After more than 20 years on television, “NCIS” has surely made an impression on audiences everywhere. “And I didn’t know how massive it was until I started traveling abroad,” actress Cote de Pablo, who played Ziva David, told American Latino. “People are invested in these characters.”
Long before de Pablo ever found fame on the iconic drama, she was growing up in South America and had never dreamed of acting — even though show business was in her blood. Her mother was a late night talk show host in Chile, so it would only make sense that de Pablo would soon find herself on television, too.
Many fans know de Pablo as Special Agent Ziva David from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. “But my real name is María José de Pablo Fernández Chicharro Grace,” she revealed. There’s probably a lot of other things you never knew about her stunning transformation in the spotlight either.
Cote de Pablo spent most of her childhood in Chile
When Cote de Pablo was 10 years old, her mother got a call that would change both of their lives forever. She was offered a job to host a television show in Miami, Florida – which meant de Pablo and her two siblings had to pack up their bags and leave their hometown of Santiago, Chile.
“I missed my country and my friends terribly,” de Pablo admitted, recalling when she arrived in the U.S. during an interview with Prevention. There was one reason in particular that made the move especially difficult, too. “It wasn’t till I got to the United States that I learned to speak English,” the actress admitted.
Luckily, she quickly found a place for herself at her performing arts high school. “I had always been interested in the arts, but performing became even more important because it was a way to communicate with people in my new country,” de Pablo said — and it was also what would eventually help send her off into stardom.
She followed in her mother’s famous footsteps
As Cote de Pablo’s mother was busy making moves with her new talk show, the world of entertainment began taking notice of her young daughter, too. After a producer saw a photo of de Pablo on her mother’s desk, he asked if the teenager would be interested in being on television. At the time, de Pablo had no interest in ever appearing on the small screen, as she told Univision.com – yet, producers wouldn’t stop asking.
Eventually, de Pablo agreed to come in to screen test to be a host for the Spanish-speaking magazine show “Control.” As soon as casting directors saw her, she was immediately offered the job alongside Carlos Ponce. She was just 14 years old. “I interviewed some pretty phenomenal people on that show in the Latin world,” she explained on American Latino. It was then, presumably, that the performing bug bit her hard. “If I could make a living by singing and acting and doing musicals, that’s what I wanted to do,” she told Carnegie Mellon Today.
She studied musical theater at Carnegie Mellon
While Cote de Pablo was busy attending high school and hosting a national television show, she was also focused on finding the perfect place to attend college. After researching practically every musical theater program in the country, she discovered Carnegie Mellon and immediately knew there was something special about it. “I said, ‘That’s my school, that’s where I’m going,'” she later told Carnegie Mellon Today.
In addition to learning all about both singing and acting, de Pablo realized that she had really found her place around other people who were interested in theater — particularly her professors. “They could see things in me I may not have seen at the time,” she said, adding, “I always felt like they understood me. I was pretty complex: I was an immigrant, and my family was very far away.” Yet, her school’s support system made her certain that she wanted to tackle theater professionally.
In 2000, de Pablo graduated with her degree in musical theater.
Cote de Pablo almost ended up on Broadway
Once Cote de Pablo graduated from college, landing a role on Broadway was her next big goal. While she waited for her big break from her Brooklyn apartment, she took up small roles on various television shows. She appeared in an episode of “The $treet” and “The Education of Max Bickford” before landing a recurring role on a drama called “The Jury.”
She showed off her singing in NCIS
To start off Season 6 of “NCIS,” the writers had a special surprise in store for Cote de Pablo. They wanted her character to sing a song called “Temptation” on the show. While the musical theater graduate was excited for the opportunity to showcase her voice, she wasn’t happy to be doing it as Ziva David. “I remember I fought it a little bit,” de Pablo admitted during an interview on BUILD Series. “I was like, ‘Really? I mean, she’s really good at, like, kicking butt, but singing? Like, really singing?'”
After a bit of back and forth, de Pablo decided to make the most of the opportunity she had been given. “It turned out to be a really fun moment,” she said. “I enjoyed it tremendously, and the fans really liked it.” In fact, she later went on to show off her voice in the film “The 33,” as well.
The actress opted to pursue other projects
In 2013, Season 11 of “NCIS” made its debut — and that’s when the writers threw Cote de Pablo’s character quite a curveball. “They were going to send her back to, you know, Israel and make her an unfortunate, miserable woman,” the actress revealed during a 2016 Q&A. After all these years of playing such a strong female character, de Pablo didn’t think it was right for audiences to see Ziva essentially giving up on her dreams. “I felt, or I perceived, the character was not being treated with the respect she deserved,” she said, so she left the show altogether and went on to take roles in different kinds of projects. She appeared in “The 33,” “Prototype,” “Seneca,” and a short film called “The Crossing.”
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