By Stephanie DuBois
"NCIS" babe Cote de Pablo is not the least bit concerned with whether you love or hate her character on the CBS drama, undercover Israeli Special Agent Ziva David.
"I'm not being Cote," says the actress born in Santiago, Chile. "And I'm not trying to play her as if I hope people like my character. I'm trying to make her as three dimensional as I can. I feel people are likable and not likable and I'm trying to find all those nooks and crannies in my character. To me the example is Tony Soprano (the brutal Mafia member on HBO's 'The Sopranos'). He's such a likable person but at the same time he's a monster. You hate him but at the same time you can't help but love him."
Having said that, De Pablo says the lean, mean, fighting machine she plays is "so different from who I am. This woman is a soldier. She takes things to the extreme. She knows how to use all sorts of things - guns and knives -- I would never imagine using. She's an expert on torture. She's one tough woman, but it doesn't take away from the fact that she's still very sexy and playful and all of that. But, when it comes to work she means business."
De Pablo, whose television credits include "The Education of Max Bickford," "The Jury," "The Street," "When I Grow Up" and "All My Children," says she's having a blast in her current role.
"It's an actor's dream going undercover. You get to play characters within the character." One of her favorite episodes, she says, was getting to go undercover with her co-star Michael Weatherly, who plays Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo.
"He and I had to go as husband and wife and pretend that we were under covers," she quips. "That was a lot of fun and working with somebody like Michael is a wonderful thing.
"My character has sort of this understated flirtation with Michael's character, Tony. She gets jealous, but I think she would never admit it or hook up with someone in the workplace." Plus, she adds, "He scares her to death. He is the epitome of the American man and all of the things that come out of his mouth are brutally stupid." Hm.
DePablo, who was born in Santiago, Chile, and raised in Miami, Florida, says at this point she's not sure how far the writers are going to take their personal relationship.
"I think they're just having a lot of fun watching us fight our way through it. I don't care either way and I have no idea. That's the fun aspect of not knowing...being bombarded by all this attraction and seeing them fight it or deal with it the best way possible. They're both very funny. Tony's always trying to hit on women and he doesn't try to hit Ziva. Those moments they get too close they try to brush themselves off and say 'Oh, that didn't happen.'"
Lest one think "NCIS" is all flirt, play and no work, De Pablo reminds that most of the episodes about the Naval Criminal Investigative Service "are gruesome. They all involve death."
And often some quite intense stunt work.
"In one episode we were shooting boxed in a container from 7 in the morning to 12 at night," she recalls. "There's gunfire in the container...We had to pretend the truck was moving so we had to keep ourselves moving the whole time. I remember my knees were all bruised up because I had to fall so many times. That was taxing on the body."
Despite that, she says "That's by far one of my favorite episodes. It was the worst possible scenario two people could find themselves in and they worked us like you will not believe. But the stakes were so high!"
The Carnegie Mellon University-trained actress, who made her Broadway debut in "The Mambo Kings," says that adrenalin rush is not to be beat.
"Coming from the theater I love that. You get home and you're exhausted, but you feel like you've really worked," she says, adding, "It's such a masochistic thing."
As with most hour-long dramas, she says "Our schedules are brutal. We shoot every day with very little time off and we only have an hour for lunch. And we have so much dialogue every day we have to memorize on the spot."
De Pablo, who is single, says that doesn't leave much juice left for a personal life.
"Most of the time I rest, try to do a movie or just watch them at home. I'm into watching old movies I haven't seen like Roman Polanski's 'Macbeth.'"
Occasionally, she says, "I go out with friends, but there's no time to really go clubbing like I used to. I have to take care of myself because if you get sick you still have to work.
"I'm not much a party animal anyway. I lay low. I like to be grounded by nature, go hiking...go to an isolated island that's not glamorous and touristy at all. And if somebody special is sitting next to me, then so be it."
Sounds like paradise in anyone's dictionary.