In a, one of the questions pertained to the challenges of shooting the morgue scenes. David McCallum, who plays the chief medical examiner Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard for many seasons, said that these scenes worry him, “because it’s freezing cold in there (…) these poor actors and actresses come along and lie on a steel table, so our main concern with the bodies is to keep them warm, keep them happy and to let them come home in one piece.”
The cold is not the only problem that actors on “corpse duty” have to go through on “NCIS” and similar shows. The job of playing a corpse may just entail laying still and letting the other actors perform, but it certainly isn’t an easy one. In 2011, areporter actually signed up to play a dead body on “Law and Order,” just to see what the process looks like. In her piece, she wrote that there is a major difference between bodies that are “morgue dead” and “freshly dead.” The first type of body is much harder on the actors since they need to spend hours lying still while the make-up artists prepare them for the morgue shots.
The WSJ article also claimed that “NCIS” often uses mannequins instead, but since these figures take weeks to get ready and cost nearly $8,000 each (in 2011), using real-life actors definitely makes less of a dent in the show’s budget. According to the “NCIS” executive producer Mark Horowitz, using actors to play corpses instead of mannequins is not only cheaper but makes the morgue scenes look more believable. In his words, “the truth is nothing looks more realistic than an actor playing dead.”