they have a history. She’s the first person in some time who doesn’t report to Gibbs, she only reports to Vance … so there’s a really mature exchange of ideas and respect. They’re equals in a way.”
While she typically plays strong women, Bello maintains Jack is a different sort of part for her. “She’s someone who smiles a lot because she thinks her job is exciting all the time. To play that kind of enthusiasm is really fun – and at the same time, she’s really smart and really elegant.
“What’s interesting about doing a series,” adds Bello, “is that the character develops through every episode. You’ll see that in one episode, I do something with lollipops in my office. It’s just something I came up with on that day, but the writers saw that and built on top of it about what it could mean. I don’t even know about my (character’s) past, though I do know that she did a couple of tours in Afghanistan. It’s a constant revelation and surprise, and that makes me excited about going to work every day.”
Bello has had plenty of activity lately, even without “NCIS.” Beyond her humanitarian efforts to help women in Haiti and Darfur, she’s a published author (“Whatever … Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves”), she’s made a virtual-reality piece about female warriors in Iraq (“Sun Ladies”), she’s executive-produced and co-starred in two movies (“G.L.O.,” “The Journey Is the Destination”), and she’s currently negotiating deals for another film and another television series.
Still, Bello says she “was really in awe” when she was offered her “NCIS” role. “I didn’t know how huge the show was,” she allows. “I knew that everybody I know watches it, and that it’s my parents’ favorite show, but I didn‘t know it was the most-watched show in the world. As soon as I said, ‘Yes’ … well, my whole life has changed.”