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Interview: Jeffrey Donovan from Burn Notice

Interview: Jeffrey Donovan from Burn Notice


We had the pleasure of talking with Jeffery Donovan about the Season 2 finale of Burn Notice, what we can look forward to next season, and what he plans to do with his time off. Here’s what he had to say:

So obviously, you know, the relationship between Michael and Carla picked up a lot this season; they were starting to get a little bit chummier. I understand Tricia is not going to be back for next season so could you tell us a little bit about her final appearances and what kind of closure we maybe can expect from the two characters?

Jeffrey Donovan: Well, you know, I think it’s no surprise that Carla and Michael were going to eventually be in each other’s crosshairs. And in the final episode literally that happens. Without giving too much away the eventual outcome was necessary. What’s going to happen is that she gets basically – she has powers above her that control her and she basically relies on Michael to save her butt at the end. And he tries but it doesn’t go as well as expected for her.

All right, fair enough. Now, you know, at the same time it seems like we’re getting perhaps a little bit closer to finding out who burned Michael. How much more in depth do you imagine this is going to be? How many more layers might we expect before he maybe comes close to an answer?

Jeffrey Donovan: I think that the actual person who burned me, you’re actually going to meet in the season finale. And he’s going to have answers that only – will satisfy people halfway; dealing anytime with any kind of covert organization they can’t ever spill the beans totally. But what you’re going to see in the finale is pretty exciting because though Michael does find out who burns him it doesn’t release him from the perils of his career choice.

And that’s what season 3 is going to really focus on is who in his past is a threat to his livelihood. And that’s what basically you’re going to find out in season 3.

Tell me where you think Michael Westen’s willingness to help the little person comes from.

Jeffrey Donovan: You know, there’s an interesting theme between Madeline and Michael that was on last week where she describes the map of how to fix the car’s radio and how it’s tied to the ignition. It was really well written. And she says, you know, I think he did this so that he would always feel needed and wanted and useful and would want him around.

And I think that Michael went away from his family because he didn’t feel wanted or needed. And so he went with a bigger family, you know. He went for the flag and the country needed him. And so I think that when he’s back in town, when he helps a little guy, it’s less about the little guy and it’s more about that Michael is somehow validating that need, that someone needs him. And he never got it as, you know, not to be too psychological but he never got it as a child.

Does that feel a bit incongruous to you that this hard nosed spy who can do these incredible things would have that – would care so much?

Jeffrey Donovan: No I think the – I think that paradigm is everywhere, you know, you see straight laced governors who are having – who have a family, children, and go after corruption in their career and then you find out they have prostitutes and they’re screwing pros in hotels. You know, you see our, you know, our past administration saying we want to protect the American people and then they go and make America the most sought after dangerous place to go after in the world.

You know, I think those paradoxes and paradigms are prevalent in all our society and I just think it’s in keeping with Michael’s career choice that he’s going to live a parallel life.

What’s going to happen next season with Fiona and Michael; where are they going in their relationship?

Jeffrey Donovan: I don’t know; what have you heard?

I don’t know. It’s fun to watch.

Jeffrey Donovan: Yeah, well it’s fun to do. We have great chemistry. And we love exploring the kind of push/pull attraction that we have for one another. But I think that, you know, season 3 you’ll probably see more of Michael and Fiona trying not to be together; really, really just trying to find out maybe there’s someone else. Maybe there’s someone else out there that we can fall for and can give us the love that the other person can’t, you know.

I think that because the more in 2 and 3 we get the more you’re going to see people from Michael and Fiona’s past come back into their lives.

And what makes the bromance with Sam so special? It must be fun to do?

Jeffrey Donovan: You know, I haven’t figured it out and I don’t want to. It’s just so easy and so fun and but I’d say 90% of it is just Bruce. He’s such a good spirit. He has great comic timing and he truly loves being on the show and it shows. So when we’re together it’s us, you know, Jeff and Sam just having fun with the writer’s work. You know, and as long as we keep going with that then the (bromance) will be (healthful).

One of my favorite elements of the show is Michael’s narration because it’s – inside his head is a very interesting place to be. How much work goes into creating those still? I mean, you all aren’t ever guilty of fluffing those off late in the day right? I mean, they’re still vitally important to you all, right?

Jeffrey Donovan: They’re very important. I think that they’re the heart of the show because what’s great about Burn Notice especially with Michael is that Michael never lets on how he feels about something except when he’s with his family. So that’s 90% of the time of his job is he’s covering.

And what’s great about playing that role that way is I don’t have to show anything that I actually feel or think because I know that in the back of my mind that narration is going to let you know. And I think that’s kind of a cool device that we take really seriously that we get to say, hey, here’s a secret; this is what I’m thinking.

And it’s a little conspiratorial with the audience and I think it’s a great element.

I was curious with the narration being such an important part of the show if there’s ever a chance we’d have a different narrator like Fiona or Sam for an episode?

Jeffrey Donovan: You know I’ve pitched that. I’ve pitched that that Fiona and Sam actually start talking in my narration and then I go, hey, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, what are you doing? This is mine. This is my narration. And then we’d get in a fight as a voice over. So I pitched that; they thought it was funny and then they said no.

Michael has a wonderful diversity of accents when he puts on a cover and I was just wondering if that’s been on the page or do you apply the voice to the character and how much room do you sort of have to play with all these different covers?

Jeffrey Donovan: Good question. There’s no hard and fast rule governing my performance with each accent and with each dialect. It is kind of a dance between me and the writers. The writers say something like Michael walks into a bar and sometimes it’ll say with an Australian accent or sometimes it’ll say Michael walks up to the bar and starts talking to so and so.

And it won’t say I have a (new) voice but I’ll go, you know what, he’s a good old boy; we hired an actor who’s a good old boy. I don’t want to play him like a good old boy as well because it will knock down his defenses. So it’s a bit of a dance, we kind of find it on the day.

Do you have a particular favorite cover that you’ve used during the series?

Jeffrey Donovan: Well, you know, that’s funny you say that. Last year I did a British accent ala kind of James Bond. And the writers felt that it was too on the nose so I had almost done half of the episode with the British accent so I had to redub the entire performance with my standard American dialogue accent. So that was my favorite but no one ever saw it.

But my favorite is the (tum) which is in one of the scenes in – where the stylish car jackers… I go into my loft and I say to Fiona – she says, “What was the name of your cover in Ireland?” And I said Michael McBride. And she says, yeah, I fell in love with him. And she said – and Michael McBride is going to make an appearance again, that cover and that will probably be my favorite cover.

Okay I heard that you used to do a lot of impressions in high school which is kind of what got you into the acting biz because somebody said that, you know, oh you should be an actor. So I was kind of curious, how has that helped with your different roles I mean especially in Burn Notice when you’re doing, you know, your different accents and you’re trying to be different people out on your mission?

Jeffrey Donovan: Yeah, you know, I did have a gift for mimicry when I was a kid and, you know, growing up I’m a ten-year-old and I’m imitating John Wayne for my mom. You know, that – it didn’t – no one came calling after that but it did kind of give me confidence that I could do accents and voices and mannerisms.

But that’s not really where I honed my skill, I actually studied a lot. I studied at – in college and then I went and got my MSA in Acting at NYU. And at NYU is really where I kind of perfected how to do accents and dialects so I worked with a speech, vocal and accent coach there for three years.

And just like any specialized profession acting can be specialized in that sense that you’re up and working on your craft 10-12 hours a day for three years. And that’s really kind of where I honed it.

Michael Westen has – MacGyver has nothing on Michael as far as the spy gadgets go. What are some of your favorite spy gadgets to date that you’ve actually, you know, gotten to play with on the show and things like that?

Jeffrey Donovan: You know, I thought one of the coolest things was the episode where I built an x-ray machine in my trunk. I thought that was – and you know what I found out from our consultant he actually did it.

Well our consultant is an ex-spy and he gave us the idea that you can put a taser through a old TV tube that has – still has a radioactive – not radioactive – I don’t even know what it is – but a radio wave that you can ignite which would create an x-ray with a lead plate behind it. I couldn’t believe it and it did it. But that was one of my favorites.

Oh that’s so cool. Now do you ever get a chance to contribute like your own gadget ideas or anything like that or do you guys pretty much leave it to the consultant?

Jeffrey Donovan: I leave it to people who are far smarter than me. I’m too dumb to think of cool things like that.

Is there any gadget that you’ve ever, you know, wanted to just take home like from, you know, the prop department or anything like that?

Jeffrey Donovan: Yeah, well it’s not so much a gadget but kind of a device. I really thought the infrared detector where you can see at night, the goggles, those are pretty cool. The night vision goggles… those are pretty cool. Yeah, driving at night or out in the wilderness in the woods, that’d be kind of cool.

With all the twists this season do you think it – the season pretty much turned out how you would have predicted it from the beginning or was it a lot different?

Jeffrey Donovan: No, no, I think it’s in keeping with what our aim is which is giving just enough to keep you wanting to come back but also give the storylines room to grow where you say I wonder where this is going to go. You know, I have to give the writers so much credit, this show, not only a dialogue, but the craftsmanship of the show is so intricate.

And until you try to write a Burn Notice you’ll never know how hard it is to write these things. And so I’m really happy with how the show is going because I know how hard it is.

With Tricia Helfer leaving are there any guest stars for next season that you know of?

Jeffrey Donovan: Not yet because we haven’t started shooting yet.

You know, there’s some people on our radar that would love to get on the show. And then there are actually people who have called and said they want to be on the show. So we’re actually right now I think negotiating with a big TV actress to start recurring on the show. I can’t just say because it’s not closed but if it happens I’ll be really excited.

I read, and congratulations on this, that you got a big raise for the show. And I was wondering if you purchased anything special? If there was any special indulgence as a result?

Jeffrey Donovan: No. You know, I grew up really poor and very frugal. And so whenever money did come in I always thought well it will never come in again. So, you know, I have this kind of gut reaction of don’t spend money. In fact I think spending less money now than I did before the raise because I’m scared of it.

But the one thing I do want to learn and it will take a little bit of money is I want to get my pilot license for small single engines. And I think that being in Florida with all the local airports I think I’m going to try to do that and that will be my gift to myself.

Now you mentioned that the person who burned you will appear in the season finale?

Jeffrey Donovan: Yes.

And I was just wondering now will there be – is there an end date for the whole show do you know? Like will this thing end in five years or four years?

Jeffrey Donovan: No, no, you know, I just renegotiated a eighth season… so they have high hopes for it going at least to eight seasons. But, you know, it’s a cliche but we’re just going to take it one season at a time. We know that this season this is what we would like to do. But there’s no ending date right now.

Okay so basically when we learn the – when we see the guy who burned you it’s going to be like an onion I guess, right, another layer of who got him to do it and then who got them to do it…

Jeffrey Donovan: Basically but this will be the guy; this will be the guy who burned me. And he’ll explain what happened and what’s going to happen to Michael Westen if basically he keeps making trouble. It’s going to be an interesting season 3.

I love your scenes with Sharon Gless because there’s a lot of emotion plus comedy in them and I was wondering if you could talk about working with her and dealing with the smoke.

Jeffrey Donovan: Man, she’s such a pro. She’s such a pro. I call her mama and I mean that in such an affectionate way. She’s so motherly to me, so caring and endearing and talented and God, man, you walk on set, she starts rehearsing with you and you’re like you’re in the scene; you are just in the scene. She’s your mom, you’re her son and the comedy that comes out of it, she knows what she’s doing, man, and she makes it look like she doesn’t. It’s pretty remarkable to watch.

The smoking – the smoking is tough. She really smokes real tobacco. And it’s kind of hard to deal with – knowing that every time I’m in a scene with her is smoking. But that is what Michael goes through, he can’t stand it either.

Has the role of Michael Westen been your favorite character to play in your acting character because you’ve done so much.

Jeffrey Donovan: I’ll say this: Michael Westen is the most fun character. I have more fun doing this role than any other role I’ve ever played. But given that it’s the hardest role I’ve ever done. The pressure I felt in Changeling, Detective Jones, was pressure I’ll never ever forget to be in that rarified air of Eastwood and Jolie.

But this show is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And that I can churn out every seven days a Burn Notice episode and it doesn’t look like we did it only seven days… and with all the accents, all the stunts and all the fights, I’m really proud of that.

Wow so it’s basically seven days an episode?

Jeffrey Donovan: Yeah. It’s Monday to Friday. It’s Monday to Friday then we have Saturday and Sunday off and Monday and Tuesday and that’s it. All – the entire show is done in seven days.

Do you sleep ever?

Jeffrey Donovan: I get about six to eight a night and I work 14 a day.

So if you’re not allowed to do your own stunts are you working out just for the shirtless scenes, is that the reason?

Jeffrey Donovan: No, you know, I’m serious when I say that it’s for my health. And I mean that in many, many ways. Staying in shape it just keeps you healthy; it keeps your immune system up. But also I can’t be injured, I mean, I do my own fights. So just because I’m not driving a car into a wall doesn’t mean I can’t get hurt because I do all my fights. So that’s what I’m training for. I’m training to stay in shape so I’m healthy; I don’t get hurt when I do the fights and God forbid I get sick because if it does, you know, unfortunately production shuts down.

True, okay. So I guess Sam is – what’s his workout regime like, like a six pack a day maybe?

Jeffrey Donovan: Yeah, yeah, maybe even a 12 pack.

Do you have a favorite episode or a favorite moment or a series of moments?

Jeffrey Donovan: Oh gees, that’s a tough a question. You know, you know, I really liked the bank because it was one set; it was self contained. And that was really fascinating and I thought the writing on that was just incredibly good. I also liked the finale, the season finale of season 2 which hasn’t aired yet is pretty remarkable.

You see Michael go to depths of pain that we’ve never seen him show before. And so so far that’s probably the most interesting to me.

Do you prefer acting in movies, TV shows or I heard that, you know, you’ve done several stage acting; that you’re actually part of a group so.

Jeffrey Donovan: Yeah, it’s real important – the theater is really important. It’s hard to say what my favorite is because they all for different reasons. But I’ll tell you why I need each one. TV it’s exciting, it’s very quick. There’s not a lot of room for mistakes so you’re on the fly all the time.

Movies, movies are so epic and they’re so grand and you can’t lose your specificity in that so it creates a really interesting challenge. And then as far as theater is concerned I love the reciprocity of being on stage and I do something and something comes back. And that’s unique only to stage. And that’s why I need to do theater.

What your other plans are as far as upcoming possible movies or other guest TV spots.

Jeffrey Donovan: Well I’m not doing anything believe it or not. On my hiatus between 1 and 2 I did Changeling and that was three months. And then between 2 and 3 I went to Chicago and I did a play. So that would have been when I would have done a movie that would come out in the fall of this year. But I needed to be back on stage so there’s nothing come out in the pipeline and no TV as well.

I’m just going to focus on Burn Notice for the next six months and then after that I need to take a small break. I’ve worked almost 20 months straight so I’ll probably take a break and be very picky about what movie I’d like to do.

Is there somewhere you’d like to travel on vacation then during that time or something you’d like to do maybe start your family?

Jeffrey Donovan: Yeah, you know, I’m – I went on vacation last year to Costa Rica and I fell in love with it; what an incredible country. I think I might want to go back there but I also miss where I’m from, my family’s from rather is Ireland. And I might go to Cork – County Cork in the summer. So those are two places I’m looking at.

Interview By: Emma Loggins

Burn Notice Official Site

Emma Loggins Emma Loggins is the Editor in Chief of FanBolt. As an internationally recognized "Geek Girl", Emma updates daily on the latest entertainment news, her opinions on current happenings in the media, screening/filming opportunities, inside scoops and more.  She’s been writing on the world of geekdom and pop culture since 2002 and is also considered to be one of the top Atlanta bloggers and influencers!


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