Burn Notice began airing in June, 2007 on the USA Network. The series, created by Matt Nix, centers on Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), a spy "burned" by his own agency who ends up in Miami, Florida. When a spy is "burned," he is considered a threat to national security and dumped somewhere he cannot leave. It's tough to go anywhere when your bank accounts are frozen and you have no assets. Since the beginning, Westen has been trying to find out who burned him and how to get back into the agency's good graces.
Luckily for Westen, he has friends and family in Miami. His mom, Madeline (played to the hilt by a chain-smoking Sharon Gless), lives in Miami, as does his friend and former FBI agent Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) and his former IRA operative girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar). This odd quartet mixes camp humor and action in an explosive combination.
This Thursday, Burn Notice ends its third season with another cliffhanger to hold us over until the fourth season begins in June, 2010. As the season ramps down, actors Donovan and Anwar took some time out of their schedules to answer a few questions.
It was obvious from the beginning of the conference call that the pair had a good relationship off camera as well as on the set. The duo laughed genially a lot at many of our questions but seemed happy to answer just about whatever came up.
When asked what drew the actors to the show and their characters, Anwar said it was the initial script and how her character Fiona was written. "I couldn't believe that a man had actually written the script," she said. "I mean at least her character. When I first met Matt Nix, who created and wrote the script, I actually said to him 'You must have a remarkable relationship with your wife, because you have such incredible insight.'" She continued, "When you sign up for a TV show, you don't know if it's going to be for a pilot or for the rest of your life, so I wanted to play a character that I enjoyed thoroughly – and there weren't that many of them out there."
Answering the same question, Donovan said he was hooked by the introduction. "The first page is a voiceover. It says 'You know what it's like to be a spy?'" The opportunity to not only play a spy, but play a burned spy and "on top of that… talk to the audience about what it's like being a spy [as a voiceover]" piqued his interest.
Another reporter asked about the actors' success in television and why they keep coming back to do more TV work. Donovan said that, especially with cable, "it's an avenue to be creative." He said "I think why people are drawn more now to cable shows than ever is that they take more risks — they're creatively pushing the envelope. I think that the networks have to answer to a bigger advertising calling, whereas the smaller cable [channels] have lower ceilings they can bump their heads on."
He continued. "And if you think about it, we make 16 one-hour movies a season. You don't get an opportunity like that in movies."
Anwar said she likes the stability of television – "the continuity of having a lifestyle where I know I can pay my rent at the end of each month." And as a mother, she said it was "nice for all of us to sort of know we're going to be in a specific place for a certain amount of time. I've never known that in my career. So I'm really quite grateful at this point that I get to have this sort of double existence and can rely on both."
When asked if actor/director Tim Matheson would return as Larry, Westen's former insane spy partner who has gone freelance, Donovan was quite outspoken about the actor. "He's a terrific character and Tim's such a wonderful man and an extraordinary actor. One, we were lucky to get him, and two, he's actually happy to be on the show and wants to continually come back."
During the call we also learned that Matheson will be directing the premiere episode for season four, which is great. He acted in and directed a few episodes of seasons two and three, and whenever his character Larry shows up, the audience knows something bad will happen to poor Michael Westen.
Later in the call, Anwar was asked about working with Sharon Gless and how Fiona and Madeline's characters have grown closer over the seasons. She definitely agreed with that assessment. "I think that these two women have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. There's so little spoken about what's really being felt and really being witnessed with that connection to Michael, I think it's pretty accurate to real life, especially with in-law figures. There's so much that's not spoken out loud, and yet there are so many physical undertones and it's very apparent – and that's thanks to Sharon. I mean, her performance is so beautifully nuanced and I find it terribly inspiring. She's a wonderful woman and actress."
When Donovan was asked about what he does in his off time, he mentioned he golfs as regularly as he can. "Luckily down in Florida, there's a lot of golf courses. And I just put a golf hat on and take my sticks out and usually walk a course. Sometimes I'm by myself and sometimes I just kind of walk onto a twosome or threesome and join them. And most people just kind of leave me alone. That's my quiet time. I love walking about four or five hours on a golf course."
This season, we were introduced to Mason Gilroy, a violent psychopathic villain played almost gleefully by Chris Vance (recently on FOX's Mental). The characters of Gilroy and Westen seem on screen to be like two coiled vipers waiting to strike each other. When I asked Donovan and Anwar about working with him this season, they seemed quite happy with the opportunity.
"Yes, he's definitely added a great tension to every scene that I'm in with him," said Donovan. "And I think [he's] kind of a great super villain that governs over the show. I think the best part of Burn Notice is always when the villain or guest star is more talented, smarter, or crazier than the rest of the cast because it ups all our game."
Anwar agreed, adding "There's nothing more inspiring than to have to pull everything you have out of your back pocket on the stage. And we have so little time to rehearse and to find everything imaginable in one scene, that when you do have this fantastic talent to work with it really is fun, [and] it makes it that much more enjoyable."
It's obvious that these two great actors enjoy the series they're on, their characters, the setting, and the chance to act with some other great actors in the process. Burn Notice is one of the best, most interesting series on TV right now and I hope it continues long into the indefinite future.
Be sure to tune into the Burn Notice season three finale this Thursday night on the USA Network.