People are ‘dying’ to play an autopsy cadaver on the hit CBS show NCIS, but actors must have a strong constitution to do so.
According to some of the CBS show’s stars, playing an autopsy d3ad body on NCIS is a bad experience – in fact, it could be the worst job on TV. NCIS, which began as a JAG spinoff, is now in its 19th season and has seen many character changes over the years—Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs recently left after Mark Harmon left the show as a series regular. Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, who appeared alongside Gibbs in the pilot episode “Yankee White,” left the show in season 13.
Whatever happens with the cast, one thing is almost always guaranteed on any NCIS episode: a d3ad body or two. Any found in suspicious circumstances will have a team of special agents from the Naval Cr1minal Investigative Service grab their equipment and work together to solve the case. After the team — which includes special agents Timothy McGee (Sean Murray), Nick Torres (Wilmer Valderrama), and Jessica Knight (Katrina Law), as well as current gaffer Alden Parker (Gary Cole), who did not replace Gibbs — works the cr1me scene, the d3ad bodies are returned to NCIS headquarters for Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen) to work his magic.
Many of the corpses are played by in-the-flesh actors, which may surprise viewers who have wondered whether they are fake or real. On the surface, the job appears to be a simple one, but it entails a lot more than simply lying still. Over the years, some of the CBS show’s stars have admitted that it is a difficult and uncomfortable role to play, and lying on a cold metal table in the depths of the autopsy room is more than just “playing d3ad” – especially on a long filming day.
“People are dying to be d3ad people on this show,” executive producer Mark Horowitz revealed in a behind-the-scenes episode titled “Inside NCIS Autopsy: Bodies of Work.” When possible, we like to use a real person to play the d3ad body because, while prosthetic bodies are truly remarkable — you can get very close to them and they look completely realistic — there’s something about real skin, the way light bounces off of it, that just feels more real than makeup.” This is especially true for members of the cadaver cast who were not hired specifically for this role as an extra.
No one will ever forget Caitlin Todd’s (Sasha Alexander) sh0cking d3ath in season 2, when she spoke to Dr Donald “Ducky” Mallard from the grave. “I tell them, I am very upfront, I say it’s horrible, this is the worst job you’ll ever have,” Mark continues. I try to catch the faint of heart as soon as possible. And we talk about claustrophobia if they’re going to be in one of these sliding doors.”
Mark is not the only member of the team who discourages prospective candidates. Dietzen, who plays Ducky’s successor, shared his thoughts on the unwelcoming environment. “You’re on a cold, metal table, almost naked, with a very hot light shining on your private area,” the actor explained. And you must hold your breath and remain motionless while we film.” (Image courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch). During an interview, McCallum echoed this sentiment. “These poor actors and actresses come along and lie on a steel table, and so our main concern with the bodies is to keep them warm, happy, and let them go home in one piece,” he said. (Source: CBS News)
While the NCIS role may appear to be a bad gig, for some actors, it has helped them overcome a life-long phobia. Petty Officer Lamar Finn (season 13, episode 16, “Loose Cannons”), played by actor Walter Fauntleroy, “overcame claustrophobia as he was moved in and out of the autopsy room’s cadaver drawer.” (Source: Twitter.)
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