If you’re a fan of NCIS, you’re probably familiar with the character Ziva David, a Mossad liaison officer from Israel who spoke more than five languages. But what about the actress who played this beloved character? Let’s just say, Cote de Pablo has her own impressive resume. She has previously described herself as an old-soul, Latina hippie who loves hanging out with her mom. With a description like that, who wouldn’t want to get to know the woman behind this character?
Her real name isn’t Cote
Cote de Pablo’s real name is actually Maria Jose de Pablo Fernandez. According to Latinos Post, when de Pablo and her family moved from Chile to Miami, Florida, many of the kids at her school couldn’t pronounce her name. She changed it to "Cote," which de Pablo said is a common nickname in Chile.
She was a star runner as a child
When de Pablo moved to America from Chile at 10 years old, she did not know much English. Learning a whole new language at a young age would be very hard to experience, but de Pablo had one teacher who helped her find her path. She described this on The Late Show with David Letterman (via YouTube), saying, "And so I remember in 5th grade, I had a teacher… who was wonderful and he was an older man. And the only thing I knew really was ‘run.’ I knew what that meant. And so he put me into the track and field, and so he got me starting to run and all that stuff, and before I knew it, I was a little track and field star. And I remember, he would say in the middle of a competition, he would scream and get very red and scream, ‘Cote, run!’ And that’s all I knew."
She didn’t always want to be an actress
Now it’s hard to picture de Pablo in any other field aside from acting, but she had her heart set on a different life when she was younger. As she shared with TV Guide, as shared by a fan Facebook page, "I, believe it or not, wanted to be a secretary, much like Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Secretary. … I had clips all over and markers, and you know, the old-fashioned typewriters… I like to follow direction… and, by the way, I became an actor, so I’m kind of doing it anyway."
Performing arts became her home
And it wasn’t just the name that de Pablo had to overcome as she adjusted to a new country. She told Prevention that she didn’t start learning English until she moved to Miami. The persistent de Pablo worked hard to learn English, and eventually found her place when she went to a performing arts high school. She described that experience saying, "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…My friend had the perfect saying for it: ‘You found your tribe.’ We’re not Chilean or Argentinean or Brazilian or Russian. We’re actors."
She gave up Broadway
Not only did de Pablo go to a performing arts high school, but studied musical theater at Carnegie Mellon University. After graduating, she continued on the theater path, appearing on the New York City Public Theater stage for a Shakespeare production. De Pablo was working in San Francisco when the opportunity to audition for NCIS came up. In an interview for Front Row Features, she said, "I was about to do Broadway (The Mambo Kings) right before I got NCIS…so I went from my chance of doing a Broadway show into doing the series." Her risk obviously paid off, but de Pablo wants to get back on the stage eventually. Describing her chance on Broadway, she said, "It’s something still pending that I want to do."
She was terrified of guns
Though she played a former Israeli special forces veteran on NCIS, de Pablo couldn’t be further from that tough-as-nails persona in real life. In fact, she revealed during an interview on Good Morning America that not only had she never fired a gun before suiting up for the military police procedural, but she was also terrified of them.
When asked whether she was nervous to handle a hand cannon, de Pablo said, "That’s an understatement. The first day I ever went to the shooting range I was there with Leon [Carroll Jr. – the former Marine and technical advisor for the show] and a couple of men, very nice men, and they gave me the gun, and they said, ‘You’re gonna hold the gun, and blah, blah blah,’ and I thought, ‘Oh God… be very strong,’ because you don’t want to show them that you’re weak. So I held that gun, and I remember holding the gun and just trembling."
She wasn’t exactly thrilled with her NCIS exit
According to a statement by NCIS executive producer Gary Glasberg, de Pablo’s decision to leave NCIS was entirely her own, and it was one that took the production crew by surprise. But speaking with Yahoo TV, de Pablo said that she "wanted to stay for more episodes, but had no choice in that matter." She also told TVLine that she felt her character’s exit was "rushed," and that she "would have liked a little bit of closure."
Granted, that all must be placed in the proper context, which is that there seems to be absolutely no bad blood between de Pablo and the show, as she also said that she has "no second thoughts" about the way she left. She even feels like the door may be open for her to someday return, having hinted, "I think the fact that they never killed the character off is very telling."
Fans petitioned to keep her in the show
When de Pablo decided it was time to step away from her role on NCIS, she did not know how fans would react. She had been a cast member for eight years and in more than 180 episodes. The response from fans was, as de Pablo called it, "humbling." Within days of the news breaking that de Pablo would not be returning to the show, fans began a petition to tell CBS to bring back de Pablo. According to International Business Times, fans spoke up on social media and said they would not watch the show again until de Pablo returned.
During an interview with TVLine.com after the big reaction from fans, de Pablo said, "When you make decisions like this, you never expect for people to fully understand. So it was really delicious to feel that kind of love and I’m always grateful for that."
She did more than act on NCIS
Her musical talents did not go to waste. Originally, de Pablo didn’t want her character to sing in the show, even though the NCIS team had toyed with the idea. She told People that after two years, she caved. "Then Shane [Brennan, executive producer] clearly put it in a way I couldn’t resist." In the Season 6 premiere of NCIS, she sang "Temptation." The song also appeared on the NCIS: The Official TV Soundtrack, which was released in 2009.
The dark reason she believes in God
Though de Pablo was raised in a "conservative and Catholic environment" in her home town of Villa Maria, Chile, she has said that it wasn’t until she was 21 years old that her faith in God was solidified. Speaking with Prevention, de Pablo told the sad story of how her plea for the end of her grandmother’s suffering from cancer led to a sort of spiritual awakening.
"I held her hand and said to myself, ‘This is not the grandmother I knew. This is not the person I loved,’" de Pablo told the health magazine, adding, "She couldn’t say anything, she was so consumed with cancer. I left the room and went into a stairwell where the sun was coming in. I remember looking up and being so angry at God. I said, ‘If you exist, you will take my grandmother within twenty minutes. If you don’t, I’ll never believe in you again.’ Within ten minutes, she was gone. That’s why I say to everybody, ‘God’s there. He’s there.’"
She also believes in reincarnation
Expanding on her spiritual views, de Pablo also told Prevention that she doesn’t prefer to label herself as far as any specific religion goes. She said that be believes in "a very big God out there," that she sees in "the majestic beauty in nature and the overwhelming perfection of it." She also thinks that having just one pass at human existence isn’t enough. After de Pablo made a passing reference to "the next lifetime," Prevention asked whether she believed in reincarnation, to which she replied, "Yes, I do. But it’s not so much ‘Let’s talk about our past lives.’ No. I just know that I’m going to be here again. One lifetime is too short to purify my soul. It’s going to take a couple of tries."
She does her own stunts
Acting, learning new languages… and stunt work? It’s a busy job for de Pablo, who did her own stunts on the set of NCIS when she was able. One time, de Pablo described to Prevention, she had to do a simple stunt, but wasn’t able to rehearse it before filming. "When the stunt started, I was trying to scream my line, because of course as an actor, you’re like, ‘Remember your lines — you only have one pass at this, ’cause they can’t recreate the entire explosion!’ But it was like being in the middle of a war zone." She ended up with a neck injury that did eventually heal, but the incident convinced her to get back into yoga. Now four to five days a week, de Pablo does open-flow Vinyasa at home.
She is happy to stay away from social media
A star who doesn’t have a desire to draw attention to herself, de Pablo has never been one to showcase her life via her social media accounts. As she described to Latina, "I’m not on Facebook. I’m not on Twitter. I know a lot of celebrities who go around complaining how little privacy they have. And then my question to that is always, well, how much of yourself are you putting out there? If you are everywhere, then you’ve sacrificed the very thing that you are complaining about, which is your own privacy."
She is adamantly against plastic surgery
Clearly de Pablo is a natural beauty, so asking her about whether she would consider plastic surgery seems silly, except apparently the pressure to remain "young and wonderful" as Caras phrased it, is even more intense on Chilean celebrities. In response to that claim, de Pablo said in an interview with Caras, which was translated by a fan-run de Pablo Facebook page, "In issues of physical alterations, surgery is very important for women to learn to say no to. We have the power to change the perception toward us. And if there is no age on TV, it would be a crime, because TV must reflect a world that is more diverse than women between 25 and 40."
As far as whether she would consider any nips or tucks? "I would never get an operation to get a role, if they don’t give it to me for talent, I am not interested," de Pablo said. She then went in hard on how the international community needs to take a page out of the U.S. playbook when it comes to representations of physical beauty at any age. "In the U.S. you see beauty campaigns with Diane Keaton and others 60, 70, and it is because they realized that there is a market with great purchasing power. Not seeing them does not mean they cease to exist. And those in charge of programs and soap operas should have this strong female presence because we are living longer, getting better and more magnificent. If we are aware of this and we make a decision, we can transform public consciences and generate great changes."
Despite her huge NCIS fame, she’s relatively unknown in her native Chile
In that same interview with Caras, translated on de Pablo’s fan Facebook page, the NCIS alum says that her home country became a refuge from her grueling TV schedule, which consumed her life for "twelve to seventeen hours a day, Monday through Friday." On her brief holidays from shooting — just two weeks in December — de Pablo would retreat back to her house on the beach in Santiago, where despite the fact that she starred on literally the most popular TV show in the world for eight years, nobody knew her. "I liked that here they didn’t know me," she said, adding, "I could be left in peace, although I don’t deny that I love when someone approaches me and says, ‘You’re the actress that is doing things in Hollywood, my children are fans of your series.’ This makes me proud! It is different when an American says this than someone from Santiago."
She’s a quick study
Playing fan-favorite Ziva David on NCIS required some intense research. Speaking to TV.com, de Pablo shared that she speaks fluent English and Spanish but her character has a long resume, including German, Russian and Arabic. "[Ziva]’s like a little prodigy when it comes to languages and that’s what makes the character fun to play." So how did de Pablo do it? Hint: It’s not easy.
When de Pablo auditioned for the role, the character was described as European. But plans changed. De Pablo told CBS This Morning, "Within 48 hours of actually getting the part, they changed the part to an Israeli woman. And then within 48 hours of that I had to shoot. And then they gave me a huge monologue that I had to learn in Hebrew." Language coaches came in to assist on a tight time schedule. She told TV.com, "But, it doesn’t seem to ever be perfect enough, especially when you try to be as perfect as possible, and you have twenty-four hours to learn a language phonetically."
She follows her own path
This star has never been afraid to go on her own path — in both her career and personal life. In an interview with Latina in 2013, de Pablo spoke to her thoughts on starting a family and where she felt she was at in her life, saying, "The last time I was home visiting Chile, I was grilled about having kids and about whether I would baptize a child when I have one. Our lives are just very different. I’m not sure if they agree, but I’m not giving up my opinion." De Pablo has set a good example by being who she wants to be and following her own path, even if it’s not what’s expected of her.
Her favorite kind of show
When it comes to television that de Pablo watches when she’s not in front of the camera, she has some popular picks. She shared with TV Guide, as captured by a fan page, "I am an avid fan of Game of Thrones." She also described her ideal show, saying, "Any kind of show where you get to see women wear long beautiful hair, corsets and lovely wardrobe, I’ll be there watching. Especially if they have sexy scenes with lovely men that have beards." Sounds like a perfect show.
Her mom is her BFF
After her parents separated, de Pablo’s mom moved back to Chile, but distance doesn’t keep them apart. Speaking with Prevention, de Pablo shared that her mom will come to visit for two to three weeks at a time. Then, de Pablo will also make the time and go to South America as well. What’s their favorite thing to do together? Cook. "My mom has a rare talent for being able to open up the refrigerator, and with the peas, the leftover eggs, the cream, the spinach, the cheese, and a little rice, she can just whip up incredible risotto." That’s true mother-daughter bonding right there.
How she picks her next role
Even though her time with NCIS is done, Cote de Pablo took away important lessons learned from those eight years. She told RogerEbert.com that the show was "an incredible school." Shortly after her run on the show ended, she accepted a role in the film, The 33, also starring Rodrigo Santoro and Antonio Banderas. The film followed the real-life event of a gold and copper mine collapse, trapping 33 miners underground. Being Chilean, de Pablo said, "it really hit close to home."
She continues to act and stressed that she doesn’t try to think of the outcome of success for a project when she begins. "There are a lot of factors that may not translate to money and they may not translate to success, but they may translate to a creative freedom which may lead to incredible happiness." Looking at de Pablo’s track record, it’s safe to say she will keep seeing success with her choices.