If smallscreen mainstay Mark Harmon feels “a little uncomfortable with” receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, it’s not out of any disdain for the honor.
It’s just that the star UCLA Bruin quarterback and son of football royalty (Heisman winner Tom Harmon) is least comfortable standing apart, waiting to have the ball snapped to him.
His 10 years on hot drama “NCIS” have been “a team game,” he insists, and “I’m a team guy. I don’t get the ego thing, I never have, and you can credit my parents for that.”
While the Heisman Trophy went unremarked on the desk, dad and mom (actress Elyse Knox) taught Mark, “If you’re good enough, people will talk about you and you won’t have to.”
People didn’t talk much about actor Harmon for a while, once the UCLA glory days ended.
“In the beginning, if you needed someone to take his shirt off and kiss the pretty girl, that was me. If you needed someone to say, ‘Ma’am, can I see your license?’ and get shot, that was me.”
Yet he swears, “You know what? I was thrilled with all those roles. … I got the part! The idea is to work.” Eventually his dreamy, straight-arrow looks helped win him an Emmy-nominated role on “Eleanor and Franklin” and a chilling TV-movie turn as serial killer Ted Bundy.
He credits the on-set lessons he received from veteran Hollywood talent, especially indefatigable Ozzie Nelson (whose family Mark’s sister had married into). Karl Malden told him, “”I’ve been watching you. You look like you like to learn. Do you like to learn? I like to teach. How about I’m your teacher?”
“I’m still learning,” Harmon insists.
The call up to the Big Show — on the spot, after a cold reading — came from “St. Elsewhere,” where his plastic surgeon character Dr. Bobby Caldwell eventually made history as the first primetime lead character to contract, and die of, then a mysterious disease called AIDS.
“At the time it was really risky,” Harmon recalls, “but years later it was something people talk about and remember.” Typically, he tips his cap to the writers: “What they were saying about that character was simply not being done at that time.”
Between bigscreen forays, the journeyman thesp kept popping into hit series such as “Chicago Hope” and “The West Wing.” When co-star Allison Janney warned him (correctly), “You and I are getting along too well, they’re going to kill you” on the White House drama, he was philosophical.
“You play the role, and that’s all I’ve ever tried to do. I’m a role player,” he explains.
The same, he maintains, was true on the gridiron.
“My job was to get the ball to the guy who could do the most with it, without involving my ego. And if you got drilled but could pitch the ball to someone who could get another eight yards, that’s what you did,” he recalls. “In some ways, that’s what I’m doing now.”
Though Harmon is unquestionably the “NCIS” marquee player in his richest, darkest role yet as “damaged goods” Agent Gibbs, he still passes the ball to teammates.
“Honest to God, I don’t care who’s No. 1 on the call sheet,” he says. “I don’t care how big my trailer is. I’m here to be a job, do it well and be a part of this whole team. I’m not here to stand out. On this show, there’s always someone here longer and working harder than I am.”
His averred goal “is to make actors who come here and miss this place when they leave.” To that end he successfully lobbied to have the entire production brought to the set in the northern part of Los Angeles County, in Santa Clarita, and away from Hollywood hurly-burly.
“You want to sit down with the editors and discuss something, they’re here. It’s like a family.” Or a sports team.
“I’ve never been the most talented, as an athlete or as an actor,” Harmon admits, “but I understand the work ethic. I try hard but make mistakes all the time and try to better those mistakes. My daily thing is to learn something today that I didn’t know yesterday, and that’s the way I intend to live the rest of my life. That’s the way I play the game.”