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Where you've seen the NCIS cast before

If you've turned on a TV since 2003, you've probably stumbled on an episode of NCIS. The show is instantly recognizable to fans and channel-hoppers alike thanks to its insistent background music, cheesy lines delivered with a winking air, and thrilling over-the-top plots involving murders, cover-ups, drug rings, and bombs, all set against the backdrop of Washington D.C.'s Navy Yard. This is the show that taught us no death is ever an accident, and it's never the obvious suspect.

Nearly two decades since it first aired as a spinoff of legal drama JAGNCIS is still incredibly popular. As of April 2019 it was the most watched drama on TV, and when you look at all entertainment series, only The Big Bang Theory attracted more viewers. It's also CBS's longest-running scripted series still on the air. That longevity likely makes it an appealing gig for actors looking to enjoy the stability of a TV show that also has the added excitement of stunts, and plenty have taken their place on the Major Case Response Team. Here's where you've seen some of NCIS's best-known faces before — and what some of those stars have been doing since.

NCIS star Mark Harmon has played a lot of cops

You can't picture NCIS without silver-haired, poker-faced, former Marine Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Played by Mark Harmon, Gibbs has been a fixture of the show since the first season, appearing in the two episodes of JAG that launched NCIS. Harmon has also played him in episodes of spinoff NCIS: New Orleans, which started in 2014, and on Family Guy. (The animated series deemed him "the greatest actor who ever lived.")

Before getting the chance to lead the NCIS team, Harmon's career was mixed. As a teenager he was the quarterback for UCLA, following in the footsteps of his father, collegiate football star and sports commentator Tom Harmon. But after his brother-in-law Ricky Nelson convinced him to fill in on his show Ozzie's Girls, Mark converted to acting.

His movie resume is mostly forgettable, with a few notable exceptions. He had a minor role in Disney's 2003 Freaky Friday remake, and an uncredited part in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, and he played an unnamed magazine reporter in cult classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. TV is a different story: after playing a cop in a few different series, which saw varying degrees of success, he appeared on four seasons of medical drama Chicago Hope as orthopedic surgeon Jack McNeil. His most critically acclaimed credit was as a bodyguard in political saga The West Wing — a guest part that earned him his second Emmy nod.

NCIS vet Rocky Carroll was nominated for a Tony

Rocky Carroll plays the tough but ultimately fair Director of NCIS, Leon Vance, who took over the top job after the shocking death of predecessor Jennifer Shepard (Lauren Holly) in season five, which aired in 2008. He was promoted from recurring character to series regular for season six, and despite an alarming kidnapping plot line in season 15, and a tense relationship with Gibbs and the team at the start of his tenure, his run as Director has been longer than those of his two predecessors combined.

Away from NCIS, Carroll prefers theater stages to sound stages. After graduating from the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University in St. Louis, he got a job performing Shakespeare for New York public school students. In 1990 he was nominated for a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his role in August Wilson's The Piano Lesson, in which he was understudied by Samuel L. Jackson.

Although he started picking up film credits with a role in the Tom Cruise-led Born on the Fourth of July, Carroll has had more success on the small screen. He's mostly stuck to police, legal, and medical dramas: he's had one-off roles in Law & Order, ER, Boston Legal and Grey's Anatomy, and worked alongside future NCIS co-star Mark Harmon on four seasons of Chicago Hope. Before NCIS, his longest-running TV role was trumpet-playing Joey Emerson on sitcom Roc, alongside his Piano Lesson co-stars Charles S. Dutton and Carl Gordon.

NCIS mainstay David McCallum was in one of the most famous movies of all time

David McCallum has been on board from the very beginning as now-retired Chief Medical Examiner and current official NCIS historian Dr. Donald Mallard, affectionately known as Ducky. Ducky's long been a fan favorite — but McCallum had a notable career before donning his white coat and signature bowties. 

Like Ducky, McCallum was born in Scotland, in 1933. His first acting gigs were for BBC Radio and the stage. In 1963, he scored a part in The Great Escape, the epic retelling of 76 Allied prisoners' escape from German POW camp Stalag Luft III in World War II. Despite playing second fiddle to leads Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough, McCallum capitalized on his new fame, landing the role of Soviet secret agent Illya Kuryakin in hit TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which ran from 1964 to 1968 and turned McCallum into a sex symbol.

After the show ended, McCallum worked steadily in various multi-season TV series, including another World War II escape drama, Colditz. He appeared in '80s classics Murder, She Wrote and The A-Team, and in the '90s he was in single episodes of Law & Order and Sex and the City. You might also recognize his voice, especially if you watch kids' TV: he's Professor Paradox in animated show Ben 10. He's also written a novel, Once a Crooked Man, published in 2016.

NCIS star Sean Murray is in the film you watch every Halloween

Another cast member who has been on the show since season one is Sean Murray, who plays computer wiz Timothy McGee. Murray's first appearance was in episode seven, and he became a regular at the start of season two. He's also appeared on NCIS: New Orleans

In a weird twist, before NCIS, Murray played not one but two different characters on sister show JAG. In a 1998 episode, he played an ensign accused of rape in Japan, and from 2000 to 2001 he appeared in five episodes as Danny Walden, the surly son of Admiral Chegwidden's girlfriend, Dr. Sydney Walden.

In the early '90s, Murray was just another aspiring teen idol, complete with floppy blonde hair. In 1993 he had a minor role in This Boy's Life, an adaptation of a memoir which also starred another rising teen star named Leonardo DiCaprio (you might have heard of him.) That same year, Murray got his chance to be the hero, as Thackery Binx in Hocus Pocus — although his character spends most of the film transformed into a black cat, somewhat reducing the level of exposure the film earned him. 

After that, he was in short-lived series Harts of the West — most notable because he met future NCIS co-star Mark Harmon, who had a small part. The next five years were mostly spent making TV movies — aside from a single episode of ER — until JAG called.

NCIS fan favorite Pauley Perrette was in one of the coolest films of the '00s

Pauley Perrette played everyone's favorite over-caffeinated forensic scientist from the very start, appearing in the two episodes of JAG that launched NCIS and in the spinoffs set in New Orleans and LA. In 2017, she announced that season 15 would be her last.

Before NCIS, Perrette appeared on a few TV series that only made it through a season or two, including Party of Five spinoff Time of Your Life, which starred Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jennifer Garner, and legal drama Murder One. She also had small parts in bigger shows, including a waitress named Rebecca in two episodes of Frasier, a groupie in five episodes of The Drew Carey Show, good Samaritan Tanya in two episodes of 24. Right before JAG she was in an episode of rival procedural drama CSI, but her most widely seen pre-NCIS performance was as radio DJ Alice Wisdom in 2000's Almost Famous, in a scene opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Despite fans' pleas, Perrette has made it clear that she won't be returning to NCIS. A few days after her last episode, she implied that she'd been bullied on set, and even subjected to "Multiple Physical Assaults," but had been silenced by a "very powerful publicity 'machine'." In 2019, she named Harmon specifically, tweeting "I am terrified of Harmon and him attacking me." Her next gig came as a single mom on the CBS sitcom Broke.

NCIS cast member Diona Reasonover is getting her big break

Stepping in as the character who takes over for fan favorite Abby Sciuto was never going to be an easy task, but for Diona Reasonover it was yet another sign that her star is on the rise. Reasonover plays Kasie Hines, one of Ducky's graduate students, who meets the team as Ducky's assistant and then replaces Abby after her resignation.

Although NCIS' longevity makes Kasie easily Reasonover's most prestigious role, you may remember her from smaller parts in a few well-known shows. She was in single episodes of Comedy Bang! Bang, Boy Meets World spinoff Girl Meets World, Superstore, 2 Broke Girls, Transparent, and Grace and Frankie. She also had a big role in Clipped, a critically panned one-season series about a group of friends who open a barbershop. Reasonover agrees that NCIS is her biggest acting gig yet. In 2018, she said that she "freaked out" when she saw herself in the opening credits for the first time, and that it was cool seeing people dressed as Kasie that Halloween.

Even if you'd never seen Reasonover before she joined Ducky's lab, you might have laughed at her jokes. Reasonover wrote for documentary-meets-comedy series Adam Ruins Everything and Amazon's I Love Dick, and was a senior writer for Sarah Silverman's I Love You, America. She'll probably have many more credits to freak out over.

NCIS cast member Emily Wickersham spent years playing anonymous roles

Emily Wickersham joined NCIS as former NSA analyst Eleanor Bishop, better known as Ellie, for season 11 in 2013. She's also appeared in an episode of NCIS: New Orleans.

Before playing Ellie, Wickersham had mostly played almost anonymous characters. For instance, she was credited in 2008 rom-com Definitely, Maybe — which starred Ryan Gosling and Isla Fisher — as "1998 intern." Two years later, her part in the Robert Pattinson-led romantic drama Remember Me was labeled "Miami Blonde." At least she got a name for her minor part in I Am Number Four — Nicole — and in 2012 she finally got more screen time playing Amanda Seyfriend's sister Molly in thriller Gone. (Given the critical slamming the film received, that might not have been a good thing.)

Wickersham has had better luck on TV. Four years before joining NCIS, she was in an episode of rival crime drama Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and in 2011 she had an unnamed part in an episode of Gossip Girl. She had a minor role in the American remake of the hit Scandinavian dramaThe Bridge, but one of her coolest jobs came early in her career, when she played A.J.'s girlfriend Rhiannon in four episodes of The Sopranos. For now, Wickersham is making the most of NCIS, saying, "it is a really awesome job to get to do every day."

NCIS new kid Wilmer Valderrama was in this provocative music video

Wilmer Valderrama plays Ellie Bishop's on-again, off-again love interest, former undercover agent Nick Torres. Valderrama is a rookie in the NCIS cast, joining in season 15, but he's backed by a sturdy TV resume. Like Wickersham, Valderrama will forever be able to brag that he was in The Sopranos — although only for one episode, playing an unnamed character. Depending on your taste in TV, the character you're most likely to associate with him is Fez from That '70s Show: Valderrama played the naive foreign exchange student of unknown nationality in every one of its 200 episodes.

Alternatively, parents who have ceded control of the TV to their kids may know him as repairman Manny from animated show Handy Manny. Back in grownup land, he appeared in Raising Hope and five episodes of Grey's Anatomy, guest starred on two seasons of The Ranch, and was part of the main cast in the single season of the TV reboot of Minority Report. If you're more of a horror fan, you might recognize Valderrama from another TV reboot, From Dusk Till Dawn, in which he played vampire Carlos Madrigal.

Away from TV, he had an uncredited role in Queen Latifah's now-classic comedy Beauty Shop, and appeared in Fast Food Nation, the dramatization of the non-fiction book of the same name. And if you never watch movies or TV, you may still know Valderrama thanks to LMFAO's video for "Sexy and I Know It."

NCIS player Brian Dietzen wrote a short film

Although he didn't get that all-important opening credits shot until season nine, Brian Dietzen has been playing assistant medical examiner since episode 21 of the first season of NCIS. He's also appeared in an episode of the New Orleans-set spinoff.

Dietzen's acting career started out where most people's end: at his elementary school's Christmas pageant. He stayed in his home state to attend the University of Colorado, and participated in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival for two years before moving to Los Angeles. Despite his fairly successful stage career, he wasn't flooded with offers in Hollywood. 

In 2002 he was in an episode of Boston Public, a drama about a high school that also featured Sean Murray, also playing a character named David. That same year, his big break was meant to be the lead in comedy series My Guide to Becoming a Rock Star, but it was cancelled after one season.  

In 2003, he was in From Justin to Kelly, which starred Kelly Clarkson fresh from her American Idol win. Unfortunately it bombed, but Dietzen got NCIS the next year. And he's not sitting back on his cushy TV job. In 2012, Dietzen wrote and starred in his own short film, Congratulations, about a marriage proposal that drives a couple apart.

NCIS star Maria Bello was in this essential '00s rom-com

Maria Bello joined NCIS as operational psychologist Dr. Jacqueline Sloane, known to the team as Jack, in 2017 for season 15. She'd been working steadily in TV and film since the early '90s: her first big role on the small screen was as Mrs. Smith in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the TV version of the 2005 Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt film about married secret agents. The series only lasted one season, but Bello landed a role in hot medical drama ER. playing Doctor Anna Del Amico from the end of season three through season four. 

Sticking to 911 dramas, Bello was also in two episodes of Law & Order: SVU n 2010, and played the lead in the American adaptation of hit British crime drama Prime Suspect, which ended after one season. More recently, she was in a season of Amazon's legal show Goliath.

You may also remember Bello from her roles in big movies. She appeared in dramas A History of Violence and World Trade Center, action movie Assault On Precinct 13, comedies Thank You For Smoking and Grownups, and rom-com The Jane Austen Bookclub with Emily Blunt. She also had a supporting role opposite Johnny Depp in Secret Window. But if you were a teenager in 2000, there's one major reason Bello is familiar to you: she played hard-working, hard-partying bar owner Lil in essential sleepover movie Coyote Ugly.

NCIS star Jennifer Esposito was forced to leave this CBS show

Jennifer Esposito's NCIS character Alex Quinn has long relationships with many on the team, thanks to her previous position at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center — but Esposito herself was only on the show for one season.

Before her brief stint on NCIS, Esposito was in two notable movies: horror sequel I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and Spike Lee's Summer of Sam. These kickstarted her TV career: she had a main part in two seasons of political comedy Spin City, starring Michael J. Fox, and in sitcom Samantha Who?, about a woman, played by Christina Applegate, who gets amnesia. In 2010 Esposito joined police drama Blue Bloods, but said she was forced to leave in the third season because CBS wouldn't make accommodations for her celiac disease: she's since published two books about her experience with the condition. It didn't hold back her acting career: she went on to appear in Mistresses and critically acclaimed drama The Affair.

Law & Order fans have no excuse for not recognizing Esposito, although you might not know exactly why. She's played four different characters in the franchise: she was in Law & Order in 1996 and 2006, and in Law & Order: SVU in 2000 and 2019. She's also in Amazon's super-anti-hero series The Boys.

NCIS vet Lauren Holly has played so many love interests

Lauren Holly's Jenny Shepard took over as Director of NCIS in season three, after predecessor Thomas Morrow's resignation — but the character's dramatic death at the hands of Russian assassins in season five made it clear that she wouldn't be coming back.

Before joining NCIS, Holly was probably best known for playing Mary Swanson in 1994 comedy Dumb and Dumber, opposite Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. The next year she was Greg Kinnear's fiancée in the remake of Audrey Hepburn classic Sabrina, which also starred Harrison Ford. In 1999's Any Given Sunday she played Dennis Quaid's unsympathetic wife. By 2000 she'd been promoted to ex-wife, playing Mel Gibson's in What Women Want.

Holly's pre-NCIS TV career saw glimmers of success. After a three-year run on daytime drama All My Children, she played a sheriff's deputy in crime drama Picket Fences, which ran for four seasons, and like Mark Harmon and Rocky Carroll, she played a doctor in Chicago Hope. Prior to her NCIS role, Holly appeared in one episode of CSI: Miami in 2003.

After leaving NCIS, Holly stuck with the crime genre, playing medical examiner Dr. Betty Rogers in Motive, which ran for four seasons. She also appeared in the last season of thriller Designated Survivor, opposite Kiefer Sutherland and Natascha McElhone. She's still working hard, in an even more brutal setting: next she'll be in Tiny Pretty Things, a series about a ballet school.