In an exclusive interview with ET Canada, Dawber discusses her four-episode story arc on the show in which Mark Harmon — her real-life husband of 30-plus years — has starred as Gibbs since the series’ 2003 premiere.
According to Dawber, she’d been approached before to appear as a guest star, but for various reasons she never accepted those invitations.
“I think that before I was overwhelmed because I had, you know, young kids in my house… And also the roles didn’t really entice me,” she says. “One of the first ones that came my way was to play, you know, his girlfriend. And it’s like, I am not doing that. That is so corny.”
When she was pitched the character of investigative journalist Marci Warren, however, Dawber was intrigued by the opportunity to play “a really fun grown-up woman with a strong personality.”
In fact, Dawber recalls one of the “NCIS” makeup artists, “who’s been with the show for many, many, many, many years,” telling her how much she was enjoying watching her character go toe-to-toe with Gibbs.
“She said, ‘This is the first character that I have seen in the show who’s not scared of Gibbs.’ You know, most everybody is a little intimidated by him,” says Dawber.
Although she was eager to take on the role, she admits she still had mixed feelings. “I was rather panic-stricken when it came to me because I thought I had retired. And it’s like, oh, God, this is so good,” she recalls. “But I’m scared, but this is so good. Am I going to do it?”
Ultimately, Dawber fell back on her usual decision-making question: “What am I going to feel worse for doing? And I knew that if I turned it down, I would feel bad about that. I would not really be pleased with myself because I would have chickened out… so I decided to do it.
Despite her anxiety over taking the role, there was also a sense of familiarity, in that she’s been no stranger to the “NCIS” set over the years.
“There was certainly a comfort level because I do know everybody, and ‘NCIS’ has one of the greatest reputations in Hollywood for being such a happy set. And I do give my husband complete credit for that, because it really is,” she explains. “If you have a miserable, egocentric lead actor, it will destroy a show so fast. And Mark is a team player. He was a quarterback. He knows what it takes to create a team. And in a way, it is a great big team. So, you know, somebody came in and gave him an embroidered embroidered pillow for his trailer that says, you know, check your egos at the door. That’s how he rolls. This is almost 20 years this show has been on, and it’s impressive that people still are having a good time and everyone’s treated the same.”
Also instrumental to getting her signed on was “NCIS” star Rocky Carroll, who just happened to be the director of the episode introducing her character. “So he called and gave me a pep talk,” she adds.
Not only was Dawber breaking her retirement, she was also returning to television during a time when TV productions are responding to the new normal brought on by the pandemic. Dawber admits that working within all the new COVID-19 protocols has taken some getting used to.
“You’re wearing a mask and a shield. And so is the director,” she notes, explaining it can be difficult to hear the director’s muffled instructions from behind and mask and face shield. “That’s the trickiest part, is that you just don’t hear with all with all those layers on. But we’re all pretty used to it.”
Then there’s the frequent testing. “I mean, I kind of like taking the COVID test every two days and put your mind at ease,” she jokes. “But, you know, it’s just what everybody in showbiz is having to deal with right now.”
Following her stint on “NCIS”, does Dawber see herself taking on more regular acting work. “No,” she insists, although she admits, “I never say never.”
In fact, she reveals that following this interview she’s going to be interviewed for an upcoming documentary about the history of TV sitcoms.
“You know, I had sort of become the queen of documentaries because so many people that we love and have known are leaving the planet,” says the former “Mork and Mindy” star. “The remaining ones talk about them.”
Speaking of which, she reminisced a bit about her late co-star Robin Williams and watching his comedic genius up close.
“I just was standing, you know, two feet away from Robin most of the time. And in the process, I could see in his eyes when he was looking for a better line… I’d see what he was doing and in his mind, he’d found the line, he found the better line and he’s appreciating it. And that was the thing that I found so amazing about his his genius and his talent is that it would bubble up. It’d be like something percolating and then it finally bubbles out and he sees it… it’s almost like he is the audience to his own genius on what is about to come out of his mouth.”
Looking back at the experience more than four decades later, she admits she’s struck by how young they were when stardom was thrust upon them.
“Honestly, when we were doing ‘Mork and Mindy’, we were just still kids,” Dawber says. “You know, Robin was 26 or 25 when we started it. And I was a year older than him. And, you know, we were just having a blast and not very deep. But it was the ’70s after all.”