With nearly 400 episodes (and counting!) on CBS, NCIS is undoubtedly one of the most popular, prominent shows in the station's long history. Since its premiere back in 2003, the action police procedural series has welcomed several bright, talented actors into its ever-growing cast list. Sure enough, there are many future celebrities who had their humble beginnings on the show, while a few other hard-working actors made brief guest appearances on the show before they moved on to their own projects. Looking back on all the actors and actresses who've graced the small screen with this show, it is an astonishing line-up. Now, we're here to list only 13 famous actors you might've forgotten were once featured on this popular network TV series.
Melora Hardin (Erin Toner)
Before she became Jan Levinson in The Office, Trudy Monk in Monk, or received an Emmy nomination for her performance as Tammy Cashman in Transparent, Melora Hardin played Erin Toner in a 2003 episode of NCIS titled "The Curse." A villainous character from the CBS' show's first season, Toner was a character who would flaunt her beauty and use her connections to commit a series of crimes during her brief run on the popular series. It was a standout role that likely paved the way for her strong television work shortly thereafter. In addition to the shows mentioned above, Hardin has recently been seen in A Million Little Things and The Bold Type, to name only her two most recent television credits.
Jim Rash (Dr. Joel Sanderson)
Before he turned into an Oscar-winning screenwriter for The Descendants, the co-director of The Way Way Back and this year's Downhill, and became the scene-stealing Dean Craig Pelton in NBC's Community, Jim Rash was an actor/comedian who appeared in several smaller roles in film and TV, and that includes his 2004 role of NCIS, where he played Dr. Joel Sanderson. In the episode, titled "Left For Dead," Rash didn't have a huge presence, and it's probably amusingly strange to see such a prominent performer in such a minor role in this popular TV series. Alas, he's one of several performers who climbed up the ladder in Hollywood, and it was certainly a big break to get even a small role in this prominent network series.
Dean Norris (Gunnery Sergeant Vestman)
Before his acclaimed turn as Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad turned the actor into a household name, Dean Norris worked consistently as a character actor, with a memorable appearance in the original Total Recall once serving as his most notable role. In 2004, a few years before Breaking Bad would air its pilot on AMC, Norris played Gunnery Sergeant Vestman in the first season of NCIS. It was a commendable role for the hard-working actor, but it is easy to see why some folks might've forgotten about this early-in-the-game appearance from Norris. Nevertheless, Norris has continued to bounce between movies and TV, notably with roles in Under the Dome, Claws, The Big Bang Theory, Scandal, The Book of Henry, Death Wish (2018), Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark, and a recent reprisal of his role as Hank Schrader in Better Call Saul.
Zac Efron (Daniel Austin)
In 2006, the same year that he would become a superstar with Disney Channel's High School Musical, Zac Efron made a guest star appearance on NCIS in an episode titled "Deception." He played the part of Daniel Austin, a teenage boy who bought a phone from a Navy Commander. Certainly, it was a minor role compared to his leading man part in the Disney Channel movie, and it's especially slight compared to how big his profile got shortly after this episode aired. Since NCIS, Efron starred in two more High School Musical movies, Hairspray, The Greatest Showman, The Beach Bum, 17 Again, Me & Orson Welles, Neighbors, Baywatch, and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. He'll next be heard as Fred in the new movie, Scoob!
Jesse Plemons (Jason Geckler)
Funny enough, Zac Efron wasn't the only future star who appeared in the NCIS episode "Deception." If you watch this installment of the prolonged series, you'll also find an early appearance from Jesse Plemons, the rising film/TV actor best known for his versatile work in Breaking Bad, Fargo Season 2, Game Night, Vice, The Irishman, and several other titles. In this Season 3 episode, Plemons plays Jason Geckler, the teenager who gave Daniel, i.e. Efron's character, the cell phone. Similar to Efron, Plemons only played a minor role in this NCIS episode, but it was another TV credit that helped the talent actor rise in growing fame. Next, Plemons will be seen in Antlers, Jungle Cruise, I'm Thinking About Ending Things, and The Power of the Dog.
Sterling K. Brown (Elijah Banner)
Before he won Emmys for playing Christopher Darden in FX's American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson and Randall Pearson in NBC's This Is Us, Sterling K. Brown was a hard-working actor who appeared in a number of movies and shows. One of his early credits includes a 2013 episode of NCIS titled "Devil's Triad." In the part of Elijah Banner, Brown played a dark role in the popular series, as a character who leads a few characters to their untimely demises. His stay on NCIS didn't last long, but this appearance came only a couple years before he would find fame with his aforementioned award-winning roles. Since NCIS, Brown has notably been seen in Black Panther and last year's Waves. Additionally, Brown has appeared in Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. He also starred in The Rhythm Section earlier this year and lent his voice to Frozen II.
Millie Bobby Brown (Rachel Barnes)
Before she became one of the youngest Emmy nominees ever through her celebrated performance as Eleven on Netflix's Stranger Things, Millie Bobby Brown was a child actor who made appearances in a variety of TV shows, including Once Upon A Time in Wonderland, Modern Family, and Grey's Anatomy. One of Brown's earliest credits was on NCIS. In the 2014 episode, titled "Parental Guidance Suggested," Brown played Rachel Barnes, a young girl who is later revealed to be the person responsible for killing her psychiatrist mother. That's a dark turn for a young performer, though the precocious talent proved herself in this early television appearance. It'd only be a couple years later when Netflix premiered Stranger Things, thus paving the way for Brown to star in last year's Godzilla: King of the Monsters and the upcoming Godzilla Vs. Kong and Enola Holmes, which she also produced.
Glen Powell (Marine Sergeant Evan Westcott)
Before he'd become a heartthrob through performances in Everybody Wants Some!!, Hidden Figures, Scream Queens, Set It Up, and the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick, Powell was an up-and-coming actor splitting his time between movies and TV. One such show was NCIS, where Powell played Marine Sergeant Evan Westcott, the son of marine captain George Westcott, in the two-part NCIS episode, "Shell Shock Part 1" and "Shell Shock Part 2." Appearing in these two episodes in 2012, the same year he also starred in The Dark Knight Rises, these appearances helped to build the actor's growing portfolio. Since his time on NCIS, in addition to the movies mentioned above, Powell has also starred in Ride Along 2, The Expendables 3, and Netflix's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
Cameron Monaghan (Nick Peyton)
Before he became Jeremiah Valeska, i.e. an iteration of The Joker, in Fox's Gotham, and the same year that the up-and-coming TV actor would break out by playing Ian Gallagher in Showtime's long-running Shameless, Cameron Monaghan appeared in a 2011 episode of NCIS where he played the role of Nick Peyton, a teenager suspected of murdering his father. The episode, titled "Out of the Frying Pan," gave young Monaghan a fine chance to show his growing talents on a major network show. Sure enough, while it was only a limited appearance, the actor made the most of his time on NCIS, continuing to prove himself as a performer — even from a young age. Since NCIS, Monaghan has bounced between film, television and video games, including Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, The Giver, Mercy Street, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, among others.
Eric Stonestreet (Harvey Ames)
On Modern Family, Eric Stonestreet finally got his big break playing the part of Cameron Tucker. The two-time Emmy-winning actor appeared in several films and TV shows before he finally got this major role, and that includes an appearance in a 2008 episode of NCIS titled "Silent Night." He played the part of Harvey Ames, a security guard who finds a bunch of victims in his tracks before he's arrested. Though this role was more dramatic than what many viewers might expect from the comedic performer, it does showcase his tremendous range. Since appearing on NCIS, in addition to his time on Modern Family, Stonestreet has also starred in the first season of American Horror Story, Monk, Identity Thief, Bad Teacher, and The Secret Life of Pets 1 & 2.
Rico Rodriguez (Travis Buckley)
Speaking of Modern Family, the same year that Rico Rodriguez became known as Manny to viewers nationwide in that award-winning hit ABC series, the young TV actor also made a guest appearance on a 2009 episode of NCIS titled "Hide And Seek." In the role of Travis Buckley, Rodriguez did not have a major role in the episode, though the child actor was soon set to become a household name when this episode aired on television. 2009 was a big year for the young actor, as it paved the way for the role that he would play for 10 more seasons on the popular ABC mockumentary sitcom. Before he starred on NCIS or Modern Family, Rodriguez also appeared on ER, Nip/Tuck, My Name Is Earl, and Cory in the House, to name only a few credits.
Zoey Deutch (Lauren)
Everyone gets their start somewhere. When it comes to the beginning of Zoey Deutch's career as a professional actress, the future Set It Up/Before I Fall actress first appeared in an episode of NCIS titled "One Last Score." As a character known solely as Lauren, Deutch's appearance in NCIS is a limited one; the beginning, she plays a girl who discovers a cadaver. But it got the ball rolling on her acting career. Later on, she'd fill her resume with The Suite Life on Deck, The Amazing Spider-Man, Dirty Grandpa, Everybody Wants Some!!, Why Him?, Flower, The Year of Spectacular Men, The Politician, Zombieland: Double Tap, and most recently, Buffaloed, which Deutch also produced. Hopefully, she'll have a long, continuously promising career ahead of her.
Jaleel White (Martin Thomas)
Unlike the other names on this list, Jaleel White didn't find his fame after his appearance on NCIS. Rather, White was already a well-established actor and voice actor by the time he stepped on the set of NCIS. He was most famous for playing Steve Urkel in Family Matters, and his voice was instantly recognizable to many fans of Sonic the Hedgehog. But when he appeared in "A Desperate Man" in the role of Martin Thomas, viewers were forgiven if they didn't recognize the performer. It's an understated and nuanced performance, which might be different than what people might be used to seeing from White as an actor. Nevertheless, this brief-but-strong role on NCIS gave the TV actor another chance to showcase his dynamic, overlooked range.
Which NCIS appearance from a future superstar surprised you the most? Let us know in the comment section!
Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.
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