David James Elliott: JAG

JAG was a smash hit in Australia and the Seven Network were disappointed when NBC cancelled the series after the first season, but CBS picked it up and ran with it for another 9 seasons. It has led to the creation of one the most successful shows in CBS history, NCIS. David James Elliott starred in the series for the entire 10 series run, TV Flashback caught up with David for an extended interview about JAG.

1) How did you become involved with JAG?

I auditioned with everyone else in Hollywood. It was a 3 month process, somewhat brutal but I won in the end.

2) What was it like being involved in a big budget, big action series like JAG? Did you actually get the chance to fly planes, drive tanks and spend time at sea?

It was a very exciting process and lots of long hours and hard work. I flew with the Blue Angels in an F/A 18 and also drove an A1M1 tank… We also deployed for 4 days on the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier once.

3) What sort of training did you do with the military prior to the show starting and what sort of assistance did the military provide to the show?

We had an on-set Technical Advisor who was a 22 year veteran of the Marine corps and he kept us straight as far as military protocols went.

4) When NBC cancelled the show after the first season and the final cliffhanger episode didn’t air in the US (but did in Australia), why wasn’t the cliffhanger storyline addressed until series 3? Did CBS just want to start the series fresh or was it because US audiences hadn’t seen that episode so were none the wiser?

Yes CBS wanted to start the series fresh and because no one saw the episode in the US they figured it was worth tossing the episode away. Of course saving money down the road led to rehashing the bones of that episode for a ‘bottle-show’.

5) You worked very closely with Catherine Bell over the course of the series, how did you find working with her? Was it always the intention of producers to create a relationship for Mac and Harm or did that idea grow as the show progressed?

Our relationship was purely professional and as far as the characters relating that sort of grew as the show progressed.

6) Did you enjoy the father MIA storyline? Did it help to give your character on-going motivation?

It was just another layer to add to the characters depth so it was good for me that way. Always nice to have conflict to play with as an actor.

7) What was it like working with your wife Nanci Chambers on the set? What did you think of her character? How did you feel about her death being used as a plot to create the backdoor pilot for NCIS?

I loved working with Nanci she really brought a great deal to her character and the show I felt. I didn’t like the way they ended her life as Lt. Singer especially as she was pregnant at the time in real life…

8) Did you have any special bonds with the rest of the cast? Any fun moments on set?

As a cast we all got along well enough and like a family there were moments but overall it was good.

9) The world changed forever on September 11 2001, what was it like on set after the terrorist attacks? JAG had some dark episodes after the events of that day, did the cast and crew feel it was important to honour the navy and marines more than ever?

Those were dark days indeed and it was great to honor our military and give it a human face.

10) Are there any storylines you would have liked to have explored given the chance? Anything you think the show missed out doing?

Hard to say at this point as its been so long since it ended… Probably.

11) Later on in the series you directed a few episodes, how did that come about? And what was it like directing and acting in episodes? How did you separate the roles and were the other cast members supportive?

I loved the experience of directing and the cast were supportive mostly. I asked Donald P. Bellisario, and he said yes. It was tricky being in the episodes and directing but great fun working on the challenge.

12) Were you surprised a show about the US military was so popular in Australia? Why do you think it was?

I was and have no idea except that maybe our characters were fetching…?

13) You shot episode 100 and 101 in Australia, what was it like shooting in Australia? Any interesting stories about your time in Sydney?

I love Australia and have shot a few things there besides JAG. Great crews and people in general. Beautiful country!!

14) Did you have a favourite episode or storyline?

… I guess the first one I directed for many reasons.

[Editor’s note: The episode David is referring to is Season 6 Episode 22 “Lifeline”: RAdm. Chegwidden holds an engagement party for Mac and Mic. Harm and Mac take part in frank and profound communication amid a parade of incisive and revealing flashbacks. Bud runs into some trouble, and Harriet receives a gift of gold.]

15) What will you treasure most from your time working on JAG, from both a professional and personal perspective?

It was incredible to have the opportunity to work on my craft for such a long sustained period of time!

16) Do you stay in touch with other cast members?

Not really.

17) You recently reprised the role of Harm in NCIS Los Angeles – what was that like? Did you miss the character?

It was fun and very much like putting on an old comfortable shoe.

18) A lot of people have mentioned it, but what do you think the chances are of some sort of reboot of JAG with Harm and Mac back on screen?

It’d be fun… Who knows.

19) On a different note, have you ever watched any Australian television shows?

When I was there I did. And I presented at the ‘Logies’. I liked them very much!

20) What else have you been up to recently?

Gosh so many projects… check out my IMDB page.

Thanks to David for an insightful interview about JAG. It’s great to learn more about international shows that were popular on Australian television and we’re chasing more interviews like this. Since David gave up his time for an interview, please donate to a cause he supports The Heroes Project.

If you’re in Australia, you can purchase JAG on DVD here.

You can also see David in action in JAG in the video below: