AceShowbiz - Mark Harmon has finally addressed his exit from "NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service" last fall. The 70-year-old actor, who played Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on the CBS series for 19 seasons, broke his silence about the departure for the first time during an interview featured in the season 19 DVD release.
"What has always drawn me here is the character I play and to keep it fresh and to keep it challenging," Harmon shared. "Plot-wise, this character has taken the path that it did. I thought it was honest and OK with."
In the interview, the actor also assured fans that his beloved character is "not retired." He noted, "The character is living in Alaska as far as I know."
Harmon starred on the series since its premiere in 2003 and remained on the show until 2021. In Harmon's final episode on "NCIS" titled "Great Wide Open", Gibbs informed his partner, Timothy McGee (Sean Murray), that he intended to stay in Alaska after solving a case there.
"I'm not going back home. … This sense of peace, I have not had this since [my wife] Shannon and [daughter] Kelly died and I'm not ready to let it go," Gibbs told McGee, "I could not have hoped for anyone better to watch my back for the past 18 years than you."
Following the episode, executive producer and showrunner Steve Binder addressed Harmon's exit in a statement. Praising the actor for his commitment to the series, he said at the time, "As an executive producer and dear friend, Mark continues to be an integral part of the fabric of the show."
Binder continued, "Our north star has always been staying true to our characters, and that truth has always guided the stories we tell and where those characters go. So regarding the future of Gibbs, as longtime fans of the show may have noticed over the years … never count Leroy Jethro Gibbs out."
After "NCIS" wrapped up its season 19 in May, Binder hinted that the possibility of Harmon returning to the show wasn't completely out of the question. "There's always head space for him to come back," he teased. "It just has to be the right story, I think, to get him excited about it and to get us excited about it. … It's a card to play, and I don't think we want to play it cheaply. I think when we do play it, it really needs to be the right thing."
"We work on a different timeline than other shows. Other shows maybe have a year or two or they don't know how much time they're gonna have. We just, for rightly or wrongly, operate on a much longer time scale for these things than other shows do," he added.
Binder also said that Gibbs is currently in "this magical place," explaining, "I saw him in a river, happy, which I never see him as, smiling with a knife in his pocket and fish in the boat. That's how I imagine him, and that's how I want to keep imagining him. And so when we do bring his memory alive, it's always the ghost of Gibbs at 'NCIS' and not necessarily where specifically he is now."