Brian Dietzen plays Jimmy Palmer, assistant to David McCallum’s character Ducky Mallard, on CBS's hit TV show NCIS. Palmer, as Dietzen describes him, “assists on autopsies, assists at crime scenes and anything that has to do with the dead body. He will help out Ducky as much as he can and in the process generally makes inappropriate comments and quite often gets the stinkeye from Gibbs [Mark Harmon].”
Dietzen has been with the massively popular show for eight years and when he talks about those years, it seems like he hasn’t regretted a single moment. This week marks the airing of the show's 200th episode, and Jimmy Palmer fans will want to take note: to make the episode even more noteworthy, a very special surprise is in store for you. To find out more, read on.
You began on NCIS as a guest star and now, eight years later, you’re a regular on the show. What has it been like being on NCIS this long and how has your character changed over time?
Originally I was only supposed to be employed for a day. Every actor knows that you always hope for the best and that you’ll be back. So I was back the next week and the next week and eight years later I’m still working [on the show].
It’s interesting. From the first day I don’t know if I would have made different choices for my character had I known it was going to go for several years. I made kind of insecure and peevish choices for the character because I thought it was only going to be a one-day thing. Eight years later I’m trying to keep that up a little bit but have the character grow as well.
I think the cool part about the show is that each one of those characters stays inherently in their place in their role. And then they grow incrementally in small spurts here and there. Eight years afterwards we’ve gotten to see Jimmy Palmer stand up to his father-in-law or get engaged and start making moves toward a little bit more confidence than what he had in the beginning.
On the whole, the character will always be Jimmy. [When] people say, ‘That’s a Jimmy Palmer type of thing,’ you kind of know what that means. He’s insecure.
What’s it like working with a TV icon like David McCallum?
It’s pretty great. To be honest, I knew David McCallum from The Great Escape and The Greatest Story Ever Told, those great movies. I’d never seen anything from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I’d never seen that show. I learned about it from my uncle.
It was kind of neat because I don’t get to work often on that show with the bigger guest stars like Lily Tomlin or Robert Wagner. The only way I can work with the biggest guest stars is if they die [laughs]. But, heck, I get to work with a TV legend every day. I might not get to work with R.J. Wagner, [but] I’m on the show with David McCallum and that’s pretty great.
Your fans are going to be happy when you take your shirt off on the Feb. 7 episode. How did that come about?
I think what inspired the process was Pauley Perrette saying ‘Brian Dietzen has a ripped ab region. We need to show that off to our fans. They’re going to think that’s awesome.’ Then the producers said, ‘Give him a topless scene in there. This is gonna be great.’ It’s all in good fun. They did it just kind of as a laugh.
This was the show’s 200th episode. How did everyone celebrate this milestone?We had a cake. We each got a watch as a celebration. It was very nice [and] very cool. The producers came out and said some very nice things about the show and gave a deep sincere thanks to our crew, which gave us all a shot in the arm.
What was really great about it was that we took a little moment to say, ‘Wow, this is a great milestone. This is really cool,’ and then we [went] right back to work. That sort of thing doesn’t last very long. You pretty much go in [and] you work your butt off. Mark Harmon said, ‘You come back for episode 201 and there’s no cake.’ It doesn’t mean there’s anything worse or better. It just means we continue on and we try to make the show better. The funny line around the set that everyone was saying was, ‘Okay, 200 episodes. We’re halfway there.’ I think the actors and the crew really like to hear that. As long as we keep making good shows and we’re all enjoying ourselves then that’s what’s important.
You’ve just written, produced and starred in the film Congratulations. What is the film about and when do you expect it to be in the theaters?
It’s a film about my generation. I got to look around and realize that I’m kind of the old man amongst my friends. I have a wife and two children who I adore. But most of my friends in their early 30s or around 30 years old are not married and it’s not quite on their radar. We’re kind of getting to that place where we’re getting married later and later and having kids later and later, especially out on the coast here. I kind of wanted to figure out why that was and have a movie about that. A relationship movie.
You have two characters with different ideas about what marriage is. One of them, the man, says, ‘Marry me,’ and the woman says, ‘Why should we do that? We’re so happy.’ Basically we spend the whole movie trying to un-ring this bell. It becomes a very sad process. How two people can really tear themselves down and tear apart their relationship over this question about what does it mean to be married. In a state that passes something like Proposition 8, it’s a very valid question. So what does all of this mean?
It’s a cool examination. We got some great performances. We’ve got some good people in the cast too. Kevin Rankin from Unforgettable plays my best friend in it. Abby Miller from Justified plays my pseudo fiancée. So we wrote this script and decided to do it last summer. We [made] it on the cheap and had a great time doing it. We’re actually finishing up all of the music and the final mix in about two and a half weeks and we’re hoping to premiere it at a larger festival. The laurels this project receives will dictate when and where you are going to be able to see this thing. We hope it will be accessible for a lot of people.
NCIS airs Tuesdays at 8 PM on CBS.