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Hey Gasmii, I had a chance to hop on the phone with Jeffrey Donovan and Tricia Helfer last week in support of tonight’s season finale of USA‘s Burn Notice at 10PM ET/PT.
Here’s the interview:
Q: What can we look forward to watching on the finale?
A: You’re actually going to meet the actual person who burned me.
Q: As I understand, Tricia isn’t coming back next season, so could you tell me a little about what closure we’ll get from Michael and Carla’s relationship on the finale?
A: Well, you know, I think it’s no surprise that Carla and Michael were going to eventually be in each other’s crosshairs. And in the final episode literally that happens. Without giving too much away the eventual outcome was necessary. What’s going to happen is that she gets basically – she has powers above her that control her and she basically relies on Michael to save her butt at the end. And he tries but it doesn’t go as well as expected for her.
Q: Do you do your own stunts?
A: They don’t let me do my own stunts for insurance reasons…one of the things that I take pride is in that even though we shoot 16 episodes and it takes six months I actually train in the off season – I call it my off season like an athlete – to get ready for those 16. So I’m doing workouts in the weight room three days a week and then I’m doing mixed martial arts those other three days and on Sunday I rest. And it’s really important that when I do something it looks like I can actually do it.
Q: Are all your accents on the script (of what character you should use, etc)?
A: There’s no hard and fast rule governing my performance with each accent and with each dialect. It is kind of a dance between me and the writers. The writers say something like Michael walks into a bar and sometimes it’ll say with an Australian accent or sometimes it’ll say Michael walks up to the bar and starts talking to so and so.
And it won’t say I have a (new) voice but I’ll go, you know what, he’s a good old boy; we hired an actor who’s a good old boy. I don’t want to play him like a good old boy as well because it will knock down his defenses. So it’s a bit of a dance, we kind of find it on the day.
Q: What’s your favorite character to play?
A: Well, you know, that’s funny you say that. Last year I did a British accent ala kind of James Bond. And the writers felt that it was too on the nose so I had almost done half of the episode with the British accent so I had to redub the entire performance with my standard American dialogue accent. So that was my favorite but no one ever saw it.
But my favorite is the (tum) which is in one of the scenes in – where the stylish car jackers…I go into my loft and I say to Fiona – she says, “What was the name of your cover in Ireland?” And I said Michael McBride. And she says, yeah, I fell in love with him. And she said – and Michael McBride is going to make an appearance again, that cover and that will probably be my favorite cover.
Q: Has the role of Michael Westen been your favorite character to play in your acting character because you’ve done so much?
A: I’ll say this: Michael Westen is the most fun character. I have more fun doing this role than any other role I’ve ever played. But given that it’s the hardest role I’ve ever done. The pressure I felt in Changeling, Detective Jones, was pressure I’ll never ever forget to be in that rarified air of Eastwood and Jolie. But this show is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And that I can churn out every seven days a Burn Notice episode and it doesn’t look like we did it only seven days…..and with all the accents, all the stunts and all the fights, I’m really proud of that.
Q: Wow so it’s basically seven days an episode?
A: Yeah. It’s Monday to Friday. Then we have Saturday and Sunday off and Monday and Tuesday and that’s it. All – the entire show is done in seven days.
Q: Do you ever sleep?
A: I get about six to eight a night and I work 14 a day.
Q: You’re going into your third season, did you ever realize your show would be this big?
A: You know, I don’t think anyone goes into projects thinking they’ll fail. I think we all believe that what we’re doing is going to be good. But more specifically with me and that mix we sat down and very pointedly said to each other we’re going to make a TV show that we would watch, that we would be interested in, not the networks, not the fans, not anybody, just us. What would we want to do because we have to do this for seven years; and that was the pilot.
And that it was received so well critically and that the fans, you know, started seeing us a couple million and has grown to over five million is just – it’s just icing on the cake of what we started with at the beginning which was pursue something you believe in with your entire heart in your craft and want to do that and only that and don’t you feed to well we’ll milk it down, we’ll water it down. Make what you want and see if it sticks.
And USA was so gracious to give us that room and let it grow and it’s been growing ever since.
Q: What is the most challenging thing about playing Carla?
A: I think the most challenging aspect was actually similar to sort of the first question about Battlestar, it’s kind of not knowing the end. With Carla, I didn’t know who Carla worked for. I didn’t know who management was the entire time I filmed, so you’re just kind of filling in the blanks yourself, but at the same time you don’t really want to say, okay, this is who it is or make too strong of a back story yourself in case it is revealed. But that I’d say was the hardest thing is Carla being pretty much as elusive to me as the actor as she is to the audience.
Q: Are you coming back next season?
A: I’m not on board for next season, no. As I like to say, I was the baddie of the second season.
Q: What kind of resolution can we get from Carla?
A: I think the first two episodes back from the midseason hiatus definitely showed that Carla had been taken by surprise a bit, she’s been rattled, which she’s not used to. It definitely comes to a culmination in the finale where she’s been trying to get information from Michael Westen about who tried to kill him, who tried to blow up his apartment, and it really comes to a culmination with management breathing down her back. And she’s put her neck on the line in terms of vouching for Michael Westen and Michael hasn’t really fully come up with anything to help her out, so it comes to a culmination point in the finale.
Q: How did you become a part of Burn Notice?
A: I first got involved with the very rare, but very wonderful situation where you get offered a job. I was up in Vancouver filming Battlestar and I was approached by my agent or my manager about the job. I actually hadn’t seen it, the show, because being in Canada a lot in Vancouver filming Battlestar, Burn Notice doesn’t air up there yet, unfortunately. So they sent me DVDs and I was hooked from the first episode and gladly signed on to join in for the second season. But it came in as an offer and I was hooked from the first episode.
Q: Your character on Burn Notice is a bad-ass, and so is Vick on Battlestar, are you drawn to these roles?
A: I’d rather play an ass-kicking destroyer or a super strong spy or agent than some meek, vulnerable character. But it’s definitely, I don’t want to get type cast as one thing, and that’s certainly some of the other things I’ve been doing in hiatus, doing other roles, although I have one coming up where I’m an ass-kicking spy, so I don’t know about that. I don’t know how well my not being type cast is going, but they’re great shows. I’m super happy to be part of them. I think it’s important as I go to some of my next jobs maybe are a different take, a different type of character, but they’re certainly fun characters to play. They’re smart. They’re strong. Who wouldn’t want to play a strong female character?
Q: What kind of resolution will we get on the finale? Will we find out more about Carla’s character in relation to Michael?
A: You’ll get to see a little bit. You do see her, Carla, soften a little bit. She’s been rattled and she needs to rely on Michael a little bit more and she puts some trust in him. So she’s hoping that he doesn’t let her down. And like I mentioned before, she has management breathing down her back, so she’s definitely putting some trust in Michael and hoping that he steps up to the bar. But you really don’t learn–Carla still stays pretty elusive to the audience even through the finale. She’s certainly not–her whole history is not going to be revealed.
Q: You used to be a big model…what was your biggest transition going from modeling to acting?
A: Models have a stigma that they can’t act. You’re also, to be quite blunt, you’re tall and not a lot of actors are tall and when you are starting out you’re obviously not the first one cast, so you’re trying to fit into a mold. You’re quite often not cast as the quirky best friend, but you don’t have the experience to be cast as the lead. So it can be really tricky. One of the biggest things is just to get your people, so to speak, your agents and managers to take you seriously. That’s one of the issues I had when I came out to LA.
I was with an agency in New York, joined the agency out here and they just wanted to put me up for walk by in a bikini role kind of thing, and that’s certainly not me because I’m not built like Carmen Electra or Pamela Anderson, so I found I was in a weird spot of not getting sent out for the roles that I wanted. That’s when you have to just take charge and you walk into the agency and say, “I want to go on this.” You just have to be persistent. I think that’s one of the biggest things about this industry and this career is being persistent and believing in yourself and also being ready when the timing is right. So much of it is about timing and luck, so to be ready when you get the opportunity.
I want to thank Jeffrey and Tricia for taking the time to talk to me! Check out the season finale of Burn Notice tonight on USA at 10 PM ET/PT.