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Cover Stories: Warm Weatherly

Posted on May 27, 2014 07:00am

CLOAK and SWAGGER

Photography by Keiron O'Connor

Styling by Christopher Campbell

Photographed at Château Saint-Martin & Spa in Vence, France

Check out the entire photo shoot here

Cool, confident and couture-clad, NCIS’ Michael Weatherly brings a handsome dose of humor to
the Côte d’Azur

Michael Weatherly plumps up a cushion and leans back on a velvet sofa in a cozy French bar for an even cozier chat. The scene is an elegant one as Saudi royals and heads of state breeze by. Looking much like a statesman himself, Weatherly begins with a playful acknowledgment of the glamorously Gallic scene around us.

“I have a pretty good French accent, actually,” the star of NCIS says with a wink. “Alors... zats zee extent of my French. Magnifique, non?”

Even to a journalist he’s just met, Weatherly cannot help himself. Charming, charismatic and endlessly amusing, he is never at a loss for words. In person, the actor exudes an easy, laid-back confidence that comes with a certain level of success. Dressed casually in jeans and a sweater, he has the glow of someone who has been living the good life. And why wouldn’t he? The actor has just finished his third cover shoot for Watch! at the Château Saint-Martin & Spa in Vence, a beautiful town nestled in the heart of the Côte d’Azur.

“It was great fun,” he says of the shoot, which paid homage to the work of legendary photographer Slim Aarons. “France conjures up images of Cary Grant and James Bond, and swagger and suave.”

The theme immediately appealed to the actor, who has a great appreciation for Old Hollywood. “The idea of To Catch a Thief and Grace Kelly was certainly on my mind. We just had a bit of fun with it,” Weatherly says. “There were lots of hats, and I was dressed a little like a pimp. It was pretty funky. The clothing was fantastic, and what I liked most was that there was a real sense of humor and playfulness. Sometimes people can take themselves too seriously.”

Not Weatherly. As one of the original cast members of NCIS, which premiered in 2003, he has seen the show go from a fledgling JAG spin-off into its own industry. Today, NCIS is the most-watched series on television—it boasts 25 million weekly viewers—and one of the most popular in the world. And Weatherly is part of that dynamic. His Tony DiNozzo—field agent, prankster, love interest—is at the core of the show’s success.Weatherly is one of the few actors on TV given the freedom to ad-lib scripts and make them funnier, which he does regularly.

Watch! saw it firsthand during the shoot when, true to form, the actor let loose.

“We were in a bar after the shoot, and I was sufficiently drunk that I tried to play the piano,” he recalls. “I played Elvis Costello’s ‘Alison.’ And oh, I sang. But I sang it like a drunk American doing a Serge Gainsbourg impression: ‘Aleeesuuuuhn.’ I had a bottle of 1995 Latour at La Colombe d’Or. God, that was expensive,” he says, cringing.

This is a man who clearly enjoys the finer things in life, but they’re finer things well earned. Weatherly grew up comfortable in Connecticut, but his parents cut off support when he decided to move to New York to become an actor. He scraped by on bit parts—including a cameo as Theo’s friend on The Cosby Show—and soon was cast on the now-defunct soap opera Loving, where he became a fan favorite. Weatherly eventually moved to Los Angeles and was cast on James Cameron’s sci-fi drama Dark Angel; a year after it was cancelled, Weatherly landed NCIS and has been entertaining audiences ever since.

The actor has cause to celebrate in his personal life, too. He and his wife, physician Bojana Jankovic, have two children: Olivia, 2, and Liam, 6 months. They join Weatherly’s teenage son, August, from a previous marriage.

Weatherly and Jankovic met in Vancouver in 2007 when the actor was struck by not only her beauty, but her refreshing disinterest in all things Hollywood. “I met her in a bar,” he says. “She didn’t know what the show was, and I explained that I was an actor.

“We have a real balance,” he continues. “She’s brought a great deal of seriousness to my life, and I hope I’ve brought her a small slice of humor,” he says with a wry smile. And then suddenly more reflective, “You know life’s full of dread and misery, but it’s nice to be able to take things lightly. My wife has a very serious job and is a serious person. So my job is to sometimes lighten things up.”

Weatherly’s DiNozzo is also often the comic relief for the show. “When the character came along, I was playing Robert Wagner in the Natalie Wood TV movie, and I was told that Don Bellisario [the producer who created Magnum, P.I.; Quantum Leap; and JAG] was casting a new series,” explains Weatherly. “So I called him, and he was a little irritated. He said, ‘What do you want?’ I told him, so he invited me to dinner, and at the end of the night he asked me if I wanted to play Anthony DiNozzo. ‘He is you and you are him,’ he said.”

Since then, Weatherly and co-stars Pauley Perrette and Mark Harmon have appeared in every episode of NCIS.

“I still enjoy it a lot,” the actor says. “It’s been 23 years now of being an actor, 22 years of nonstop work. And 11 of those—half my career—is NCIS. It’s a lot of television,” he admits.

So is it difficult to keep DiNozzo fresh? “You know, it’s pretty relaxing because I don’t have to worry about being politically correct,” Weatherly says.

“The fact that Tony’s screwed up keeps it interesting,” he continues. “He has this adolescent fear of women, so his hostility comes from an interesting, fractured place. I try to make him a competent federal agent as often as possible, but what’s most interesting to me is when he is just madly inappropriate because he’s broken as a human being.

“I guess I should qualify this by saying that we all have a version of ourselves in our mind’s eye that we project onto the world, and more often than not that completely doesn’t sync up with what the world is seeing. Tony’s deeply unaware of what he’s projecting. That identity crisis makes my job more interesting.”

Directing is another interest, and over the past few seasons Weatherly has helmed several episodes.

“I don’t have much sway, but I was adamant I’d direct,” the actor says. “I started asking around Season 3, and by Season 5 I was pestering them all the time. By Season 7 they couldn’t say no, and they let me direct one finally in Season 8. I showed them I could be so unpleasant, they had to let me do it,” he quips.

Back to the bar where, in midsentence, Weatherly is interrupted by an elegant woman who asks for one of the plump cushions surrounding the actor.

“Sure, that’s 100 euros,” he deadpans.

“What?” she asks, obviously puzzled.

“500 euros,” he says very loudly and seriously, then bursts out laughing so infectiously that the woman joins in. Then he turns back to the conversation.

“As far as the future’s concerned, the one thing about being happy that I have found is that you have to live in the present,” he says in an Indian accent, trying to impersonate Gandhi. Even when he is being serious, he can’t be really serious. He takes a glug of wine and Gandhi is gone.

“I never think of the future or the past too much. To be present makes me much happier. I keep my ambition local, I love having my family around, I love my little triumphs at work, and in general my life’s not nearly as out of control as it once was. I’m mellowing in my old age.”