Fans at Comic-Con International in San Diego expected to see a panel on the USA Network’s “Burn Notice,” but what they got instead was more like “The Bruce Campbell” show, with a little bit about “Burn Notice,” which should have been no surprise. Campbell’s presence on the show almost overtakes that of the main stars, and judging by the panel, you might think he was the show’s main actor. But the presentation was as much fun as it was informative for enthusiastic viewers of the popular cable show.
Fans, from a line that stretched the length of the convention center and back again, were still filing in 10 minutes after the panel had started, while a reel of highlights from the first two seasons of the acclaimed show played, along with scenes from season 3. The biggest revelation from these was Fiona claiming to be ready to leave Miami and return to Ireland, surely a complication in the life of Michael Weston, the show’s main character.
Sitting on the panel were show creator and executive producer Matt Nix, writer Alfredo Barrios Jr., actors Ben Shenkman, Jay Kearnes, and Seth Peterson, and of course Bruce Campbell. No one complained that Campbell dominated the panel. In fact, one fan, when Campbell was introduced, yelled “I love you!” Campbell asked the fan to approach the stage and when he did, finding it was a male fan, Campbell met him at the front of the stage and handed him cash from his pocket. Throughout the panel, the principals on the stage laughed along with Campbell’s antics and never seemed to mind that many of the questions were for the movie star and had nothing to do with “Burn Notice.” Certainly this was to be expected, as Campbell is a big draw to the show in the first place.
After the highlight reel and introductions, the moderator began with a list of questions before getting to those from the fans. The first was a frequently asked question about Michael’s father. Nix admitted that he wrote a mention of the father into the pilot episode, not knowing if the show would continue and never meaning for it to be an important plot thread, but, being a show about mysteries, everyone asks if and how Michael’s father is connected to the ongoing story. Nix said that it was an interesting element to add to the show and it will be addressed, but, he made clear that it was not Michael’s father that burned Michael and that Michael’s father is definitely dead.
The audience was polite and seemed interested in all aspects of the show, but the questioning couldn’t go long without attention returning to Campbell. When asked what aspects of his personality were similar to that of Sam Axe, the character he plays, instead of answering the question right away, Campbell expressed that everyone must be wondering what “Burn Notice” was doing at the Comic-Con in San Diego, a gathering devoted to horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. One by one, Campbell explained how Sam Axe and “Burn Notice” were perfect for each genre: for horror, Campbell’s character’s name was Sam Axe, emphasis on “Axe” (an instrument often used for dismemberment); for sci-fi, Miami, where the show takes place, is full of aliens; and, for fantasy, Sam sleeps with a string of rich women. Finally answering the original question, Campbell admitted that he’s most like Sam in that they both wear the same “stupid shirts” and they’re most not alike in that Campbell’s wife won’t let him sleep with a string of rich women.
The panel got in answers to a handful of questions that weren’t Bruce’s: Barrios admitted that the biggest challenge of the show was coming up with villains for each episode that are as smart and funny as Michael is. Kearnes, who plays Brennen on the show, said that it might be interesting if, after the course of his villainous character has run, he came back as a client for Michael. This answer came after he said that the whole panel should just be given over to Campbell (who then said his next answer would have to do with “Evil Dead”). Petersen, who plays Michael’s brother Nate, said that the key to turning his character around was not having facial hair, and that the progression of love between the characters happened after he shaved.
Campbell took the lead on the panel again, teasing the audience that work for the next “Evil Dead” was under way and that Nix would be writing it: it would be called “Evil Notice” and would be announced at CCI, mumbling a year when that would happen.
Nix was asked if there are parts he puts in the scripts that are just for fans, and if the fans had missed any those parts. Nix wanted to go back to “Evil Notice,” but admitted that, yes, he writes little bits in the scripts just to see if fans would catch them. He said that one of his favorite things to do was to name-check name-checkers. One of these things he did often was to use actors’ names as different characters’ names and naming restaurants after the writers’ children, so that most of the viewers of the show wouldn’t catch this if they didn’t know the people in the writers’ families.
The panel was then opened to questions from the audience. The first question, from a young lady, was, predictably, directed to Campbell. She asked, if she were having drinks with him, what would he order? He quickly replied, “A room and your naked body.” After the laughter died down (and Campbell admitted that he couldn’t see who asked the question), he said earlier he saw a Xena he wanted to “boff really badly.” Then he said he saw a Pikachu that was even hotter.
The next question, again for Campbell, was what advice would he give for future filmmakers? Campbell answered firmly and succinctly, “Do not copy anybody. Make people copy you. Be real,” and that he liked “Burn Notice” because it’s original.
A fan asked if it was an inside joke for actor Michael Weston to appear on the show, in which the main character has the same name. Nix said he hadn’t thought of the actor when he came up with the name for his main character, but once the character became known on the show, everyone asked if the actor would appear. So Nix went about getting the actor to be on the show, which he was, and it worked out well because Weston (the actor, who most notably appeared on “Six Feet Under”) is great.
One fan suggested that Sam take Nate under his wing and teach him to be a real spy, which seemed to interest the panel. The next fan asked if Sam was ever going to settle down, to which Campbell replied, quite urgently, “Why?”
Campbell was asked, when working opposite Sharon Gless, if he ever made any “Cagney & Lacey” jokes. Of course he did, he said, and at least once he would mutter an inside joke referring to that show which went over the heads of the younger actors, who wouldn’t even know he had made a joke. This was just another example of the hidden parts of the show that not every viewer would catch. To further the point of how viewers look for these inside mentions, one fan asked if the “Brennen’s Yogurt” from a recent episode was intentional. Nix said that he had argued with the producers of the show for hours about the name before a production designer just picked a name and included it on a sign, which Nix didn’t even see until he watched the episode in hi-def.
The next question was not an uncommon one, asking if there were plans for a “Burn Notice” movie. When Nix asked if the crowd would watch that, the audience exploded with ecstatic applause. Nix said they might do it, just so they could have a movie budget in case they wanted to crash two helicopters together. Campbell called Nix on the fact that he wouldn’t use digital explosions and Nix said that he liked using real explosions so that you could see the little details that digital artists sometimes miss when doing visual effects. He also told the story of a recent explosion set inside a house that was meant to only blow out a few windows but ended up blowing up every window in the house, cracked one of the house’s walls in half, and doing extensive damage to some of the surrounding houses in the neighborhood. That was a bit much for that episode’s budget, he said.
The next fan asked if Sam Axe was finally going to kick some ass. Campbell then stood and asked that fan to come up to the stage and took more bills from his pocket, only to find that it was the same fan he had given money to at the beginning of the panel. He gave him the money anyway. One fan suggested that Sam and Fiona get in a fight. Campbell said he wasn’t doing any more fights on the show, after blowing out a hamstring in a fight last year. Nix said that Sam wasn’t meant as a karate guy since he has a good right cross and fights are over quickly.
A fan was impressed by Michael’s “McGyver-style” inventiveness and asked about how the writers come up with the resources that Michael uses. Nix seemed appreciative of the fact that someone had noticed. He said that the show uses a consultant who is an intelligence offer but a lot of the stuff they use is what they find on the Internet. He said that usually the writers come up with what they want to do in abstract then figure out how to do it, including calling experts but that they really have no testing period. The things that Michael does on the show, he said, should work but he didn’t want that to mean that it should be able to teach anyone how to kill themselves, though they would be able to find it online anyway.
Again deviating away from “Burn Notice,” a question was asked if Campbell was offered a role in long-time collaborator Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me To Hell” feature film. Campbell said that he was not offered a role in the movie and was not happy about it, and seemed genuinely hurt, though that could have been more acting. However, he said that Raimi is going to have to make it up to him and have him in “Spider-Mans 4, 5, and 6.” The audience didn’t seem to mind that suggestion.
Nix was asked if Bruce helped to write the funny lines his character speaks. Again, Campbell asked the fan to the stage and gave them — a female this time — some cash. Nix said that there are some shows that are word-for-word with no room for improvisation or input from the actors, and he said that while every line in “Burn Notice” advances the plot, he also welcomes the actors to come up with lines, not just funny bits but also for added drama. He said that if Sam has the last line in a scene, that Campbell likely came up with it.
The panel ended with a giveaway for those who were given tickets beforehand, which was not everyone at the presentation, but it’s doubtful that even those leaving empty-handed didn’t have a good time.
Watch CBR’s interview with Bruce Campbell here!