The third season finale of "Burn Notice" is going to air this Thursday night on USA Network at 10:00 pm. The series has become the highest rated cable TV show and often surpasses some of the network shows as well. Most fans attribute this success to the chemistry between the two stars Jeffrey Donovan (who plays burned FBI operative Michael Westen) and Gabrielle Anwar (Michael's ex who has a penchant for bombs).
We had an opportunity to speak with Jeffrey and Gabrielle about the show, their characters, and what lies ahead for season four.
Q: Can you talk about the evolution of your characters, if you're happy with where your characters have ended up, and where would you like to see them go in the future?
JEFFREY: I know from talking with all the other cast mates, we're very happy with where it's going. But sometimes Matt Nix and all the other writers keep us slightly in the character dark, not because they don't trust us with the knowledge, but they're just trying to figure it out as well along the way. When you're dealing with espionage and covert affairs, sometimes the secret is more exciting than the knowledge. If we were both in charge, I would love a deeper insight into Michael's past, that's for me. I don't know about Gabrielle, what would you like?
GABRIELLE: I'm quite happy with Fiona's enigmatic state of being. I don't think I need to know more about me. I'd love to know more about where you're from, absolutely, but I quite like not knowing. I don't like to know who I am.
Q: What first drew you to the show and to your characters?
GABRIELLE: I was drawn to the character, Fiona, I just thought it was so brilliantly written. It was sparingly written, but so insightful. I couldn't believe that a man had actually written the script, I mean at least her character. When I first met Matt Nix, who created and wrote the script, I actually said to him, you must have a remarkable relationship with your wife, because you have such incredible insight. So that was what intrigued me about playing a character.
When you sign up for a TV show, you don't know if it's going to be for a pilot or for the rest of your life, so I wanted to play a character that I enjoyed thoroughly, and there weren't that many of them out there. So that's why I clasped onto this script with great hope.
JEFFREY: I got hooked on the voiceover, the first page is a voiceover, it says, "You know what it's like to be a spy?" I love the idea that not only do I get to play a spy, I get to play a burn spy, and on top of that, I can talk to the audience about what it's like being a spy. I thought I had never seen anything like that on television, so that's what hooked me.
Q: This season Michael's relationship with his mother, Madeline, has softened. Did that come naturally just dealing with Sharon or is that something that was planned out?
JEFFREY: Well, you can't help but love Sharon, but at the end of the day, we're actors and we can create any hatred or tension that we need for a scene to work. So I don't think the writers were ever thinking, "Oh, how nice, Jeff and Sharon get along, let's make them love each other on the show." I think what you're seeing is just a natural evolvement of what does a viewer want to watch. Do you want to see a mother and son antagonistically attack each other every single episode for five years? I don't think so. So it's just a natural progression, just like Fiona and Michael's natural progression.
Q: Do you think Michael and Fiona's relationship is heading in a more romantic direction?
JEFFREY: Fiona and Michael are a real relationship in as much as TV relationships are built off of tension, and let's say it's Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd in Moonlighting. Once the banter ended after a couple of seasons and they slept together, there was no tension. That is a typical TV relationship. Ours actually is atypical. We have had sexual relations. We have fought, we have gotten back together, we've hated each other, and we've become friends to each other. That is the tumultuous relationship of their dynamic, and that will never change. So the tension is not about them hooking up, the tension I think is their love for each other and how that's displayed every episode.
Q: Can you talk about Fiona's relationship with Madeline?
GABRIELLE: Yes. I think that these two women have a tremendous amount of respect for one another. There's so little spoken about what's really being felt and really being witnessed with that connection to Michael, which I think is pretty accurate to real life, especially with the in-law figures. There's so much that's not spoken out loud, and yet there are so many physical undertones and it's very apparent, and that's thanks to Sharon. Her performance is so beautifully nuanced and I find it terribly inspiring. She's a wonderful woman and actress.
Q: Do you had a favorite kind of accent or persona that you've done or how you get the inspiration for that?
GABRIELLE: I don't know how Jeffrey can come up with these creations that he does. It's pretty remarkable, especially he's got such a heavy workload and yet he still can create these fabulous side characters. It's really, really fun to watch. I don't have that in my repertoire, so I'm glad it's all on his shoulders.
JEFFREY: Oh, sure you do. You played the French character. You played a hillbilly kind of girl, white trash girl.
GABRIELLE: That's it. We've seen all I've got.
JEFFREY: I think a lot of the characters that we play really do come out of a script. The writers are incredibly talented and they really help us with specific dialogue and character descriptions.
GABRIELLE: Yes, you do still come up with these fabulous little quirky things, like the chewing tobacco and the tooth picks and it's really fun. Those little tiny quirks make it so much more interesting than if it were just what was on the page I think.
JEFFREY: Some people call those crutches… But my favorite character of all has to be Michael McBride, the Irish character that I played. It's because it's the character that Fiona had fallen in love with, so it's very dear to my heart.
Q: Now having three seasons under your belt, is it getting easier or harder to keep playing these characters and stay invested in them? Are there any challenges you're facing now that maybe you didn't have in the beginning of the show?
JEFFREY: As you get older it's harder to run and jump over cars and beat up bad guys, but it becomes easier in some ways because you know the characters so well, so it's a little bit of both. What would you say, Gabrielle?
GABRIELLE: I always get a little anxious like the first day of school when we've had our hiatus and we're coming back, because I think I'm not as insane as I was when we started shooting, which really landed itself to Fiona. And now I'm afraid I might be getting a little boring in my old age, so I think that I don't know if I can step into her shoes and deliver. I have that anxiety before we start shooting.
Q: Can you tell us anything about the rest of the upcoming episodes, especially Good Intentions?
JEFFREY: … without giving too much away, Gilroy, who's basically a psychopath controlling Michael's actions, has to deliver a plane that has a secret piece of cargo in it and needs Michael's help to do it. When that happens, you find out it actually is someone quite dangerous, and Michael unfortunately allows him to escape. And then the finale is about trying to capture this psychopath that's loose.
Q: It's rumored that in an upcoming episode, Michael will be going somewhere other than Miami and that he won't be alone. Can you tell us where your character's going and why, as well as who's going with him?
JEFFREY: Well, obviously I can't. It's the season finale, and it's really literally in the last five minutes of the show. It's a bit of a cliffhanger. Michael's been stuck in Miami for quite some time, and there's a couple of psychopaths on his tail, and things come to a hilt. And by the end of the show, Michael is actually transported out of Miami, but I can't tell you where, but it's a bit of a cliffhanger.
Q: Now that we're seeing how Michael is and how the group is without the big overall mystery of who burnt Michael Westen, is there going to be a return of management anytime soon?
JEFFREY: Yes, season four is actually pretty remarkable. I met with the writers last week and we kind of broke down the next eight or nine-episode arc. A new character is going to be introduced. I don't know the name yet, but he is going to be a young operative, but he's going to play a significant new role on the show. And then there is actually going to be a change of management. There's going to be a new management that controls Michael's life, and you'll see Michael have to go on even more dangerous missions under this new management with the new operative.
Q: Will there ever be any flashback episodes to see how your two characters met or maybe how Bruce and one of your characters meet or anything like that, if that's ever been talked about?
JEFFREY: Flashback has been talked about, but not in a nice way. We've never done a flashback ever of anything and it's just not a device that we employ, so I doubt it, but I can't rule it out. One of my favorite episodes of "Magnum PI," which I was a fan of, was when Tom Selleck got knocked off a boat and he had to wade in the water until he was picked up. So they just basically shot him for about a half an hour wading in the water and then did the entire show of flashbacks. I liked that idea.
Q: It was enjoyable seeing Tim Matheson and you play off each other. Will we see Larry again?
JEFFREY: Yes, you will. Larry's such a pivotal thorn in Michael's [side]... and that gives my character great ammunition to kind of fight with. He's a terrific character and Tim's such a wonderful man and an extraordinary actor. One, we were lucky to get him, and two, he's actually happy to be on the show and wants to continually come back. He'll be directing season four's premiere. And also, he'll return as Larry at some point in the season.
Q: How has working with Chris Vance as a psychopath Mason Gilroy added to the show during the season?
JEFFREY: He's definitely added a great tension to every scene that I'm in with him, and I think a great super villain that governs over the show. I think the best part of "Burn Notice" is always when the villain or guest star is either more talented, smarter, or crazier than the rest of the cast, because it ups all our game. What do you think, Gabrielle?
GABRIELLE: Yes, I agree. I don't actually get to work with Gilroy, but I agree with you. There's nothing more inspiring than to have to pull everything you have out of your back pocket on the stage. And we have so little time to rehearse and to find everything imaginable in one scene, that when you do have this fantastic talent to work with, it really is fun. It makes it so much more enjoyable.
Q: How was it working with Tyne Daly?
JEFFREY: To be honest, it was almost all with Sharon. So we all sat back and watched two pros go toe-to-toe 12 rounds. It was quite remarkable. We were all just blown away by it. So I was more of a spectator like you than I was an actor in it.
Q: You both have had success in film, and a lot of times when that happens, people are less likely to want to do television. What do you like about this particular medium and why do you keep coming back to television?
JEFFREY: I think that, especially with cable, it's an avenue to be creative. I think why people are drawn more now to cable shows than ever is that they take more risks, they're creatively pushing the envelope. I think that the networks have to answer to a bigger advertising calling, whereas the smaller cables have lower ceilings that they can bump their heads on. So I think that's why I keep being drawn back to television, because I think it's one of the most creative outlets. And if you think about it, we make 16 one-hour movies a season. You don't get any opportunity like that in movies. I mean, I can't say I'll be able to do 16 movies in the next year, and so that's how I see it. How about you, Gabrielle?
GABRIELLE: I like the stability, the continuity of having a lifestyle where I know I can pay my rent at the end of each month. And also I have these children that I am raising and it's nice for all of us to know that we're going to be in a specific place for a certain amount of time. I've never known that in my career. So I'm really quite grateful at this point that I get to have the sort of double existence and I can rely on both.
Q: What goes into learning all the side tricks? Is there a lot of training and research involved in your roles?
JEFFREY: We have an ex-operative that actually is a consultant on our show that Matt Nix and the other writers have access to, so everything that is put into the show gets vetted through him before we air it. Ninety-five percent of it you can find on the Internet anyway, but everything that is put into a script has been researched and vetted, so that when we speak it or we do it, we know it's actual.
Q: How much of the stunt work is complements of the stunt coordinator, and how much is your own martial arts training?
JEFFREY: Actually what you see is 90% me. I have a black belt in Shotokan karate, about 15 years experience. I have eight years in Jujitsu and Akito, and about three years of boxing. So what I try to do in every episode is the stunt coordinator makes it safe, but most of the time I choreograph it. And it's a great relationship, because I will say what would really happen here is this, and then he comes in and makes it safe for the guest stars. And if something gets too physical, then the stunt men come in and take over.
Q: What would you guys say is most dangerous stunt you've had to do? Were you ever actually afraid doing it?
GABRIELLE: I don't like fighting with Jeffrey, because I always hurt him. Because I don't know what I'm doing, and he's such an expert, and I always manage to accidentally cause some damage.
JEFFREY: Yes, the most dangerous is either a bomb or something going off or a fight with Gabrielle. They're about the same.
Q: What has been your most memorable experience with meeting the fans of the show?
GABRIELLE: To be honest, it's the fact that so many couples are enjoying it together. It's become sort of a date night theme, which is really fabulous. I'm happy for bringing the love. It's all about the love.
JEFFREY: Yes, that's actually true, Gabrielle. A lot of husband/wives and boyfriend/girlfriends come up to me, the husband will say, "Oh my gosh, my wife loves the show. I got her onto it," or she'll say, or a woman will come and say, "My husband didn't watch the show until I told him about it." It's pretty neat that it is kind of a date night for couples.
Q: Are you surprised at the success of this show?
JEFFREY: Well, I think that all you can hope for is that you make something that people want to watch and then somehow keep integrity while doing that. And so I think we're very happy with the ratings definitely. I know we work really hard, so surprised, yes, we're always surprised when anything succeeds in this day and age.