Before NCIS And Bull This Was Michael Weatherly’s Life
On September 23, 2003, “NCIS” made its television debut. Contrary to popular belief that the series was meant to be a derivative of “JAG” based on the episodes “Ice Queen” and “Meltdown,” its creator Donald P. Bellisario held a different opinion. “JAG is an older audience,” Bellisario said of his other brainchild, which ended its run in 2005. “This is going to be a hipper show for a younger audience.” Bellisario managed to pull a viewership in the millions, and in 2022 recorded an all-time high of 9.98 million, per The Hollywood Reporter. As the show’s numbers rose over time, so did the popularity of its characters.
Michael Weatherly, playing the “very special agent” Anthony “Tony” DiNozzo quickly won the hearts of viewers as Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ (Mark Harmon) invaluable No. 2. To put his level of fame into perspective, Weatherly narrated an encounter with a young fan during an appearance on LIVE! with Kelly. The lone boy, who’d been trailing him while he was on holiday in Serbia, managed to ask in a deep husky tone, “Is it true you are Michael Weatherly?” and went on to comment on his looks.
Sadly, Weatherly called it a day in 2016, only to return as the trial science lead, Dr. Jason Bull on “Bull,” much to the excitement of his diehard fanatics. That, too, ran its course. Of course, he had a life before his talent was broadcast in at least 200 countries, per Entertainment Tonight. Here’s what it looked like.
Michael Weatherly had a well-to-do upbringing
Michael Weatherly had a Connecticut childhood in a family whose pockets run deep. “My father was the importer of the Swiss army knife from 1973 about to the late ’80s,” he revealed on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” In another life, Weatherly would have followed in his businessman dad’s footsteps.
At a young age, he established that he could make a profit by reselling the knives. “I caught on to this idea that I could actually get that knife which was retailing for like $50 for $7,” Weatherly narrated, as Colbert listened in amusement. His target market during that phase — students — landed him in trouble, but Weatherly was in for an unexpected surprise when his school principal wanted to buy the rare product.
Not that Weatherly’s childhood was always a smooth sail. In his early teens, his mother had him attend Camp Challenge to expose him to a life he wasn’t accustomed to. He described the life-changing experience to the Chicago Tribune. “I had to canoe, fight, build my own ax, learn to read a topographic map, compass and we had something called ’24-hour survival,’ where they left us in the woods alone for 24 hours and you had to find food, build a lean-to,” he said.
Thoughts on his appearance as a teen
When Michael Weatherly was shown a picture of himself as a teenager during a stop on Entertainment Tonight, he couldn’t help but liken himself to Hillary Clinton at Yale. A much younger Weatherly was sporting a set of full bangs that covered his entire forehead and ended right at the edge of thin, wide-lens glasses.[0:55] “This is not a guy who had an easy time,” he remarked. “I look like a guy who just finished eating the entire cake mix.” Weatherly further dissected his look in a chat with TV Guide, saying, “I was the kid with long hair and glasses and acne trying to learn how to play guitar and piano in the music center.”
He wasn’t popular, either, he let the publication know. He stopped engaging in any athletic activity in his mid-teens and ended up being the guy who “was carrying water buckets for the girls’ hockey team in boarding school.” Nevertheless, Weatherly was already a student of the art of acting, as he recalled in an interview with Futon Critic.”… I also think that strangely, kids, 14, 15-year-old kids, this is exactly the age that I was watching “Magnum, P.I.” and completely enjoying the kind of silly banter, like ‘is that how grown-ups talk?’” Despite having no clue about storylines at that age, Weatherly got a good grasp of what made a character tick.
Michael Weatherly got his small screen start on The Cosby Show
Years before Michael Weatherly gained notoriety as a Major Case Response Team (MCRT) senior, he was Theodore Huxtable’s ( Malcolm-Jamal Warner) roommate on “The Cosby Show.” In the episode dubbed “Theo’s Final Final,” Huxtable ditches his studying plans to go to a party where his roommate is in attendance (via Metacritic).
Although Weatherly’s character remains uncredited, a snippet from the episode shows him blowing up a pink balloon which bursts unexpectedly. In a different scene, he’s getting a shoulder massage which prompts Huxtable to express his desire for a gentle rub. Speaking to the New York Post, Weatherly harked back to his cluelessness at the time. “It was my very first acting job,” he said. “I got that job and a role as a preppy killer on “Guiding Light” in the fall of 1990. I didn’t know my ass from my elbow.”
Weatherly may have also landed himself on Bill Cosby’s bad books with a joke that wasn’t well received. “I taped a subway token on my forehead during rehearsals and Cosby said, “What’s that?” I said, “I’m the token white guy,” he narrated. “They did not invite me back.” There was a silver lining in the experience anyway, as he said on TV Guide, “‘Cosby’ allowed me to have something on my resume that was real.”
There were financial struggles in his early acting years
Prior to getting on Forbes’ list of television’s highest earners, Michael Weatherly was a typical starving artist with empty pockets. During his appearance on LIVE! with Kelly, he relived the deplorable housing conditions he endured when he first got started. “I lived in an apartment in Chelsea where I had two roommates—they each had bedrooms and I slept in the storage closet,” Weatherly disclosed. The setting, he went on to say, made dating difficult.
Early on, Weatherly’s try at acting looked like it was dead on arrival. Several promising shows never made it past the piloting phase. “One of the first pilots I did was an Aaron Spelling pilot [“PIER 66”]. I thought, “Aaron Spelling! That guy makes hit television!” Weatherly divulged to Assignment X. “That didn’t get picked up.” Similarly, the first episode of a Chris Columbus show didn’t make the cut at a time when the legendary filmmaker was supposedly on top of his game.
Even when things looked up and Weatherly’s career appeared to be gaining momentum, he ran into the same money problems when “The City” got canceled. Then in his late twenties, he also had a wife and a child. “I was 27 and could barely take care of myself, but I had to feed people and put a roof over their heads,” Weatherly explained to People. The financial strain and time spent away in search of an income played a part in his divorce.
He was friends with Kelly Ripa
When he was still an up-and-coming actor, Michael Weatherly and one of television’s most popular co-hosts Kelly Ripa worked within neighboring studios. The pair had a heartwarming one-on-one upon Weatherly’s appearance on LIVE! with Kelly, during which they looked back on the good —and not-so-pleasant on Weatherly’s part—old times.
“Michael and I go the way back, the way…way back,” Ripa mentioned. “When I was on “All My Children” and you were on ‘Loving.’” According to Ripa, actors from both productions often got together in between shoots. The fact was co-signed by Weatherly, who remembered a much younger Ripa as quite the brave spirit. “You were a spunky … spunky girl,” he opined. “A lot of energy coming out of the Ripa.”
Ripa, on the other hand, let out a well-kept Weatherly hidden talent; singing. He often practiced in the subway and would be credited for writing “NCIS” soundtracks years later.
He married his The City co-star
“The City,” a short-lived extension of ABC’s “Loving,” which was centered in the make-believe town of Corinth, PA, aired from 1995 to 1997. Michael Weatherly had an 11-episode-run reprising his “Loving” character Cooper Alden, during the course of which he crossed paths with his would-be wife, Amelia Heinle. “We met on that soap and that was really a fun point in my life,” Heinle said of Weatherly, with whom she had a son, in an interview with Soap Opera Digest.
To Weatherly’s recollection, however, his initial try at marriage was a train wreck that was dead on arrival.[0:12] “It was like the early rocket test for NASA,” he detailed when he appeared on “The Queen Latifah Show.” “It was a lot of … just launchpad disaster.” The two-or-so-year union, according to Weatherly’s conversation with People, was burdensome, but it set a better foundation for him to get it right when he tied the knot again.
He landed free lunch as Sean Patrick Flanery’s doppelgänger
Of mistaken identities, Michael Weatherly had a fair share of fans who confused him for other actors. In a sit-down with TV Guide, Weatherly revealed that he’d been thought to be BAFTA nominee and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” actor George Peppard by a woman in her early ’90s who was ailing mentally. She resided in a retirement home.
On a separate occasion, a visually impaired enthusiast felt that Weatherly’s features were similar to those of Lisa Whelchel who portrayed the character Blair Warner on the “Diff’rent Strokes” spin-off and long-running NBC series “The Facts of Life.”
Weatherly was also incorrectly singled out in Canada. This time, however, he had a hunch that he’d score a free meal ticket which turned out to be true. “Sean Patrick Flanery,” he gave away. “In Planet Hollywood Vancouver, 1998. And they were like ‘What are you having?’ and I’m like ‘Hamburger, bottle of wine, French fries, calamari … maybe a salad.’”
He first gained significant recognition on Dark Angel
Right before he got his big biggest break on “NCIS,” Michael Weatherly won himself a substantial fanbase by playing Logan Cale in the hit series “Dark Angel.” As the tech guru confined to a wheelchair, otherwise known as “Eyes Only,” Cale was as notorious for fighting corruption as he was for the chemistry he shared with the show’s protagonist, Max Guevara (Jessica Alba), per IMDb.
Choosing the role was an effortless task for Weatherly. The line-up of actors and crew made it one easy yes, as he conveyed in a conversation with Entertainment Tonight. “You’ve heard of the … you know, the people associated with the show. There’s the boat guy [James Cameron], and there is the, you know the “Murder One” guy [Charles H. Eglee] and there is … there’s Jessica Alba,” He gushed. Weatherly’s bet on elite talent paid off with three award nominations; two consecutive Saturn Awards as the Best Supporting Actor and a single Teen Choice Award for Choice Actor.
He felt inadequate as an actor
Acting wasn’t a glorified career path in the eyes of Michael Weatherly. At least that’s how he felt when he was still trying to find a footing. He was also disturbed by the fact that he was a college dropout, yet he came from a family of intellectuals. “My father and mother are both very smart people and I always felt I was a little short of the mark,” Weatherly let out when TV Guide caught up with him in 2010. “I thought people thought I was stupid.”
The feeling of insufficiency forced him to overcompensate by people pleasing, either through his acting roles or in real life. “I always thought I had to try and impress people and be really smart because I was always insecure about not finishing school,” Weatherly revealed.
Playing Logan Cale, a nerdy character, certified him as a no-nonsense actor (or so he thought during that period).” He’s wearing glasses, he’s in a wheelchair, he’s a computer genius. He’s very far away from who I am, but I really wanted to play roles where I’d be taken seriously,” he told the media outlet.
Michael Weatherly was in a relationship with Jessica Alba
Michael Weatherly and The Honest Company founder Jessica Alba’s perfect gelling extended well beyond the set of “Dark Angel.” They were lovers off-air. “I was so young, 18, when I started dating him,” Alba relayed in a 2005 conversation with Cosmopolitan. She also disclosed that she lost her virginity to Weatherly. “I knew I wanted to be in love with the first person I slept with, because for almost everyone I knew, the first experience made them feel like s**t,” Alba told the publication.
Alba and Weatherly got engaged in 200, per ABC. She raved about her fiancé on “The Rosie O’ Donnell Show.” “He’s the best man in the world. He really is. And he has the most amazing heart and he’s a great, great, person.” Alba said. Unfortunately, things went south and the engagement was called off. Alba was wounded so much that she swore off going out with a fellow performer.
He almost turned down his NCIS role
Although Michael Weatherly built a massive following as Tony DiNozzo—the lustful “friend of the ladies” with a flavorsome popular culture vocabulary backed by hardcore Baltimore beginnings, per Charactour — he nearly passed the “NCIS” role. “I was a little reluctant initially,” Weatherly disclosed in a long dialogue with The Futon Critic. “The notion of a “JAG” spin-off, which if you remove the word “spin” is how I believe it was referred to by certain people. So there was like stigma attached to it already.”
It took a meal with the show’s creator, Don Bellisario for Weatherly to give it a go.” His personality, his storytelling and his presence and everything kind of won me over,” Weatherly said, adding that it was somewhat surprising that he was picked as first choice. In his eyes, “Sunset Beach” actor Eddie Cibrian was a potential fit.
Perhaps he was shortsighted in his vision then, since DiNozzo’s life eventually intertwined with his own. Just like the character, Weatherly found and walked down the aisle with the love of his life, a doctor.
He had a decade-long goal of being on The Ellen DeGeneres Show
There are levels to being a celebrity and proven incidences that confirm the theory. Former “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah brought everything into perspective when he revisited the early years of his Met Gala appearances on “Pay Back the Funny.” To quote him, Noah said of being unrecognized by a section of the paparazzi, “They looked at me the way you look at food that has just arrived at your table, but no one has ordered it.”
A second mark of elite celebrity — often said in low tones but never publicly claimed — would have been an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” right around the time she dominated daytime television. “Sorry” hit singer Justin Bieber held the record for the most appearances by a public figure —27 — by the time DeGeneres’ show went off the air, per People.
Throughout his career, Michael Weatherly had a longing to stamp his celebrity status by having a sit-down with the renowned former talk show host. [2:15]”This is the culmination of a decade’s dream,” Weatherly said when he finally nailed his goal. He further revealed that those around him, especially his family, had offered their support by tuning in to “NCIS” so that he could get famous enough to live his dream.
Michael Weatherly portrayed Robert Wagner in a film
Michael Weatherly and Robert Wagner may have found a solid fanbase playing each other’s kins on “NCIS,” but before they graced the screens as the father-son duo Antony DiNozzo and Anthony Dinozzo Sr., the pair already had an on-screen connection.
Weatherly portrayed Robert Wagner in the 2004 biographical release “The Mystery of Natalie Wood.” Wood, a child actor who grew popular in the ’40s following her portrayal of Susan Walker in “Miracle on 34th Street,” married Wagner in 1957. They pair would later divorce and remarry, staying together until Wood’s cold case death.
Although Wood’s biopic premiered after the release of “NCIS,” its filming happened before Weatherly’s star status. As he told the New York Post, he was by and large a Robert Wagner devotee. “I have a man-crush on RJ. I was just a big fan,” Weatherly gave away. “Obviously I had spent some time studying him [for the TV movie], so I was just thrilled when they said that he’s going to be on it [NCIS]. I couldn’t stop smiling for a few hours.”