Q & A: Bruce Campbell and Gabrielle Anwar Talk ‘Burn Notice!

Bruce Campbell and Gabrielle Anwar in Burn Notice

Burn Notice is back and so are the stars, Bruce Campbell (Sam Axe) and Gabrielle Anwar (Fiona).

I had the chance to talk with them in a media conference call where you can tell how much the two like working with each other. Unfortunately, Gabrielle had to leave halfway through but Bruce gleefully took over and gave out told some great stories about the show.

They talked about their characters, working in Miami, the challenges of working on the show and a whole lot more.

So we’re going into Season 4, what’s new?

Bruce Campbell: Come on, Gabrielle; give them the whole lowdown of the entire season.

Gabrielle Anwar: Oh, no. You know how much better you are at that than I am.

Bruce Campbell: Oh, no, oh, no, well, let me just say, I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to get more bad guys and we’re going to get worse bad guys because this is getting worse. Michael Westen’s situation is compounding and he’s in a world of hurt and that drags us into it also.

So everybody’s in trouble. His mother’s in trouble, we’re all, you know, it just – every episode it seems to escalate. I mean wouldn’t you say that’s the general feeling, Gabrielle?

Gabrielle Anwar: Yes, I think you’re right, it builds to quite a crescendo in the last episode, but you’re right, it’s a continual snowballing effect. We can’t seem to get out of trouble.

Bruce Campbell: I have to say, when I read the end scene of the end of this season, it actually was a jaw dropper for me. So most TV shows don’t give you that. The nice thing about this season, the last half of this season is there’s going to be a big boom at the end of this. There’s going to be a big, “What the f?” moment.

What about your characters continues to challenge you?

Gabrielle Anwar: The high heels.

Bruce Campbell: The high heels and memorizing dialogue.

Gabrielle Anwar: Oh, yes, you and me both, my God.

Bruce Campbell: Yes, I mean, we, this is what people don’t – it’s not a complaint from us as actors, that’s what we have to do, we have to memorize lines.

The only thing about television, it’s like a series of waves crashing over your head before you get a full breath in that while you’re sort of figuring out the current script, the next one comes in, it’s like, “Hey, hey, look at that speech on page four,” you know? And you haven’t even gotten there yet, and so you relish it as an actor because if they didn’t give you a lot of dialogue, right Gabrielle? You’d complain. Or crappy dialogue or, you know what I mean? But if they gave you a lot, it’s challenging and if they don’t give you anything, it’s challenging in a way. So it’s sort of the basics of our job that a lot of our challenge from day to day is really just pulling this show off in seven days, which is kind of absurd.

And Gabrielle would agree that the filming methods we have to do to get this show done are absurd.

Gabrielle Anwar: Yes, it’s a tremendous amount of work from every department on the crew and…

Bruce Campbell: Every department, everybody’s maxed out for seven months, basically.

Gabrielle Anwar: Right and it’s hard, but in television, which I wasn’t privy to, because I hadn’t much television experience, but you have the luxury on a feature film of, you have the script months, oftentimes before you begin, so you have the entire thing mapped out in your mind, you have a beginning, a middle and an end.

With a television show, you’re doing a mini feature film every week, so it’s very, very hard to catch up with yourself, it’s just, you’re so…

Bruce Campbell: And, you’re meeting – sometimes meeting a new director for the first time. On the first day of shooting, “Oh, hi, what’s your name? Joe? Oh, yes, okay. What do you got in mind here?” You know?

Gabrielle Anwar: Right. Yes, you really do have to stay on your toes, it’s a lot of staying on your toes.

Bruce Campbell: Yes, and it’s a marathon, you know, because the weather starts to heat up and everybody slows down and, you know, it can get brutal, but I think at the end of the day, it still is – we all feel, as actors, that the show is still worth it because it – when it all gets put together, I have to say, I watch it sometimes and I go, “Wow, that was kind of a slick ass show.”

And you don’t think of it – I don’t think of it when we shoot it, we shoot it, we’re cracking jokes, there’s things happening behind the scenes. To me, it’s all disjointed, but it’s kind of nice to see them all put together and it’s – we feel very much supported by the people on the back end, too, the people who do all the editing.

They’re busy people, the editors, you know? And they keep us in line, they hopefully use all of our best stuff, because, you know, you can get raggedy over seven months, sometimes you don’t nail that take every single time and you have to rely on somebody to nurture you.

So we feel supported by the writers, we feel supported by, you know, the post production and Gabrielle loves to boss the directors around, so that works out fine.

How much time do you guys have to spend training, preparing for the physical side of your characters?

Gabrielle Anwar: You know, there really isn’t time to do any kind of formal training. There truly isn’t time. I mean there’s barely time to wolf down breakfast in the morning, let alone, you know, burn those calories off.

I mean I haven’t done any training. I actually during the first season went to shoot at a military place where they have a lot of guns. I don’t even know the name of it, but…

Bruce Campbell: So like a gun range?

Gabrielle Anwar: Gun range, there you go. Yes. But that was it and really I only did that because I have a sort of innate aversion to militia and I wanted to not play Fiona with that fear. Of course, once the weapon was in my hand, I felt like, you know, King Kong.

But, I haven’t had any training. Jeffrey, I think is the only one amongst our cast that actually has had any martial arts training. Am I right, Bruce?

Bruce Campbell: Yes, correct, because, you know, I’ve done some action stuff, but it’s always been, you figure out the choreography as you shoot it on that given day. You don’t – and in, especially in Gabrielle’s case, every week, they’re shoving a new weapon into her hand, something that’s even bigger and bigger.

She carries the most ridiculously heavy weapons I’ve ever felt, I’ve ever seen. And, you know, you got to hold it up there and look like the tough guy and that thing’s as heavy as you are sometimes.

Gabrielle Anwar: I know, yes, I’m – by the end of the season, I start whining. In the beginning, I’m like, “I can handle this.” And, “Look at me.” And, “Hear me roar.” And then by the end of the season I’m like a little kitten like, whining and meowing.

Bruce Campbell: Well, we have real guns and fake guns and the fake guns are sometimes rubber, so in many cases, I’ll tell the prop guy, I’m just running around with it, “Just give me the rubber, just give me the fake one.” You know, so we don’t even have to carry the real guns around. But I just gave away a trade secret, so I’m sorry Matt Nix, sorry.

Gabrielle has to leave the conversation

Obviously you’ve played Ash again and again, but this is the longest you’ve continuously played a single character. What have been surprises playing a character so long?

Bruce Campbell: Actually, Autolycus from Hercules has been longer. I played that ’95 to 2000. So starting Season 5, Burn Notice will tie the record. We’ve been committed for Season 6. So I think once Season 6 rolls around, that’ll be a record.

Have there been any surprises playing a character for so long?

Bruce Campbell: No, the surprises are that there are no surprises. And that’s the good news, that you get to know a character, therefore it allows you to then play with it. It’s like once you learn the instrument, then you can play with it. So, because you know, you make a movie sometimes and the first two weeks, I want to throw that footage out, because you don’t know what you’re doing with that character.

It’s only three, four weeks into it. So I’m actually glad with a TV show, you get to kind of finesse it over time and so do the writers. It’s up to them, ultimately.

Bruce Campbell as Sam AxeHow have the writers made Sam more like you over the years?

Bruce Campbell: Well, they sometimes will slip in vernacular that I say or ways that I say something, or if I have trouble saying what they’ve written sometimes, we’ll work with each other to figure out how I can say it. And then once they see how I talk, sometimes they’ll adapt to that, you know? So it’s just practical stuff.

Have you ever gotten one of your scripts and just been completely blown away by something that your character’s going to do?

Bruce Campbell: Oh, I’ve been certainly really happy and delighted and surprised, you know? But they’re like little Easter eggs that you find. So you always look for those and, you know, the Burn Notice writers are pretty good at serving up good stuff, so I try not to get in their face because they kind of do their thing, they do it pretty well.

You guys film on location. Is there a huge difference between shooting there or say, L.A.? Do you prefer shooting on location?

Bruce Campbell: I’m contractually obligated to say that I like shooting on location, so that’s what I’ll say. Well, here’s what it is, Miami, on film, terrific, looks great. We are kind of mandated to shoot outside 60% of the time so that you actually see Miami as a character.

And it’s great. Florida should send us a check for tourism every week because that city looks awesome in our hands and, you know, it’s a cool, dynamic city. But it can be problematic with the heat and the rain because you’re basically in the jungle.

You’ve been at this for such a long time. What’s your advice to actors?

Bruce Campbell: Become a producer. Because, you know, I did that to get my first job. Evil Dead was 31 years ago now, my – the first Evil Dead movie. And, you know, I was one of the producers who made the movie and so there was no issue of who – how I was going to get that part.

I was just going to have that part. So, you know, there are ways to do the end run, but they’re never the easy way. You know, an actor should never sit back and assume that there’s only one way to get a job. Take control. We live in America, be here now.

What are some of your favorite scenes to film?

Bruce Campbell: Ones where Sam is shooting a lot of BS into the air, where he’s trying to con his way into something or, you know, he’s trying to fast talk somebody. Those are always fun to do.

Which moment do you think, where after you saw the dailies and you said, “You know what? I’ve got the character now, I understand it.” And that’s the defining moment. Do you have a moment like that?

Bruce Campbell: No, there’s never a defining moment. Because it’s always, it’s, you know, like life, we’re a moving target. So the character’s always a moving target. You’ll find out his flaws and his strengths, you know, I’d like to find out that Sam’s a really good bowler.

But it’ll take awhile to get that out, you know? But hopefully, that’s the things you can do if you stay on the air long enough, you can fool around with different parts of their character.

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