NCIS stars Michael Weatherly and Sean Murray have been building a rapport since they started working together in 2003, but it's something that comes so naturally to them more than a decade later that, as Weatherly said, it's a bit awkward to talk about it.
It's "like getting up into the International Space Station and asking the astronauts, while they're on the space station, 'So, how do you guys work together? Is it weird? Like, you're Russian, you're Chinese, you have to work together?'" he explained on the CBS drama's Valencia, Calif., set. "There's a certain part of it that's just like, 'Uh, I am in charge of these switches? I go to the bathroom in a bag? And I just try not to crash the spaceship.'"
But with the departure of Cote de Pablo's longtime character Ziva David and the arrival of Emily Wickersham as the new female agent Ellie Bishop, it's been a big season for Weatherly's Tony DiNozzo and Murray's Tim McGee, the duo dubbed McNozzo by fans. While they finished up a scene from NCIS's April 15 episode, "Alleged," where Tony and McGee go on a juice cleanse, the actors opened up about their bromance.
"We've had our shirts off together a couple times," Murray said.
"I think we put the man in bromance," Weatherly added.
They really get each other's senses of humor. Even if no one else does.
Murray said "every day" is the best part of their off-screen bromance. "And I would say the pony."
"The pony," echoed Weatherly.
"The pony," Murray repeated.
"But we can't tell you what that means because that would violate the nature of the bromance," Weatherly said. "But Sean and I, when we could, we know what pony means. You've gotta ride the pony."
"Gotta ride the pony," Murray affirmed.
Later, Weatherly said, "Yesterday we had a line where we found out that there was a potato, vegetable oil, and fragments of something else — onion. And it was a deep fryer, that was the clue, and all I could think of was a profound monk. I don't know what that means."
"I'm not sure either," Murray said.
"A profound monk would be a deep friar."
Their relationship, both on screen and off, has evolved over the past 11 years.
"The bromance has blossomed," Murray said of Tony and McGee. "I think we have more trust in each other. And have grown to hate each other more at the same time," he added with a smile.
"Fat-skinny-fat," Weatherly said, at which point the both cracked up. Certainly, they've been through some bodily shifts over the course of 11 years.
But Weatherly added, "I think there was definitely a lot of hazing."
"Oh, yes," Murray said. "A lot of hazing."
"You know, DiNozzo had been taking Gibbs' — grief, we'll call it? — although no one ever quite sees it that way," Weatherly said. "Somehow, the physical abuse was just deemed appropriate, but the head slaps finally. With the arrival of McGee, Tony had somewhere to vent, clearly, what had been building up for years with Special Agent Gibbs. In this season, I can say that Tony has realized that McGee is his teacher, that he's gained a lot of insight into what's important and what's special, because Tony's in his men's health group, which McGee found out about. Tony's watched McGee have this relationship with Delilah Fielding, which was clearly further deepened and shaped by her losing the use of her legs, and ... I think there's been a deepening in their relationship because of the Delilah factor."
Neither of the actors could really say whether their off-screen relationship affected their on-screen relationship, but, "I spend more time with Sean than I do with my wife," Weatherly said. "Make of that what you will."
And the actors do find that their on-set personae differ from who they are at home.
"I was sick once, on set, and — very different on set, you are," Murray said, turning to Weatherly. "I was sick, I had a flu or something, I was in bad shape, and I had a scene or two when I was off in the middle of the day, and Michael had just worked the first scene, and he was living up here in Valencia, and he said, 'Come to my house, I'll take care of you while you're off for those two scenes ... He made me some soup, I got the guest room with the nice Tempurpedic bed. As soon as I got really comfortable, they called me back into work. But still, that was a real moment of compassion."
"Those moments do exist," Weatherly said.
The real changes, though, have been outside the soundstage, in their real lives.
"When we first started and Sean was living in an apartment with [his now-wife] Carrie, and you guys were just sort of starting out, and now Sean has moved however many times, and you're in a house with two kids, but you're still at that desk and you're still McGee. And I feel sometimes the same way. There's been this epic journey in my own personal evolution as Michael Weatherly, but when I come here, I just play the same — it's like going home for Thanksgiving. I'm a 12-year-old with all the weird family banter that goes along with it."
"Oh, yeah, definitely," Murray said. "Once I get into wardrobe and tuck the shirt in and everything, that's when McGee starts to come alive. At home, I'm different. I'm a total prick."
They think McGee and Tony would be friends in real life.
"We are the same height," said Murray. "We have the same hair colors. Almost the same weight." This was the definitive evidence on why they'd be friends.
So why aren't they friends with Jimmy?
"Tony is secretly friends with Jimmy," Weatherly said.
Murray added, "Right, but publicly regards him as the autopsy gremlin."
"Correct. He's my shame-friend."
Part of this has to do with the pecking order, though, Murray explained. "Jimmy's one of the few people that I — McGee — can pick on. … He's like the weird cousin. Don't you think?"
Weatherly agreed. "Overeager. Desperately wants to have a gun and run out in the field and be an agent ... Who doesn't? I mean, Wham-Bam-Wickersham was like a sparky, perky NSA high-flying analyst. She gave it all up so she could have a badge and a gun. It's just cooler."
"Because it makes you badass," Murray said.
"That's like an actor quitting Homeland because they wanted to come and be on NCIS," Weatherly said. "Like, 'Sure, you could be on Homeland, but you don't get to hang out with us.'"
If they were trapped in an enclosed space, which NCIS character would they want with them?
The scenario: You're trapped in a steel shipping container with enough Pop-Tarts to last six months. You know you'll be trapped in there for a four-week voyage. Who do you take with you: Tony, Gibbs, or McGee?
"Holy shit! I'm trapped in a container? And I can't just be by myself? Is that an option? No, I gotta take somebody? Well, gosh," Weatherly said. "It's just, it's cruel and unusual... Where do you go to the bathroom? Never mind... Well, that's an interesting one because I've never really met Tony. When I'm him, I'm too busy being him... but I, I think McGee is probably the guy that you'd want in the shipping container. For me."
Murray spoke confidently. "Abby. I'm taking Abby."
"She wasn't one of the choices!" Weatherly yelled.
"I'm still taking Abby."
"You don't get to have sex! Or at least with a female! Oh my gosh, you refused to answer the question."
Murray is the silent type and Weatherly is the broken record.
"I have never been on a cleanse, no," Murray said. "I have no interest in it."
Weatherly smiled broadly. The first time he tried a cleanse was 1996 after the birth of his first child after he gained about 40 pounds. He'd read about a cabbage soup diet in GQ, which he decided to try, not realizing it would make him "more gaseous than the Hindenburg."
"It might've ended my first marriage; I don't really remember," the actor added.
The next cleanse he recalled was while he was working on Dark Angel in the early '00s. Weatherly tried the classic Master Cleanse, which involves lemon juice and cayenne pepper and maple syrup. "I was just incredibly hungry all the time," he said.
More recently, he said he went to the We Care Detox Spa, which specializes in what he termed "hydrotherapy" (colon cleansing). "It's invasive," he said coyly when asked to explain it.
But Murray is unfazed. "He's heard about everything I've ever done," Weatherly explained. "He's so tired of me... You know, on your iTunes, when you have the shuffle function, but it's also on repeat? That's me. Both of those buttons are pressed. They don't come necessarily in the same order, but the same stories have been coming out of me for 11 years. I have no new stories... If one more person has to hear, 'When I was doing Dark Angel... Remember that?' Oh, Jesus Christ."
But does Murray have new stories?
"Well, Sean is just a very, a mature, discreet, adult human, so he doesn't feel this compulsive need to constantly entertain people with nonsense," Weatherly said. "He's not broken in the same way that I am... I definitely rush to fill the void. Not out of fear, I don't think. It's more out of just, a need for incessant chatter."
"I'm usually boring, talking about my kids or my wife or something, you know?" Murray explained.
"And you're not afraid of silence," Weatherly said.
"Oh no. I'm a friend of silence," Murray confirmed.
"When I drove to work today, for instance, I just rolled the window down. No radio, no music. Just listened to the 5 freeway in my left ear," Weatherly noted.
"I blasted an album by Untold on my way here," Murray said.
"You learned something. Untold. Which is kind of like you," Weatherly replied. "Untold. That'll be your memoir's title. Untold. Sean Murray: Untold."
McGee has grown up and gotten braver.
When McGee first showed up in Season 1, Tony teased him somewhat mercilessly. "These days, McGee usually teases back too," Murray said. "A little bit."
They pointed to the juice cleanse as evidence of their serious friendship. "It's really my New Year's resolution, four months too late," Weatherly said.
Murray interrupted. "That I decided to go on him with—"
"As a buddy," Weatherly continued.
"As a brother," Murray said. "Because he's grown now and he's shown strength in a lot of different parts of being out in the field, he's got a little more — a little more balls. And so, you know, occasionally when McGee gets teased, McGee'll tease back. Because now we've also got the new probie to tease and haze, which is Emily, as Bishop."
Weatherly suggested that McGee's writing books had to do with it.
"When you were the author," he said to Murray, "and you were using our experiences as my the basis for the books, so you had —"
"I think I named you Pony or something."
"Right," Weatherly said. "Tommy ... It's hard to head-slap a best-selling author. But clearly that creative thing just dried up 'cause you haven't written a book in a long time.
"No. No," Murray said. "I think because I can't write about us anymore. I have no ideas."
"I mean, you're not like Castle," Weatherly said. "Oh, that's where they got the idea for Castle."
Weatherly had another idea. "You can look at 'Chimera,' maybe, Episode 100, as a turning-point episode, where Tony is gonna die, he's convinced he's gonna die," Weatherly said.
"Oh yeah," Murray said, recalling the episode where the team boards a mysteriously abandoned naval vessel, but realizes there's someone else on the ship.
"And you have balls of steel," Weatherly said. "And Tony has balls of butter on a hot plate."
The women in the show have definitely affected their on-screen relationship (and portmanteau).
"We've always had another female agent with us, and it's always kind of two against one sometimes," Murray said. "Not necessarily us two against the new person."
"I think, for a long time, it was you and Ziva against Tony," Weatherly said.
"You think so?" Murray asked.
"I think that that was true for years," Weatherly said.
"Yeah, maybe," Murray granted.
"It was always like Tony was just the idiot child in the corner," Weatherly went on.
"Actually, yeah," Murray conceded. "There was a lot of that."
"I'm glad that's gone." Weatherly said with a laugh. "I don't miss that. And when Sasha was here, we had the double-head slap on you as your anointing at the beginning of Season 2."
"Right, when I became an agent."
Is Murray glad that's over?
Murray laughed sheepishly. "Yeah."
When McGee and Tony first met, they had a little disagreement about Pauley Perrette's quirky goth character, Abby — their first dispute over a female character. Tony insisted McGee and Abby wouldn't be compatible — McGee doesn't even have a tattoo! But at the end of the episode, McGee shocked Tony by telling him he has one on his rear. But is the character really inked?
"It's ambiguous," Murray said. "I like to keep it like we don't know."
The two of them didn't really notice how much their character's dynamic depended on the third woman character until Cote de Pablo's departure, which spanned the end of Season 10 and the beginning of Season 11.
"I think that maybe the pink elephant in the room is that when Ziva left the show, it did leave us with each other," Weatherly said. "And one of the things I noticed right away is that without someone at that desk to show off for, to sort of peacock around, I think DiNizzo became a different version of himself in that corner, and I think —"
"Tony's had a lot of self-exploration this season," Murray said.
"Yeah, yeah. But I think it just changed the dynamic in this room so much when she left," Weatherly continued. "I mean, eight years is a long time. And we've discovered this new thing with Bishop, and her being brought into that little triangle. It's interesting bringing Bishop into this dynamic again, and having it become that threesome."
"What do we call Bishop-McNozzo?" Weatherly asked. "McBozo?"
Murray liked it. "McBozo."
Weatherly finally settled. "I think McBozo," which has a nice ring to it. "I think McBozo is the three of them, together. So there you go. It's really about finding that good core team dynamic, and this year will always go down in the history books as maybe the year of the deepening of McNozzo. And the beginning of McBozo."