Diona Reasonover made a comedy reel that landed her in a long-running drama. Talk about transitions.
It's never easy being the new kid.
But for Diona Reasonover, coming in as the new kid on CBS's veteran show NCIS was an easier transition than most.
The show has gone through a number of cast changes in the past 15 seasons, but Reasonover is coming into season 16 as the new forensic scientist for the team, taking the place of beloved character Abby Sciuto, played by Pauley Perrette, who was with the cast from the beginning.
Last season, Reasonover's character, Kasie Hines, came into the show as a research assistant for Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard, played by David McCallum. It almost seemed to set up the transition, but Reasonover isn't sure if that was the plan or not. She says, "I hope they were [setting up the transition].
"I really hope they were, but it was definitely not set in stone that I was going to be the forensic scientist. They very easily could've brought me on, had me do one episode, and then been like, 'Okay, cool, let's find somebody else.'
"So I actually think those episodes aired in May. I don't think I knew until either late May or early June. So we had already shot it, I was gone, I was doing something else. I didn't know until then that I had gotten the part."
Once that was settled, she came into the fold of a cast that is notoriously close. But that didn't mean that they weren't open to newcomers. Reasonover says, "They really welcomed me with open arms. And I mean top to bottom, everybody has been so kind and so generous, and it's really fun to play with this group. Everybody's been doing it really well for so long.
"You know, it's like when you show up for a basketball game, and you say, 'Oh, I hope I get picked for the team.' And then you do, and then you're like, 'Oh shoot, everybody's really good on the team.'
"It's been so nice; we eat lunch together a lot. I'm planning board games for Brian [Dietzen, who plays Medical Examiner Jimmy Palmer]'s kids. Everybody's just been wonderful. And you know what's also been very cool? Rocky [Carroll, playing NCIS Director Leon Vance] directs. It's also cool to get to watch people do other things in the cast; it's great."
Reasonover says that working with different directors helps her in building the character of Kasie. "We've had just really amazing directors, and I haven't been on a show where I've had multiple directors. All the shows that I've had that have gone to series, all one of them, it was the same director. And that was great, because you get to do a series arc.
"This is great in another way, because you get to see multiple facets of the character. You might get somebody who says, 'You know, I'm a little into this, can you try this?' And you're like, 'Okay, yeah, let's try it.' And then you say, 'Yeah, that worked. This is a new aspect of Kasie I didn't know about.'"
Forensic science is a specialized field with specific terminology, but Reasonover says she has had some help along with way.
"I am so lucky. I have very smart friends. A girl that I went to grad school with for acting, she became a forensic pathologist after school for a little, and now she's back to acting, but she was brilliant. She was studying science in college, and then she went and studied acting, and then she became a scientist, and now she's an actor, and it's just like she's good at everything.
"But she helped a lot. I call her, and sometimes I'm like, 'Quick, tell me something scientific to say!' 'Chemistry? I don't know, what do you want?' And my sister's a doctor, so those are two secret weapons that I have. Anytime I'm like, 'Help!' I just call one of them on speed dial."
Her acting background also helps her in learning and saying sometimes complex scientific dialogue. She says, "I'm lucky that, in addition to having really smart friends, the first thing I studied was Shakespeare. Honestly, upon first reading sometimes, you don't always get it, and that's how it feels. It's not as scary for me to charter into the unknown, because I know that I will figure it out.
"Sometimes it just takes a couple reads, a couple skims, trying things out on your own. And I think that that a really wonderful thing that I've gotten from my parents is not being afraid to fail."
That attitude came in handy when the story line took Kasie out into the field, away from her nice, safe, clean lab. Reasonover says, "We're going to get to see Kasie trying her hand out as a field agent, and it does not go well. Kasie likes being lab rat, she does not like being out in the elements.
"There's actually a really funny story about this. I read the scene, and it said that I was going to be kind of walking along a swampy marsh, and I'm thinking like, 'Oh, maybe they'll show the swampy marsh, and I'll take two steps in, but they'll pan up to my face, and then we'll just be walking along cement and acting.'
"No, no, no. I was up to my knees, and that mud was strong. My boots kept getting stuck, I was getting pulled down, everything from that screen is pretty real."
Reasonover delved into even more reality in the December 11 episode of the show. She says, "The episode that's coming up, I believe on December 11th, our kind of holiday episode, we're going get to see a little bit of Kasie's backstory, where she comes from, who she comes from. We'll watch her get invested in a case, because it reminds her of somebody from her past.
"It was a really, really amazing episode for me to shoot, because, honestly, I've never done anything like that on TV. Like I said, I started off in Shakespeare, so there you're wailing for two hours as you do the play. I was Juliet, and I was like, 'Can't we just stop after act 3 when they get married, and just be like, alright everybody, show's over!'
It kills me every time, it still kills me to think about it, but that's the whole point. But it was cool for me to do, to get to play this really beautiful arc. I really and truly don't want to give it away, but it hit me very close to home, because it's something that I relate to, and I think a lot of people will honestly relate to.
"I'm excited to see it, too. Scott Williams, the writer of it, came up to me, and he said, 'Is there anything you don't want to do?' And I said, 'I don't want to do anything offensive, basically.' I wouldn't want Kasie to ever be like, 'I'm making fun of one particular group of people.' That's not me. That's not Kasie.
"And that was the only restriction I gave him, and he came up with this gorgeous story line. I was really scared about doing it, because I don't do a lot of big dramatic scenes. Usually. I do a lot of comedy. And our director, Michael Zinberg, shepherded me and guided me through it so wonderfully."
Most actors have reels that they send out to agents or post on YouTube or IMDb, but few realize that those reels can actually help an actor to land a job. Reasonover says, "At best, you're like, "Well, here's something that my aunts can send out around the holidays to prove that I really am trying. The bridge clubs will love it.'"
In fact, it was comedy that got Reasonover the job on NCIS. "You know what's actually really funny, part of the reason I got it is because Mark Harmon watched my comedy reel. I got a drama because Mark Harmon thought, 'This is a really great Whoopi Goldberg impression.'
"And it was very cool, it was one of the coolest, most surreal moments in my life when he comes up to me and tells me that. To have something like that happen is like, 'Wait, what? This really works? Oh my gosh'"