We had the honor of attending the Burn Notice press junket in Miami last month, where were able to interview the cast and crew from the series, including the charming and witty Bruce Campbell. Here’s what he had to say:
What is, in fact, the latest and the greatest?
Campbell: You’re looking at it right here. The TV show that sparked a new industry in southern Florida. I mean since we’ve started, things have been going crazy here. We had to kick Owen Wilson out for loitering.
What happened to the productions in Miami, cause I was…
Campbell: Well, it’s coming back. I mean, it’s back with a vengeance, I think. Because, for some reason, this has become a facility now. I mean, it’s an old convention center and they were gonna’ tear it down. And, the Burn Notice guys thought it would be a good facility to just start it from scratch. So that’s what we’ve been doing; building a facility, at the same doing a show.
At one point it seemed like everything was shot in Miami.
And then it just disappeared.
Campbell: Could be a lot of things… Insurance rules would change what a state, or what insurance companies won’t cover for hurricanes, and producers get a little skittish, you know. So it’s about that, it’s about incentives that the state offers. So, you know, it’s all about where producers can save dough and have a show that looks good.
Tell us about the character of Sam; what do you think this guy’s all about?
Campbell: What is he about?
Campbell: He’s about fifty. He like the other characters in the show, he’s sort of damaged goods. Which is why I like him. I like it. I like characters with flaws. So he’s a fun-loving guy, who is now by the end of the first season sort of officially loyal to the group. It was a little iffy there for a while, the first season. Cause everyone is sort of out for themselves. This is a show where you got these three strange people come together under weird circumstances and help the actor. I like characters with a past. Sam has a past. Everyone has a past. I also like the fact that these characters are adults. You know, I’m all for going to movies where they’re geared for seventeen year olds, but that kind of gets boring to a guy at my age. I love the fact that America is aging. Where it’s good for guys like me. I’m glad for USA, they’re doing shows that are, in my opinion, more interesting from a character point of view. As an actor I’m much more drawn to shows that USA would air than, than a lot of other networks.
Sam seems to have a lot of problems in his love life, he’s always complaining about…
Campbell: Yeah, well these people are good at their jobs and just bad at their personal lives. Like most actors, I mean honestly, you could have a bunch of good actors but they can’t keep a relationship to save their lives. Everyone thinks it’s so glamorous that Ben Affleck is sleeping with all these different chicks. It’s only because he can’t keep a single relationship because he’s working all the time, and they’re working all the time. So…
Is that why actors hook up with other actors?
Campbell: Absolutely, cause they go, “You, you’re close, come here.” Then you do it, “My wife hates me right now, let’s go somewhere.” You know, I mean, let’s not get into that.
Does it make it easier to hook up with another actor, because they understand…
Campbell: Oh, sure it is. We’re in the trenches together. We’re sweating in Miami together. You know, only we know the pressure that we’re under to succeed and make this show great. Only you know, right now, this moment, in my trailer.
Have you had a favorite storyline to film?
Campbell: There’s fun stuff coming up. Sam’s going to be cooking with Madeline. They’re going to be spending some time together. That’s always fun cause Sharon Gless is really fun, and very old school, and likes to rehearse and things like that. She’s great, and we’ve only had one scene together so far. One or two scenes. After a while you have to put every actor with every actor, you have to figure out every scenario. That’s the only time Jeffrey’s going to get any time off, by putting a bunch of other actor’s together, and not him. I’m going to be spending time with her, which is always good. And, we always look forward to the guest stars, because when you have a successful show now you can start getting some decent guest stars. Cause they go, “Yeah, let’s do Burn Notice,” instead of “Oh, that crappy Burn Notice, nobody watches that,” so, now they’re going “What’s this hip show?”
So that’s good too, it’s good for the quality of the show. Instead of a low-rated show, it would be tough getting good people in. We had Lucy Lawless last year, we’ve had some, a lot of good people. Who’s working now? Robbin Gibbons is a guest star. It’s awesome.
Have you gotten to do some fun stuff this season so far?
Campbell: Yeah, it’s getting more and more fun, because now they’re having us do, playing weirder, well, not weirder, but there’s more of a prevalence of you’re now being a snooty accountant, or you’re being a crazy drug guy or whatever. There’s a lot of that, and that’s always going to keep an actor very happy. You get to do a bunch of stuff, but you have to have the premise of the story that will allow that. I think Law & Order isn’t gonna’ go, isn’t gonna’ go there. That shows probably not for a guy like me.
Do you think Sam has something to do with the burn?
Campbell: Sam Raimi?
Yeah, no, your character, Sam.
Campbell: I don’t know that many Sams. Does Sam have anything to do with the burn? No, not a chance. Sam is a, Sam is a true and blue patriot. One-hundred percent. I’m not even kidding, the character is. He loves his country, but these are three people who don’t like to go by the rules anymore. And I love that. I love the premise of the show where the… they, like, if a cop catches someone who stole your identity, they might catch ’em, but they’re not going to get your money back. Michael Westen will catch ’em and get your money back. That’s what’s cool. It’s the full circle, the full… and it’s helping the little guys. It’s all these highly trained people now who use to do a bunch of different stuff on much higher stakes. Now there all these sort of crash and burn victims who are now helping the little person. Makes is, you can’t help it, makes it a show that hopefully people can relate to. That’s what it’s all about, I think. Can the audience go, “I like that character,” whatever. Cause you can blow stuff up all day long, but if you don’t care, what’s the difference.
Do you like the fact that they let Sam dress like he’s in Miami?
Campbell: I love Sam’s outfits. I am a Tommy Bahama guy. I should have stock in… Well, they’re really comfortable clothes, and I’ve always worn Hawaiian shirts anyway, and Tommy Bahama is the best brand of Hawaiian shirts. Tommy Bahama, write that down, because we want a bunch of free shirts. I think it’s a good match. I’ve done plenty of parts where I wouldn’t wear those clothes in a million years, and then there’s other cases where I go “Gimme’ those.”
Do you get to make fun of Jeffrey for being stuck in the suits in the middle of August in Miami?
Campbell: He doesn’t sweat, though.
Oh, he doesn’t?
Campbell: He is cool as a cucumber. He’ll heat up a little bit, but meanwhile I’m like projectile… and wardrobe’s like “Another shirt,” so we line up t-shirts and Hawaiian shirts. Tommy Bahama should be really happy, because we’re not just buying one of each, we’re buying like four of each shirt. So they should give us at least like a twenty five percent discount. It’s only fair. So that’s how we combat it. If I was Sam right now, I’d have a t-shirt on, underneath, soaking this all up, and when that failed, I’d do a full change over, and it goes like this all day long.
Do you think Sam sees himself as some sort of a mentor to Michael?
Campbell: Just different, Michael’s more new school. Sam’s more old school. Sam’s more psychological operations, fist fights, just bug him, bug him and listen to him. Surveillance, cameras, and stuff like that. Michael’s more of, certainly more physical, more of the, can fight anyone, can do anything. Really smart, using smarts, very chameleon-like, just different styles, I think. Micheal’s sort of the super-spy, Sam I don’t think is gonna’ be … not Michal Westen, cause he’s the man.
What about conflictions between you and Fiona?
Campbell: That’s there problem. She doesn’t care about me. There work that over time. Cause Sam’s always, they always argue, but Sam’s always going back for advice. There’s a lot more advice that he’s going back for on this, because he’s having relationship problems. So he’s asking Fi, who’s insane, so I don’t know why, what the purpose is of that. So, yeah, they’ll be more of that, they’ll be more of us sitting in a car, talking.
It was fun last season, at the end of the season, when just the two of you were kind of working together without Michael. Was it fun to have a different dynamic?
Campbell: It always is, it always is, cause we have four main actors. I think you want to shuffle it up as much as you can. Cause Fiona’s had scenes now with Madeline, and I’m starting to, and yeah, it makes sense. The three of us together to sort of discuss the mission, and then we all split up and come back together and do the Mentos moment. See, what I like about the show, is it’s old school, little Billy’s going to get his medicine at the end. I like that, it’s not mean-spirited, it’s not cynical, cause Michael Westen could be a very cynical guy, cause he’s been through a lot. The shows really about the humanization of Michael Westen. Because he’s had to train to become a machine, and now he has to learn to be human. Sam’s good at being a human, but he has to train a little better.
Now in the season finale of last year, when you and Jeffrey are running, and they blow up the bridge behind you, you have such a great facial expression. Was that rehearsed at all?
Campbell: Well, I’m a ham actor anyways, so that’s going to happen. And when they blow up a boat behind you, it’s not hard to react to it. It was a little bit, it was somewhat knowing that Michael Westen would not be doing the big reaction, cause he’s too cool. Sam is kind of an idiot, so he’ll react a little more viscerally, Michael’s more cerebral, how’s that?
Matt told us last night that he’s trying to convince you to do a flip on the show. What do you think the odds are of that happening?
Campbell: Pretty low. Depends on the situation, if I land in water maybe. I don’t know. Look, if the show stays on the air long enough, there going to have to figure out all kinds of stuff. We’re going to be doing really silly stuff. Like, I want to know when the first episode is when we’re in drag. When is that going to happen? How many seasons in does that take? Like, when is the bratty kid episode? Where one of us is stuck with a really bratty kid.
Is it going to be a very special Burn Notice?
Campbell: Sure, very special magic, very special Burn Notice. I don’t know. I pity the writers because they really have to chart it all out, it’s a lot of work. I don’t know what’s up Matt’s sleeve. But I think the audience will like what’s coming down the pipe. Because, I think like any smart show you can’t, why reinvent the wheel, here? You will see similar elements that you will have always enjoyed. Only you will see new situations, that you’re favorite people are now in. Oh, oh, oh, will they get out of it? What will happen next? Will Fi blow something up?
Last night we had dinner with Matt Nix and he told us that you and Jeffrey tend to try to get each other to break when you’re doing off camera lines. How did that develop?
Campbell: Mr. Donovan is very irreverent. Sometimes off camera I’m far more professional, I think that should be on the record. That’s all I have to say about it.
What about ad-libbing?
Campbell: You know what, it all depends on the situation. I never show up in the morning going, “Man, I’m going to do some ad-libbing today.” Sometimes they’ll put Sam in a situation where he’s sort of a blunt, he’s like a loudmouth guy who stalls. He stalls while someone else can steals something in another room. You can’t always script that, because it would be a page of dialogue. We just had a scene in a Pakistani consulate, where Sam is supposed to be an irate business man while Michael steals something in the back room. Sam has to be obnoxious enough to get the attention of the security and all of that sort of stuff, so that had hired an actor who had had an improv background, and it just sort of happened that way. And anything I said he would throw right back. And, so we could stall, we could go on for days. They’ll use some of that, but I think you got to respect the writing. But I only change stuff if A, I don’t remember it correctly, or I can’t say it. If my mouth can’t so those words in that order. That’s about the only time, so we have a good relationship with the writers. They’re the ones coming up with this crap, not us. We’re just trying to make it makes sense, or to enhance it in whatever way.
I asked Matt last night why you and Lucy Lawless didn’t have a scene together, and he said “Yeah, we didn’t think about it until afterwards,” did you ask him that question?
Campbell: No, I just wanted her on the show. I didn’t care if we had a scene together with her or not, I just thought that she was good for the show, she was. After a while you can look back and be like “Well, that person would be good for the show,” and I’ve just been tossing out names of people I’ve worked with, and we’ll see whoever comes out to play.
He said that Kevin Sorbo is a possibility.
Campbell: Yeah, but we’ve got to find something good. Let him play like a horrible drug dealer or something. Some guy we can just wail on.
What has been the scariest stunt you’ve done?
Campbell: Scariest stunt? Ah, in Brisco we were suspended by cables three stories up above a concrete, no, above a wagon full of farm implements, so they could get a camera above us, so I’m hanging on a ledge, and the camera’s above us. And before they hauled us up there, and we’re held on aircraft cables, so it’s, and you’re in a harness, but that doesn’t mean anything, cause you’re still three stories up going, “Yeah, that could break, that could break, we could all go. We could go any second.”
It’s even worse when the stunt guy comes up with a video camera before the stunt goes “Yes, Bruce, you’re comfortable with what you’re about to do, right?” I
‘m like, “Are you shitting me? Are you videotaping? What, is this my last will and testament?”
He goes, “You’re comfortable with the safety precautions we’ve taken,”
I went, “I didn’t screw that thing up into there, I don’t know if that’s going to hold.”
“But you’re comfortable with that, right?”
“Well, I’m going to do it. Am I comfortable? Not really.”
“But you’re satisfied with the preparation?”
I’m like “God,” you get that occasionally.
Matt told a similar story last night about you staying up on some ledge, with a shotgun. He was talking about…
Campbell: Well, I don’t think there was a… what he was talking about was the being out in public with a gun. This is how my epitaph is going to read: “Picked off by do-gooding citizen, thinking he’s stopping a vigilante,” because there’s one episode where we’re in downtown Miami, Friday at noon. I’m seven stories up on a building that has a weird ceramic shell on the outside of it, so we’re out on a little three foot ledge going on the outside of it. And I’ve a deer rifle with a scope, and it’s loaded with full loads, which means it’s the loudest concussion you can possibly have. And I’m just shooting at a bank across the street (makes a shot noise), and the way they were shooting it there was, usually you would, if someone looked up to see a guy on a ledge, you’d see a soundman with a … , and you’d see eight other crewmen looking bored, and you’d go, “Oh, there just doing, make believe,” but, now, they just go, “Go up there, Bruce, go up there. Just take the rifle and start shooting,” and I was like “Kerpow!” and it’s echoing, and you see business men all down, with looks like “What the hell?” This is Miami, it’s a little bit of the wild west here, and I’m just waiting for some guy to go “Shooter, shooter,” (gun noises) “Got him, shooter down, shooter down,” and I’m like “Ahhhhhh… ” So that’s how it’s going to go. That’s happened twice now, I shot from an overpass before. There’s a cop, and I’m like, “Can you stand closer please? Just look casual, with your hands in your pockets. Don’t be doing this here, someone will hit me with a car. So that’s how it’ll go, cause when you shoot downtown, you can’t always lock up everything, you don’t have the crew big enough to, it’s not like a Spider-Man movie where you can just lock up ten blocks of New York City. It ain’t going to happen here, this is Miami. These people will drive through anything. You really got to be aware. It’s a little off the cuff here.
Are you at the point where you’re still happy to do your own stunts?
Campbell: Well, when you get to be fifty, they don’t really ask you to do anymore. I’m very happy to do a lot of stuff, but they just, they stopped asking, they go, “Ah, it’ll probably hurt him, either Bruce or that, we’ll have that stuntman pull out of that parking lot, that’s fine. The gas pedal might hurt his leg.” No, no it’s fine, I’d rather, cause you have to survive for the whole season, so you can’t really do something that’ll stop the whole show. “Like on Brisco, I wanted to, there’s this stunt where a horse had to go through a plate-glass window, and I said “Let me take the horse through the plate-glass window,” and they’re like, cause it’s a special glass and all that sort of crap, and they practice it, but the guy, they finally checked with the insurance company, and they said, “You can do it but you’re not covered. If you get hurt, you’re not covered, so you can’t do it. You have to let the stunt guy get all the glory. My mom still thinks it me, though. She does. I got a phone call after a Brisco shoot and she goes, “Bruce, you’ve got to stop letting them force you to do these dangerous stunts.”
“What are you talking about?”
“That stunt where you picked up that little girl in front of the bar and it blew up; what if you had dropped the little girl?”
“Mom, first of all it wasn’t a little girl, it was a little African American little person, who has acting as a little girl. He was a fully qualified stunt guy.”
“Well, what if you had dropped that guy?”
“I didn’t pick him up. It was a stunt guy that had picked up the little stunt guy.”
“Well, what if he had dropped him?”
“They didn’t blow it until they were clear of the building, mom, it was called editing.”
“Oh, whatever,” and I’m thinking “God.”
So, my mom doesn’t want me doing anymore stunts. She gets nauseous. During Evil Dead, she got really sick to the core watching the movie.
You’re a convincing guy, what has been the buzz so far in Burn Notice? Are people coming up to you and asking you a ton of questions about Burn Notice now?
Campbell: I’m starting to get e-mails that they didn’t know who I was until Burn Notice, which is, that’s great. I love that it’s a good sign, because there’s a whole batch of new people out there watching. I don’t know what our demographics are, but I think we’re doing good in the big one, eighteen to forty-nine. I think we’re kicking some ass there.
Having been on shows that both have struck a chord for whatever reasons…
Campbell: It failed horribly.
I love Brisco County, but my point, did you…
Campbell: Yeah, you’re the one.
Did you think early on, did you get the vibe this one is gonna’ hit?
Campbell: Every actor loves to look back and go “I knew it, I knew that Burn Notice was going to be a hit.” This is sort of a ball for me, cause I haven’t done television in about eight years, and that was kind of for a reason, the last show kind of bombed, and I was like “Enough of that.” This one came along, and my manager asked me to judge it slowly on it’s own merit. Don’t worry about whether it’s a TV show or not. But I thought the pilot was good, because it felt fresh. And then they said that Donovan was going to be involved, and as an actor who’s been around a while, you try to pick who you’re working with. You got to, TV’s a tough gig, who can handle it, who can get in there and tough it out for a while. And Jeffrey has a lot of experience too. And he’s at like the perfect place and time to do this show, I think. So that worked out, that element worked out. It just built bit by bit, where you go, “Oh, USA’s really behind us,” they were really getting Sharon Gless and Gabrielle Anwar. It wasn’t like they were trying to get together a bunch of hack, sort of know-nothing cast members. So this is a legitimate adult cast. That to me meant that the producers were serious, that the network were serious. When those sides are good, that’s really encouraging. Matt Nix is a really bright, young guy. It’s great to have a young, energetic show-runner, cause we’re going to beat the crap out of him over seven years. We need those young, bright guys. The writing staff, I think they’re good, they’re getting better. Just like everybody hopefully is. But then the ratings, that’s another whole thing. We didn’t know, I didn’t really track it. For the first time I never pay attention to ratings. And normally I really try to get overnight and numbers and bug agents, “What were the numbers? What were the numbers?” On Monday. We’ll find out, we’ll get the numbers, so they’ve been good and increasing, so we’re just frustrated that we can’t get the show out to people quicker. Cause they’re getting pissed, “Where’s the show. Where’s the second season,” so July 10th, coming at you.
The writer’s strike didn’t help you.
Campbell: Didn’t help anybody, but strikes are meant to cause destruction.
Because of the writer’s strike there’s actually a lot of shows won’t be back this summer that usually would be on, say FX or HBO, you think that’s really great for you guys, because you know… .
Campbell: I wasn’t aware of that. I didn’t know what those ramifications were.
Yeah, like Rescue Me isn’t coming back, and Entourage won’t be back until fall.
Campbell: Cause it took them too long to gear up or something?
Campbell: Or there on a weird different schedule.
I think it just took them too long to gear out. I just figured a show like Burn Notice, it could only help them.
Campbell: Right, and they can’t twenty-four for the whole season.
Campbell: Oh, okay, I hope it does. I want the show to succeed. There are some shows I could care whether they succeeded or not. But we’ve invested a lot of time and blood and sweat into this, and we want people to like it.
Are you at all concerned about the potential actors strike?
Campbell: There’s two ways to go, my theory is that actor’s don’t have the spine to do it, “What if I’m unemployed,” but then the other theory is that so many are unemployed, like ninety-nine percent, they’ll go, “Why do we care if we strike? I’m already working at Luigi’s.” So it could go either way, I think. I hope they settle something. Look, if the producers have settled with the writer’s and directors after now, then they’ll be kind of putting a big fist in front of the actor’s thing, “C’mon, shape up, let’s go, sign on the dotted line.” We’ll be getting something cheesy out of it, something insignificant, and then we’ll all move on. What kills me about the writer’s strike, the best, here’s a little trivia on the writer’s strike, the revenue lost on the four months of the writer’s strike was so much greater than any of the gains that they negotiated. They could have had that money. That money lost was more than the gains that they got. There’s irony for you.
So you have a desire to write or direct any future episodes of Burn Notice?
Campbell: No. No, I’m a really bossy director. Actually I just made a movie, my second feature called “My name is Bruce,” and I like it how I like it, and television is a much bigger situation. It’s about the show, it’s not really about what I think specifically. As a director, TV has very specific needs.
Is it more fun playing a character…
Campbell: I’m happy being Jeffrey’s second fiddle. I don’t want to get in his face, cause he’ll go, “Get out of here, what are you, get out of here.”
Is it more fun to be a supporting character than the series star?
Campbell: Yeah, are you kidding? Absolutely. Jeffrey’s carrying a big log of loads uphill in Miami, in the summer. I come in and crack a few jokes, and then I go swimming.
Are you living down here, in Miami?
Campbell: Oh, yeah, I’m a local. I rode my bike here, that’s why I’m sweating like a pig. Yeah, we’re living because they expanded the season, which we interpret as a good sign. They want more, so we’ll give them more, but it means you got to kind of live here.
What are they doing, twenty episodes?
Campbell: No, sixteen, is my understanding. I don’t know where it peaks out, you see, but we’re doing sixteen, so yeah, I’m living local, Coconut Grove.
Now, you obviously have a lot of die-hard fans. Have you had any like really crazy fan experiences?
Campbell: Pretty low on the scary scale. One guy was taking pictures of my house in LA. But it wasn’t even my house, I was renting it, and I wasn’t there. I don’t know what that was all about. And it was a cul-de-sac, so my neighbor’s were like “What are you doing? Get your shitty car out of here.” That wasn’t so bad. When I hear stories from, like, Kevin Sorbo, because he was like Mr. Studmuffin, doing Hercules, said he had a woman move to … , New Zealand, from the United States, find out where he went to the gym, she found out everywhere he went, telling everyone along the way, “I’m going to marry Kevin Sorbo,” and I’m like man, I have no problems in the world, at all. I have some chick coming to Coconut Grove, “I’m your neighbor.” No, most of the Evil Dead fans are very, very shy. Most sci-fi horror fans I have to like pull words out of their mouth when we do a signing, cause they just kind of throw a photo down and look the other away. I’d be like “Hello, how are ya’?” “grumbles.” They’re pretty shy, most of them. On the outside they look like they’ll kill you. They’ll kill you in an alley, for five bucks. You just get the Mohawks, and the Evil Dead crowd is very tattooed, heavily tattooed and pierced, and first it’s startling to look at the fans. Cause you go, “Ah, they’re pirates, half of them,” but they’re really sweet, introverted people, but on the outside, they’re actually nice, kind of a weird…
Do you think television is the place to be if you’re an actor? Do you think the characters, there are more characters…
Campbell: It goes, look it’s cyclical. Because for a while the feature actors wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole. You were a loser if you did television. Kiefer Sutherland would not have done a TV show, ten years ago he would’ve gone “Click,” and he would’ve hung up on that. And name your big shot actor who now either has tried to have a TV show, or has had a TV show, it’s just, I don’t know, I think what they realized that the, they want to keep working and television has a lot of opportunities, and it’s expanding like crazy; it’s going insane.
Do you think television is more than?
Campbell: It is because there are so many. They’re so many, there’s so many channels you’re bound to get some good networks in there, with some really good stuff.
Do you also appreciate the fact that USA gives the show a chance to grow?
Campbell: Absolutely, I think they’re in a great place right now, for a show like us. Every show wants to have time to grow and get better. We are hopefully better this season than we were last season cause everybody knows each other, the writer’s know that, we’ve figured it out how to shoot in Miami and the whole bit. So sometimes you need time to figure that out and get up to speed and get an audience. It’s a big county, it takes a while for people to find stuff. You just have to get out there for weeks and months, sometimes years, seasons. So we’re hitting them with the DVDs coming out, I think in June sometime. They’re airing all the episode right up and then the new season begins. You know, it’s all Machiavellian, but it works.
Are you going to be appearing in Drag Me To Hell?
Campbell: They were fooling around with something, but I was actually prepping for this, I couldn’t do it. They were toying with a few things. But Sam’s just shooting away now, missing me everyday, I’m sure.
How about this one, on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate Burn Notice?
As good work.
Campbell: Oh, eight. Eight. Very high. Very high. Cause if you get up to ten, that means you’re having too much fun, and the show will probably suck. Cause you actually have to put your time in, so we’re having as much fan as you can on a TV schedule, which is tough, it’s a tough production schedule.
Are you planning anything big for your fiftieth in a couple of weeks?
Campbell: No, but I’m going to tour this Fall with my film, “My Name is Bruce.”
Oh cool, what is “My Name is Bruce,” all about?
Campbell: A small town in Oregon is having problems with a monster, so someone comes up with the idea to kidnap Bruce Campbell to help fight the monster. He turns out to be a jerk and an idiot. It’s how a movie hero has to become a real hero.
Who’s playing Bruce?
Campbell: Some guy.
Interview By: Emma Loggins