NCIS’ Brian Dietzen Shares What To Expect From Season 20 – Exclusive Interview
Heading into its 20th season in 2022, “NCIS” is still going strong as one of the longest-running scripted American prime-time television series in history, despite losing founding star Mark Harmon during the previous season.
The departure of Harmon as Special Agent Gibbs leaves the flagship “NCIS” series with just three main cast members dating back to Season 1: veteran actor David McCallum as Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard, Sean Murray as Agent Timothy McGee, and Brian Dietzen as Dr. Jimmy Palmer, whom Looper spoke to ahead of the Season 20 premiere that airs tonight on CBS.
As Jimmy, Dietzen plays the Chief Medical Examiner for the “NCIS” team, a highly trained group of Washington, D.C.-based agents who investigate c****s connected to Navy and Marine Corps personnel. In recent years, Dietzen has had to say goodbye to Harmon, Pauley Perrette, and Michael Weatherly and hello to Wilmer Valderrama, Gary Cole, and Katrina Law, who portrays Jimmy’s new love interest on the show.
During our recent exclusive interview, Dietzen discussed the departure of Harmon, Jimmy’s budding on-screen romance, and what to expect from Season 20 of “NCIS.”
Jimmy’s relationship with Jessica brings a ‘nice change’ to NCIS
We’re heading into the 20th season of “NCIS,” and you’ve been on all of them. What does Jimmy Palmer mean to you?
Jimmy Palmer’s meant a lot. I’ve known this character and been this character my entire adult life — I’ve grown up and had two kids throughout. But for me, the character has always meant optimism. He’s always been an optimistic character. Had I been playing a character who’s pessimistic or looked at life through a darker lens, I’m not sure I would be still playing this character right now. It’s a pleasure to put on his shoes.
Season 19 ended on quite a cliffhanger, both in terms of Agent Parker and office lovebirds Jimmy and Jessica. What can you tell me about the Season 20 premiere when it comes to those storylines?
Both last year’s finale and this year’s premiere push “NCIS” toward what we do best. The premiere is basically saying, “This is ‘NCIS’ at its best, which is when the characters look after one another.” We’re all looking out for Parker because he’s running across the country with his ex-wife, and we’re not exactly sure where she stands. As a team, we have to gather around, circle the wagons, and try and help our guy.
As for Jimmy and Jessica, it’s been wonderful to see their relationship [develop] and see them get closer, especially during the last couple episodes of last season. What I’ve loved about it so far is that we get to see two people who see something in one another, and they want to know what it’s all about. There’s less of a mystery there, less of a “Oh my gosh, what might happen?” It’s just two people who are saying, “Hey, let’s see if there’s anything here.” It’s going to be exciting to see what happens between the two of them.
Where do you hope their love story goes?
I know a lot of where the love story is going and where the relationship is going, and I like what’s happening with it. To see two people who are co-workers on a television show have a healthy adult relationship with one another can be refreshing. There’s a tried-and-true relationship mechanic on many different TV shows, which is “will they, won’t they.” Seeing each other from across the room and trying to draw that out as long as possible. It’s tried and true for a reason — because it does work. But it’s nice to see people be happy with one another sometimes, and that can also help deepen friendships and relationships amongst the rest of the team.
I’m hoping that it goes toward that direction, which would be a nice change around “NCIS.” There’s been a lot of loss and a lot of heartbreak amongst romantic relationships in the past, whether it be on screen or off. Vance’s wife, Jimmy’s wife, Tony and Ziva, Bishop and Torres, Sloane and Gibbs — there’s a lot of heartbreak, a lot of kisses on planes before people leave, and it would be nice to see something that’s celebrated and perhaps lifted up.
He’s owned Jimmy’s signature glasses since he was 15
On your Instagram, you posted a picture of Jimmy’s glasses and a comment like, “Let’s do this.” It made me wonder, do those glasses help you get into character? Do you ever think of yourself as Clark Kent when you put them on?
Yes, absolutely. [Laughs] My wife pointed out one time when she came up to set, and I was getting my wardrobe on — I basically get to wear pajamas to work every day in scrubs — and I put the glasses on, which I don’t wear at home. She looks at me and says, “Man, it really is the glasses. That changes a lot.” I started laughing.
It’s a little signifier. I got those glasses when I was 15 years old, and I’ve had them for almost 30 years now. I put them on and it’s a little trigger that I can feel Jimmy Palmer taking over a bit. But they’ve become so iconic for the character that at the top of each season I like to take a picture of the glasses and say, “We’re starting up with these things.”
How did your own glasses get involved in the show?
I had an audition for a one-day guest star on “NCIS” in the first season, and I wore reading glasses at the time, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I went and got my backup glasses, which were these little Harry Potter-type glasses that I got when I was 15 years old — before I knew who Harry Potter was — that were the same prescription. I was like, “Okay, I can read with these, so I’ll put them on.” I went into the audition, and I booked the role and they said, “Bring those glasses with you.” So I did. Then they said, “Can you come back next week?” I’ve been doing it ever since.
What do you think is one thing fans might be surprised to learn about Jimmy that they don’t already know?
What do they not know about Jimmy? It’s been 20 years and he’s bared a lot for the audience. It was interesting that early on, we established that he’s not a fan of baseball. I’m not sure why. It’s probably because of the pitcher Jim Palmer, and the fact that he got called “Jim” once in a while when he was young. There’s something — he doesn’t like being called “Jim.” Doesn’t like “James” too much either. “Jimmy” is something that he’s pushed for because it suits his personality more. If you ever see Jimmy Palmer on the street, don’t call him “Jim.” He won’t turn around. It’s got to be “Jimmy,” or “Dr. Palmer” if it’s Ducky.