María José de Pablo Fernández, better known as Cote de Pablo, (born November 12, 1979), is a Chilean-born American stage and TV actress and recording artist.
She is best known for her role as Mossad/NCIS Liaison Officer-turned-NCIS Special Agent Ziva David in the CBS television series NCIS, for which she has won an ALMA Award.
In addition to acting, she has also embarked on a career as a songwriter and vocalist.
De Pablo was born in Santiago, Chile to an upper-class Catholic family. She has a younger sister, Andrea, and a brother who works as a DJ. When de Pablo was 10 years old, her mother, María Olga Fernández, received a job in Miami, Florida, at a Spanish-speaking television network. There, de Pablo attended Arvida Middle School and New World School of the Arts where she studied musical theater.
In the 5th grade, she found many people could not properly pronounce her first name of "Maria José" so she asked them to call her Coté (a common Chilean nickname for María José). She then attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she studied music and theater and appeared in several plays, including And the World Goes 'Round, The House of Bernarda Alba, Indiscretions, The Fantasticks, and A Little Night Music. She graduated in 2000.
After graduation, she moved to New York City to find work as an actress, working as a waitress in an Indian restaurant in Manhattan and an Italian eatery in Brooklyn to support herself. She picked up parts in the New York City Public Theater, in the TV show All My Children, and in commercials.
In 2005, de Pablo was about to make her Broadway debut in The Mambo Kings in 2005 as Dolores Fuentes, but the show closed after a short trial run in San Francisco.
Two days after The Mambo Kings closed, de Pablo was asked to audition for NCIS, presumably for the spot left vacant by Sasha Alexander's departure after Alexander's character, Caitlin Todd was killed off in the Season 2 finale episode, Twilight (episode).
De Pablo was put alongside series star Michael Weatherly to test for chemistry during her second audition; he went off-script by brushing her hair back and commenting, "You remind me of Salma Hayek", to which de Pablo stayed in character and "dismissed him completely".
Afterwards, producer Donald Bellisario met with her when she was waiting for a cab to take her back to the airport and told her she got the part.
After being a series regular for ten years, de Pablo chose to leave the NCIS series just after the Season 10 finale episode, Damned If You Do (episode) had aired with fans reacting negatively and furiously to her planned departure.
Despite that, de Pablo chose to go ahead with her departure and she made her final appearance in the Season 11 episode, Past, Present and Future (episode) although it was left open for her to return.
Following De Pablo's departure, she was replaced by actress Emily Wickersham.
De Pablo currently appears in the miniseries, "The Peacekeepers".
De Pablo is in a long-term relationship with actor Diego Serrano. As a consequence of her doing her own stunts on NCIS, de Pablo has been injured several times on the show including injuring her neck.
Also, as a result of losing an earring when she was a child which came off while she was on a pillow, de Pablo has a scar visible on the lower side of her left ear lobe which can be briefly seen during some scenes of various NCIS episodes.
- For the first five seasons on the show, she was credited as "de Pablo" before it changed to "De Pablo".