Season five of Burn Notice is underway in Miami, and I’m certainly looking forward to it! Thankfully, I don’t have to do any spy work to get the dish; I went straight to one of the experts – series star and January People Who Are Awesome honoree Coby Bell, who’s ready for his second season as burned counterintelligence expert Jesse Porter. Coby and I sat down Wednesday to talk about what Burn Notice fans can expect when the show bows in the summer, as well as the recently-concluded fourth season of his other series, BET’s The Game. Spoiler alert!
You’ve just started shooting season five of Burn Notice. I’ve heard some actors say that it takes two seasons for them to really find a character. Do you feel like that’s the case for you with playing Jesse?
I actually do. I feel like last season, the writers and me worked all the kinks out. The audience is really going to get to know Jesse as a person this season – not just as a guy whose life is falling apart. Now he’s settled into his life in Miami, and he’s enjoying solving people’s problems and making the bad guys pay.
Now that you’ve had the benefit of hindsight, is there anything in season four that was a challenge for you, or that you wish you would have done differently?
I don’t know if there’s anything I would’ve done differently. The main challenge was, you have this show where Michael Westen is like Batman, and they’re adding this sidekick character who’s not immediately the sidekick. He’s the enemy. That was a hurdle.
When we left him at the end of season four, Jesse was pretty much a free agent. Where is he at when we see him again? What can you tell me about where he’s headed?
He gets his job back, but very quickly realizes that he doesn’t like his job. He can’t be behind a desk anymore. After working with Sam and Michael and Fiona, he’s discovered that he loves it. He loves cutting out all the red tape. He goes back to Miami, but he has an actual job now – he does private security, so he’s actually going to have some money and he’s moved out of Madeline’s garage.
What’s the coolest thing that you’ve gotten to do so far for season five?
We’re only in episode two right now, so I haven’t blown anything up yet, but I’m looking forward to it.
It’s a really small world out there: Matt Nix brought you in for Burn Notice after you auditioned for his other series The Good Guys, and now The Good Guys co-star RonReaco Lee is in the Burn Notice prequel movie. Not to mention he has a show on BET that aired right after yours (Let’s Stay Together).
Reaco’s a buddy of mine. He’s an extremely talented dude. He’s actually really good in the Sam Axe movie. We were both up for that same role [of Jack Bailey] on The Good Guys. There’s been some talk about having him on Burn Notice, too.
Season four of The Game just finished airing on BET. Now that you’ve gone through your first full season back on the air, let’s talk about what the experience has been like in general. How different was it for you compared to the first three seasons?
It was very different, because we filmed in Atlanta [instead of Los Angeles]. But it was a blast. We had a lot of fun. We shot it really quickly. We did thirteen episodes in a little over two months, which is insane, and we shot everything at once. Any given day, you could be doing anything from any of the thirteen episodes. I just take it scene by scene.
The show got a lot more serious in season four, which got a mixed reaction from the fans. Did you know going in that season four was going to be more of a drama? What are your thoughts on the tone?
I knew that the tone was shifting more like half and half. The show has been constantly evolving. Season one it was a straight-up sitcom. Season two we got rid of the studio audience. Season three was pretty much all single-camera. If you watch, you take note of what season it is and the tone of the show.
I only did half of the episodes, and all my stuff was basically comedy. I still see the show as a comedy, but the jokes in my opinion are smarter now, so if you’re not paying close attention, you could miss a few jokes. It’s more subtle.
With you becoming a recurring character, we didn’t get a lot of resolution to Jason’s storylines. Kelly (Brittany Daniel) didn’t appear at all in the season finale.
It was difficult because they didn’t know how many episodes they were going to have me for. So I was basically in like every other episode and it was hard to go in-depth. I was really happy with it. But I have no idea what they’re planning.
Your costar, Wendy Raquel Robinson, tweeted last night that the show has been renewed for a fifth season. Is that true, and where would you like to see Jason head in season five?
Yeah, we just got picked up. I would love to see Jason and Kelly end up back together at some point. I love working with Brittany. I didn’t get a lot of scenes with her this season.
You’re now on two series in their fifth seasons near simultaneously, and your previous series (Third Watch) ran for six seasons. What has it been like for you to work on such consistent projects?
To me, it’s all I’ve ever known, to play a character for so long that you evolve with. I’ve been really lucky to get on shows that stay on. It’s one thing to book a show, and it’s like winning the lottery again to have it picked up, and then again to have the show stay on the air. I’m aware of how rare it is and how lucky I’ve been. I’ve had job stability for years at a time. You really develop great relationships with the people you work with.
Speaking of Twitter, you’ve finally gotten on board that social media platform.
I don’t even understand the [Twitter] language. I don’t think I’m going to be one of those people who’s tweeting a lot.
You’ve had roles on some outstanding TV shows – Third Watch, The Game, Burn Notice and Archer. Do you have a favorite?
I’ve loved all the jobs that I’ve been on. I had an amazing experience with Third Watch. I was so happy when The Game came back because I never wanted it to end. And then with Burn Notice too. You can’t beat Miami.
And my bosses have been cool. John Wells got me started. Mara Akil is an amazing woman. Matt Nix is so unassuming. Matt’s mellow. People have come up to him on the set and been like, “You can’t be here,” because they don’t recognize him.
With all the work you do, how much free time do you really have? What do you do on the rare occasion that you’re not working?
When I’m not on the set, I’m on a plane flying home to see my kids and my wife. I fly home every week, sometimes twice a week, depending on the schedule. I’m constantly flying. I’m on the set or on a plane.
What are you currently watching?
I watch a lot of NBA basketball, especially with the playoffs. I watch The Daily Show, Colbert Report and I got back into American Idol this season.
My thanks to Coby Bell for another great interview! Catch him when Burn Notice returns in summer. For your Burn Notice fix, don’t forget to tune into the prequel TV-movie, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, in less than two weeks – April 17 at 9 PM ET/PT on USA.