Golden Globe– and Emmy nominee Maria Bello has been a staple on the big and small screens for more than 30 years, but she became especially beloved as Special Agent Dr. Jacqueline “Jack” Sloane on CBS’ NCIS. The 56-year-old made her first appearance on the show in Season 15 and became a key part of the investigative team until her Season 18 exit.
“And that’s a wrap for Jack Sloane,” wrote Maria on Instagram after her last episode aired in 2021. “I’ve learned many things on this journey for the last three and a half years. I learned about commitment and community. I’ve never worked with a kinder, more generous group of people.”
Although some speculated she left because of tensions on set, Maria had only kind words for her NCIS team and acknowledged the show’s longevity. “I understand why this show after 18 years is the most watched in the world — keep watching,” she continues.
Her real reason for leaving the hit show seems to be that she simply opted to not renew her 3-year contract, and instead decided to move on to other projects. But sources have also revealed that her partner was facing a cancer battle at the time (who is now thankfully in remission), and not renewing her contract gave Maria more time to spend with her family.
What Maria Bello has been doing since leaving NCIS
Though she’s been selective with her on-screen work since departing NCIS, Bello recently starred in one of Netflix’s biggest 2023 hits, the dramedy Beef. And though it’s been Maria’s only front-of-camera credit since leaving NCIS, it’s lauded as one of the best performances of her career and earned her a Primetime Emmy nomination in 2023.
The 10-episode miniseries pits The Walking Dead‘s Steven Yeun and comedian Ali Wong as adversaries out to ruin each other’s lives after a volatile encounter. Maria plays a wealthy investor named Jordan who is setting up a lucrative deal with Wong’s Amy Lau, all the while Yeun’s Danny Cho is trying to sabotage everything.
Maria has also been busy behind the camera. The Woman King 2022 blockbuster starring Viola Davis was a pet project of Bello’s in which she served as producer and creator. As a young child, Maria was drawn to encyclopedia chapters about African nations. When she got older, Maria worked in the library at Villanova, which is where she began to focus on women’s stories — or the lack thereof. So Maria had been waiting decades to bring those two loves together. “I realized there were really no history books about women,” she said in a Vanity Fair interview in 2022. “The only women I could find in America were like Betsy Ross. She sewed the flag, and then what?”
Then in 2015, Bello was asked to present an award to Viola Davis at the Skirball Cultural Center for the National Women’s History Museum “Women Making History Awards” in Los Angeles. “I said, ‘There’s so much incredible history. Can you imagine Viola Davis as this warrior in Africa?’ And I even said, ‘As a female Braveheart,’” remembers Bello. That got Davis’ attention and soon she signed on with Maria to produce.
Today, Maria even calls a suburb of Nairobi her part-time home. “I live in a little cottage on the grounds of the Eden Hotel,” Maria told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s become a hub and gathering place for some really interesting people. There are many different areas of Nairobi that are so gorgeous. I have the best meals at Talisman and Embark Restaurant. But really, I love the roadside nyama choma. It’s barbecued meat, basically.”
Other movies and TV shows through the years
Born Maria Elena Bello in Norristown, Pennsylvania, the would-be actor grew up in a working-class family and graduated from Archbishop John Carroll High School in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Bello majored in peace and justice education at Villanova University and had strong ambitions of becoming a lawyer. But in her senior year, she had taken an acting class just for fun and soon found a new passion. It didn’t take long before Bello packed her bags and honed her acting skills in a number of New York theater productions.
One of her earliest television appearances was in The Commish (1991) with Due South, Nowhere Man and Misery Loves Company in quick succession. But it was her role as pediatrician Dr. Anna Del Amico on ER (1997-1998) that put her on the radar for future film roles.
Coyote Ugly (2000) was her breakout film role, where she plays a fearless, independent bartender. With her extensive television experience, along with critical raves for her work, Golden Globe nominations for The Cooler (2003) and A History of Violence (2005) — for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress respectively — dotted her resume.
Fearless in her on-screen and off-screen personas, Bello credits her mother for instilling her plucky personality. “My mother told me when I was a kid that each time we get to what feels like the edge of a cliff, we have two choices: to turn around and run, or to jump. I have learned over time to jump — and though it is scary, I know somewhere inside me that I will be caught.”
Maria Bello opens up about bipolar disorder
Also referred to as manic-depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, which affects 5.7 million adults age 18 or older, can be a roller coaster of emotions. Diagnosed when she was 28, Maria says the illness made her humble. “I think that my disease, since I’m medicated, is a gift, because I’ve gone so far through extremes — from the very bottom to the very top of human emotion and feeling,” Bello told Entertainment Tonight in 2015. “I think that I am more empathetic because of it.”
Maria has since used her experience with bipolar disorder to bring on-screen characters to life, one of which was the role of a depressed and delusional mother in the horror thriller Lights Out (2016). “I was able to use my experience from that (bipolar disorder) and put it on the screen for the first time, remembering what it was to be that person who couldn’t get out of bed for three months, to try to understand what it was like to be in that kind of space, not understanding what reality was.” Bello also discusses the disorder in her 2016 memoir Whatever…Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves.
What is Maria Bello doing next?
In January of 2023, Maria signed for representation with the Agency for the Performing Arts, which indicates she will be taking part in more behind-the-camera work, as well as have access to new starring roles. Whatever she decides to do next, we know that we’ll be watching!