A NCIS Community
Tuesday 8:00 PM on CBS
NCIS hit the 350th mark last week with “Sight Unseen,” an episode that showcased perfectly why it’s still on the air.

Written by Brendan Fehily, the episode focuses on the teams search for a petty officer suspected of assault who escaped when the sheriff transporting him crashed into a lake. Torres works closely with key witness Annie Barth (portrayed by Marilee Talkington), who heard vital evidence but didn’t see anything because she is blind.

What also makes this show uniquely authentic is that Marilee Talkington is legally blind in real life, something that hasn’t slowed her down.

(Marilee Talkington - photo by Cheshire Isaac)

Marilee just finished shooting a role in the CW’s new television pilot, IN THE DARK, written by Corinne Kingsbury and directed by Michael Showalter.

Previously, Marilee originated over 60 characters on stage, including two world premieres directed by Broadway’s Tony Taccone at the Tony winning theater Berkeley Rep: Imaginary Comforts and X’s & O’s: A Football Love Story. She received her MFA from the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) and has earned the Carol Channing Trouper Award, California Center for Cultural Innovation Award, MacDowell Fellowship, TBA New Works Award and the TBA CA$H Grant Award. In addition, Marilee created and starred in the film Sisterly Love, securing nominations for both Best Picture and Best Actor on the festival circuit.

I recently caught up with Marilee Talkington about working on NCIS and more.

What can you tell us about your role in NCIS?

MARILEE TALKINGTON: I play a beautifully complex and smartly written blind lawyer named Annie Barth who hears something on a camping trip that turns out to be evidence that cracks open a case about a missing Petty Officer. Annie spends most of her time with Nick Torres, who is initially very skeptical of her ability to offer any aid to their investigation. But Annie’s self-composure, independence, authenticity and sense of play not only educate Nick about being blind but in the end win him over pretty solidly. And I think Annie may have a little thing for Nick too. I mean, who wouldn’t?

You also just booked a TV pilot, right?

MT: I also just booked a recurring guest star role (recurring if it gets picked up) on a new CBS/CW one hour dramedy called In The Dark. It’s executive produced by Ben Stiller’s company, written by Corinne Kingsley (Newsroom) and directed by Michael Showwalter (The Big Sick). I flew straight from NCIS to shoot In the Dark and the shows and characters could not be more different. I went from a dramatic character to playing a very wry dry quirky comic foil. It was fabulous!

Considering you’re legally blind, do you think there’s more of a conscious awareness to hire actors with disabilities in the business today?

MT: There is some positive movement happening in the industry right now to cultivate more stories featuring characters with disabilities as well as developing relationships with performers with disabilities (pwd’s), which is really heartening. Self-representation is so important. Now we are still a far cry away from true inclusion. Still more often than not when characters with disabilities are written, they are cast with abled-bodied actors. But this is where NCIS leads the pack. They have been a vanguard in authentic representation for years, even changing a character’s disability (as they did in my case) so they can accurately represent. Their commitment is unwavering and reflects their forward thinking vision and true artistry.

How was it working on such a fan-favorite show?

MT: Working on NCIS was an exquisite dream and honor. It’s quite clear why this show has such a huge fan base. Mark Harmon, by example, has cultivated a working environment based on kindness, respect, integrity, generosity, artful and open collaboration and crackling playfulness. Every single person on set from the showrunners to the series regulars to the hair and makeup crew to the drivers, everyone, was a pure delight to be around. That’s not hyperbole. From the first day to the last, I felt like I invited into a very loving family.

Any interesting stories from the set you can share with us?

MT: I have two stories actually:

First, after I got cast I got a phone call from Mark Horowitz (executive producer) and Bethany Rooney (director) wanting to touch base so they could better understand what it would be like to work with me as a legally blind actor.

I’ve been working professionally in theater for nearly two decades and have developed very clear and effective strategies of accommodating myself and/or asking for accommodations when needed, that allow me and everyone around me to address issues quickly so we can get on with the work at hand: telling great stories. Since this was my first tv show and I had no idea what their set might be like, I decided that evening to write a ‘cheat sheet of Marilee’s Vision’. I described in an almost powerpoint fashion what my vision is, how it manifests and what possible accommodations might be needed. Since I deeply appreciate a sense of play in my life, I had to add my own flavor of what accommodations might look like. One of which was: “If you need to do a visual cue for any reason, it needs to be a large visual cue preferably while wearing feathers and perhaps a peacock tail.”

The gas of all this was, the 1st day on set I found out that my little cheat sheet had been circulated through the entire production department, including the showrunners and some of the series regulars. I think it just broke the ice for everyone.

My second story is -- I am a certified actor combatant and when I found out there was to be physical violence scenes for my character I requested to do my own stunts. Now, most folks would bock at a legally blind actor doing their own stunts. But, they don’t know me. So 1st day on set, the legendary stunt coordinator Diamond Farnsworth came to meet me. He looked at me, paused for the slightest moment and said with a little sparkle in his eye, “You can do whatever stunts you want…if they are safe.” And then he hugged me. So the last day of shooting we shot the violence scene and I in fact did do all my own stunt work. And I LOVED IT! I wrapped the episode with some well-earned bruises and hopefully a believable performance.

Anything else you’d like to share?

MT: Being part of TV history by being one of the only legally blind actors to play such a fully fleshed out legally blind character has been one of the great privileges of my career. My deepest wishes now are that:

1) audiences will learn something about the ferocity of blind persons and it will inspire even more dialogue about inclusion and representation.

2) folks with disabilities will see themselves reflected authentically and with respect and will hopefully experience a greater sense of possibility for themselves moving forward.

3) the entertainment industry as a whole will see the work on this show and realize that authentic representation actually makes for fantastic story-telling! And will be more inclined to to hire us…many of us…all the time.

I don’t’ think that’s too much to ask. Do you?

Nope, not at all. Thanks, Marilee.

More about Marilee Talkington at: www.marileetalkington.com
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