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Why Agent Paula Cassidy From NCIS Looks So Familiar

Over the course of the long history of "NCIS," the show has provided work for numerous actors, which only makes sense given that CBS' police procedural has been on the air for 19 seasons and counting. These guest appearances have resulted in a large number of interesting recurring characters — including NCIS Special Agent Paula Cassidy, who was introduced in Season 1, Episode 8 ("Minimum Security"). In that episode, her name first comes up in connection with the investigation of a sailor who died while driving with a stomach full of emeralds.

The investigation brings NCIS Special Agent in Charge Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and two of his crew to Guantanamo Bay, where they quickly meet Cassidy. While NCIS Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) is attracted to her, Gibbs takes a more antagonistic approach, telling her, "We're in the same agency, not on the same team." Eventually, though, his team accepts her help in apprehending an assassin. She becomes involved with them on a few more occasions, such as when she fills in for a week after the death of NCIS Special Agent Caitlin Todd (Sasha Alexander). Cassidy is presented as a competent agent who is nevertheless prone to occasional judgment errors. In Season 4, Episode 19 ("Grace Period"), she is killed when she sacrifices herself in order to save Gibbs and DiNozzo.

In the years since her "NCIS" exit, Jessica Steen, the actress who played Cassidy, has had only nice things to say about the series. "[Being on 'NCIS'] was a lot of things and I really appreciate having been able to be there, and it was fun to see the different players on that show," Steen said (via Showbiz Cheat Sheet). "It was an honor to be on that show." 

You might also be familiar with her work on other projects.

She was a Brooklyn high school student in 1989's Sing

According to her online biography, Jessica Steen has been acting since she was 8 years old (via JessicaSteen.com). Her IMDb profile shows that her first roles were Canadian, including guest roles in "The Littlest Hobo" and "SCTV Channel." Her first regular role on television was with the one-season syndicated television series "Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future," in which she played Jennifer "Pilot" Chase in 1987-88. In the series, the character is part of a team fighting the role of the machine-obsessed Lord Dread (David Hemblen) in a dystopian future (via A.V. Club). 

However, almost immediately after, she appeared in a 1989 musical feature film called "Sing" opposite Lorraine Bracco and Peter Dobson. In the movie, she played Hannah Gottschalk, a Jewish high school student at a dying school in a bleak neighborhood, forced into proximity with neighborhood Italian bad boy Dominic (Dobson) as they lead the traditional "Sing!" musical production. The TriStar Pictures movie was a flop, earning just $2.2 million during its run (per Box Office Mojo) — despite the involvement of stars like Patti LaBelle and Cuba Gooding Jr., plus Michael Bolton, Art Garfunkel, Nia Peeples, and Richard Marx on the soundtrack (via IMDb). 

The movie was written by "Fame" and "Footloose"'s Dean Pitchford and received mixed reviews. Notably, when reviewing the film, Roger Ebert said, "Since absolutely everything in 'Sing' is completely predictable, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the movie."

She played a pilot in Armageddon

In the '90s, Jessica Steen enjoyed recurring roles on ABC shows like "Loving" and "Murder One," and also guest-starred in other network television series like "Due South," "Touched by an Angel," "ER," and "Herman's Head." She also had a few regular roles, including in the NBC sci-fi drama "Earth 2" as Dr. Julia Heller, a young doctor on the colonists' mission who turns out to be a spy. Additionally, she regularly starred in "Homefront," an ABC series focused on a group of GIs adjusting to civilian life after the end of World War 2. However, the place you most likely saw her before in the latter part of this decade is the Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck-led "Armageddon."

German publication Cinema reported in 1998 (as translated by her fan site) that she was cast by producer Jerry Bruckheimer on the strength of her previous role on "Captain Power." In the Michael Bay-directed film, she played supporting character Jennifer Watts, an Air Force pilot who flies the space shuttle Freedom. "I never venture onto the asteroid surface, where there are explosions, fissures, geysers, and earthquakes. But, even on the ship, there's a great deal of action because we're flying around, and I'm running around a lot," Steen told Starlog Magazine (as reported by JessicaSteen.net). "I've never been covered in more bruises in my life than I was the week we shot inside the shuttle for the asteroid landing sequence."

She took a role as a genius in Disney's Smart House

One year after "Armageddon," Jessica Steen made an appearance in a Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM). By this time, she was no stranger to Disney productions, having previously guest-starred in both 1986's "Young Again" and 1998's "Principal Takes A Holiday." However, "Smart House" quickly entered into a category of its own. Indeed, upon its release, the 1999 TV movie topped many critics' lists of best DCOMs (via Entertainment Weekly). Even today, some critics still call the film one of Disney's best of the era.

In "Smart House," Steen played Sara Barnes, a genius who creates a smart home run by a virtual personal assistant named Pat (Katey Sagal). Sara has had bad luck with dating, but a mutual attraction soon develops between her and Nick Cooper (Kevin Kilner), the father of the family who just won her house in a contest. Nick's son, Ben (Ryan Merriman), doesn't like this, leading him to take steps to take care of his family without any outsiders butting in. In response to Ben's discomfort, Pat takes over the house entirely and traps the Coopers inside. With Sara's help, Ben is eventually able to overcome the AI.

LeVar Burton directed the cult-classic film, which has been called prescient for its depiction of an AI-enhanced house. "I think that in successful science fiction there should be something about the storytelling that causes us to reflect on who we are, and how we're doing at being humans," Burton said (via MarketPlace). "That was the flaw in 'Smart House,' the kid was looking for the technology to fulfill a need that only a human being could. And the result was, as you might predict, disastrous."

She had a high-profile role in Stargate SG-1, but didn't make it to the spin-off

Throughout the 2000s, Jessica Steen appeared in short roles in everything from "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" to "Supernatural" and "Charmed." She also made one high-profile guest appearance in "Stargate SG-1," originating the role of civilian diplomat Elizabeth Weir in the two-hour Season 7 episode "The Lost City." Although some fans appeared to like her portrayal, Steen ultimately did not return when the character was spun off into the series "Stargate: Atlantis." In the latter series, the character was instead played by Torri Higginson (via IMDb).

In an interview with the Dial the Gate podcast, Steen attributed her departure to two things: her perceived obnoxiousness in asking producers questions about the franchise and her love for Burning Man, where she produced a theme camp for years. She admits this may have led them to think she wouldn't give 100 percent to the franchise, which she hadn't been familiar with prior to her casting. She said she quickly learned to love the cast and crew and was hurt by having been misunderstood. 

A later meeting with "Stargate" producer John Smith confirmed her take. According to Steen, she told him, "My commitment to [Burning Man] is the commitment I would show to the show. And, unfortunately, no one ever had the conversation with me. I was unceremoniously let go without explanation. And he said, 'I think there are regrets about that, the way that went down.'"

She has appeared as an important recurring character in Heartland since 2007

Many of Jessica Steen's more significant older projects aren't readily available via streaming. Sadly, despite an online petition, 1989's "Sing" never even officially made it to DVD, and the "Captain Power" DVD is currently only available at resale prices. However, since 2007, Steen has appeared as a recurring fixture on the Canadian Broadcasting Company TV series "Heartland," which in 2015 became the longest-running drama in the country's history (via CBC). As of 2022, the series has released a total of 234 episodes across a whole 15 seasons. To date, Steen has appeared in 103 episodes of the series, which is a little less than half of the total number.

In the series, Steen plays Lisa Stillman, the owner of a racing thoroughbred breeding facility who eventually marries the rock of the Fleming family, Jack (Shaun Johnston). "There are so many moving parts on 'Heartland,' there are so many characters and so many sort of sections of the family doing different things, so they kind of alternate between cast members and guest stars ... It's got three storylines generally running per episode and so I'm very happy to be there when I'm there," she told Rave It Up TV about her schedule in 2020. 

This allows her to travel and to continue working on other projects, such as the 2021 Netflix miniseries "Maid" and Hallmark movies like "Chateau Christmas" and "Matching Hearts." With this busy schedule, it seems safe to say that even if you don't think Steen looks familiar by this point, you'll probably see her in other projects to come.