'NCIS' Billy Dee Williams: 'Mark Harmon has a beautiful spirit'
"I've been in this business," he tells Zap2it, "I guess, about 50 years, and I've worked with a lot of people. Generally, I get along great with people. But I must say, this is one of the highlights. I really mean that. Working with these people was certainly a highlight of my life in this business."
Williams guest-stars in "Namesake," the episode airing tonight (Tuesday, Oct. 30), playing Leroy Jethro Moore. The World War II veteran is a friend of Gibbs' father, Jackson ( Ralph Waite, who also appears), who named his son after his pal.
When a Naval petty officer is gunned down in a billionaire's Ferrari, the investigation by NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs ( Mark Harmon) and his team leads back to the first Leroy Jethro.
"My character's a guy who was in the Marines in the Second World War," Williams says, "and received a Congressional Medal of Honor, the kind of Medal of Honor they gave to the Tuskegee Airmen."
Born in 1937, Williams is still a little young to be playing a World War II vet, since the conflict started when he was two years old.
"I play an 80-year-old man," says the handsome actor. "In my family, we don't get gray, so they had to put a lot of gray into my hair. I don't necessarily look my age, but it was fun to explore the whole aging process and the way an energetic 80-year-old man would approach situations. So, that was a lot of fun to do."
Asked if Leroy Jethro Moore might reappear, Williams says, "That's the whole idea, that he's recurring character. I think they were happy about the way things turn out, so I would suspect I'd be back on there. I'm looking forward to it. It was three-digit-heat [in Santa Clarita, Calif.], but it was fun."
He especially enjoyed working with Harmon.
"Mark Harmon has a beautiful spirit," he says. "I even had to say it to him one day, 'You are really a beautiful spirit. You have a good heart.' He's very gracious about things like that. He's not given to hubris or arrogance.
"He's not ostentatious. He leads a very simple kind of existence. he's a person to be admired."
Williams also had a good time with Michael Weatherly, who plays NCIS Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo.
"When we had a table read," says Williams, "he was quite a character. He's a standup comedian. He just never stops; people expect it from him. He's a very nice man. He just had a baby, as a matter of fact. He was quite happy about this situation."
Having done the bulk of his scenes with Harmon and/or Waite, Williams might break one of his own rules to check out the results.
"Mark and I have a couple of nice scenes together," he says. "Actually, I'm interested to see how it all works out. I never watch myself, but I think I'd like to see, in this situation, how that whole exchange turned out. I think it worked very well."