Jungle

Jeffrey Donovan & Gabrielle Anwar Interview (Burn Notice)

Jeffrey Donovan & Gabrielle Anwar Interview (Burn Notice)

Shakefire sits down with Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar to talk to them about their television hit drama Burn Notice, which airs on the USA Network every Thursday at 10 p.m. EST. Donovan plays Michael Weston, a covert operative who has been burned by the government and is on a mission to find out who did it to him. He is assisted by his ex-girlfriend, Fiona Glenanne, played by Anwar. She is his explosives expert and doesn't mind blowing things up first and asking questions later.

Shakefire: What first drew you to the show and to your characters?

Jeffrey Donovan: I got hooked on the voiceover, the first page is a voiceover, it says, "You know what it's like to be a spy?"  I love the idea that not only do I get to play a spy, I get to play a burn spy, and on top of that, I can talk to the audience about what it's like being a spy.  I thought I had never seen anything like that on television, so that's what hooked me.

Gabrielle Anwar: I was drawn to the character, Fiona, I just thought it was so brilliantly written.  It was sparingly written, but so insightful.  I couldn't believe that a man had actually written the script, 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.  So that was what intrigued me about playing a character.

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.  So that's why I clasped onto this script with great hope.

SF: Are you happy with where you guys have ended up with your characters and where would you like to see them go in the future?

JD: I know from talking with all the other cast mates, we're very happy with where it's going.  But sometimes Matt Nix and all the other writers keep us slightly in the character dark, not because they don't trust us with the knowledge, but they're just trying to figure it out as well along the way. When you're dealing with espionage and covert affairs, sometimes the secret is more exciting than the knowledge.  If we were both in charge, I would love a deeper insight into Michael's past, that's for me.  I don't know about Gabrielle, what would you like?

GA: I'm quite happy with Fiona's enigmatic state of being.  I don't think I need to know more about, I'd love to know more about where you're from, absolutely, but I quite like not knowing.  I don't like to know who I am.

SF: In the upcoming episode, Michael will be going somewhere other than Miami and that he won't be alone.  Can you tell us where your characters going and why, as well as who's going with him?

JD: Well, obviously I can't.  It's the season finale, and it's really literally in the last five minutes of the show.  It's a bit of a cliffhanger.  Michael's been stuck in Miami for quite some time, and there's a couple of psychopaths on his tail, and things come to a hilt.  And by the end of the show, Michael is actually transported out of Miami, but I can't tell you where, but it's a bit of a cliffhanger.

SF: We're seeing how Michael is and how the group is without the big overall mystery of who burnt Michael Westen, and who's doing this; is there going to be a return of management anytime soon?

JD: Yes, season four is actually pretty remarkable.  I met with the writers last week and we kind of broke down the next eight or nine episode ark.  A new character is going to be introduced.  I don't know the name yet, but he is going to be a young operative, but he's going to play a significant new role on the show.

Then there is actually going to be a change of management.  There's going to be a new management that controls Michael's life, and you'll see Michael have to go on even more dangerous missions under this new management with the new operative.

SF: I really enjoyed seeing Tim Matheson and you play off each other, and I'm wondering will we see Larry again?

JD: Yes, you will.  Larry's such a pivotal thorn in Michael's ... and that gives my character great ammunition to kind of fight with.  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.  He'll be directing season four's premiere and also, he'll return as Larry at some point in the season.

SF: Regarding you and Madeline, your relationship with each other, and obviously she and Michael are a tribe of two. Can you talk about that?

GA: I think that these two women have a tremendous amount of respect for one another.  There's so little spoken about what's really being felt and really being witnessed with that connection to Michael, which I think is pretty accurate to real life, especially with the 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.

SF: The addition of Chris Vance as a psychopath Mason Gilroy has really given you guys a violent insane villainess this season.  And when Michael and Gilroy meet it seems like they're kind of coiled vipers waiting to strike at each other.  How is working with him added to the show during the season?

JD: Yes, he's definitely added a great tension to every scene that I'm in with him, and I think kind of a great super villain that kind of governs over the show.  I think the best part of Burn Notice is always when the villain or guest star is either more talented, smarter, or crazier than the rest of the cast, because it ups all our game.

GA: Yes, I agree.  I don't actually get to work with Gilroy, but I agree with you.  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, it's fun, it makes it so much more enjoyable.

SF: It's really obvious that Miami is as much a character in the show as the setting.  What's your guys favorite part about filming in such a diverse and vibrant city?

JD: I actually love the weather, to be honest with you.  I love that the climate is constantly being washed and rinsed.  You're living in the Caribbean in the United States and sometimes it's incredible blue skies and sometimes it's an incredible thunderstorm that kind of screams through, but I love that part of Florida.

SF: What goes into learning all the side tricks.  Is it just like “here's your script and have at it” or is there more training and research involved in your roles?

JD: We have an ex-operative that actually is a consultant on our show that Matt Nix and the other writers have access to, so everything that is put into the show gets vetted through him before we air it.  Ninety-five percent of it you can find on the Internet anyway, but everything that is put into a script has been researched and vetted, so that when we speak it or we do it, we know it's actual.

SF: Are we ever going to see any flashback episodes to see how your two characters met or maybe how Bruce and one of your characters meet or anything like that?

JD: Flashback has been talked about, but not in a nice way.  We're not, one, we've never done a flashback ever of anything and it's just not a device that we employ, so I doubt it, but I can't rule it out.  One of my favorite episodes of Magnum PI, which I was a fan of was when Tom Selleck got knocked off a boat and he had to wade in the water until he was picked up.  So they just basically shot him for about a half an hour wading in the water and then did the entire show of flashbacks.  I liked that idea.

SF: Are you surprised at the success of the show and with the folling that it's gotten over the years?

JD: Well, I think that all you can hope for is that you make something that people want to watch and then somehow keep integrity while doing that.And so I think we're very happy with the ratings, definitely.  I know we work really hard,and yes, we're always surprised when anything succeeds in this day and age.

SF: One thing that always cracks me up when watching Burn Notice is the tags that they put on the freeze screens of like the newer temporary characters such as Gilroy Freelance Psychopath. What would each of your tags be under your names, not for Michael and Fiona, but for Jeffrey and Gabrielle?

JD: If I got introduced, "a smiling shark."

GA: Oh, gosh, "still figuring it out." 

SF: Do you think there might be perhaps any other USA network show crossovers in the future or would you like to see that happen?

JD: I actually would like to do a crossover somehow with White Collar, I think that the show tonally is similar to ours.  I don't know how that would work, but I would like to see that.  I don't think we would work with any other show.  I think Psych and Royal Pains doesn't figure into our tone.

SF: You both obviously had success in film, and a lot of times when that happens, people are less likely to want to do television.  What do you like about this particular medium and why do you keep coming back to television?

JD: I think that, especially with cable, it's an avenue to be creative.  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 cables have lower ceilings that they can bump their heads on.  So I think that's why I keep being drawn back to television, because I think it's one of the most creative outlets. And if you think about it, we make 16 one-hour movies a season.  You don't get any opportunity like that in movies.  I mean, I can't say I'll be able to do 16 movies in the next year, and so that's how I see it.

GA: I like the stability, the continuity of having a lifestyle where I know I can pay my rent at the end of each month.  And also I have these children that I am raising and it's nice for all of us to sort of know that 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 the sort of double existence and I can rely on both.

SF: Now having three seasons under your belt, is it getting easier or harder to keep playing these characters and stay invested in them?  Are there any challenges you're facing now that maybe you didn't have in the beginning of the show?

JD: I'm getting older.  And as you get older it's harder to run and jump over cars and beat up bad guys, but it becomes easier in some ways because you know the characters so well, so it's a little bit of both.  What would you say, Gabrielle?

GA: Yes, I always get a little anxious like the first day of school when we've had our hiatus and we're coming back, because I think I'm not as insane as I was when we started shooting, which really landed itself to Fiona.  And now I'm afraid I might be getting a little boring in my old age, so I think that I don't know if I can step into her shoes and deliver.  I have that anxiety before we start shooting.

SF: You have such fantastic chemistry on screen, so what is it like off screen with each other and with other cast members?

GA: Oh, it's a problem.

JD: Well, we don't find each other at all funny, that's a hard thing.  We're very blessed, we really are.  I know cast mates usually probably hide the fact that there's tension and turmoil, but Bruce, Sharon, Gabrielle, and I, we get along, not only on screen, but off screen.  They're extraordinary actors, but even better people, and the chemistry is just terrific.  We have dinner, we hang out whenever we have time off, which is very little.

SF: Jeffrey, you are very physical in this role, and you obviously spend so much time on set, what do you do for fun in what little off time you have?

JD: I golf.  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 I usually walk a course.  And sometimes I'm by myself and sometimes I just kind of walk onto a twosome or a threesome and join them, and most people just kind of leave me alone, and that's my quiet time.  I love walking about four or five hours on a golf course.

SF: Gabrielle, you have a complicated life too, you've got kids and you live out in LA, how do you juggle all this and then find time for yourself?

GA: I don't.  I don't have any time for myself.  In fact, sitting here in this hotel room in New York is as exciting as it gets for me, my alone time.  There really is no time, I'm a mom, and mom's don't have days off.

SF: What would you guys say is most dangerous stunt you've had to do?

GA: I don't like fighting with Jeffrey, because I always hurt him.  Because I don't know what I'm doing, and he's such an expert, and I always manage to accidentally cause some damage.

JD: Yes, the most dangerous is either a bomb or something going off or a fight with Gabrielle.  They're about the same.

SF: Obviously you guys get along really well, are there any favorite or challenging scenes that you've done so far that kind of stick out in your mind?

GA: Yes, I really love a scene that kind of came out of working with Gabrielle this past season where we created a scene that wasn't necessarily on the page where I slap her across the face.  And Gabrielle did such an incredible performance of having to deal with her feelings for Michael hitting her and then acting as an undercover character.  That I think was probably some of the best work I've ever seen her do and that was one of the most memorable moments for me.

SF: What has been your most memorable experience with meeting the fans of the show?

GA: I think actually to be honest, it's the fact that so many couples are enjoying it together.  It's become sort of a date night theme, which is really fabulous.  I'm happy for bringing the love, it's all about the love.

JD: Yes, that's actually true, Gabrielle.  A lot of husband/wives and boyfriend/girlfriends come up to me, the husband will say, "Oh my gosh, my wife loves the show.  I got her onto it," or she'll say, or a woman will come and say, "My husband didn't watch the show until I told him about it."  It's pretty neat that it is kind of a date night for couples.

SF: I know that You've recently donated some money to your high school in Angsbury, Massachusetts; but you're also very involved in Life Rolls On, could you tell us a little bit about that cause and what drew you to it specifically?

JD: Well, many years ago, an actor friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to a charity golf event out in Malibu for Life Rolls On, and I hadn't heard about it.  And he explained it's a charitable foundation to raise money for spinal cord injuries in young athletes.  And Jesse Billauer suffered a life changing surfing accident at the age of 19, and this foundation was created out of his name.  

It's a wonderful foundation that raises funds that aren't necessarily being put into by the government or a lot of private foundations, to research how we can get these kids either wheelchair assisted living or new types of devices that will help them either walk or stand or even ride a surf board again or any sport that they got injured in.  And so that's how I got involved and it's an incredible organization.

SF: On a recent episode of Saturday Night Live, they did a parity game show called, What is Burn Notice?  Where people who had not seen the show tried to figure out what it was about based on vague promos and sort of an obscure title.  Did you know that aside from your massage number of viewers, that there were people out there who didn't really know what the show was about?

JD: I don't know.  It seems like everybody knows the show, because I walk down the street and everyone yells, "Burn Notice, I love your show."  So I thought it was kind of a funny parity, quite funny actually, to make a show, it's like what is Seinfeld on cable?  So I just thought it was hysterical.

GA: I thought it was funny.  I think Ashton Kutcher's awfully cute.  He can make fun of me anytime.

Be sure to catch the season finale of Burn Notice when it airs this Thursday, March 4th at 10 p.m. EST. Once again, we'd like to thank Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar for taking the time to speak with us.

Matt Rodriguez
Interview by Matt Rodriguez
Follow him @ Twitter
Friend him @ Facebook