Burn Notice (USA Network, Thursdays, 10/9C) returns tonight with a two-hour premiere and star/producer Jeffrey Donovan spent an hour on Tuesday (on his hiatus!) talking with a groups of journalists/bloggers about his character, Michael Westen’s darker than usual path this season; how he would describe where the Westen/Fiona relationship must, logically go, and he specific responsibilities as one of the show’s producers (no, it’s definitely not a vanity title!).
UPDATE: Burn Notice has been renewed for a thirteen-episode seventh season!
Hi. Thanks so much for talking to us today.
Jeffrey Donovan: Great.
It’s obviously got to be really fun to get to play so many different characters. Can you talk about kind of that and I assume it keeps it interesting?
Donovan: Yeah. One of the fun things that we didn’t actually realize when we first did the show was that even though I’m a burned spy and I’m trying to get back in, the kind of fun of the show is always to help the person that no one else can help and only Michael’s skills can solve his problem.
So we thought it’d be fun if that certain cover ID just like spies had to do, were taken on. And some of the things that were asked of me were great. You know, if I had to do an accent or some kind of character it was always fun to kind of make that up with the writer at the time. And then over the years they kind of evolved into sometimes some wacky guys and sometimes some pretty sadistic guys. But yeah, it keeps it interesting.
What’s been the hardest cover ID you’ve had to do from an acting standpoint?
Donovan: You know, the hardest ones were always the ones that I hadn’t ever done before. I mean just like a writer might have a certain style that they write in and they’re comfortable and then someone says okay, I want you to do a short story form. It might be out of their comfort zone.
Those are the most difficult ones. And the – one of the most difficult ones was this kind of character I did about – I think it was Season 3, where I basically played the devil and I think this name was (Louis) – almost like (Louis Cypher) as in Lucifer. And he was a cross between the devil and Clint Eastwood and I played him – I mean I just went out on a limb and played him. And I’ve never received better feedback from fans about that’s their cover ID I’ve ever played.
But it was the scariest one because I thought it was so different from anything I’d ever done not only on the show but as – just as an actor.
Before I ask my questions I have two messages for you. The first one is from Seth Peterson. He told me to tell you that he loves the watch you gave him with a passion.
And the second one is from – there is a group of fans on Twitter that call themselves the Dono Fans. And they just want to tell you that they love you.
Donovan: All right.
And my questions actually come from them so they’re more fun questions than anything else.
The first one is who has been your favorite villain on Burn Notice and why?
Donovan: Oh, see now that’s really tough. Because, you know, it’s six years of actors that have come through here and I – god, just let me see. I have to think. You know, I’d have to say Jay Karnes. He played Brennan. Jay Karnes, I mean a wonderful actor and very well known and he played for the first time – one of the things that I always say to Matt Nix and all of the writers is never dumb down the villain.
I think why James Bond is, you know, the 007 series always works is because the villains were always these mega intelligent villains. And I said when you dumb down a villain then you dumb down Michael. Always make the villains smarter than Michael but Michael just figures out the one Achilles heel that the villain has. And the closest person to ever do that was Jay Karnes.
And an actor like that is incredible anyway but to put him in that role where he basically tells Michael, what are you going to do? Are you going to do this? Well then I have the answer to that. Are you going to do that? I’m going to – then I’m going to do this. He always was one step ahead of Michael which was always the – kind of a great villain, a great foe is that the villain is smarter than you.
Right. Exactly. And then the second question is another one that’s going to make you think. If you could act with any actor living or dead who would it be and why?
Donovan: Oh geez. You know, I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to be able to be directed by Clint Eastwood twice. But, you know, he didn’t act in either of those films, in Changeling or J. Edgar and I would have loved to have stepped into the ring with him.
There is an authenticity and a reality that he just brings because of the person he is. So I would have loved to have done that. That would probably be – I would probably consider myself accomplished if I could ever go toe to toe with him.
I was wondering – there are some great locations you guys have been shooting in and we know that Miami though has been a bit of a trouble area for the Burn Notice team. Is there any idea of a possible relocation?
Donovan: Miami actually has been great. I think that you’ve read some news that was only recent, regarding one commissioner.
No, no. I mean for Michael and…
Donovan: Oh. Oh, I see. I was like god, what are you talking about? You know, yeah Miami is obviously a hot spot for Michael and all of the kind of agencies and the foes and the villains all know he’s located there so he’s basically an easy target, a kind of a fish in a barrel.
As far as storyline, you know, the network and the studio haven’t talked at all about moving it to any other kind of locale whether it’s fictional or not. You know, whether we shoot in Miami but we pretend we’re in Malibu, California. I, you know, none of that has been talked about. So I don’t see him moving obviously this coming summer if we get renewed for a seventh season which it looks like we will be. So that will probably – we’ll probably be staying put.
There’s such great chemistry between you and Gabrielle Anwar on the show. How do you continue to maintain that?
Donovan: Spend as little time with each other off the set. You know? When you play a role like Michael and Fiona, there is an intimacy and a kind of spark that I think is hard to maintain over seven years when you spend every, you know, working hour with them and then every social hour with them. So we do our best to never lay eyes on each other after work.
That way you smolder on screen.
Donovan: Yes. Your words.
Well absence makes the heart grow fonder they say.
Donovan: Exactly. Exactly.
I was wondering, now that Michael knows who burned him and he’s tracked down in the episode this week, his brother’s killers, what’s next for Michael now that he doesn’t have that driving force behind him to kind of stay in the spy world?
Donovan: You know, great question. I think what’s tough for this show is the title. You know, Burn Notice was not only an unfamiliar word to me but I think to most fans until they understood what the show was about. And it’s kind of like calling the show Escape from the Moon and after the sixth season they got off the moon. Well what next? I think that the fans are going to love this last part of Season 6 because it focuses on Nate’s death, finding that killer and bringing him to justice.
And I think that you’ll see a more of a hell-bent Michael, more personal than you’ve seen him try to kind of navigate the waters towards getting back in with the CIA and Burn Notice. And then at the end of the season, you know, it’s a bit of a cliffhanger.
There’s a huge event that happens between Michael and Fiona that will propel Season 7 which if all goes as planned, will be a very different kind of Burn Notice because of the trajectory but no less kind of dangerous for Michael. But I think it’ll be more personal next year than it will be professional, if that answers your question without me giving anything.
At the end of the two hours you kind of face off with your – Michael faces off with his mentor. And I just want to say I loved the way that you played that scene and the emotion that, you know, just propels on your face. But could you talk a little bit about what it was like selling that scene?
Donovan: Now you’ve got to – now you’ve got to understand it’s November.
Donovan: So I’ve got to – you’ve got to remind me what scene particularly and with who?
With your mentor. The one that tried to kill you (unintelligible).
Donovan: Oh, John C. McGinley’s character?
Donovan: Oh, okay. And do I – and then – well, you know, going toe to toe with McGinley is, you know, you should – though you will never be recognized you should just win an award for going toe to toe with John C. McGinley. The guy is such a powerhouse it’s hard to keep up.
I mean he’s a guest star that shows up and knows not only his lines but your lines back and forth before you even rehearse. It’s quite remarkable. So a lot of the things that I kind of tried to bring to that scene was sheer fear of please don’t screw up in front of such a great actor.
So that kind of – me looking up to him that way, kind of fed that fuel of wow, this is a great actor but now I have to actually believe that he’s someone that taught me so much and has betrayed everything I invested in. And so though it wasn’t easy it was certainly much more compelling because of McGinley himself.
You mentioned that this season will be a little more personal because it’s about Nate, also the fact that your mom isn’t really speaking to you even though she did save your life – help save your life. Might Michael make some mistakes because the stakes are different this time around?
Donovan: Yeah. That’s a great, great observation. I think anything that’s personal and emotional will always cloud judgment. You know, one of the fun things I’ve kind of developed with Matt is in real life, with a normal person, you are in every day life with your family and that’s easy. And then you go to work and that’s hard. And you show the strain at work because the stakes are so high. What was hard to kind of convince a lot of directors who were coming in was they would always want me to have kind of an intense high stakes moment when I was being chased or shot at.
And I always though that’s wrong, it doesn’t ring true. It’s the opposite. Michael’s judgment is so clear when he’s being shot at or he’s being chased or he’s trying to figure out a solution with a bottle of Clorox and a car battery. That’s all clear to him and it’s objective. When he’s at home with his mom or he’s talking to his brother Nate or he’s in a fight with Fiona, those are the most subjective, emotional moments for him and he doesn’t know how to handle it.
So what I always said was he’s out of his element when he’s with his family and friends and he’s in his element when he’s being shot at and that’s kind of counterintuitive.
So this past – this last season it’s all about his judgment being so clouded and so subjective because of how his feelings towards his brother are, what happens to him and what his mother accuses him of. I mean those kind of – those kinds of stakes Michael has never really dealt with.
Right. Okay. And my follow up question is so you mentioned the renewal. So how long can you see playing this role and do you have a vision of how you would like to see it end for Michael?
Donovan: Well, you know, first of all there’s nothing official yet about Season 7 so I – I mean I don’t even know if it’s going to happen. I’m assuming it is but I have not received a phone call so I’m still, you know, waiting just like everybody else is. Whether an online magazine writes about it or not I don’t believe it until a contract is here because you never know.
So I don’t know what Season 7 could possibly be other than maybe a different kind of trajectory for Michael which has to happen because him going after Burn Notice, him trying to get reinstated has played itself out. But the only thing that can happen is that it becomes much more personal. It – now it becomes about his family, his past and his friends. And I think that will probably be what Season 7 is about.
And I guess, you know, it will come full circle because when Michael was burned he was plopped in Miami and he had to deal with his mother and he had to deal with Fiona. And I think probably Season 7 will be our final season and it will probably come down to those two people probably in some devastating fashion.
You know, Jeffrey as one of my colleagues mentioned, obviously, you know, you have such good chemistry with your cast mates, I’m wondering, you know, when you have that kind of shorthand does it make it easier for you as an actor or does it make it sort of more challenging to be sharp from episode to episode?
Donovan: You know, you do run the risk of getting into a monotonous rut because you shoot 70 hours a week the same character and sometimes overlapping dialog from other episodes kind of, you know, creep back in.
But whenever you show up, especially with someone like Sharon or with Bruce, they have such a freshness when they come onset and such a great attitude that it kind of inspires you. So staying sharp is – I thank, you know, the actors for being sharp because it can become kind of monotonous.
Right. You know, as you mentioned a minute ago, you know, for another season to happen you do sort of have to take the show and the character in a different direction. What sort of is interesting or appealing to you about going in a different direction from where you’ve been these six years?
Donovan: Well I think that not only am I kind of tired of it, I think maybe the fans are a little tired of just me trying to get back into the CIA and (un)burned. But I think that one of the things we’ve never really explored and I’m actually – this is my thoughts, no one’s actually said this to me, is that the whole mystery behind Michael’s past and his relationship with his father, I think that’s an interesting road.
But I also think that we’ve never really seen how dark Michael can go when someone close to him has been hurt. I mean when his brother is killed I mean you can see a rage in Michael that – which hopefully the audiences kind of connect with. But I think that there’s even something deeper there. And not that, you know, where a show like Dexter where, you know, Michael’s a serial killer and will cut people up but for a greater good.
But I think that there is a side of Michael that would channel some kind of monster if he felt like that was the only way to get retribution for someone being hurt that he loved.
I apologize. I haven’t seen the pilot – the premier yet. We are in Philadelphia and we literally just got the electric on – back on this morning. But I did just want to say, you were just talking about how with Michael having closer relationships that obviously clouds his judgment.
I was wondering how do you think the fact that Michael and Fiona are finally, totally giving into their love relationship, that will affect their relationship business wise and do you also – how is the show going to keep them interesting when they’re together? So often when couples get…
Donovan: That last – you’re breaking up (Jerry). Are you still there?
Yes. I’m still here. I’m sorry. I was just going to say how do you think that the fact that Michael and Fiona are giving into their relationship completely is going to affect them both personally and as co-workers?
Donovan: Well, you know, listen Michael and Fi are as dysfunctional as they get. I don’t think them becoming closer or them growing apart is really going to affect what probably is an ultimate time bomb between those two. I think that – and there’s nothing written or any story that I’m kind of referring to but I think that down the road these two are going to combust. I mean they have to because I mean she’s nitro and he’s glycerin and they are going to blow up.
But how they blow up is going to probably be very unique to them. Blowing up to them might be them getting married. You know? And but blowing up may be also them, you know, killing one each other – killing each other. You know, I don’t know but I know that the more conflict that those two have I think the best for the show. I think when they become romantic and, you know, cute towards each other I think that’s where the show kind of gets boring.
So I think that you’re probably going to see more of a combustible Michael and Fiona in Season 7.
Okay, good. And I also love the way that the villains all have sort of different characteristics. Like Tim Matheson was almost sort of very good natured except for when he was being evil. And John C. McGinley’s character seems a little bit goofy before you realize how devious is.
But I really thought you did some really amazing work with Jere Burns who obviously – his character was killed off. But what was he like to work with as a villain?
Donovan: Jere is one of my favorites. He’s a phenomenal actor and he has such a presence when you work with him. I mean nothing, nothing affects him. I mean a piece of equipment could fall on him and it’d still like just be right on target. He’s an amazing actor. I had a great time with him. And, you know, the sad part about it is all the great villains die. It’s just killing me. I mean John C. McGinley, Jere Burns, I mean these people are awesome actors and they just – they get killed.
Ben Shenkman in Season 2 who was my, you know, CIA agent was just an amazing actor and we killed him. I don’t know why we kill all the great actors. Maybe because they don’t want to show up me. You know, they keep bad actors around me so I look better.
And one other thing. You had just mentioned that you thought that you’re sort of getting a little bit bored and the audience might be. I’m seeing whether Michael can just become a regular – get back into the CIA. Do you think that Michael could ever go back to being just a normal CIA agent?
Donovan: I don’t know. Good question. I think that the end – the season finale which I think the audience is going to be shocked at, Michael makes a decision which affects not only his friends but mostly Fiona. I think there’s going to be a huge betrayal that you’re going to see. And I think the audiences are going to kind of be excited about Season 7 to see where Michael will go once he made this kind of – probably one of the worst decisions he’s ever made.
Now when you’re talking about Michael being in a dark place with his brother being shot and everything, how does that work for you as an actor? How do you get into that mindset looking so sad and dark and…
Donovan: I just think of the long hours I’m working and then I just channel that. You know, I think as an actor, you know, not that I’m experienced but at least I have, you know, about 25 years under my belt.
You know, just like any kind of pro athlete, you know, it’s like asking a pro athlete like David Ortiz who gets up at home plate, how do you hit that home run? It’s just you do what you do, you know? It’s kind of ingrained in you and then you just try to find that kind of motivation that will spark each take. And it might be that, you know, they’re out of M&Ms at Craft Service and that really makes you sad. Or, you know, it’s something from your personal life that you draw on that was, you know, maybe hard or devastating in your past.
But I mean I think that actors do what they do well when they can just make it their own. And that’s up to them. You know, the way my process works is very different the way Bruce works and very different the way Sharon works but we all kind of accomplish the same goal. So it’s hard but I draw upon different things, you know, per day, per scene, per character.
Right and – so when you’re done doing these things where you’re supposed to be so upset like when you almost killed the guy that killed your brother, is it easy just to okay, scene over, no problem or does it kind of stay with you for a while?
Donovan: It sometimes lingers with you. You know, you might be in such an emotional state that you kind of need a few minutes to just kind of recompose yourself, especially if they’re saying okay, moving on to the scene where Michael chases the bad guy and grabs and ice cream cone and licks it while doing it. You know, and you’re like oh this is supposed to be slightly comical at the same time. But, you know, that’s what we do. It’s not brain surgery. And it certainly isn’t on a level of national importance, you know, like an election or disaster relief.
But, you know, hopefully for those few minutes you believe what I’m doing and you’re entertained and you kind of – you can kind of escape that, you know, that world that you’d maybe be bothered with for an hour and have fun.
So this season seems to be so pivotal in how it all has rolled out and particularly the way it was left hanging that at the end of last season the finale was kind of like going you’re leaving it there?
And now you’re picking up and going forward and there’s so much – kind of I get the feeling that there’s so much stuff that’s been buried inside Michael that’s suddenly starting to come out that how – kind of how are you – I mean are you – have you plotted out – are you – how you play – obviously you’re farther down in the season. Have you – did you plot this out how you were going to unroll this emotionally?
Donovan: I kind of go episode to episode because unfortunately we don’t see a script until about two days before we start shooting. So it’s difficult to kind of do an overall arc to track your character especially emotionally. I mean we would love to but the writers don’t give us any material until, you know, basically right before we start shooting so it’s difficult to chart emotionally.
So what we do is that day we kind of look at the script and then I kind of plot through well if Michael gets to here let’s say – let’s get – let’s say he gets to Z at the end of the episode. Then I want to start as far away from that as possible. So I want to start at A and hopefully you’ll see a kind of journey. And now unfortunately with that is once I’m done with Z how – where can I go in the next episode? I mean I can’t start a new alphabet. So that’s kind of difficult. But what’s great about the show is that, you know, it’s a TV show.
Once we do it it’s gone for that one episode and we can kind of pick ourselves back up and start over again and create another hour of entertainment. But as far as the dark journey overall I mean Michael’s going to go down I think a dark hole, especially from Bruce’s character. I mean, you know, the way Bruce plays Sam is so incredible. He’s so observant of Michael because he’s his best friend.
And I think you’re going to see so many indictments from Sam that Michael – it will actually reflect on how dark Michael is getting because Sam knows the kind of dark person Michael’s becoming.
Well that’s just it. It – the journey that where you saw after Nate was killed and you see some of the light parts come up but there’s still that journey that Michael is taking is very evident and it’s so – and for the viewer. And I’ve been there and watched probably every single season at least twice.
It has been so intoxicating and so addicting that it’s like when you – as you get to the season finale for Season 6 then we’re just kind of going – you kind of go wait a minute, wait a minute, we can’t live without this.
Donovan: You sound addicted and you may need help. But admitting it is the first step as they say. Well that – well thank you. That’s awesome. I don’t know if Michael will come back from this emotional hell that he’s gone down.
He’s lost his brother. The only family he has left is his mother. And I think he’s losing his friends. I mean I see this journey eventually compromising his friendship with Sam and with Jesse. And ultimately probably being the destruction of his relationship with Fiona.
But I have to. You can’t just keep a show going after six seasons and go yeah, everyone’s just the same. After Michael has seen his brother die, his father die, I mean there’s just too much death that has kind of gone inside Michael that you won’t be able to just kind of pass it off. And I think maybe Season 7, if we finally get that order and create that, I think that’s what Season 7’s journey is going to be.
I have to ask you since your mom raised three boys alone what did you gift your mom with when you became financially stable?
Donovan: Well first off, thank you for, you know, obviously having interest in my family and where I came from. But, you know, my mom and my family has never really been talked about that much and I’d kind of like to keep that that way. No. You’re very welcome. I respect that.
So I definitely respect the privacy – the family privacy part. I was going to – my question originally was going to actually be you do such a great job of channeling a closeness with Sharon Gless as far as the mother/son were you – can you say whether or not you were at least close to your mom growing up? Because I really don’t know much about it. And, you know, it definitely comes – it seems to come through and I just wanted to see if that’s what I’m sensing.
Donovan: Well I can talk about Sharon and first of all, she is like a second mother to me. You know, she’s an extraordinary actress but even more so she’s an incredible woman. She took me under her wing since day one and has always protected me and kind of sheltered me in the greatest way.
I didn’t have an experience like she had with all of the history she has in television and so she’s been such a great educator and her husband, Barney Rosenzweig, he is an incredible producer and I’ve learned so much. They’ve become kind of like my second family and I could talk for hours about them.
Well you guys do a great job on screen. My mom passed away earlier this year and she was so much like Sharon Gless’s character that I actually get a little homesick every time you guys are together on screen. So you guys do an amazing job and I just wanted to let you know that it really does come through.
Donovan: Well I really appreciate that and I’m sorry for your loss and you sound like a smart, kind young man and I’m sure your mother was very proud of you.
Well she loved your guys’ show and so we used to talk about it every, you know, every Friday morning on my drive to work. We used to talk about Burn Notice because she’d watch it where she was at. So I just wanted to let you know that.
Donovan: Thank you very much.
You directed two episodes of Burn Notice (unintelligible) Sam Axe. What were the major challenges you experienced while directing?
Donovan: Sorry, you broke up slightly. I know it’s about directing episodes and also Sam Axe. What was the question?
I was asking what were the major challenges you experienced while directing?
Donovan: You know, what’s tough about episodic TV and also about Sam Axe was a deadline. You know, the scripts are huge. You know, typical episodic scripts are about 46 to 50 pages and Burn Notice tends to write between 52 and 58 pages. And that’s difficult to shoot in a cable studio budget.
We’re constantly running over time and out of money. So that – those are the big challenges. The actors are always the easiest thing. The cast is great. I don’t actually even have to direct them except Bruce. He’s an awful, awful actor and he needs all the help he can get. I don’t know how he got this job. But thank god I’ve been directing him for years.
You were talking a bit before about Sharon Gless and everything. Can you talk about how Michael and Madeline’s relationship is going to change this season? And I mean can they ever get back to where they were do you think?
Donovan: You know, I think that you’ll see mending in the latter part of the season. And I think that Madeline’s love for Michael is unconditional in the best way. But what I think is the hardest thing on Madeline is not seeing Michael go back into the CIA or do a job or maybe cross the line in accomplishing some kind of mission. It’s when he hurts his friends.
And I think at the end of this season you’ll see Michael make a choice that I don’t think that Madeline will be able to justify. And but like her love has been for six seasons it’s unconditional and I think that she’ll try to find that compromise. But Michael’s going to put his friends and his mom in a very difficult position at the end of the season.
So I saw the season premier. It was a great season premier. And the one thing I noticed is how I guess violent realistic the scenes – especially when you and Gray are getting beaten around. What does it take to get to that kind of mindset to make it look so realistic?
Donovan: Well thank god the camera can lie because, you know, we’re safe and nothing’s happening to us. But kind of imagining all of that violence kind of coming down on us it’s, you know, I’m sure every young boy has been in a fight. I certainly as growing up, quite a few, lost as many as I won. And you kind of just channel all of those kinds of bruises and punches that you had over the years and put it into that kind of – that emotion, you know? It’s not that hard to imagine yourself getting beat up.
There are questions about where the story is going but a few days ago I caught a rerun of Sam Axe’s film. Would you like to go into any other of the characters’ back stories and what would you like to learn about them?
Donovan: You know, I don’t think so. I think what was great about the Sam Axe story was, you know, based on Bruce. You know, Bruce has such a huge following from all of his Evil Dead, you know, film stuff and he’s just a kind of a cult hero. So I think that that was kind of interesting to kind of look into where did Sam Axe come from and why was he forcefully retired from the Navy Seals. I think that that was interesting. I don’t think that any other story would be as compelling.
I mean I’m sure Sharon would have no interest in going back and showing herself 20 years ago and trying to figure that out. So the back story stuff I don’t think is going to happen about anybody else. I don’t think it would work.
Okay, yeah. You’ve had Jere Burns this year and John C. McGinley or Ben Shenkman previously. How can you top that with the next villain to bring in? Who would you like to have?
Donovan: Oh, that’s a great question. I mean they’re so good, I don’t know where the next villain will come from. You know, we’ve always done a great job in finding some interesting actors. Here’s the irony about the actors who play great villains. They’re the nicest people, you know? They really are.
I mean Jay Karnes, Jere, Ben, I mean you’re talking about guys who are just the salt of the earth and they show up and play such dastardly characters. It’s always fun. I know it’s fun for them to come out. Next season who knows? I mean I think we’re going to have to go, you know, raise the bar. That’s certainly because these actors are so great.
I do have to tell you, and this is going to be the least professional thing I’ve ever done in my 20 year writing career. When – I have 17 year old boys. When they found out that I was going to talk to you today they completely lost their nut.
Donovan: Oh. You should have brought them on.
Just – well see, one of them tried to sabotage going to school today.
Donovan: Well I hope he tried to sabotage in a Michael Westen way.
Well no, no. He’s not that smart. He was like I think I’m sick. You’re not sick. You were Skyping your girlfriend at 1:00 this morning. I’m not stupid.
Donovan: He’s got to watch more shows…
He’s like I think I have to stay home.
Donovan: …if all he’s going to use is…
Yeah. He’s going to, you know, sabotage the truck so I couldn’t drive him. No. He’s not that smart. But yeah, they were – and like when I told them that I was going to talk to Gabrielle a couple of months ago they didn’t care.
You know, I told them I was going to talk to Elijah Wood, they didn’t care. And I had to watch those stupid Lord of the Rings movies 800 times but, you know, they’re 17. Nothing your mom does is cool. But…
Donovan: Except now.
…I’m going to talk to – yeah, now. You know, if I’m going to talk to you, completely went crazy. So…
Donovan: Tell them I said hi and if they’re not so smart tell them to study harder.
My question is which do you enjoy most, television or film, and why?
Donovan: I’m sorry. Say that question one more time.
Okay, great. Which medium do you enjoy most? Is it television or film and why?
Donovan: You know, I’ve answered this before and it hasn’t changed. I always enjoy what I haven’t done in a while. I grew up actually in the theater. I did my BFA at UMASS Amherst, I did my MFA at NYU and I got classically trained. I was doing Shaw, Ibsen and Shakespeare. So when I got out of school I though that’s what I – my career was going to be. I got on Broadway right away and then I started doing a little bit of television and a little bit of film. It’s such a different world. It’s very, very technical what we do in film.
And then they’re asked, while all of the lights are there and all of the crew members and hanging instruments and cameras and directors staring right at you, you have to be honest. It’s a very difficult but technical medium.
With theater it’s a feedback and a reciprocation that you get that’s immediate every night. And now that I’ve done the show for 6-1/2 years, you know, I’m missing theater. And if I get on a Broadway show and I’m doing that for half a year I’ll probably miss film. And it’s a little cycle. And I’ve been lucky to be able to do all three.
I want to ask you what do you find more exciting, producing or directing? And will you toss script writing into the mix any time?
Donovan: I love directing. I mean, you know, I – one of the great pleasures and honors I had was to direct Bruce in the Sam Axe movie and try to show a little more humor in that show than is on Burn Notice because of the great talents of Bruce. I loved it. And I have a more of a comic sensibility though you wouldn’t really see much of it on Burn Notice because – lately, because it’s so dark. But you’d see it in the early seasons.
And, you know, I’m working hard right now on developing my own material and, you know, down the road I think directing, not so much writing. I’m not a good writer and there are so many great writers out there. But I’d love to be able to kind of develop somebody – some talent and create a TV series or create a film. And I’ve talked with people and I’m working on something right now that hopefully will work out in the next year. But I love directing. I absolutely love it.
So most of my questions, actually a lot of the questions, were – I was going to ask were asked. So I’ll just ask this one. What is your – what’s your advice to actors?
Donovan: Don’t. Oh, it’s such a…
Well thank you. Goodnight.
Donovan: Yes. It’s such a hard profession. I don’t wish it upon anyone. You know, I don’t know if I have advice but I’ll just give you this kind of comparison. I graduated high school considered the best actor in my high school. I graduated college the best actor in my college and I was – I graduated NYU with 18 other actors that were all considered the 18 best actors in the country and three of us are working from that class; just to show you how difficult it is.
I think that if you want to be an actor I think that what’s dangerous is that you act like what you see. It’s kind of like seeing a baseball player go up and hit a home run. They just go oh, you just hit the ball, and you don’t realize the years since they were five years old of hitting a ball how – to make that look so easy. It’s a lot harder than it looks. The great ones make it look easy. And to be great I think you have to just study.
I think you have to study like there’s no tomorrow. And I don’t think a lot of actors these days think that that’s the way to become an actor.
First, I just have to say that I have been following your career ever since you were Kyle on The Pretender and I love that you got to play so many complex and interesting characters. It seems to be kind of your forte.
But my question is, as one of the show’s producers, what are your responsibilities and how much input do you actually have in the development of the show as it goes on?
Donovan: Basically my role as a producer is to make sure the pretzel jar is full. No, I’m kidding. My role as a producer on Burn Notice is very specific. It’s maintaining the creative truthfulness day in and day out. And one of the things that we’ve found is that the tone of the show is very difficult to grasp. We watch it and you watch it and you’ve watched it I’m sure every season, you get the tone. It’s high stakes and dangerous but it has a little cheekiness to it. It’s very hard to act that.
Amazing actors have guest starred on our show and the first day usually what comes out of their mouth is, is this how fast we’re going to do this or do you really want me to say these lines this quickly but with a smile even though I’m saying I’m going to kill you?
There’s a tone that is very – there’s a paradigm that is going on in the scene always. It’s kind of a two tiered journey. One is how am I going to act in this scene and two, what do I ultimately want in this scene. And a lot of time it’s very duplicitous. So me kind of pointing out occasionally to some guest stars is really my job. And for the most part everyone is incredibly receptive. And they know that I’m there just to help them with a very difficult tone.
And there are a few actors that say screw off, I’m going to act it the way I want to. And they’re never asked back.
Are you going to be doing any live Tweeting during the episodes this season again?
Donovan: No. Not this season. I – that was fun to do and I enjoyed it but I was doing that I think while I was shooting so it was kind of in a work mindset. But since this is my hiatus, you know, I’m – it’s the off season, I kind of unplug and decompress and go away from the business world.
Okay. And how are you most like and most different from Michael?
Donovan: I’m as super intelligent as him. That’s probably the most likely. No, you know what? I could – I’m nothing like Michael. I can’t operate on his level. That guy is like a master chess player. He’s thinking ten moves ahead while he speaks and I can’t even think one sentence good at a time now.
See? Look at that sentence. I couldn’t even make it up.
Speaking of that and since this is – you’re on hiatus, what are you doing for you in terms of just chilling out and having fun and all that kind of good stuff?
Donovan: Well I am – I kind of get away from Miami. I have a house in the woods, literally and we kind of retreat there. And it couldn’t be further from Hollywood as far as lifestyle. And I kind of get away from all of the business and especially Miami.
It’s a very hard shoot down in Miami. We shoot at the hottest time of the year, March to September. And then so I just basically go away and I find some time in the woods.
Jeff, I loved you in J. Edgar as Bobby. Tell me, as a Massachusetts native, what did you take from growing up in the Kennedy world to make the role yours and not a formulaic footprint?
Donovan: Well first of all, thank you. I, you know, I read that and I begged Clint to play the role and he thought about it. And while he was thinking about it I actually worked on the role as if I had it and I didn’t care. I just wanted to play the role so badly. And then I sent him a videotape of me playing Bobby just out of an office in Miami and he hired me.
And one of the things that I found out later was there was actually an actor who was going – he was going to go with because they thought literally he was Bobby Kennedy. I mean he had the right hair, he had the accent. But they felt like it was so authentic it looked like an impersonator. And I love that he went with me not just because I could do the accent but because I was trying to find the spirit of who Bobby was.
And if you know your history I think Bobby was one of the greatest of the Kennedys and he would have probably been our greatest president in our history. He was such a smart, intelligent and philosophical man. And it was a tragedy to lose him.
And so I just tried to honor the spirit of who he was rather than try to impersonate and put fake teeth in and put on a fake nose and all of that stuff. I really wanted to get to the essence of who he was and ultimately not, you know, disgrace his name or insult the family in any way.
With the relationships with Gray and Michael are kind of endeavoring on at the end of the season premier, what can you tell us about how they’re going to kind of gel together throughout the rest of the season?
Donovan: Well I think you’re going to be in for a big surprise with Gray. And it’s going to be very shocking. So the – you’ll realize after you see what happens, why that’s kind of a difficult question to answer. But I will say that the relationship that Michael has with Gray and Card is going to turn Michael down a path that even Sam will question Michael’s integrity. And I think that’s what the fans are going to really be interested in is how dark will Michael go?
And I think that the fans are going to kind of enjoy seeing Michael go down a very dark path and that’s what’s going to be enjoyable about the rest of the season.
Photos by Glenn Watson/Courtesy USA Network