What is the origin of the infamous Gibbs Slap On NCIS?
If you are a regular viewer of NCIS, you may have observed Leroy Jethro Gibbs, portrayed by Mark Harmon, hitting someone on the head as a response to their foolish or irrelevant remarks. This action, known as the "Headslap," has gained significant attention and even has its own page on the fan-operated NCIS Database. On YouTube, you can find compilations of instances where Gibbs head-slapped someone, when others mimicked his actions, or when individuals slapped themselves to save Gibbs the trouble. However, the Gibbs slap was primarily directed towards Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) as a form of reprimand.
The first occurrence of the patented Gibbs head slap happened in the first season's episode "The Curse," where Gibbs and Tony were involved. During a scene where they were looking at a computer screen, Tony reminded Gibbs not to strain his eyes. Later on, the head slap became a significant part of the plot, as it was revealed in flashbacks during season 3's "Hiatus, Part 1" that Gibbs learned the move from his predecessor and has been teaching it to his own team members.
In the second season episode "The Bone Yard," Gibbs made a well-known statement: "Being slapped in the face would be embarrassing, but a hit to the back of the head is a wake-up call." However, it is unclear whether this was a scripted action or not. Through interviews over the years, the actors have shared the inside story of how the Gibbs slap originated.
Mark Harmon says Gibbs slap was unplanned and spontaneous
During an interview at the 2010 Festival de Television de Monte Carlo, Mark Harmon discussed the initial occasion when he performed the Gibbs slap on Michael Weatherly, which solidified the move's place in NCIS history, according to Showbiz CheatSheet.
He stated that Michael is an extremely skilled actor, as are all the other members of the cast. He recalled a scene from the first year where Michael was conversing with a female petty officer on a Navy ship. Michael was improvising, as he often does, and i just reached over impulsively smacked him, to get him back on line. There was no thought involved, it was just a reflex.
The incident was unplanned and demonstrated that Harmon's behavior towards his colleagues is similar to his character on the screen when he becomes impatient. Although the slap on the back of the head was intended as a warning, Gibbs commended his fellow actors.
Harmon acknowledged that the actress playing the petty officer was taken aback but remained in character, and they continued with the scene. The audience enjoyed it, and as a result, Harmon continued to slap his co-star in subsequent episodes, albeit less frequently. This is how the tradition began.
Michael Weatherly supports Mark Harmon's story, but the Gibbs slap is mostly retired now
Michael Weatherly shared a similar experience during an interview with Festival de Television de Monte Carlo. He recalled a moment during episode 3 or 4 of season 1 where he was in the background without any dialogue and was whispering to a girl working on set. Suddenly, Mark Harmon hit him on the back of the head, surprising everyone. The incident was captured on camera and the producers found it amusing, although Weatherly was in trouble at the time. The moment ended up being included in the show.
Weatherly provided further commentary on the matter, discussing the Gibbs slap with USA Today. He noted that Harmon had experience as a college football player and possessed a powerful throwing arm, resulting in a significant amount of force. The actor explained that although the slap is only shown once in the final product, it is often filmed multiple times during production, causing discomfort for the actors involved.
Tony DiNozzo departed from the show after Season 13, and with him went the iconic head slap. His replacement, Nick Torres, played by Wilmer Valderrama, does not share the same rapport with Gibbs as Tony did, so a similar gesture would not have been appropriate. Valderrama admitted during a 2017 TV Guide's Fan Favorites panel at San Diego Comic-Con (via FanSided) that he initially felt this way before his debut on the show. He believed that he and Gibbs would establish their own unique dynamic, and that the head slap was Tony's trademark.