Wonderfully Weird Michael Weatherly Thinks His Onscreen Relationship Is Like A Cold Sore
It's never going away. But then again, every time it flares up, it goes away. NCIS' leading man talks about the almost-relationship that never quite quits.
Michael Weatherly has played Special Agent Tony DiNozzo for 10 seasons on NCIS, and since Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) showed up on the NCIS scene in season three, the sexual tension has been in constant fluctuation. Their interactions on the show are scrutinized by viewers. Now in season 10, it seemed like Tony and Ziva, "Tiva" to scrutineers, were just about to really admit their feelings... and then they got in a car crash. Weatherly weighs in on where the relationship's been and where it's going.
At what point did you find out that this season was going to be a turning point season for your character's relationship with Ziva?
Michael Weatherly: I don't know if it is necessarily. I think that their relationship is just a big circle. It's constantly turning. They are locked in a binary death spiral. This year proves to be particularly interesting, but when they met, who knew — well, the audience did, but Tony didn't know — that she killed her own brother, who had killed Tony's previous partner, and that created the space in the squadron for Ziva to arrive. Had Ziva's brother not killed Kate, there would be no Ziva. It's all very tricky. And then Tony did kill her boyfriend once.
Yes, I remember that.
MW: (laughs) You know what I'm saying? Look at these guys! It's like watching a scorpion and a black widow try and figure each other out. Or a praying mantis and a black widow? One of them eats your head after it mates with you, right?
But yeah, these guys, they've got a rich history of conflict and physical attraction and physical repulsion. There's a lot of bickering, they swerve wildly into sibling country, and then careen over the cliff into possible kissing cousins, and suddenly they find themselves — I mean, they're holding hands at the end of "Berlin." It's fantastic how these writers just fuck with everybody. And to think that [NCIS writer-producer] Gary Glasberg has a background writing Rugrats.
We just shot a scene this season where the writer had his hands above the air in a silent cheer, and his face looked like the Edvard Munch painting. He was so fucking excited that Tiva was full-on Tiva. I think people who watch the show who enjoy their Mark Harmon and liberal doses of the other characters might find it somewhat irritating that these two are cutting a rug, so to speak, in "Berlin." Sharing some longing looks, bedroom-eyes. I think that's probably disconcerting to some fans of the show, and other fans probably think it's long overdue, and yet others are probably thinking it spells the absolute doom, the moonlighting death.
Tell me more about this Munch face one of the writers made.
MW: Well actually he was described as holding his hands above his head like Philip Seymour Hoffman holding the boom in Boogie Nights while Mark Wahlberg was doing the sex scene. Yes, it was a great moment. I hope it's not just cheesy melodrama — I think we achieved something on a character level that was very interesting. It was about communication and trust between people that work together, share an attraction for each other, but the boundaries have blurred a little bit, and that's what Tony and Ziva are dealing with, ultimately.
Did you not foresee that it would progress like this for such a long time?
MW: It was like a herpes virus. It laid dormant for so long, I thought it had gone away. And I'm talking simplex 1. I'm not referring to any sort of genital herpes. But still, the simplex 1 can be painful and unsightly. Not to compare Tiva to herpes — I guess that's unfair. But I did not see it coming. I still don't see it coming — not in any real way.
The Tony DiNozzo character is trapped like a fly in amber from prehistoric days because he has to be. If Tony actually gets his groove on, gets his shit together, grows up a little bit, knocks the chip off his shoulder, gets the girl, or just gets on with it, then he's out of that squad room. He doesn't get paid that much now. Not to be too inside-baseball about the whole thing, but come on. You know Tony and Ziva can never really have any kind of a thing because first of all they're coworkers, and that's just a stupid idea. Second of all, she's a ninja assassin with all sorts of issues. Yes, we know he's emotionally arrested and he has some commitment phobias, but look at her! Have we seen a successful relationship pop out of her?
MW: No. Everyone gives Tony all this grief for being an overgrown frat boy. But Ziva David, she's just a train wreck of a girl. Most of the guys that she's slept with are dead. If you had a girlfriend, and more than 50 percent of the people she'd slept with were dead — and by the way, she's not 90, I'm talking about a healthy young female — that's a weird amount, even for someone in Israeli intelligence. I'm just saying.
How aware are you of the fan interest in Tiva? Have you read any of the fan fiction? Does it feel weird to be in this highly scrutinized television relationship?
MW: Well, I am aware of it only as much as you become aware of these things through doing press, talking to people about it. Of course, this has been conjured, I would think, through the internet. I don't go in for fan fiction and trolling on boards and all that stuff because I find that it doesn't lead to a healthy outlook. I surmise from interactions with people and conversations. There's probably all kinds of crazy CNN fan fiction; I don't know anything about it. What would the Don Lemon–Anderson Cooper name conjunction be?
MW: Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon. Coomon? Or Looper? I guess it is more like Ben and Jen and Brangelina. Usually the first names, isn't it?
Maybe Aan. Two As.
MW: Danderson's not bad. Or just Dander. Anyway, I am aware of it. It doesn't really impact me too much, but I find it highly amusing.
This has been going on so long, I was just wondering if there are any inside jokes about these moments when you're filming? What is the reaction to that on set?
MW: Nobody really makes any fun of it. We take our jobs pretty seriously. At the beginning of season seven, I went to Africa and rescued her ass. I have always enjoyed the push-and-pull and the tension of Tony and Ziva. I think it's clear that he has very strong feelings about and for her, but he also knows what the boundaries are and what the rules are. I did a show before this one, Dark Angel, and they tried putting those characters together, and that was bad. That was bad for the show. Bad. You don't want to put characters together.
It seems like maybe crime procedurals are well-suited to these ongoing, sexual tension–heavy relationships — I'm also thinking of Bones — because there's not that much continuity in the action of each episode, so to have continuity in the relationships that really doesn't change works.
MW: Didn't they have a baby, the Bones people?
Yeah, they gave in a couple of seasons ago.
MW: I mean, I don't know anything about it, but I would say as a stranger to the whole situation that I don't approve. But yes, it does give continuity.
One of the great things and the hallmarks of NCIS, a CBS crime procedural spinoff of JAG, which was in its own way a law procedural show with heaping spoonfuls of patriotism and a solid moral compass, is that our show has kind of a serious office place dramedy feel to me. Sometimes it feels like we're doing West Wing meets Scrubs. It feels like we have a job that we do; it just so happens that we're investigating crimes. But we work in cubicles, and we have a hierarchy, and there's a boss. Nobody has superpowers, but we all have paper clips and staplers. I really am very attracted to the office work of NCIS. I think that a majority of the show, or at least a major chunk of the show, takes place in the squad room, where we're not just deciphering the clues of the case of the week, but we're also giving each other a good old fashioned hard time. To me it's not just action-adventure. Our show has at various times, something approaching action, but my favorite parts of it are just the interactions between people.
I've noticed that it seems the turning points, or as you put it, "parts of the circle," for Ziva and Tony, happen in foreign places.
MW: When you're away from the prying eyes of the office. It's always those business trips that you've got to watch out for. Everybody gets into trouble on the expense account. DiNozzo did go to the Bahamas with Dorneget earlier this year, and he got busted for his expense account there, actually. But I don't know if anything romantic happens with Dornie. I don't know if DiNozzo goes both ways.
Maybe in the cartoon.
MW: There's more road. You know, that would be nice, to see DiNozzo on the cover of Out magazine. I think that would confound some of our viewers, but then maybe not surprise others at all.
This interview has been edited and condensed.