NCIS Star on Veterans: ‘It takes a family’
Sean Murray is bringing awareness to the sacrifice of our nation’s military
By Brady Rhoades
To truly understand NCIS star Sean Murray and his commitment to veterans, you have to go back to 1990–1991.
Murray—Special Agent Tim McGee to most of you—was a teenager. The hottest rock ‘n’ roll band in America was Nirvana. The top rated TV show was Cheers. Driving Miss Daisy and Dances with Wolves hit the big screen. Saddam Hussein was alive and brutal as ever, expanding his empire into Kuwait, where his forces rampaged through the tiny, oil-rich country.
Murray hadn’t seen his father, a captain in the U.S. Navy, in seven months. He couldn’t wait for him to come home from his assignment in the Middle East. Then President George H. W. Bush, after giving Hussein several chances to get his forces out of Kuwait, instructed our Armed Forces to prepare for war, and Murray’s father turned around his ship. President Bush, with the approval of Congress, declared war on Iraq.
Murray listened as a television broadcaster echoed the news. America is at war! “He’s talking about my father,” the young Murray said.
Fast forward 25 years after America’s victory in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Murray is using his celebrity to help veterans and their families. It’s a priority in his life. “As I get older … for me personally, I realize those ideals my father had. I inherited that. The right way to do things.” That means discipline. It means a strong work ethic. And it means giving back to the veterans who have given so much to the country.
Currently, Murray is talking with the Navy Marine Relief Society. He wants to help not just veterans, but their support system: the families. The latter part is personal to him; he knows what’s it’s like to wait and worry while a loved one is out there in a dangerous world defending our country.
“A lot of people say, ‘I support our troops,’ but they don’t realize what it takes, and the support system,” Murray said. “The mothers especially, and the spouses.”
Through the Navy Marine Relief Society, he’s planning on arranging events that raise money to help veterans who return home with injuries such as missing limbs or PTSD. He also wants to drop onto aircraft carriers and meet with the troops, even if it’s just to bring them some cheer. He makes numerous anonymous donations to veteran causes.
And he regularly meets with veterans on the set of NCIS, a show that is popular with veterans—and millions of others—because it’s about a Naval Criminal Investigative Service. First Lady Michelle Obama is also a fan; she appeared on a show earlier this year in conjunction with her Joining Forces effort, a nationwide initiative supporting service members, veterans and their families.
All the cast members of the show support veterans (Murray says star Mark Harmon is “indefatigable” in his efforts). Extras on the program are actual military personnel. Veterans show up for tours. “There’s a patriotism with our show, and that bodes well with the people in the military,” Murray said.
NCIS is an American action police procedural television series, centered on a fictional team of special agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which investigates crimes involving the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
The concept and characters were initially introduced in two episodes of the CBS series JAG (season eight episodes 20 and 21: “Ice Queen” and “Meltdown”). The show, a spin-off from JAG, premiered on Sept. 23, 2003, on CBS. To date it has aired for 13 seasons and has gone into broadcast syndication on the USA Network and Cloo.
It is the second longest-running scripted, non-animated U.S. primetime TV series airing, surpassed only by Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999–present), and is the 15th longest-running scripted U.S. primetime TV series overall. NCIS was referred to as Navy NCIS during season one; “Navy” was later dropped from the title. In season six, a two-part episode led to a spin-off series, NCIS: Los Angeles. A two-part episode during the 11th season led to a second spin-off series, NCIS: New Orleans.
While initially slow in the ratings, barely cracking the Top 30 in the first four seasons, by its sixth season, it became a top five hit, and has remained there since. In 2011, NCIS was voted America’s favorite television show. The series finished its 10th season as the most-watched television series in the U.S. during the 2012–13 TV season.
On February 29 of this year, NCIS was renewed for its 14th and 15th seasons. Season 14 premiered on September 20.
Even though NCIS is what they call a “procedural” show, one of the things that makes it special and has helped make it a worldwide phenomenon is the personal interactions of the characters. A fan-favorite has been the “bromance” between Special Agent McGee and Special Agent Anthony Dinohzzo, played by Michael Weatherly.
“The relationship between McGee and Tony is something that, for us, has always been special, something we found early on, something we worked on over the years,” Murray has told the media. “We have a very similar sense of humor, and we know each other’s timing. We know how to play off each other, and a lot of scary ad libbing and working loosely off the script sometimes encourages some of that banter, some of those stranger moments between Tony and McGee. That’s a dynamic that I personally love, and I know a lot of the fans do, as well.” Those fans are bemoaning the fact that Weatherly’s character has left NCIS. But as the saying goes, the show must go on.
For Murray, his past—growing up “a military brat,” as he bemusedly calls it—can’t help but inform his art.
One episode touched on the issue of PTSD. Another involved Agent McGee taking over a case in which a military family has its house invaded while a beloved family member is away on duty. Murray could personally relate to the “away” part. “It’s funny how art imitates life,” he said. “I ended up bonding with the actor playing the teen.”
Another episode, titled “Call of Silence,” proved challenging because Murray wasn’t just acting, he was reliving moments of his past. “A lot of the things I went through as a kid came flooding back,” he said.
Murray, who declined to plug his show during his interview with U.S. Veterans Magazine, didn’t hesitate when asked what he’d like to say to the brave men and women of the United States military and to their loved ones.
“It’s important that families know how much they know they have our support,” Murray said. “It takes a family. I want to make people aware of that. I’m with you. Hang in there. You’re doing the best thing anyone can do, the most selfless thing. I want to say thank you to them.”