is opening up for the first time about his exit from last fall. The actor, who played NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs since 2003, the long-running CBS procedural early on in the most recent 19th season but has largely remained silent about his decision to leave until now.
In ET's exclusive first look from one of the special featurettes in the upcoming season 19 DVD release, Harmon addresses Gibbs' goodbye in a new sit-down focusing on the character's legacy.
"What has always drawn me here is the character I play and to keep it fresh and to keep it challenging," the 70-year-old actor said in the clip, before alluding to the possibility that it was time to close this chapter in his career -- for now. "Plot-wise, this character has taken the path that it did. I thought it was honest and OK with."
Harmon then assured fans Gibbs is still alive and kicking, enjoying the simpler things in life: "I'm not retired... The character is living in Alaska as far as I know."
In Harmon's final episode, Gibbs broke the news to McGee -- while out fishing on the lake in Alaska -- that he was not returning to work, acknowledging that he was "not sure" how long he'd be away.
"My gut's telling me, I'll know when I find it," Gibbs said of what exactly he's looking for. "This sense of peace, I have not had this since Shannon and Kelly died and I'm not ready to let it go." He then offered his protege the unofficial reins of the NCIS office. "I could not have hoped for anyone better to watch my back for the past 18 years than you," he said to McGee.
Executive producer and showrunner Steven D. Binder released a statement following , leaving the door open for a potential return down the line.
“As an executive producer and dear friend, Mark continues to be an integral part of the fabric of the show. Our north star has always been staying true to our characters, and that truth has always guided the stories we tell and where those characters go," Binder said in a statement to ET. "So regarding the future of Gibbs, as longtime fans of the show may have noticed over the years… never count Leroy Jethro Gibbs out.”