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'NCIS' star followed in dad's footsteps (sort of)

By Luaine Lee | Tribune News Service Published: October 16, 2016 4:00 AM
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PASADENA, Calif. -- Actor Sean Murray's dad spent 30 years as a naval officer. In an odd twist of Fate, Murray finds himself playing an investigator burrowing into naval crimes in CBS' hit show "NCIS."

"My father gets such a kick out of that," says Murray in a fiercely noisy restaurant here. If his parents had anything to do with it, Murray would be a vanguard in the cyber world. After all, he skipped a grade in school and used to take computers apart and put them back together for fun.

"To my father the whole concept (of acting) was just insane. To be a kid and not have any desire to do anything BUT, I really had no backup plan. I said, 'This is it this is what I want to do.' I remember my father many times saying to me, 'You realize you have nothing to fall back. If this doesn't work out -- and it doesn't work out for most people statistically.' My dad is a very logical person. I said, 'Yeah, but it's all I can think of. It's the only thing I want to be a part of.'"

His mom was not much better. 'She is so the anti-stage mother, I can't even tell you," he grins. "When I got my first series she, within a month, she said, 'I can't sit around and can't be with other parents doing crossword puzzles. I can't. I've got to go do something.' And I said, 'Mom, I completely get it."

Even so, they were with him. "As much as my father knew how hard the life was, he was very supportive, so was my grandmother. I come from a very middle-class family. We didn't have the money to come to L.A. and doing headshots, paying a ridiculous amount for rent and going to auditions all the time as a kid, so my father allowing that to happen alone, was a big support from him," he says.

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By the time Sean was 12 he had already wheedled his way into professional acting. Being a military family, they moved often to posts in Australia, Singapore, London, and several in California. "I was never in one place for more than two years," he recalls, ordering Brussels sprouts for lunch.

"I never had the feeling I missed out," says Murray, 38, who's wearing a black T-shirt and jeans.

"I remember all kinds of positives for it. I remember very specifically being conscious of the chance to re-create yourself whenever we started someplace. So it was almost like it went toward an acting kind of nature. I remember thinking about that stuff as a kid. Bottom line is you are who you are, but every time assimilating to new kids and going through those ages is a hard thing, but that's what I grew up doing. It was always just what I did."

He was so determined to be an actor that when he heard they were hiring extras for the Steve Martin movie "My Blue Heaven," he begged his mom to take him. They were living in San Diego and the tryouts were held at the Jack Murphy Stadium. Candidates were asked to form a line and the casting people moved down the line, choosing a few to form a second line.

"He didn't pick me. So I'm figuring, 'Are they picking the people who get out of the line or are they picking the people who stay in the line?' I stood and thought for a second and instinctively I jumped into that second line when no one was looking.

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"They marched us down, took all our information, we got called to come do the movie. And I get down there, it's Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Joan Cusack, and two children. And within the first hour or so, they decided to take me and place me right behind Steve Martin. So getting that close to it, I got to be privy to directors talking to the actors, and I'm a real observer, I really take a lot in. I remember thinking, 'Oh, I can do this.'" He got to be an extra in the movie. He was 11.

When he was 15 his parents divorced and he and his mom moved to L.A. so he could follow his dream. At that point he became an emancipated youth, strictly for work reasons, he insists.

Through no plan of his own, Fate tendered another surprise. His mother met and married Don Bellisario, executive producer of shows like "Magnum, P.I.," "JAG," and "NCIS."

Murray had appeared briefly on "JAG" before he ever saw a script for "NCIS." Even so, being Bellisario's stepson wasn't an advantage, says Murray.

"In fact, what people don't realize is if you're related to Don in anyway, and you work for him, he's 10 times harder on you. He's so ultra critical. It's great though because it's for the right reasons. It's because he's passionate; he cares. That's what a writer is."

Murray's been married for 10 years to Cassie, an educator, who also hails from a military family. From the moment I was a teenager, I wanted to be a father, wanted to be a family man," he says.

"By the time I was a teenager I'd decided what my son's name would be -- River."

He has a daughter 9 and a son, 6, whose name is River.


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