Donovan & Campbell talk "Burn Notice"

USA's hit series "Burn Notice" has everything genre fans want from a television show. It's got spies, action, explosions, Bruce Campbell, a sense of humor and did we mention Bruce Campbell? As an added bonus, "Battlestar Gallatica" star Tricia Helfer joins the "Burn Notice" cast this season. Is that good enough for you?

Season one, available now on DVD, introduced viewers to Michael Weston, played by Jeffrey Donovan ("Touching Evil"), an expert covert spy for an unnamed US government agency who receives a burn notice -- an official statement discrediting him in the eyes of all intelligence organizations. After essentially being fired from his job, Michael finds himself stranded in his hometown of Miami with no idea why he's been let go. With no money and no way out of town, Michael has to rely on his estranged Mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless), his ex-girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), a former IRA operative, and his old Agency buddy Sam Axe played by Bruce Campbell ("Evil Dead") to get back on his feet.

While he tries to find out who "burned" him and make his way back into the spy world, Michael makes some money by helping out people in need.One part "The A-Team" and one part "MacGyver," (Michael can turn ordinary household appliances into deadly weapons) the show is a fast paced, light-hearted look at the world of covert spies.

CBR News had an opportunity to speak with stars Jeffrey Donovan and Bruce Campbell about the new season that begins this week, as well as the addition of Tricia Helfer to the cast and how the whole crew plans to avoid the dreaded "sophomore slump."


CBR: Season One ended with Michael driving his car into the back of a truck at the orders of a women, who presumably had a role in Michael's being burned. We assume that's the character Tricia Helfer is going to play. Where does the show go from here in Season Two and what's next for Michael Weston?

Jeffrey Donovan: Obviously, I don't want to give anything away so that you'll tune in for the premiere, but you are actually going to meet Miss Helfer in the flesh. She's behind a lot of things that held Michael back and you realize she's actually controlling his life.

Bruce Campbell: She's very, very evil.

Donovan: Yeah, she's very evil and sexy at the same time.

Is there a possibility that she and Michael will become romantically involved at some point?

Donovan: I hope so. She's hot.

What's it been like working with Tricia Helfer so far?

Donovan: Unfortunately, I've only actually gotten to work with her for like a day. You know, she's wonderful. She's beautiful. She's really smart. If she wasn't already married, she's marriage material.

How do you like the scripts that you've seen for Season Two so far and are there any kind of pressures to avoid a "sophomore slump?"

Donovan: Love the second season scripts. I think they're even better than the first season and I think the first season was pretty darn good in and of itself. You know, the ratings are not up to me. They're up to the general public and if they go up and down, we're still going to do the same thing we did last year which was make the show fun to watch. And that's what we're doing this year again. And if people follow, great, if they don't, we'll still be proud of what we did.

Campbell: Ain't going to be no slumpin'. Ain't going to be no sophomore slump my friend. People are still finding the show and I've had the weirdest batch of emails from people from very odd demographics who are following the show. The DVD just came out. USA knows that it's a hit now so they're going to promote it more. We're all behind it. I think we're doing 16 episodes instead of 10 or 11. So, there's every reason to believe, in my opinion, in my ignorant opinion that we're going to do even better this year.

What's your favorite thing about playing these characters?

Campbell: Well, I have to say I've always been a fan of [squad] characters and I think "Burn Notice" is a big bag of damaged goods. But we're helping the little person now, you have all these people who have had these strange and intense backgrounds and now we're back into civilization and trying to assimilate. And hopefully that's kind of the fun of the show, but I appreciate that we get a little bit of latitude. The writers have been really good with us and I think they've studied what our strengths and weaknesses are. So, for the grind of television, it's been a very enjoyable experience.

Donovan: I just love that I get to play a spy. I'm like James Bond in America and I could never be this cool in real life so that's got to be my favorite part.

How did you guys get your roles on the show and who was cast first?

Campbell: Well, Jeffrey can tell that story but my understanding is that [USA] were looking for something to do with Mr. Donovan, being the stud that he is. My name came along and they figured let's see if Bruce is unemployed and if he'll say yes. I was his sloppy seconds.

Donovan: Yeah. I was first hired and then Bruce, Sharon and Gabrielle came immediately after. I had no say in the matter. I did get to meet Gabrielle in a room and work with her. I thought she was amazing. And then they, without my permission, hired Bruce. So I don't take responsibility for that.

Bruce, what made you decide to take a TV project at this point in your career?

Campbell: The role was offered and I just did some research of who was involved and what their dealio was. In television you're kind of trapped in an airless box, you know, working very closely together with people and if the dynamics aren't right it can be a very trying situation. So I just did enough research to find out a little bit about this Donovan guy. I think my research was successful because it led me in the right direction.

I chose this show because of its unique nature and what I also like about it is there's a retro feel to this show. There's a weird classic feel to it. It's a little bit iconic. I like this show. I'm a fan of this show because I like the nature of it. It's not bitter and it's not jaded. You know that "little Billy is going to get his medicine every week" and I think it's awesome. It's a show that gives you hope and what else could a TV viewer need, other than TiVo?

Bruce, if you didn't know a lot about Jeffrey coming in, what have you learned about him since you guys have been working together?

Campbell: I've learned that thank god we've got Jeffrey Donovan. That's all I can say because, you know, look, this is a very specific thing. If you get the wrong person for the show, you're doomed. You're 100% doomed. And thank god, between [creator] Matt Nix picking him and USA liking him from the other work that he did. I think Jeffrey's in the perfect position to do this. I mean, I love it when stars align. I've worked on a lot of projects where you can't get this thing to come together to save your life, whether it's a movie or a TV show, either the chemistry is bad or the money is bad, or it's run poorly or the scripts stink.

But in this case, I don't want to overstate this, but I feel that the stars have aligned a little more than usual. You've got an actor who is the perfect person for this role, at this time. Jeffrey wants to be here. He's taken on a hard assignment with a smile on his face and we all appreciate that. So, you know, this is what it's all about. This is a tough gig and I'm happy to be here.

Jeffrey, how much did you know about Bruce before working together?

Donovan: I knew of Bruce and I actually had heard about him through a friend of mine who knew him. So I knew just of him, but that's not to say that I wasn't a fan of his because I don't actually know of many actors. I don't go to the movies or watch television. But now that I've gotten to know him, I couldn't ask for a better costar. You know, I'm sure actors say that all the time, but they're lying, I know all of them and they're lying. This is the truth, you can't ask for a better actor, coming from his huge career, to come and grace us on this show. It has been just a blessing for us.

Jeffrey, clearly you're working with a great cast but your character is complex and the show can only work if the audience believes in your character and his situation. Was there a lot of pressure on you from the start to make him as authentic as possible?

Donovan: Yeah, there's a lot of pressure whenever you take on a role that is from that person's singular perspective. It's always through the eyes of Michael Westen, so I felt like I had a huge obligation to be authentic in every scene, every fight and every voiceover. So yeah, there's a lot of pressure. But thankfully with amazing actors like Bruce, Gabrielle and Sharon, the load feels less because you know that if you ever drop the ball they're always there to pick it up.

Your character has an estranged relationship with his mother, are we going to see more of that this season?

Donovan: Yeah. Actually she's in a lot this second season. The writers have brought her more into a personal connection with Michael Westen. So I think you're going to see more of a true mother-son relationship, less antagonistic as you saw in the first season and more of her becoming a bit of an ally. But I think more as the season goes on, you'll see him actually care more about her and the life that they used to have. I think it's going to get deeper, actually.

How about his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Fiona, will that progress this season as well?

Donovan: That's a crazy relationship that's going to have its ups and downs. And it's going to go left, right and all around, and it'll be exciting. Some of the episodes I actually don't read until I get on the day just so I can see what crazy thing she's going to do to me that day.

Bruce, with the exception of Fiona and his family, Sam is really one of Michael's only friends. Do you think that makes your character all the more crucial?

Campbell: Oh well, Sam is integral to "Burn Notice" because of how he holds the social fabric together. And I got some swampland in Tennessee, too. No, I think it's always good to have buddies. If you don't have a second person, it's hard to have dialogue. So Sam is handy for explaining missions, you know, chewing the fat with Michael and kicking ideas around. And hopefully the loyalty issue is solved now. Sam's in to win.

In the beginning of the series, Sam was reluctantly spying on Michael for the FBI. Now that Michael knows, how has that affected their relationship?

Donovan: Well I think when you deal in espionage and covert ops, you're never truly trusting the other. But with Sam and Michael, Michael doesn't have really any friends. So I think he depends on Sam and Fiona, and that Sam was put into a difficult position was understandable. So I think he forgave him and its kind of water under the bridge, but I don't think the suspicion is completely gone.

With Michael now possibly learning more information on who ordered his burn notice, are we still going to see him doing what he was doing in the first season, solving smaller crimes and helping the little guy?

Donovan: I think that I will always be saving, you know, the small guppy in the big pond. He's got to do that because I think that's kind of the heart of the show. And then I think the other plots are always going to be about who was behind the burn notice and what they can do to me. Then what I think what most people are interested in is what goes on between him and his buddy, Sam, and his ex-girlfriend, Fiona? I think those relationships are going to be really integral, at least in Season Two.

Finally, with so many movies and TV shows about spies out there, how do you keep Michael Weston and "Burn Notice" from being like all the rest?

Donovan: Well, I don't have the body and good looks of the James Bonds. Although I am a big fan of "The Bourne Identity," I don't have Matt Damon's chops and probably his intellect, I think he's a genius out of like MIT or something. So I don't think I'll ever be confused with anybody like that. As long as I kind of keep my rogue-ish slant on this role, I don't think it can be like anybody else.

Campbell: Let me add something because Jeffrey is being too modest. Basically, I think the key here is that we are watching how a spy becomes a human. It's one thing to do all the fights and stuff, but do you care about that person? And I think what this show tends to feature more is, what is this spy doing when he's not being a spy? So it rounds out his character. He's not just a shoot them up, slinky kind of guy. He has a whole life on top of it, which I think, makes it much more complicated and interesting.

Check back with CBR tomorrow for more with Bruce Campbell!

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