Diona Reasonover: The Truth About The NCIS Star

Diona Reasonover, the multi-talented actress and writer, is not only a compelling performer, but also a champion for smashing stereotypes. Described by Bustle as "the acid-tongued one-liner-queen," Reasonover broke into the TV business in the comedy genre with a recurring role on the short-lived TBS show Clipped, as well as appearances on high-profile sitcoms like Superstore and 2 Broke Girls. She made the move to primetime in 2018 when she had the unenviable, but potentially star-making task of replacing Pauley Perrette's long-running role as the as the main forensic scientist on NCIS. Despite belonging to the "I'm not a doctor but I play one on TV" camp, Reasonover successfully transitioned into the role.

Off the screen, Reasonover tackled a whole different set of challenges, from strained family dynamics, to health challenges, to side gigs that got as grisly as some of the scenes she'll have to handle in a made-for-TV pathology lab. Are you ready to learn more about one of NCIS' newest leading ladies?

We present to you Diona Reasonover: The truth about the NCIS star.

Diona Reasonover has helped make strides for LGBTQ representation

Diona Reasonover has always been open about her sexuality, which has translated into her roles on TV as well. In an interview for AfterEllen, she described her character Charmaine on the TBS show Clipped as "a lesbian's lesbian" and "queer." The actress further explained her connection to the role to Bustle, saying, "I think it's so interesting in a way getting to play this character who is a queer person of color, and I am a queer person of color."

In an interview with TheBlot Magazine, Reasonover talked about growing up queer, revealing that her family was not "super supportive" of her sexuality. However, she got some "closure" around the issue when she starred in Clipped, alongside George Wendt of Cheers fame. "The fact that one of my father's idols [Wendt] is playing a queer character in an interracial relationship, and I'm a queer person in an interracial relationship, it's like we're practically the same person," Reasonover joked. 

This may have been referring to her future wife, fellow writer and actress Patricia Villetto (above left). The two got married in 2018, according to the New York Post, and live together with their pet cat.

Interestingly, Reasonover's father, who sadly passed away before her TV career took off, was the one who introduced her to comedy. "[My father] showed me what is still my favorite movie today, The Jerk with Steve Martin, she told the Detroit Free Press. "I watched it all the time." 

Health issues didn't stop Diona Reasonover

Diona Reasonover had a physically tough time in earning her biggest TV role. When she found out she landed an audition for NCISit was just two days after she had knee surgery, she told the New York Post. Reasonover luckily delayed the audition since she was hopped up on painkillers, and said she probably couldn't even drive. Still, when she rolled into the casting call, Reasonover was on crutches. 

Obviously, she landed the gig, but she was still recuperating on her first day on the job. As Reasonover admitted in an interview with KTLA 5, "I was walking a little bit like a baby deer." However, the entire cast and crew were super supportive. Her new castmates "greeted" her, constantly gave her ice packs, and genuinely welcomed her to the NCIS family. In her New York Post interview, she said people even showed camaraderie by showing off "battle scars" from their own previous surgeries.

Diona Reasonover joked her way onto TV

The CBS Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase is an annual event by the network to showcase amazing talent from all backgrounds, according to the official website. It was here that Diona Reasonover improved her comedy writing skills and gained industry exposure.

As she told Newsweek, writing for the showcase prepared her for the pacing of TV writing and acting. Reasonover said the aim was to pump out a lot of content, so she just had to quickly write then try to sell the sketch. "Now, luckily, in this case, the scripts are great, the beats are already worked out, and they're funny and http://wp.looper.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=172500&action=edit#touching," she said of her TV work, adding, "But it doesn't make the time frame any different. You get in there, you do the work, you commit to it, and then you move on to the next one."

Reasonover's skills did not go unnoticed after her first year in the showcase. According to BookTrib, she landed three pilots, including Clipped, the TBS show she would later star in. Then, in her second year of the program, Reasonover became the first black and female head writer of the showcase.

Going from tragedies to comedies

With two degrees in acting — "an undergraduate degree in theater and dance from Oberlin College and a master's degree in acting" from CalArts, per CBS –  it's not surprising that Diona Reasonover grew up performing in classic roles. She told Urban Magazine that originally, performing in plays by Shakespeare was all she wanted to do. Then one day, Reasonover realized that these performances were way too "depressing," so she decided to switch things up. "The door opened for me was the door of joy" she said, which transitioned her into comedy writing and acting.

Of course, Reasonover shifted back away from comedy for her role in the drama series NCIS. She told Parade that she enjoyed the transition after performing in comedy for so long. Remembering her days in Shakespeare and Chekhov plays, Reasonover said it was a lot of on-stage crying where characters "wail for two and a half hours." In the role for NCIS, however, she found a perfect balance of pathos and comedy. In her words, she gets to combine the "serious moments" with the "really funny" ones, like when her character has "nervous and is spilling coffee all over the place moments."

How can Diona Reasonover be a non-scientific scientist?

Diona Reasonover identifies with the "nerdy" aspect of her NCIS character, but she's "not good at science." At least, that's what she told KTLA 5, during a December 2018 interview. So, how does she pull off some of the complexities of portraying a forensic scientist, specifically the dialogue? "It's all, like, these multisyllabic words, but my sister is a doctor, so I just call her, and I'm like, 'Hey...'"  

Even though she just plays a scientist on TV, Reasonover told TV Insider that she hopes her role inspires women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Reasonover said that Pauley Perrette, whom she replaced on NCIS, gave out scholarships in these fields. Reasonover hopes that she'll also be able to provide similar grants, specifically to women and people of color in pursuit of careers in STEM. As far as inspiration for the role? That helpful sister/dialogue coach we just mentioned — a real-life woman of color in the medical field. Reasonover even gave her an up-close look at the set once, which she commemorated with a sweet Instagram photo that she captioned, "Snuck a #sister on set! #ncis #setlife #loveher"

Diona Reasonover had a tough act to follow

It's probably the definition of "big shoes to fill" when Diona Reasonover landed a full-time role on NCIS. Her character effectively replaced Abby Sciuto, who was played by Pauley Perrette during an incredible 15-year-run from 2003–2018. According to Parade, super fans had been critical in the past of new members to the show, specifically, Emily Wickersham (above left). Reasonover faced the same initial scrutiny, as fans told her, "Nobody can ever replace Pauley." However, those same viewers also conceded that they thought Reasonover was "doing a pretty good job."

Reasonover echoed similar sentiments during an interview with TV Insider. She described the show's fanbase as "so open and generous," despite her own reservations. "I was really worried coming into a show that was already established. ... People know [the series] and people love it. To be coming in as the new person in this dynamic is really hard." But on her first day on set, Reasonover got advice from none other than Perrette, who told her "just be yourself," which gave her the confidence to enter into the iconic series. 

Luckily, Reasonover's combination of humor, smarts, and charm eventually won audiences over so much that once during jury duty, a fan slipped her a note of encouragement, she told KTLA 5.

Diona Reasonover thinks college is cool

In a sit down with Urban Magazine, Diona Reasonover discussed her thoughts on higher education. She said her parents always talked about the "power of education," which encouraged her to obtain two degrees in acting. Reasonover clarified that formal education may not be the right "path" for everyone but encouraged "taking the time to dedicate yourself to whatever it is that you want to do and learn as much about it as you can." She also jokingly guessed that her parents push to keep her in school was just their way of "keeping [her] out of trouble" and not "running in them streets!"

Not to say she succeeded at all things in school. When the New York Post asked Reasonover if she would make a good scientist in real life, the truth came out. She admitted, "My high school transcripts will tell you I did not do well in chemistry or biology." Consider us fooled by her effective performance as a forensic scientist.

Whose line is it, anyway?

Improvisational acting is a difficult and specific style to master, but Diona Reasonover is clearly gifted in the art. She was a writer and performer for two of the most famous improv groups in North America. According to BookTrib, Reasonover won a scholarship from Puma to write and act for The Second City. The company website says Reasonover graduated from the conservatory program at the Hollywood branch of the Chicago-born improv theater, which counts Reasonover among its other famous alumni like Tiny Fey and Steve Carell. 

Reasonover was also a member of the Upright Citizen's Brigade (UCB), which counts Amy Poehler and Donald Glover among its celebrity alumni. Within UCB, she was part of the "Ham Radio" group that performed improv shows in the Los Angeles area (via the UCB website).

Reasonover opened up more about her improv background during an interview with Parade, when she said that she started with the art form in 2011. Her reason for jumping into the world of unscripted comedy? In referencing her previous dramatic roles, she said "My tear ducts were all dried up. I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, I can't deal with this anymore.'"

Hometown pride is very real for Diona Reasonover

Diona Reasonover grew up in Detroit, Michigan. She eventually got her Bachelor's degree at nearby Oberlin College (per BookTrib), and the writer and actress still has love for her hometown. She told Urban Magazine that growing up in Detroit — the city of Motown — actually influenced her acting career. "That is one of the ways that I look at scripts. If I can't hear the music of it, it's not the script for me," she said.

As Reasonover told the Detroit Free Press, if she had her choice and wasn't bound to Los Angeles for filming, she would live in Detroit. She referenced other famous comedic actors from the city — Keegan-Michael Key and Sam Richardson — as proof of the city's influence. In reference to all three comedians growing up in the area, she said, "I think we're just born resilient and comedy is about resilience."

Of course, when someone thinks about NCIS, star Mark Harmon is likely the first person that comes to mind. So, when Reasonover first met Harmon on the set of NCIS, she became star struck, though not for the reason you might think. As Reasonover explained on KTLA 5, Harmon hails from Michigan sports royalty. His father Tom Harmon's reputation at the University of Michigan is legendary as one of the first winners ever of the Heisman Trophy in college football.

Funding an acting career wasn't easy for Diona Reasonover

The struggle to make both ends meet as an actor is real, and it was no different for Diona Reasonover. In pursuit of her dream, she picked up many side jobs for funds and experience — some more normal than others.

Speaking with Black Enterprise, Reasonover said that her favorite job was being "a barista at the school coffee shop." The, ahem, perk? She claimed, "I didn't buy groceries the whole time I worked there. I [lived] off pastries and espresso."

In an interview with E! News, Reasonover admitted "I actually used to troll Craigslist for acting gigs." Sometimes, she would find producers with money that were searching for actors. She could earn good money by performing "a script in someone's basement — you just had to make sure that it wasn't, like, a murder basement." Perhaps her oddest experience from Craigslist was "cleaning blood off the walls" of a gym. Wait, for an acting gig? "No," she answered. Yikes. 

Diona Reasonover is still wowed by TV magic

Speaking with Justin Sylvester of E! News, Diona Reasonover speculated that "half of the time," forensic scenes on TV don't actually involve a dead body. This is not to say that every seemingly grisly moment she's starred in has been a walk in the park for her. In instances where the show does feature a fake dead body, Reasonover said the prop creators on NCIS are "upsettingly good at their jobs." In an interview for CinemaBlend, the actress said she quickly learned to eat prior to coming on the set, quipping, "you haven't seen gross until you see yogurt floating in red water at like, 8 a.m."

Continuing with the gross experiences, Reasonover told Urban Magazine about one of her "most memorable" days on set. The scene called for a victim who is discovered weeks later in a hot tub. Even though she knew the dead body for filming was fake, Reasonover admitted, "I could not eat lunch. I didn't want to eat dinner. I was like, 'I'm good for the day.'" Sounds like an effective, albeit not ideal way to diet.