Liza Lapira Looks Back on ‘NCIS’ Twist & Surprising Her Mom for Her Birthday

Liza Lapira and Mark Harmon in 'NCIS'
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Before Liza Lapira played a badass on The Equalizer alongside Queen Latifah and Adam Goldberg, she was on CBS on another procedural drama (which is still on): NCIS. And she had quite the memorable arc and ending there.

In NCIS Seasons 4 and 6, Lapira played Michelle Lee, a lawyer who was briefly on Gibbs’ (Mark Harmon) team after Vance (Rocky Carroll) split everyone up following Jenny’s (Lauren Holly) death and was trying to identify a mole within the agency. As was revealed, Michelle was the mole (though she framed one of her fellow agents), but she’d done what she did to save her sister. She later told Gibbs to shoot her to take out the person responsible, using her as a shield.

“It was great to have that twist. It was a surprise because I had just been written to be the lawyer. I was with the team for a tiny bit, and then I moved into the law portion of NCIS, and then I was going to be Brian [Dietzen]‘s love interest,” Lapira recalled recently to TV Insider. “I got a call in [the sixth] season telling me what it was going to be. And it was just really exciting to come back and to get to do a big arc like that.”

She shared that NCIS “just brings back a lot of good memories,” both personal and professional. “Rocky Carroll is a gem. He’s just a gem. Mark Harmon is. I brought my mom to set, and as a birthday surprise for her, I just told her we were going somewhere, and Mark and Rocky said happy birthday to her and greeted her and just welcomed her with open arms.”

“Everyone was really kind. Brian Dietzen, I couldn’t have asked for a better first love interest. He was such a gentleman and very, very welcoming. I remember his wife was pregnant at the time, and it was just like, ‘Hi, nice to meet you. Congratulations. And now let’s pretend to be in love,'” she added with a laugh.

Then, 11 years later, Lapira popped up on NCIS: New Orleans as a different character (and she’s not the only one who has done so in the franchise). “That was a trip,” she said. “I emailed Mark and said, ‘Hey, I’m back at work, kind of.’ That team was lovely, too, and shooting in New Orleans is great. I’m sad that it’s no longer.” (The NCIS spinoff ended its seven-season run in 2021).

And hey, Michelle may have ended up in a tricky situation, but now we have Lapira as Mel helping people on CBS.