CDL Exclusive: Interview With Burn Notice’s Jeffrey Donovan

CDL Exclusive: Interview With Burn Notice’s Jeffrey Donovan

Celeb Dirty Laundry had the privilege to interview Jeffrey Donovan, the actor who portrays Burn Notice’s influential and defining character, Michael Westen. Donovan is not a spring chicken in the film and television industry; he is rather a defining tour-de-force that has appeared on our television and film screens for the past 25 years. Donovan’s acting career has seen him star in such films as Blair Witch 2: The Book of Shadows, Hitch, and Hindsight. He also worked with the incomparable Leonardo DiCaprio, Angelina Jolie, and John Malkovich in Clint Eastwood’s critically acclaimed films, Changeling and J. Edgar.

Not only has Donovan been starring in critically celebrated masterpieces, but he has also been playing the character of Michael Westen for the past 6 and half years on USA Network’s Burn Notice. During this time, he also directed two episodes – Mixed Messages (2012)/Made Man (2010) – and the Burn Notice television film, The Fall of Sam Axe. He has, in addition to his film roles, also been making guest appearances on television shows dating as far back as 1995, including The Pretender, Law and Order, Touching Evil, CSI: Miami, Monk, and Crossing Jordan.

Burn Notice has become a defining and popular television tradition. The show, recently renewed for a 7th season, tells the story of Michael Westen, a CIA agent who was “burned” during a mission in Africa. When a spy is “burned” by an intelligence agency, their connection to the agency is terminated and they’re left without cash or influence. The television show uses a first person narrative from the viewpoint of Michael, and according to Wikipedia, “The voice-over commentary is in the form of tips for fledgling agents as if for a training or orientation film.”  Michael Westen stays in Miami in order to track down the person who burned him, but due to all of his personal assets frozen and being under constant surveillance, Michael is forced to work as an unlicensed private investigator. Burn Notice juggles these two narratives – the overriding story arc that deals with the person who burned him, and the individual “monster of the week” episodes that focus on the work he does for his clients.

Jeffrey was asked by another media outlet about the appeal of the characters, the future of the show, and what direction Burn Notice will now follow after a successful five and a half seasons. According to him, “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 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.

You directed two episodes of Burn Notice and you directed The Fall Of Sam Axe. What were the major challenges you experienced while directing?

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 [Campbell]. 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.

Which medium do you enjoy most? Is it television or film and why?

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.

Burn Notice airs tonight with a two hour mid-season premiere titled “Trapped In Panama”. We included a sneak peak of the new episode below, so there’s no excuse as to why you cannot watch/record tonight’s fall premiere.


Burn Notice airs on USA Network at 9/8c, but do remember to check your local listings for more information.