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Exclusive Interview: Actor Mark Harmon on His Career and Fitness

The NCIS star and former UCLA quarterback talks about hard work and being a team player—and reveals his surprising trick to stay fit.

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If you've turned your TV on in the past 30 years you've probably seen Mark Harmon. A jock-turned-actor, he's shown staying power in an industry notorious for chewing up talent and spitting it out. We sat down with Harmon to find out what makes him tick, and how his fitness routine has evolved since his days on the gridiron.

MF: If you weren't acting, what would you be doing?

MH: [I'd] be a carpenter. I tried to do that, but I just couldn't get hired. I enjoyed getting up and doing that in the morning; I enjoyed the drive to work. For me it was about materials and doing right. If you did it right, [the project] outlasted you. I still enjoy [carpentry], but I think that's probably what I would have been trying to do had I not been [acting]. I took a job in an ad firm and worked there for about four years. I got a promotion to another ad-based job—a national sales rep position at a shoe company—so I was kind of a shoe salesman for about seven months.

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MF: When did you realize that it was acting or nothing?

MH: When I was doing that shoe salesman job. I was coming back from Boston and I was sitting next to a 33-year-old who was talking about trying to make pension at 65. He was drinking his second martini by the time we were wheels up. He was miserable in his job and he was trying to maintain the job for another [32] years. I went home, got in my car, drove out to the place where I worked, and gave my notice.

MF: What do you wish you knew earlier in your career?

MH: I was a jock, so I came from a place where all you were trying to do was play the game and play it well—most of that is about not letting people know what you're thinking or doing. In the beginning of this chase, you try very hard to control everything. As an actor you control none of it. That's sometimes important—stepping away from it and not putting so much focus on it. Sometimes [that is] a better tactic than trying to throw the ball through the tire more times than the next guy.

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MF: Has fitness carried over from your athletic career into acting? What does fitness mean to you today?

MF: When you're 18 to 22, you're never out of shape. Training is what you do, it's what you wake up in the morning doing and go to bed at night thinking about, and that's your job, so to speak. I don't know that that has changed for me. The job I have, whether it's this job or some other job, I'm usually aware of that. It's every bit as much about the physical as it is about anything mental. I try to take care of myself and try to eat well and try to get [my] rest. I don't do the same stuff I was doing when I was 24 years old.

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MF: So what are you doing to stay in shape these days?

MH: Pilates. It completely kicks my ass. [I had a] shoulder injury [that drew me to Pilates]. The physical therapist I went to was all about that. They kick your ass on these machines. I was a big runner after college — I used to do 60 to 70-mile weeks every week. I wish I had some of that back now. [Pilates] is all about controlling the machine, and that's twice as hard.

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