Interview: Tricia Helfer from Burn Notice

We had the pleasure of speaking with Tricia Helfer about her role as Carla on Burn Notice, her work on Battlestar Galactica, and what’s ahead for the actress. Here’s what she had to say:

When you joined the cast of Burn Notice, was there instant chemistry when everyone came together, or did it take some time to develop?

T. Helfer: I’d say there was instant chemistry, but it was really only, I really only worked with Jeffrey Donovan. I met Gabrielle and I met Bruce and worked with him a little bit. Bruce is just such an easy going guy it’s impossible not to get along with him, and Gabrielle is really sweet. Jeffrey had actually emailed me prior to going down there the first time to welcome me and say he was excited that I was joining the show. So I went down knowing it was going to be a great cast to work with and they didn’t let me down, they were just really wonderful to work with.

What have you found the most challenging aspect of your role as Carla?

T. Helfer: I think the most challenging aspect was actually similar to sort of the first question about Battlestar, it’s kind of not knowing the end. With Carla, I didn’t know who Carla worked for. I didn’t know who management was the entire time I filmed, so you’re just kind of filling in the blanks yourself, but at the same time you don’t really want to say, okay, this is who it is or make too strong of a back story yourself in case it is revealed. But that I’d say was the hardest thing is Carla being pretty much as elusive to me as the actor as she is to the audience.

Can you tell us, what is your involvement beyond the season finale next week? Are you on board for next season?

T. Helfer: I’m not on board for next season, no. As I like to say, I was the baddie of the second season, so yes, my last two episodes are this week and the finale, March 5th.

What can you tell us about those two episodes? What kind of resolution might we get?

T. Helfer: I think the first two episodes back from the midseason hiatus definitely showed that Carla had been taken by surprise a bit, she’s been rattled, which she’s not used to. It definitely comes to a culmination in the finale where she’s been trying to get information from Michael Westen about who tried to kill him, who tried to blow up his apartment, and it really comes to a culmination with management breathing down her back. And she’s put her neck on the line in terms of vouching for Michael Westen and Michael hasn’t really fully come up with anything to help her out, so it comes to a culmination point in the finale.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you first got involved with Burn Notice?

T. Helfer: I first got involved with the very rare, but very wonderful situation where you get offered a job. I was up in Vancouver filming Battlestar and I was approached by my agent or my manager about the job. I actually hadn’t seen it, the show, because being in Canada a lot in Vancouver filming Battlestar, Burn Notice doesn’t air up there yet, unfortunately. So they sent me DVDs and I was hooked from the first episode and gladly signed on to join in for the second season. But it came in as an offer and I was hooked from the first episode.

How nice. Carla, she’s quite mysterious and so is Vick on Battlestar and they both have this great power and you don’t want to cross them. But I was wondering do you prefer to play these types of characters, or have you found it a little hard to branch out and not be thought of this ass-kicking destroyer of the human race?

T. Helfer: I’d rather play an ass-kicking destroyer or a super strong spy or agent than some meek, vulnerable character. But it’s definitely, I don’t want to get type cast as one thing, and that’s certainly some of the other things I’ve been doing in hiatus, doing other roles, although I have one coming up where I’m an ass-kicking spy, so I don’t know about that. I don’t know how well my not being type cast is going, but they’re great shows. I’m super happy to be part of them. I think it’s important as I go to some of my next jobs maybe are a different take, a different type of character, but they’re certainly fun characters to play. They’re smart. They’re strong. Who wouldn’t want to play a strong female character?

I’ve noticed as the series has gone on and Carla tended to let her guard down and started to trust Michael more. Even though your character is not going to be in the third season, are we probably going to find out more about Carla’s character in that terms about how her and Michael are working together?

T. Helfer: You’ll get to see a little bit. You do see her, Carla, soften a little bit. She’s been rattled and she needs to rely on Michael a little bit more and she puts some trust in him. So she’s hoping that he doesn’t let her down. And like I mentioned before, she has management breathing down her back, so she’s definitely putting some trust in Michael and hoping that he steps up to the bar. But you really don’t learn – Carla still stays pretty elusive to the audience even through the finale. She’s certainly not – her whole history is not going to be revealed.

Can you talk about how her organization breathing down her neck, are we going to find out more about what the organization is?

T. Helfer: You’re definitely going to get a big clue, a big hint in the finale about who management is. I won’t say for sure if you’re going to find out who, what the organization is, but there will be another piece to the puzzle and you will definitely meet Carla’s higher ups, you will meet management, yes.

Burn Notice seems to be doing just so well and your character, Carla, she’s mysterious and so empowering and everything. I just want to know what do you love the most about playing her?

T. Helfer: I think that it is empowering and that she’s strong and smart and she’s gotten to where she is by her own gumption, her own dedication. I like the fact that she’s very similar to Michael. Although you don’t get to see her fun side like you do for Michael, but maybe she has a bit less of one. I like being on par with that level of agent, the fact that Michael Westen can pretty much do whatever he wants, as can Fiona and Sam, to some extent.

That’s how I feel that Carla is. Carla is not one to be taken advantage of, which I think is what’s interesting about coming up to the last two episodes is, she doesn’t trust anybody and she’s finally put a little bit of trust into Michael and I think that’s probably backfiring on her. I like the fact that she’s strong and she’s as good at her job as Michael is at his.

What has been your most memorable moment you’ve had from filming Burn Notice?

T. Helfer: Most memorable moment, there’s quite a few. One of my moments that I disliked the most was, I’m not sure if it’s in the next episode coming up or the finale, but we’re shooting a limousine scene where Carla is trying to get a little information, offer a little and get a little from Michael Westen. I had stopped drinking coffee and I’ve been doing green tea, on a personal note I had stopped drinking coffee, but we started early and I just grabbed a cup of coffee off catering and we got inside this limo, which, of course, you can’t have air conditioning on because you’d hear it with the filming, and you’re in a limo with the camera, operator, the focus polar, a couple of other guys. Jeffery is in there. I’m in there. It’s Miami. It’s humid. It’s really hot. I’m in a pantsuit and I got the jitters from the coffee so bad that I could barely speak. I was sweating. Hair and makeup can’t fit in there, so I’m trying to do my own powder and my hair is matted to me and shaking. I had to hand Jeffrey something and I’m shaking in the scene.

And we finished it and I’m like, “Jeffrey, I don’t know what got into me. I had coffee and this is insane and I’ve not been drinking coffee.” And Jeffrey looked at me and he starts laughing. And he’s like, “Yes, you stop drinking coffee for a while and then you drink again and you realize why you shouldn’t be drinking it.” “Yes, Jeffrey, that makes sense.” But I was horrified by the scene while I was shooting it because I was so uncomfortable, but at the same time, I’ve seen it in ADR and it turned out fine. But Jeffrey stayed calm throughout even though I was a mess, so that’s definitely one of my memories from Burn Notice.

If Carla did come back on Burn Notice perhaps for next season or after, what are the ways you’d like to see her maybe develop and maybe even become an ally to Michael in the future?

T. Helfer: Oh, that would be a lot of fun to become an ally of Michael. It would be great to have that. I’d obviously like to find out a little bit more about what makes her tick and find out a little bit more about her.

Could you ever see her as being a possible love interest for Michael?

T. Helfer: Yes, sure. No, I think Fiona and the Michael relationship is too kind of complex. I think, my own opinion, is they’re made for each other and it’s only going to take them time to figure that out. I certainly wouldn’t turn down a relationship with Michael Westen. I don’t think any girl would.

Is there anything else you tell us about your last two episodes on Burn Notice without giving too much away?

T. Helfer: It’s kind of hard without giving too much away. I will say I’m really excited to see the last episode. There’s a great stunt at the end that I’m just so excited to see. It’s not even my stunt, but I’m really excited to see it and I think it’s going to be a great finale. It really comes to a culmination point and Carla has kind of had it with Michael Westen and she realizes he’s just basically run her around in circles after she’s put some trust into him that he’s going to find the bomber and help give her the name, which essentially is a rogue agent, but she knows it is, and he disappoints her, so it comes to a culmination.

After years of watching you manipulate Gaius Baltar, describe the different and the challenge in trying to manipulate Michael Westen, who resists a little more than Gaius did.

T. Helfer: Yes, he does resist a little more than Gaius. They’re both incredibly intelligent characters, but with Gaius, Number Six never had to worry of him outsmarting her. Even though he’s obviously the genius scientist, he’s so genius he’s a little bit socially inept in some ways and Michael Westen isn’t. He’s so adept at becoming other people and other characters for his work that you want to be concerned that you’re not being taken advantage of or that he’s not pulling a fast one over on you, so to speak. Baltar is a little bit more, you see what you get.

Now that you’ve done Battlestar Galactica and Burn Notice, what was it like working with Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell on Battlestar? Were those experiences a little bit different than working with Jeffrey Donovan and Bruce Campbell?

T. Helfer: Yes and no. I’d say they’re very similar because they’re all very talented and very professional people, there’s no diva attitudes, and it’s really about the work and the craft and they’re incredibly hard working. Starting, when I started Battlestar, Eddie and Mary had been in the business for a long time and Emmy nominated, Oscar nominated. It was just an incredible experience to be able to work with them. For all of the younger cast on Battlestar it was wonderful to have these two kind of helm the show and you got to really see what two people who are so talented, how their passion to the work goes and how much work they put into it and how much dedication.

It was very similar going down to Burn Notice and you have that same vibe with people that are just – they love the show they’re working on. They’re dedicated to it and they’re really hard workers. So there really wasn’t that much difference, aside from, obviously, the show itself and the type of show.

What have you enjoyed the most about your work on Burn Notice and Battlestar? What are some things you’ve enjoyed the most?

T. Helfer: I think really, to be honest, I think just getting to work with who I’ve gotten to work with, they’re really talented people and getting the kind of writing and direction and everything, the people involved, not just the cast. But you’re talking about Ron Moore and Matt Nix and just really great guys, incredible writers. I’m fascinated with how their minds work. It’s just beyond me how they can come up with all this stuff. I’d say getting to work with who I’ve gotten to work with and that kind of level of quality scripts and production that I got to work on.

What was it like when you shot your last episode for Battlestar Galactica?

T. Helfer: Shooting the last episode is intense, not only do emotions run really high because obviously this is the last time you’re working with a lot of these people and you become like family over five years, but it’s also very intense because last episodes tend to come in very long. I think we had a four hour script in a two hour time frame to shoot that we were maybe given a couple of extra days. So we really shot incredibly long hours and everybody was kind of like zombies at the end of it. So it’s intense, emotions are really high, but it’s also a wonderful feeling, it’s a great feeling of accomplishment and camaraderie, too.

With this finale of Battlestar Galactica fast approaching, do you think that there’d be any possibility of a spin-off of Battlestar further in the future? I know they’re working on the prequel, but would you see any possibility of a future spin-off, like for the series?

T. Helfer: You know, I’ve never really thought about that. Without giving away the finale, I guess there sort of could be. It’s definitely a closing in one respect, but now that you mentioned it, there could possibly be a spin-off. I don’t expect there to be. I really don’t expect there to be and I don’t think that’s their intention, but I guess you can never say never in this business.

The latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, that was quite an emotional episode. How was that for you to play?

T. Helfer: Obviously the episode was an emotional one for Caprica Six. It wasn’t anything I don’t think particularly difficult over just, it’s an emotional scene. I think actually I shot that episode right before I went down and did my first episode of Burn Notice. It’s just work and I was glad – I’ve been fairly light in a few episodes and I was glad to see a strong scene for my character. It was hard to see Caprica lose the baby because she’s wanted one and stemming from people …that she killed the baby in the miniseries and now she has her own baby lost. But throughout that with her relationship with Baltar and now Tigh, she’s really been and connected to Hera in a way, and she’s been really kind of striving for this, so it was hard to film that just in that respect of seeing the character lose that. But I didn’t go home and cry that night. It’s obviously not like you’re not losing your own baby, so it’s hard at work but you have great people around to work with you.

We’re big, huge, Chuck fans. We would like to know, you have an episode coming up where you’re going to be in the spy field again. We wanted to know what the similarities and differences between Carla and your Chuck character will be.

T. Helfer: I think the differences are really in the tone of the show. Burn Notice is a show that definitely has some levity to it and it’s a fun show, but it’s also, you fully believe, you’re fully invested that Michael Westen does this stuff. You want Michael Westen on your team. With Chuck, obviously it just takes it another step further into the comedy side and it’s definitely a little lighter and fun. So with Carla, obviously they’re both super strong intelligent agents, but I think with agent Alex Ford as my Chuck character, it’s just a little bit more tongue in cheek. She’s much more like Casey. She’s very by the book. She’s very no nonsense, kind of emotional, which sounds similar to Carla, but Carla – they’re both kind of bad asses, I guess, when you’re looking back at it. But Chuck just has a little bit more tongue in cheek.

You’re allowed to be a little bit more – you can be straighter on Chuck, …Alex Ford could be straighter and I worried less about showing dimensions to the character because that was the humor about the character. She is so one note emotionalist. With Carla, my concern with her was making sure that because you really never find out too much about her, making sure that she’s not just super agent bitch spy and that’s it, that you get glimpse into a bit of a vulnerability or a bit of a humanity, other than just being super strong.

Basically as we still don’t know whether Chuck is going to be renewed for a third season or not, I did want to know if the role that you play, is it sort of open ended, so that if Chuck does come back for a third season you might consider doing another episode?

T. Helfer: Oh, definitely, yes, if it does comes back, and I expect it to, it’s a great show, so I hope it comes back, yes, it’s definitely open ended in terms of I could come back. Agent Alex Forrest is alive at the end of the episode and she could always come back, but I don’t expect to come back, certainly not on a regular basis, but I’d certainly sign to coming on again and shaking things up. I think she may have a little thing for Casey at the end of the episode, so if she comes back, it would be fun to come back and explore that because Casey doesn’t get very much action.

Professionally as an actor, you said that you made the jump from modeling to acting. What was the biggest challenge you faced in making that transition?

T. Helfer: To be honest, to be taken seriously. Models have a stigma that they can’t act. You’re also, to be quite blunt, you’re tall and not a lot of actors are tall and when you are starting out you’re obviously not the first one cast, so you’re trying to fit into a mold. You’re quite often not cast as the quirky best friend, but you don’t have the experience to be cast as the lead. So it can be really tricky. One of the biggest things is just to get your people, so to speak, your agents and managers to take you seriously. That’s one of the issues I had when I came out to LA.

I was with an agency in New York, joined the agency out here and they just wanted to put me up for walk by in a bikini role kind of thing, and that’s certainly not me because I’m not built like Carmen Electra or Pamela Anderson, so I found I was in a weird spot of not getting sent out for the roles that I wanted. That’s when you have to just take charge and you walk into the agency and say, “I want to go on this.”

You just have to be persistent. I think that’s one of the biggest things about this industry and this career is being persistent and believing in yourself and also being ready when the timing is right. So much of it is about timing and luck, so to be ready when you get the opportunity.

I know you’ve appeared in so many ad campaigns for so many different designers and you’ve been walking the runways all over the world and been on the covers of L and Vogue and all of that, do you ever think that maybe you’ll make a return to fashion? Or is that something that really inspired you or do you really think that in the future, you’ll probably keep focusing more on your acting and building that resume up?

T. Helfer: Oh, definitely. I have no interest in going back into fashion, aside from doing some endorsements or something. I’m certainly going to be open to endorsements, but to me that’s not modeling. Technically I guess you’re modeling if you’re posing for a picture, but it’s a different thing. Besides, I’m getting too old to go back into modeling. But no, I’ve been there, done that. I had a great career at it, learned a lot, but moved on and I’m much more excited to be working on a character or getting into the psychology of a character, that sort of thing, than just posing for a picture.

Moving forward professionally, what are your thoughts on breaking free of having been Cylon and do you have any concerns about being able to do that?

T. Helfer: No, not really, because I have gone on and done a couple of other things. I think people within the business really respect Battlestar. If they’re fans of the show, if they watch the show, they’ve also seen that the Cylons aren’t just cold robotic creatures like maybe a Terminator. It’s not your typical robot. It’s much more like Blade Runner and the Replicants and things like that. So they have a lot more emotion and they’re a lot more human than – I think it would be harder if you were playing much more of a robotic creature than people might think, that you might not be able to do other type of roles. So I’m really not worried about it.

In 2002 I had heard that you had done, you had the opportunity to play Eva in that independent film, White Rush. After that, you did a few motion pictures. I just really want to know how you feel about working in film as opposed to working in television and if that’s maybe a medium that you’re hoping to break more into.

T. Helfer: Certainly. I think in this day and age, film and TV, before I was in it, you were either film or you were TV and now the lines are so crossed, that I certainly hope to do more film. Again, it’s hard on a television schedule to fit that much in, especially when you’re starting out because you have to audition for things. So to actually fit into that hiatus is very difficult, so it’s certainly something I’m looking forward to doing. I auditioned for some and I have a couple in the pipeline that are possibilities an if financing comes together in this market in this economy, which is a challenge for independent film right now. So hopefully in this market, the independent film still keeps going and hopefully I land a couple of them.


Watch the Burn Notice Season 2 Finale on Thursday, March 5th at 10pm/9c on USA NETWORK! In the explosive season finale, Michael learns some surprising facts about Victor’s past, and is forced to take on Carla in a final showdown.

Interview By: Emma Loggins

– Burn Notice Official Site


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