Burn Notice: Gabrielle Anwar Dishes on Prison Fi, Doing Stunts and Running In Heels!

BURN NOTICE -- Pictured: Gabrielle Anwar as Fiona Glenanne -- USA Network Photo: Justin Stephens

The sixth season of Burn Notice (USA Network, Thursdays, 9/8C) finds former IRA weapons expert and current love of Michael Westen’s life, Fiona Glennane behind bars – voluntarily – to free Westen from the dastardly machinations of psychopathic former CIA shrink, Anson Fullerton.

Late last week, I took part in a teleconference Q&A with Gabrielle Anwar – with a number of other journalists/bloggers – to discuss this season’s unusual developments.

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Gabrielle Anwar: My pleasure.

So I have to ask, I thought that the job you guys do on the show either has to be the funnest, but could also potentially be a lot harder. You play so many different, you know, personalities on the show when you’re undercover. Can you talk about that, and is it more challenging?

Anwar: Actually, it has its moments of being challenging, you know, particularly when there’s different dialects involved, but I am very grateful to play these (unintelligible) because after six years of playing the same character, it really does breathe a breath of fresh air into each episode when we get to do something that’s completely out of character. You know, Jeffrey Donovan, who plays Michael, gets to do it much more frequently than I, and I get a little bit sulky about that.

Got to tell them to give you more undercover work.

Anwar: Exactly.

The other thing I was going to ask is have you had like weapons training for the show? I mean, because you’re always shooting guns and blowing stuff up and all the fun stuff.

Anwar: You know, I haven’t had any formal training in much of anything, actually. Now that I say that out loud – but I did go shoot some pretty heavy machinery a few years back, because not only are the weapons incredibly heavy, but you know, they’re very disconcerting to be holding something that actually is a murder weapon, that is something that is – unless used properly, you know, could bring down an entire family, which kind of throws me for a loop.

You know, I’m an ardent pacifist in reality, so you know, I’ve made it very clear to my children from the get-go that you know, there would be no guns in the house, and here’s mummy going off to work you know, doing that very thing for a living. So I’m a bit of a bloody hypocrite now that I think of it.

I was wondering, do you have a favorite episode or a scene for this season?

Anwar: You know, we did in fact just shoot – let me think, what was this – episode 6.09 – I think it was 6.09, could have been 6.08. They all kind of merge into one after six years. I get to play a Boston mobster, so that was tremendous fun for me. You know, me get to sort of mix it up a little bit and incorporate different characters and accents and costumes and hair and makeup. It’s just fun. You know, it’s like dress-up as a kid.

Great. And after six seasons, what has been your biggest challenge on this show so far?

Anwar: The heels. Yes, my little toes are – they’re done. They’re completely – they’ve left the building. They retired I think season two.

So, you know, we’re seeing a lot more strong female roles on TV these days, and you know, how does it feel to continue to play such an awesome female character like Fiona? I mean, she certainly does her part at standing out when it comes to female roles.

Anwar: Yes, doesn’t she? I’m very grateful that she was even created. I think – I mean, I think there are more fabulous female roles coming our way lately, particularly in television, Homeland and The Good Wife. There’s plenty of good women being represented as we are, which is incredibly exciting and refreshing, and let’s hope that there’s more to come. I think we – we’re well deserving.

Oh, absolutely. And is there a piece of advice – you know, six years into this series, is there a piece of advice that you would share with your character, Fiona?

Anwar: Well, that’s a very good question. I think I would probably just tell her to relax. I think though having said that I think that Fiona is sort of chilling just a tad over the years. I think with the lowering of her skirt hemlines, I think that her angst has been somewhat calmed, quelled. Let’s hope so.

How much of a challenge is it to keep a straight face when you’re working with Bruce Campbell and Jeffrey Donovan?

Anwar: It’s a huge challenge, and one that I’m not particularly good at, as the gag reels will attest to, particularly Bruce. I mean, he just has such as phenomenal sense of humor. His wit is unparalleled.

Yes, having seen his movies I agree.

Anwar: Yes, and even his tweets, I can’t help but read his tweets, and I’m around him all day long and I’m reading his tweets on top of it.

Yes, yes, I follow him. I totally agree. And this is kind of a fantasy question. If it was up to Fiona, where would she and Michael be in ten years?

Anwar: Oh. Well, they would definitely be together. There would be no CIA in sight, nor FBI, and they would be saving the world one hand grenade at a time.

How much research went into the prison scene? Did you visit any prisons, or did you do any research on it?

Anwar: No. Oh, God, what a dreadful actress I am! I did not. I didn’t, and I have no excuse. I figured that I would just feel what was going on in the moment. I mean, the set design and the over-props and all the extras and it – I mean, it was pretty realistic, I have to say. You know, it was – I actually had the most phenomenal shooting schedule while I was in jail, because you know, they carried on shooting all the other storylines, and so I would work maybe one day a week, which is unusual on this show.

So when it came time to you know, to be talking about Fiona’s release from jail, I was begging the writers to keep me in so that I could spend more time with my children, so I think I may be one of the few people on the planet who was begging to stay incarcerated.

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Anwar: Oh, let’s see. God, I don’t know. You know, it’s funny because all the guest stars that we’ve had for the last six seasons have been so good that I’ve never spent an episode going God, I wish this was being played by you know, Harrison Ford or whomever. I’ve been very impressed with all of the actors that have contributed to our storylines. It’s been such a joy. And it – you know, when the guest actors come, it really does infuse the cast and the crew to bring in some fresh blood and something new to play with. You know, it’s a wonderful thing.

Can you talk a little bit about what it is about Michael and Fiona’s relationship that would make her sacrifice her freedom and possibly her life for him?

Anwar: Love? I think it’s just plain old love. I mean, I like to think that when there is that sort of commitment and devotion to another person that you would in fact sacrifice your freedom for them. I mean, I certainly feel that way in real life about my children, so that kind of love does exist, and I like to think that that’s what Fiona and Michael have between them – between each other.

Okay. He was a little standoffish until last season, though.

Anwar: Say that again.

He was a little standoffish until last season, but she has been there for him since season one, so I’m just curious what you thought. Fiona is such a strong woman, you know, making it in a man’s world of guns and explosives, and I know you just said you’re anti-guns, but is there anything about her you can relate to?

Anwar: To Fiona? Oh, God, yes. Yes, I mean I really appreciate her impatience, her intolerance, her disdain of men on many levels. And I love that she’s just so erratic and uncontrollable. I love all the things – all those things about a person that are considered negatives are my favorite things about Fiona.

Do you share any qualities with her?

Anwar: Most of those.

For five years, Fiona has primarily interacted with Michael and Sam and Madeline and Jesse, and now that Fiona’s in prison, she has very little contact with them. What challenges or benefits came to you as an actress because of this change of pace?

Anwar: Well, as I mentioned earlier, the – my shooting schedule was an enormous benefit for me, but I think, you know, there was I think a maturation of Fiona while she’s in prison where she realizes the importance and significance of her relationships with those characters that you mentioned. You know, I think she had somewhat taken them for granted, and when she’s in prison I think that there’s the realization that they really are her family, even though she would hate to admit that she even likes them.

And then you know, she develops relationships with some of the female inmates, which is hard for Fiona to do, because you know, in the last six seasons, Fiona hasn’t really had any, you know, BFFs. There’s no girl action. She doesn’t have a lot of female cohorts, which is very interesting, because you know, I think that there’s an element of distrust between women and reliability and I love that it’s being somewhat, even though it may be subtle, somewhat portrayed in the – in Burn Notice, in the show.

Cool. Also we’ve had just snippets of Fiona’s background, and quite frankly those have always been my favorite episodes.

((Crosstalk))

Are we going to see anything like the Bruce Campbell movie where we got background on him, or are we going to get more of Fiona’s background in the show?

Anwar: I don’t know. I mean, that would be a question for the (unintelligible) who created the Sam Ax movie and Fiona. You know, I have my own version of who Fiona is and where she came from, and I don’t know if I have anything in common with (Matt Nix)’s variation. I guess we could find out, but as far as I know there are no plans to delve any deeper as of yet.

Oh, that is a shame.

Anwar: Yes.

I was wondering how many – you’re going into season six now, and that’s a pretty good run for a TV series. How many more seasons do you really think are sustainable for the show, and do you have any plans after that?

Anwar: Well, I think as long as the writing team can continue to come up with stories, and there are so many spy stories. I mean, we’ve all been watching spy thrillers for so many years, I mean, we – if we run out of our own we could certainly pinch some of those, but I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how long Fiona can, you know, be running around in a bikini and high heels carrying a shotgun. I’m not sure if the audience is going to want to see me doing that into my 50s. So I don’t know. I mean, six years is a damn good run and I’m incredibly grateful for the longevity thus far. So I mean, I’m in for a little longer, maybe without the bikinis.

And a couple of my readers did specifically ask how do you run in those heels? I can’t even walk in them?

Anwar: You know, I don’t know how it happens, but I am – I have a little window of the ability to run in my heels, and if we don’t catch it in the first couple of takes, it’s over. So you know, I think it’s an incredible skill that I have developed, and I’m going to put it on my resume.

Can you dance (unintelligible)?

Anwar: I don’t know. I mean, possibly. I mean, the pain that one endures as a dancer certainly is comparable to the pain I’m enduring when I’m running around in those bloody heels, so perhaps it has paid off, all that dance training.

Fi is a clothes horse. She has probably a second house filled with clothes, kinky little outfits and all that. What do you think of prison clothes all of a sudden?

Anwar: You know, it’s funny because I had kind of this idea that maybe I would sort of somehow temper the orange jumpsuit into something kind of hip and cool, and then once I got into jail I realized that it was something that Fiona wouldn’t even think of. She’s so intent on finding her way out of the prison that her outfit had no relevance whatsoever. And I was kind of grateful that she wasn’t as vain as I thought she was.

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Good answer, good answer. Bruce once told me that the reason he became an actor was because it was the only career he could think of where he could screw around all day.

Anwar: Yes, and he’s still screwing around.

What compelled you to become an actor?

Anwar: I was training as a dancer, and I had an accident and was transferred to the drama department, and was so enthralled by the comparatively easy drama classes compared to the grueling ballet, so I said, ah, this is the job for me.

Okay, a similar story in a different way.

Anwar: Yes, it’s kind of – there’s so many actor stories like this, aren’t there? That they basically were just a bunch of lazy bums.

There you go. And last thing, when you signed on with this show, what were your expectations? Does it boggle your mind that you’re still playing the character and doing this show at this point?

Anwar: It does. I’m a little bit in denial about the length of Fiona’s role. You know, I didn’t think that the pilot would even be picked up, because you know, I’d heard so many horror stories about, you know, so many pilots that are shot and then never go to an actual show, so I had no expectations whatsoever.

And you know, I got into so much trouble shooting in South Beach for the three weeks of the pilot that when they did say that this was going to be going into a – you know, a first season, I thought, God, I don’t know if I can survive South Beach for a year – you know, a year or two or three, and here we are six years later, and I’m still alive.

That’s intriguing. So what did you do? What do you mean?

Anwar: Well, I – you know, it’s – I liken Miami to Vegas, Vegas at the shore. And so there’s an inordinate amount of partying that is just inherent in landing at Miami International Airport, and it seems to not cease until you get back on the plane to wherever you may go. And so I just indulged.

So do you do a lot of stunts yourself on the show, or…?

Anwar: I do. I do do a lot of stunts, hoping to do less now that I’m you know, I’m not quite as flexible as I used to be, but I – yes, I do do a lot of stunts. It’s odd. I think it’s easier somehow.

You know, when we’re coordinating the stunts, and you know, our schedule is so tight and we shoot so quickly that you know, it’s almost easier to just say you know what, I’ll just do the bloody thing, you know, so that there’s not these cuts of the stunt girl doing some sort of you know, tai kwon do, and then me jumping in and pulling the expression on my face that I kicked someone.

It just takes longer and I’m rather impatient, so I just say, oh, bloody hell, just teach me the moves and I’ll do it. And you know, obviously I’m not as equipped as the stunt double, but I give it a damn good try.

Well it looks like you’re doing well. So you talked kind of about how you have your own idea for your backstory for Fiona and everything, but is there something specific that you’d like to see happen for her on the show, like if you could, you know, write your own episode or – I don’t know, what would you want to do?

Anwar: Well, that’s a good question. I think I would like us to do an episode in Dublin, in Ireland, you know, maybe a parent is sick and she flies home and we get to see, you know, who she is, just walking into the front door of her home would say so much. We know so much about Michael and you know, his family of origin and I would like – I mean, even though there’s something to be said for the enigmatic idea of where she came from and who she is, I would love to go to Ireland and just, you know, just take a little slice of her life and reveal something.

And I have a whole, you know, concept of who her family is and how she lived and you know, perhaps the idea that she came from a significant amount of you know, well to do upbringing, and so the fact that she’s you know, running around with Michael and Sam and Jesse is not because she has to support herself financially by these means. It’s because she wants to. I think that’s an alluring idea.

I was wondering, of all of the undercover personas you’ve played so far on the show, is there anyone in particular that you’ve really, really enjoyed?

Anwar: Yes, I mean, I played a sort of gum-chewing kind of New Jersey girl a few seasons ago, which was so much fun. You know, I had some cleavage, which (unintelligible), and just prancing around with an attitude, and I just recently played a Boston girl, which is a very hard accent to do well. So I like to play these women that are sort of clichés of – you know, sort of bimbo-esque gals who actually underneath it all have a whole other world of intelligence and skill, and that’s always a bit of a fun role.

Hey, does Fi end up having a CIA relationship post-prison?

Anwar: Oh, can that be my response? Oh!

Well we are Spoiler TV, and these are questions for readers, so…

Anwar: Oh, you’ve got some very keenly aware readers. You know, there is some CIA influence that takes place, much to her absolute chagrin.

All right. And also, what can fans expect this season? We know that you’re going to be separated for several episodes. Does Fiona have her own – does she get to at least hear from Michael or any of the characters about what they’re trying to do, or is she kind of in the dark?

Anwar: Well you know, it’s interesting, having spent you know, a bunch of episodes in jail, so to speak, there is this whole underground (unintelligible) that goes on in prison where these prisoners, if they have a means to information, whether it be trading cigarettes or other kind of favors, which we didn’t really explore too much as this is USA, but I became very keenly aware that there’s a lot more access to the outside world than you might think, even in a top security jail, because all the sort of you know, it’s a whole other existence in there with a bunch of trading that takes place in order to get the information that one requires. So there is some connection that takes place between Fiona and the outside world.

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You have a lot of kind of tense, dramatic scenes obviously in the beginning of the season. Do you prefer more of the drama or more of the action type scenes?

Anwar: Well, you know, like most sets, television also, it’s a very male-dominated environment. There’s a lot of men on the set, and there’s a handful of girls, women, and so when we’re doing action sequences on Burn Notice, the boys get really excited, and it’s kind of overwhelming.

You know, our stunts often take over – you know, explosions and all the pyrotechnic stuff take over the day, and the drama kind of falls a little bit to the wayside so that the boys can, you know, do their thing with their big toys and their weaponry and all the booms and pows and kapoos and kapows.

And I get a little overwhelmed, to tell you the truth. You know, I just want to go sit with the girls, with you know, our script supervisor and our makeup and hair department and wardrobe department and just you know, talk about shoes and have a cup of tea. So the drama I think is what (unintelligible), and I think I blame the men because of it.

All right. Oh, sorry, I lost what I was going to say. Oh. You talked about how a lot of times it’s hard to be around the guys when they’re, you know, being silly and all that.

((Crosstalk))

Anwar: Yes, I mean, it’s kind of like being around a bunch of 10-year-old boys playing war in the back garden, and there’s no room for a chick. It’s kind of – I feel like I’m back in school, and you know, there’s a very, very poignant divide between the girls and the boys.

So, one of the comments that I get on my reviews probably at least once a month during the Burn Notice season is a comment about how the intro had Fiona listed as “trigger-happy ex-girlfriend” and this season in last week’s premiere, they changed it to “trigger-happy girlfriend”. What was your thoughts on that?

Anwar: Oh, they did? I didn’t even know that.

Yes, there was – as the one they voted on initially said, “trigger-happy ex-girlfriend” and there were comments about wow, it’s a really great new intro except that you should really fix this, and they did a quick edit (unintelligible).

So I was curious if you had seen that and what your thoughts on that was, just from the point of view of you know, Fiona and Michael have really been, you know, the last two – at least the last season and a half, two seasons, have really been, you know, back together as best I could tell. I mean, it’s definitely a dynamic relationship, but I would never consider them as looking at anyone else. I mean, I know that Jesse and Fiona kind of got close, but I don’t think there was any kind of romantic notions on Fiona’s part.

Anwar: Really.

It looked like Jesse, when he was first burned, he was kind of flailing in the wind. It looked like he was kind of trying to find a rock to anchor to, and I think he – in my opinion, it looked like he was looking at Fiona for some of that, but Fiona only had eyes for Michael. I was just curious what your thoughts on, you know, on the reference of Fiona being an ex-girlfriend versus girlfriend, I mean…

Anwar: Well, you know, I – you just broke the news to me, so I – my initial reaction is a little – I have a little bit of temperature rise in my body, because I think that Fiona doesn’t like to define things. You know what I mean? Like the relationship, or you know, the house with the white picket fence. I don’t think that’s what she’s about, and so hearing that it’s official that the two of them are dating, it – I am having a visceral response to it.

So it’s interesting. I think that she thrives on an unconventional definition of life, of who she is and who they are, so I’m going to have to watch that intro. Right now my heart is racing. I may be getting hives. I’m teasing.

No, no, that’s definitely – you know, and – you know, in the – when you boil it all down, it really is an awesome kind of romance story when you look at Michael will do anything for Fiona, and Fiona has literally gone to the wall and done – you know, has given up everything for Michael. It’s really kind of a nice – if you boil it down to…

Anwar: I think it is. I think you know, we need more of this in our lives, you know, like – you know, we compromise only so far and we sacrifice only so much, and I think that true love is about, you know, making those choices, and you’re not doing it for the other person. You’re doing it because it’s what you are compelled to do for yourself. That’s the key.

Yes, I saw it in the season finale. I thought all the way up to the last, until the credits rolled, that Michael was going to figure out a way to stop Fiona from turning herself in, and I just – I got done, I’m like, wow. I’m just like, that was amazing, because it – we always – you know, in every episode, it’s like the episode where – you know, I can’t think of the actor’s name, where he had cancer and he died to stop the (unintelligible).

Anwar: Yes.

It’s one of those things that the only way to solve the case was the very real death of the client, and we never…

Anwar: Yes.

…this client dying is an option. We always consider that, oh, they’re going to rescue them somehow. And they just came up with some excellent, excellent writing, and I’m really excited to see where things go this season with Fiona in prison for a few episodes and stuff, so…

Anwar: Well, good. Well thank you for being such an avid fan. I really am excited by that.

Are they very strict with the scripts? Like do you guys improvise sometimes, or is it more by what it says?

Anwar: I think it depends. If the dialogue is pertinent to the plot, they get pretty specific about you know, having to really be able to stay on point. You know, it’s interesting, unlike film where it’s usually just one writer for the entire script, so there’s sort of a continuity in character and nuance and the pacing of the dialogue, we have, you know, different writers for each episode.

So it’s interesting how some writers have a specific voice for Fiona or for Michael, and then other writers have their own ideas, so you know, after six years of speaking as Fiona, you know, sometimes I’ll read the script and go I don’t know if Fiona would say it that way, or I don’t know if she’s you know, that sounds a little masculine, because most of our writers are male. You know, I don’t know if a woman actually says “douchebag”. You know what I mean? Like I think mostly that comes from men.

You know, women don’t usually sing about douchebags. It’s just not what we do. So you know, then I’ll sort of argue my point as a chick, and then they roll their eyes because I’m you know, being a bloody feminist again, but – so it – you know, it depends whether it’s of you know, value and significant to the plot rather than if it’s a character choice.

Okay, great. And is there a specific scene that you’re looking forward to fans seeing this season that you can talk about without you know, spoiling it too much?

Anwar: Yes, there are some scenes that are emotionally charged, you know, romantic. I – because there’s so much action and there’s humor and you know, bikinis, I’m always – I always gravitate towards those scenes of true emotional vulnerability and connection between characters, so there’s some rather endearing scenes to look forward to in the near future.

Okay, great. Well thank you so much. It was a pleasure.

Anwar: Thank you.

Photos by Quantrell D. Colbert, Barbara Nitke and Glenn Watson/Courtesy of USA Network