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updated: 1/29/2014 3:06 PM

How Barrington native landed regular 'NCIS' role

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  • Barrington native Brian Dietzen, right, plays Jimmy Palmer on CBS' hit drama "NCIS."

      Barrington native Brian Dietzen, right, plays Jimmy Palmer on CBS' hit drama "NCIS."
    courtesy of CBS

  • Barrington native Brian Dietzen, front row with glasses, poses with the cast of "NCIS." The show also stars Mark Harmon, center.

      Barrington native Brian Dietzen, front row with glasses, poses with the cast of "NCIS." The show also stars Mark Harmon, center.
    courtesy of CBS

  • Brian Dietzen, right, plays Jimmy Palmer on "NCIS." Palmer assists the medical examiner on the top-rated CBS crime drama.

      Brian Dietzen, right, plays Jimmy Palmer on "NCIS." Palmer assists the medical examiner on the top-rated CBS crime drama.
    courtesy of CBS

  • Barrington native Brian Dietzen does his best to help solve crimes as Jimmy Palmer on CBS' "NCIS."

      Barrington native Brian Dietzen does his best to help solve crimes as Jimmy Palmer on CBS' "NCIS."
    courtesy of CBS

  • Barrington native Brian Dietzen plays Jimmy Palmer on CBS' hit show "NCIS."

      Barrington native Brian Dietzen plays Jimmy Palmer on CBS' hit show "NCIS."
    courtesy of CBS

 

People might openly mock the 2003 "American Idol"-inspired movie "From Justin to Kelly," but actor Brian Dietzen thinks of the film fondly.

That's because it was the Barrington native's big-screen acting debut (he's unrecognizable in big glasses and a fisherman's hat) and a steppingstone that ultimately led Dietzen to his current job playing Jimmy Palmer on the hit CBS crime drama "NCIS."

"A lot of actors look back on certain projects and see if it was a success or failure, and let that determine if they liked it. Our experiences as actors are what we make them. Actually, it was a blast to work on ('From Justin to Kelly'). It was very fun," Dietzen said. "If we're doing our job, we should have a good time in doing it. I hope I gave the writer what he was looking for."

He gave the "NCIS" producers what they were looking for when he landed a one-time, guest role in 2004. They liked the way Dietzen portrayed the character and interacted with actor David McCallum (who plays medical examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard), so they brought him back for another episode. And then another.

Ten years later, Dietzen, 36, is a regular cast member in the role of Mallard's assistant. The top-rated "NCIS" draws 20 million viewers a week and is now in its 11th season. It airs at 7 p.m. Tuesdays.

"The thing I love about playing (Jimmy Palmer) is that there's not an insincere bone in the guy's body. No fear of asking questions. I don't stammer quite as often, and I'm a bit more self-assured than that character is," he said. "It's been a blast to play, and it continues to be a blast to play. Because I like living life through that lens of what is possible."

A married father of two in Los Angeles, Dietzen uses his 10-week summer hiatus from "NCIS" to coach his kids' T-ball teams and make movies. His film, "Congratulations," is now being shown at small film festivals and available for download on iTunes. This summer, he plans to make a documentary film about the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team in Washington, D.C.

But for Dietzen, it all began in Barrington. He lived there until second grade, when his father, who ran the Keymark computer company near Lions Park, decided he wanted to raise the children in Colorado and moved the family to Boulder.

It was a hard transition for Brian, who missed his extensive family back in Chicago -- he estimates he still has about 40 cousins living here. But he quickly found his way, excelling in the acting program at University of Colorado Boulder and becoming a critically acclaimed Shakespeare actor.

After graduation, Dietzen did a TV show in Canada, arriving in Hollywood for "From Justin to Kelly," which starred "American Idol" Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson and runner-up Justin Guarini. The movie's bad reviews didn't bother Dietzen.

"I don't know if you really can take it too personally, because it's not really your job. You really have to move on and do the next thing. You have to be secure in knowing you're doing what you want to do," he said. "If they're fans of (the final product), that's awesome. And if they don't want to watch, that's fine, too."

Dietzen's used to taking criticism, since he's a die-hard Cubs fan. The nice guy he is, he didn't even criticize the Cubs' new mascot, and spoke hopefully about President Theo Epstein's plan for the team.

"I'm gonna put it on Theo Epstein's shoulders and say, it's all up to him," Dietzen said. "The definition of a Cubs fan is someone with hope. And that's a cool thing to have. There's always hope for a better tomorrow. Once in a while, you roll a seven. And maybe this is the year."

-- Jamie Sotonoff

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a great feature, email them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com

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