Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

NCIS' Brian Dietzen on What Jimmy's "Empowering" Reveal Means Going Forward

Why his relationship with Ducky will never be the same

Liz Raftery

Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen) is used to being in the background (or downstairs, as it were) on NCIS, but in Tuesday's episode, the assistant medical examiner took center stage.

After telling Abby (Pauley Perrette) early on in the episode that he was feeling a little stuck in the ol' winter doldrums, Jimmy sprang into action when the team responded to reports of a suicidal man threatening to jump off a building. Jimmy ventured out on the ledge to talk the man down -- and he succeeded, but didn't realize that their entire conversation was being monitored by Gibbs (Mark Harmon), McGee (Sean Murray), Ducky (David McCallum) and the rest of the crew.

As a result, things got a little awkward when Palmer told the suicidal man that he passed the Medical Examiner test on his third try, but kept that a secret from his colleagues because he didn't want to change the dynamics in their workplace.

Now, of course, the cat's out of the bag -- but what does this mean for Jimmy going forward? TVGuide.com chatted with Dietzen about the logistics of filming the episode, what this reveal will do to Jimmy and Ducky's relationship, and how much that hug from Gibbs means to Doctor Palmer.

It was nice to have a Jimmy-centric episode. What was your reaction when you read the script?
I was very excited when they said there was going to be a much more full Jimmy Palmer episode. He's usually the comic relief, and he serves his purpose really well, but it was nice to see a side of him that I think is going to surprise a lot of the viewers. It was interesting, in reading the script and going, "Wow there's really not a lot of jokes this guy has in this script" -- which is very unlike the general Jimmy Palmer lines, and which I loved and embraced. It was a different side of him and I was very, very excited. We each get our number called here and there on this show, and I was happy that it was my turn.

The NCIS franchise transformed itself in 2016 -- with mixed results

We even see a different side of him in the beginning of the episode, when he seems a little down and out while talking to Abby.
Yeah, I think we all kind of go through that, our ups and downs a little bit here and there. The thing I've always loved and embraced about playing the character of Jimmy is that he's generally a glass-is-half-full kind of guy. He's definitely an optimist. Even at crime scenes with horrific murders and all of that sort of thing, this guy's going to find something to smile about, and he's going to find some good that can come out of something. To see at the beginning of this episode that he's having an off day, and you see how he treats it -- "You know what? It'll get better. It'll get better" -- it just shows his attitude and how he approaches the world. And that really informs the rest of the script.

Now that his secret about being an ME is out, what does this mean for him going forward?
A lot of his teammates and characters on the show are going to be looking at Jimmy through a new lens ... and what happens out on that ledge is going to change his relationship with Ducky forever. ... We've filmed a few episodes since then where he's referred to as "Dr. Palmer," and you have a bit of a "Doctor," "Doctor" in the coroner's office downstairs. It's pretty cool. It's a neat next step for the character that just makes sense. There's been a maturation of Jimmy Palmer over the course of 13 years, where it does make sense where you would have that change happen in their relationship. It's gone from mentor/student to friends, to coworkers, and now to two doctors together under one roof. If you look at it from the history of this show, it's the next logical step, and David and I have certainly have been having fun with it.

Does Ducky find it difficult to view Jimmy as an equal? Is there any kind of power struggle between them?
You know, it's interesting. That question was raised initially, and I don't think we've really seen any of that. As Ducky has definitely been a father figure to Jimmy over the years, that character is definitely proud of his protégé. I think that, like any good parent, you want the next generation to succeed and do well. And so far, from what we've shot, that's definitely been the case. If anything, can Jimmy teach Ducky something now? That's yet to be determined, but I think that he can. Just as Ducky has taught Jimmy a hell of a lot over the last decade.

His interactions with Ducky and Gibbs were really touching in this episode. In what ways do they both serve as mentors for him? It seems like they fulfill different, yet equally important, roles for him.
Oh, absolutely. I think that, as it comes to the education of how you do your job and how you go about being professional, and how you show comfort to a grieving family by doing your job, Ducky has been just so incredibly instrumental in the maturation of Jimmy Palmer. And as it comes to how you enjoy yourself on the team, I think his relationship with Gibbs has been instrumental because Jimmy's always been one to smile and to try and lift up a situation, even in the face of the Gibbs stare and potential slap. I think his relationship with Gibbs has been definitely like a paternal relationship. But you're right, it's been that way with Ducky as well, so it's interesting to see those two relationships kind of get rewarded in this episode in ways that we've never seen before. We've never seen a closeness with Gibbs before, and to see some sort of payoff with that, it was rewarding to shoot. It was really fun.

How meaningful was that hug from Gibbs for Jimmy? It seems like a lot of Jimmy's optimism stems from knowing what Gibbs has been through and yet he's come out on the other side.
Oh yeah. I think that's the way the show has been set up, and we've talked about it as a cast for a long time. If you can't see who the paternal figure is in NCIS, then you've got your eyes closed. Gibbs is definitely the dad that each of these agents and scientists and doctors want to make happy. They're doing their jobs, and they want him to give them an "'Atta boy," or a smile, or a "Good job, McGee," something like that. So, the fact that Jimmy can attain that really means something coming from Gibbs, because those don't come lightly. I think he also sets the tone of, "Look what I've lost in my life. Look what I've been through. And I'm still here and I'm fighting the good fight working to make our country a better place. You guys certainly can join in." No one's going to complain about working long hours when [Gibbs] is still there doing it.

Winter Preview: Get scoop on must-see new shows

How do you think this whole experience of saving a man's life is going to affect Jimmy going forward?
I think it can't help but change him a little bit. Because you have to understand that, while some of these sort of things can happen on NCIS, they generally happen to people who are trained. They happen to trained federal agents and they happen to people even like Ducky, who's had 50 years worth of experience, either with the British Royal Navy or as a medical doctor, having seen hundreds of cases. It's a different story when it comes to Jimmy. So when that situation is foisted upon you, it's going to make you look at the world through a different lens. And I really do hope, and I do sense towards the end of that episode, that this is going to be something empowering for Jimmy. That this is going to enable him to say, "Yes, I can stare some adversity in the face and come out a better person at the end of it." And that's neat. That's fun to watch as a viewer, I think, just to see a person grow and take these new steps.

Based on what you shot, is he a little more confident in the morgue going forward, knowing that he's got the same qualifications as Ducky?
It says a lot about him that he decided he should keep that secret for a while. It certainly isn't because he's ashamed of anything. It's because, as he says in the show, that he's got something good going on right now. And he doesn't want to mess that up. He doesn't want to try and alter anything just out of ego, or just because he has this new degree. So, I think moving forward he'll probably try and preserve a bit of what's made him happy. That's why he decided not to reveal everything, is because he found happiness. So, if he can maintain that happiness from here on out, I think he will. And that means probably not trying to reinvent the wheel of who I am amongst my peers. That said, I think he can't help but gain a bit of self-confidence and hopefully find his voice a little bit more. But me as an actor, I'm thinking, man, I cherish all the Jimmy-isms that we learned over the years, and the way that he's -- not naively, just optimistically -- spoken his mind about each of the cases. I cherish that. I love it. I love having a character who is so unabashedly, unapologetically positive. And I think that's something we'll continue to see from Jimmy for sure.

In terms of the logistics of shooting that scene on the ledge, how did you film it?
I want everyone to think that we were actually on a seven-story ledge for like eight days straight, freezing our butts off. [Laughs] Our production crew is absolutely amazing. Our construction crew, they re-created a ledge from an [actual] building ... on one of our sound stages. So we were about 10 feet off of the ground, looking down into kind of a green screen on the bottom for those overhead shots. It was really neat. We had an actual green screen stage too, where we were on a green screen ledge with a green screen above us, so that they could back in everything. I don't know how a lot of that is done, but because of the shooting schedule and the airing schedule, and the World Series, because we
got preempted, this [episode] got pushed back, gosh, about six weeks later than it would have aired. Which gave them a lot of extra time to work on those special effects. And I think they were very happy they had that time.

Can you tease anything about what's coming up in other future episodes?
Yeah, I can. We're going to have a return of the Sherlocks that were introduced last year. And they're going to be coming back. As you know, Jimmy Palmer is now a member of the Sherlocks, as Ducky kind of found his own replacement. When he decided to hang up his Sherlock hat he said, "I found a replacement in Jimmy Palmer." It was our first episode after this [one], where all of his friends in the Sherlock Society were referring to him as "Dr. Palmer." I thought it was kind of a fitting way to start the next chapter of Jimmy's history. So that was really fun to shoot. And, in that episode there's also going to be a reemergence of Tony's dad, of Robert Wagner. So, that is going to be a very fun episode. ... I believe that's the next new episode right after this one.

Anything else you'd like to add about Tuesday's episode?
It was definitely one of the most fun episodes that I've ever gotten to do on NCIS. To have an [episode] ... where so much is revealed and there's so much talk for the entire time, it felt like doing a one-act play, out there on a ledge with a damn good scene partner. I was really happy that we got to do it. Opportunities like this don't come along every week, where you get to just pour your character's heart out. And I thought that Scott Williams, Scott Jarrett and Matt Jarrett, the three people who had a hand in writing this, just did a wonderful job. I was very thankful that I got this opportunity.

NCIS airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on CBS.

(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)