Brian Dietzen is both an NCIS scene stealer and an indie-film auteur
Has anyone ever done more with a one-day guest spot than Brian Dietzen? Back in Season1 of NCIS he showed up for a brief cameo as a virtual unknown—and then kept getting asked back to HQ. Ten years, a lot of bodies and billions of viewers later, assistant medical examiner Jimmy Palmer is a series regular, a scene stealer and a fan favorite.
Not to mention the fact that somehow the 35-year-old Dietzen, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two young kids, even found time to get his indie cred along the way: He wrote and produced Congratulations, a funny film about marriage that lit up the festival circuit and was released on iTunes and VOD to the sound of many critic hands clapping—and knees slapping. Congratulations, indeed.
Watch!:Could you ever have imagined NCIS would go this long?
Brian Dietzen:[Laughs.] Yes, I actually did imagine it. Because I think every actor when he gets onto a TV show is like, "What if—hear me out—they figure out a way to bring back my character? And then I'll become a series regular—just keep listening—and it'll go 11 seasons and I'll buy a house! That's probably how I see this going!" And everyone looks at you, like, "Didn't your character die in that show?" "Well, yeah, he did, but. …" [Laughs.] I think most actors are eternally optimistic, and if they're not, they get out of the game, you know?
Watch!:How gratifying was it to become an official series regular last year?
Brian: It was nice to see that kind of support come from the network studio level. Day to day it doesn't change a whole lot, because from the cast to the crew to the writers to the producers, they've never made me feel like a second fiddle.
Watch!:Have you started getting recognized more?
Brian:I never get recognized! Maybe in Colorado sometimes to visit my family, or you just get the stares. Like, "Did we go to school? …" It's not definitive. It's not [Mark] Harmon walking into the room, like, "That's the dude." Which is crazy, being on the No. 1 show and keeping anonymity with it. It's kind of a cool thing.
Watch!:Who's your dream guest star?
Brian:You know who would be awesome? Jack Nicholson. He's actually a fan of the show. How great would that be? Or John Cusack! John Cusack would be so cool.
Watch!:Truth time: Have any of your cast members seen that movie you did back in 2003, From Justin to Kelly?
Brian: [Laughs.] I think Pauley [Perrette] watched it, and I think she said she was a huge fan. No, I don't know. Michael [Weatherly] gave me grief about it early on, but that actually hasn't been brought up too much.
Watch!:Let's talk about Congratulations. Is there any Venn-diagram overlap between fans of NCIS and fans of indie rom-coms?
Brian: It's an indie rom-dramedy! It's interesting. Even though content-wise there's not much crossover—we're not talking about solving crimes, we're not talking about national security, we're pretty much talking about our feelings—the reaction we've gotten has been totally positive. I've had people say, "It's so weird to see Jimmy …" Well, that's the point! [Laughs.] The biggest point of doing it for me was to flex the brain muscles, flex the actor muscles, and be a different character.
Watch!:You once were in a show called My Guide to Becoming a Rock Star. Did you ever have a sex, drugs and rock ‘n' roll phase in your life?
Brian: Yes. Huge! Well, minus the sex and drugs.
Brian: High school. I was massively underage. But I could play drums and no one that I hung out with wanted to play drums, so I was in a bunch of punk bands in Boulder. So I'd get into shows that I wasn't old enough to be in, but I was the drummer so I had to be in there. [Laughs.] The music was not good. Not in any way was it good.
Watch!:Did you have groupies?
Brian: No groupies. That would mean that we had a following of some sort. It was mainly us asking if we could play at places and them going, "Uggghhh, fine."
Watch!:And you met your wife during that phase?
Brian: My wife and I went to high school together, but we became a couple while we were in college. So I did have a groupie, yes. She's still my groupie—my singular groupie. [Laughs.] We went to college together, I asked her to marry me, and then she moved out here. Seconds after she did, I was like, "Damn, I've got to get my ass in gear—I've got to do something," and I got cast in Rock Star about two months later. I didn't have a SAG card or an agent or a manager or anything like that. It was really a life-changing thing.
Watch!:Last question: Did you know that when you Google your name, the first search term that pops up is "Brian Dietzen shirtless"? What's up with that?
Brian:There we go! The first one! It's because of Pauley. I've always been a workout guy—it helps me sleep—and we were at a pool party where Pauley was like, "Man, we've got to get you with your shirt off on NCIS! Our viewers would love it and it'd be great for your career." She was very straightforward about it. I said, "Fine, whatever. I have nothing against being gratuitous." So she took me around and took everyone's hands and put them on my stomach, saying, "You feel that? This needs to happen."