B-movie icon Bruce Campbell has developed quite a cult following on the strength of his work in television series The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and Jack of All Trades and films such as Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series and the more recent My Name Is Bruce. But his biggest success to date has been as sidekick to an out-of-work spy on USA Network's Burn Notice.
The series focuses on Michael Westen (portrayed by Jeffrey Donovan) as a spy who is suddenly "burned" which means that his employment as a spy is suddenly terminated. He gets dumped in Miami with no money, no job, and, most importantly, no idea of who burned him or why. Westen has no choice but to turn to his few friends for help determining who was responsible for burning him.
First, there is his ex-girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) who has a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. Then there is ex-Navy SEAL Sam Axe (Campbell) who in the early episodes spent as much time informing on Westen to the Feds as he did helping his friend. But as the series has developed, Sam has become more of a loyal sidekick and is willing to stick with Michael until he gets his life back.
But Michael also has family issues to deal with and most of those revolve around the relationship with his mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless). His brother, Nate (Seth Peterson), also has his own set of issues and often it's up to Michael to bail him out of trouble.
During a recent conference call with several online media outlets including Blogcritics, Mr. Campbell explained why the show appealed to him so much.
“My basis for accepting this script when it came across my desk was I loved the fact of what it wasn’t. It wasn’t a cop show, it wasn’t a doctor’s show, it wasn’t a lawyer show. There’s plenty of stuff that goes on, but this is basically the human side of spies and I went, right, I can get into that. And I really enjoyed the fact that it’s a good blend of a show that does have strong main characters, and not a lot of them. It’s got four main characters. And that’s what the emphasis is. And oh yes, stuff blows up and every week there is a caper where you defeat the jerk of the week. But I think it’s mostly you watch these characters from week to week, and that’s what I enjoy. And that’s what appealed to me and that’s what keeps me interested in the show is it’s not really about the explosions, it’s about the people who are doing the explosions.”
“There’s always going to be two things going on,” said Mr. Campbell. “One is the problem at hand, which is somebody needs help and it’s worthy enough for him to help someone in the middle of what his overlying problem is, is who is causing all these problems for this guy. And so that’s, the one is the constant, but the other one, the overall problem that he has is going to, that’s going to be ratcheted up consistently throughout the [next] seven episodes to its final explosion point, where it’s a point of no return.”
The show will also feature a number of guest stars that will add a new twist to the overarching plot.
“You’ve got Tricia Helfer back as Carla (who burned Michael Westen). So she’s going to be causing lots and lots of trouble,” Said Mr. Campbell. “Michael Shanks is back as another one of these fellow cohort guys who you’re not sure if you can trust or not. The great John Mahoney, who I worked with in The Hudsucker Proxy, John Mahoney from Frasier, he’s back as someone I can’t tell you about because I’d have to kill you. Former Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin is joining us. He’s Mr. Football, so it was kind of fun to do a football theme episode. Dina Meyer shows up as, well, let’s just say someone who perhaps was close to Michael Westen. And of course with Fiona that’s going to cause some sparks. And there will be some sparks flying in these next seven episodes, I can guarantee you."
Mr. Campbell is quick to credit the show’s success to Jeffrey Donovan. But it is Campbell’s portrayal of Sam Axe that adds an element of humor to the show. Ironically, Sam Axe and Bruce Campbell have almost nothing in common.
“I don’t drink as much as Sam does and I don’t womanize as much as Sam does because I’ve been married for 17 years to the same woman,” said Mr. Campbell. “So, it’s always fun to just let loose. Sam is a much more relaxed character than me. I live in the Pacific Northwest and by the time I show up in Miami this March, I’m going to be white and pasty and I’m going to be squinting at the sun because it’s been raining and snowing here in the Pacific Northwest. So I’ll go back down to Miami, I’ll strip my work boots off, my jeans off and get back into that character, get back into that basically removing clothing. You know, I get my t-shirts off, I get my flannel shirts off and start getting back in flip flops and shorts. Because I literally live at the complete opposite end of the country and it’s a huge adjustment every year, but it kind of cracks me up that people perceive me as this kind of, hey, beach guy with a beer in his hand and I’m kind of the opposite. I’m such a woodsy guy. I like mountains and streams and rivers and lakes.”
Mr. Campbell also added that the fact they shoot the show entirely in Miami adds to its appeal.
“We’re on beaches and we’re in swamps and at the edge of the everglades and running around in funky alleys and buildings, you don’t have to fake your angles. And the main difference is that by shooting there, you know, Florida is a flat state, you don’t see mountains anywhere. With CSI Miami, they’ve got to be careful because if they tilt up about 10 degrees, they’re going to be looking at the Santa Monica Mountains there. So you don’t have to fake anything. You’ve got boats left and right, anything you need saying it’s Miami, it’s there. And we’re really the main show that has stayed. Dexter left, CSI Miami left and we’re it. So we actually get great cooperation. So we get into as many cool places as you’d ever want to get into just because people are excited to have us there. So we’re really capitalizing on it. USA has kind of given us the edict of 60% of the show has to be outdoors because if they’re shooting in Miami, they want to see it.”
Burn Notice returns to USA Network with all new episodes on January 22 at 10pm Eastern/9pm Central.