The Stunning Transformation Of Cote De Pablo


After more than 20 years on television, “NCIS” has surely made an impression on audiences everywhere. “And I didn’t know how massive it was until I started traveling abroad,” actress Cote de Pablo, who played Ziva David, told American Latino. “People are invested in these characters.”

Long before de Pablo ever found fame on the iconic drama, she was growing up in South America and had never dreamed of acting — even though show business was in her blood. Her mother was a late night talk show host in Chile, so it would only make sense that de Pablo would soon find herself on television, too.

Many fans know de Pablo as Special Agent Ziva David from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. “But my real name is María José de Pablo Fernández Chicharro Grace,” she revealed. There’s probably a lot of other things you never knew about her stunning transformation in the spotlight either.

Cote de Pablo spent most of her childhood in Chile

When Cote de Pablo was 10 years old, her mother got a call that would change both of their lives forever. She was offered a job to host a television show in Miami, Florida – which meant de Pablo and her two siblings had to pack up their bags and leave their hometown of Santiago, Chile.

“I missed my country and my friends terribly,” de Pablo admitted, recalling when she arrived in the U.S. during an interview with Prevention. There was one reason in particular that made the move especially difficult, too. “It wasn’t till I got to the United States that I learned to speak English,” the actress admitted.

Luckily, she quickly found a place for herself at her performing arts high school. “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,” de Pablo said — and it was also what would eventually help send her off into stardom.

She followed in her mother’s famous footsteps

As Cote de Pablo’s mother was busy making moves with her new talk show, the world of entertainment began taking notice of her young daughter, too. After a producer saw a photo of de Pablo on her mother’s desk, he asked if the teenager would be interested in being on television. At the time, de Pablo had no interest in ever appearing on the small screen, as she told – yet, producers wouldn’t stop asking.

Eventually, de Pablo agreed to come in to screen test to be a host for the Spanish-speaking magazine show “Control.” As soon as casting directors saw her, she was immediately offered the job alongside Carlos Ponce. She was just 14 years old. “I interviewed some pretty phenomenal people on that show in the Latin world,” she explained on American Latino. It was then, presumably, that the performing bug bit her hard. “If I could make a living by singing and acting and doing musicals, that’s what I wanted to do,” she told Carnegie Mellon Today.

She studied musical theater at Carnegie Mellon

While Cote de Pablo was busy attending high school and hosting a national television show, she was also focused on finding the perfect place to attend college. After researching practically every musical theater program in the country, she discovered Carnegie Mellon and immediately knew there was something special about it. “I said, ‘That’s my school, that’s where I’m going,’” she later told Carnegie Mellon Today.

In addition to learning all about both singing and acting, de Pablo realized that she had really found her place around other people who were interested in theater — particularly her professors. “They could see things in me I may not have seen at the time,” she said, adding, “I always felt like they understood me. I was pretty complex: I was an immigrant, and my family was very far away.” Yet, her school’s support system made her certain that she wanted to tackle theater professionally.

In 2000, de Pablo graduated with her degree in musical theater.

Cote de Pablo almost ended up on Broadway

Once Cote de Pablo graduated from college, landing a role on Broadway was her next big goal. While she waited for her big break from her Brooklyn apartment, she took up small roles on various television shows. She appeared in an episode of “The $treet” and “The Education of Max Bickford” before landing a recurring role on a drama called “The Jury.”

In 2005, de Pablo was one step closer to making her dream of being on Broadway a reality when she was cast in “The Mambo Kings.” Unfortunately, as it was about to hit the road, the show quickly came to a close. “It never ended up going to Broadway,” de Pablo said during an interview with Front Row Features. “We went to the Golden Gate theater and there were too many things that the musical needed so we took a break.” Yet, as upset as she may have been then, taking time off from Broadway was exactly what she needed to secure herself a place in the spotlight.

The same year that the musical officially ended its run, de Pablo got a call to screen test for a starring role in a new television show called “NCIS.”

She landed her breakout role on NCIS

When Cote de Pablo first walked into her audition for “NCIS,” she was asked to read with another actor on the show named Michael Weatherly (who we all know as Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo). While she was eventually cast in the successful series, her audition with him wasn’t as seamless as fans may have expected. “During the audition, he grabbed my hair. He would not follow the lines. He totally went off script and started improvising,” de Pablo revealed during an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “And this was my final audition with the heads of CBS. I thought, ‘This guy is sabotaging my audition.’”

In order to make an impression on the casting director, de Pablo began to swat away at Weatherly — much like her character Ziva David has done on the show. “That relationship was established the moment that we met,” de Pablo said.

Once de Pablo found out that she had landed the role of Ziva, she was ecstatic to get started. However, the character she had originally auditioned for with a Czechoslovakian accent had suddenly been changed into someone new. “Within 48 hours of actually getting the part, they changed the part to an Israelian woman,” she told “CBS This Morning.” “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.”

Cote de Pablo became a skilled stuntwoman

After booking her breakout role on “NCIS,” Cote de Pablo realized she had to do a lot more than just act on the show. She had to do her own stunts, too. “Was I nervous?” she recalled during an interview with “CBS This Morning.” “Th at’s an understatement.”


In order to prepare for the role, de Pablo spent time at a local shooting range. Funnily enough, she had never even held a gun before becoming Ziva. “And I remember holding the gun and just trembling,” she admitted.


While we’ve watched Ziva maneuver all kinds of crazy stunts over the course of 12 seasons, there was one in particular that ended with a serious neck injury. “It was a very simple stunt,” de Pablo explained to Prevention. “I had to say one line, turn around, and then there would be explosions, gunshots, all sorts of things. But we had never rehearsed it, so I had no idea what it was going to be like.” As the actress tried to focus on perfecting her single line, debris came flying from all around her and bruised her entire body. A couple of days after shooting the scene, she shared, “I woke up in horrible neck pain.” Luckily, all her injuries have since healed completely.

She showed off her singing in NCIS

To start off Season 6 of “NCIS,” the writers had a special surprise in store for Cote de Pablo. They wanted her character to sing a song called “Temptation” on the show. While the musical theater graduate was excited for the opportunity to showcase her voice, she wasn’t happy to be doing it as Ziva David. “I remember I fought it a little bit,” de Pablo admitted during an interview on BUILD Series. “I was like, ‘Really? I mean, she’s really good at, like, kicking butt, but singing? Like, really singing?’”

After a bit of back and forth, de Pablo decided to make the most of the opportunity she had been given. “It turned out to be a really fun moment,” she said. “I enjoyed it tremendously, and the fans really liked it.” In fact, she later went on to show off her voice in the film “The 33,” as well.

The actress opted to pursue other projects

In 2013, Season 11 of “NCIS” made its debut — and that’s when the writers threw Cote de Pablo’s character quite a curveball. “They were going to send her back to, you know, Israel and make her an unfortunate, miserable woman,” the actress revealed during a 2016 Q&A. After all these years of playing such a strong female character, de Pablo didn’t think it was right for audiences to see Ziva essentially giving up on her dreams. “I felt, or I perceived, the character was not being treated with the respect she deserved,” she said, so she left the show altogether and went on to take roles in different kinds of projects. She appeared in “The 33,” “Prototype,” “Seneca,” and a short film called “The Crossing.”

When it came to television, however, de Pablo was excited to make an entrance on a series that was completely different from “NCIS” called “The Dovekeepers.” “In this particular story, I am not doing stunts, which is very good,” she said on “Extra.” “I am actually exercising my emotions, which is really fun.”

While it seemed as though her days doing stunts were behind her, de Pablo was still willing to appear as Ziva on “NCIS” if the right script came along. “They never killed her, so you never know what can happen,” she said.

Cote de Pablo returned ‘home’ to NCIS

After years away from “NCIS,” Cote de Pablo got a call that changed her entire career trajectory when it came to television. It was one of the show’s writers who wanted to chat about her character Ziva. The two got into a deep conversation about what they both thought the special agent had been up to — and that’s when it all clicked for de Pablo. “The fans have been waiting for this,” she told KTLA. “I think there’s a part of my heart that’s been waiting for this.”

Interesting enough, De Pablo’s return in the Season 16 finale was such a secret that many of the cast and crew had no idea she would be coming. “It was like a top secret operation,” the actress explained on BUILD Series. She was nervous to be returning after years of being away, but the moment she set foot on set, she knew she had made the right decision. “As soon as I walked in, you know, the crew started clapping, and I felt, ‘Oh, I’m home,’” she said.

De Pablo only returned for five episodes, but fans were still freaking out. In fact, her comeback episode drew in 11.9 million viewers, according to TVLine.

The actress used her platform to bring attention to important issues

Spending all those years playing Ziva David taught Cote de Pablo a lot of life lessons. “Mark Harmon [who plays Leroy Jethro Gibbs on ‘NCIS’] said to me once that it’s a privilege to get the attention of people,” the actress told American Latino. With all of the attention that she now had, she decided to shine her spotlight on important issues that were near and dear to her heart.

De Pablo has partnered with various organizations like Un Techo Para Mi País, which helps to provide temporary housing for the homeless in Chile. In the States, she’s worked with Feeding America and has also created a public service announcement to make sure people are regularly meeting with their doctors to help detect cancer. “Cancer runs in our family,” de Pablo told Prevention. “I lost my grandmother to it.”

Bringing attention to important causes is what makes being on TV all that more special to de Pablo. “And if I can talk about it and shed some light, then I’m doing my part,” she said.

Will we see her on TV again soon?

What exactly has Cote de Pablo been up to ever since she left “NCIS”? No one really seems to know. “I’m an incredibly private person,” she even once admitted on BUILD Series. Without any social media accounts, it’s hard to keep up with the actress’ day-to-day life off screen.

While de Pablo may have largely disappeared from the spotlight in 2020, she could be returning to television a lot sooner than we think. Fans are even speculating that Ziva David will be making a return in the new spin-off series “NCIS: Hawai’i.” So far in Season 1, Mark Harmon’s iconic “NCIS” character Leroy Jethro Gibbs has already been name dropped. Even Wilmer Valderrama’s character, Special Agent Nick Torres, will make an appearance during the first season.

When it comes to de Pablo’s return as Ziva, never say never. After all, she never dreamed that she would come back to “NCIS.” “When I walked out, I thought it was over and that was it,” she admitted to USA Today, so fans everywhere can still have hope that perhaps we’ll all be able to see Ziva David again very soon.

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