Posted: 08/06/2009


Interview With Burn Notice’s Bruce Campbell and Sharon Gless


by Laura Tucker

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Here’s something that was revealed the other day in a Q & A session with Sharon Gless and Bruce Campbell (Madeline Westen and Sam Axe) of USA’s Burn Notice. Their show not only beats all the other shows on cable during their time period, it beats out all the shows on network TV as well. Of course, right now much of it is in reruns, but that’s still a pretty impressive result.

For him, Campbell says the show came out of nowhere, as the things he does plan never happen, and the things he doesn’t plan co. Gless thought the same thing of Burn Notice at first, saying she was in “the fat farm” when the script arrived and was sitting alone in her room, and it made her laugh out loud. She thought it seemed like fun and that it had substance as well. She lives in Miami, so that was of course a big draw for her as well, yet she didn’t tell the producers at first, as she wanted to live in a hotel like the rest of the cast.

Campbell was drawn to the role as he obviously enjoys playing characters “a little left of center,” otherwise he’d be on a soap opera. Real characters attract him to a role, characters that “drink and smoke and makes mistakes and have foibles in love, and try to fix their mother’s garbage disposal.” in addition to that, the fact that he is working with other seasoned adult actors was a draw as well.

For Gless, the character of Madeline was both something she had to reach for and part of herself. Her husband joked reading the script that she was lucky, as now they would be paying her to smoke, and she thought it was great, as she already knew how to do that. She never had children herself, yet she still able to find a connection to the character of Michael. At first Madeline was very needy and unattractive, then she got a hint from the writers that Michael gets his smarts from his mom, so that allowed her to give her character a little more confidence.

Gless doesn’t think Madeline has fully figured out yet what Michael does, yet she knows he “helps” people, as that’s how she has to think of it in terms to live with it, and she is beginning to become more informed. There are times when she does trust him, and she does love him, despite what it sometimes seems like. Yet, she has her doubts, as he’s not the most forthcoming. He seems to only tell her what he feels she needs to know.

A caller asked about Sam Axe’s personality, wondering why it doesn’t seem the same as other ex-military stereotypes, since he seems so upbeat. Campbell feels his characterization is actually more accurate, as he’s run into some of these guys. His first wife remarried a police officer, and he knows those guys like to have a good time when they’re not working, and they don’t sit around “mopey dope.” He thinks some of it comes from a general happiness that they’re still alive. The guys who are his age, in their fifties and “mustered out,” are sitting around drinking beer poolside joking about the old days. Gless worked with some officers as technical advisers on Cagney & Lacey and feels the same way.

Admittedly, Campbell doesn’t think there’s a cocktail that Sam hasn’t found yet, and he figures he’s probably made some of them up himself. He has to point out, too, that you never see Sam drunk, as a lot of people say Sam must be an alcoholic, but he likes to drink, like a lot of Americans. And if Sam has a morning meeting with the feds, he’s drinking coffee. He’s not a complete party boy. Both he and Gless think it would be fun if their characters got to sit and get drunk together. They cannot see themselves getting romantic with each other, though, since they’ve “developed a familial attitude”.

Once I got my shot at a question for these two, I asked a question that’s been bothering some of us. I’m also an instructor at a martial arts school, and those of us that are fans of the show wonder what technical help they get for the fight scenes, as we recognize a lot of martial arts techniques in the show. Campbell told me their stunt coordinator, who has just been nominated for an Emmy, is responsible for much of it, along with Jeffrey Donovan who plays Michael, as he does have a background in martial arts. They knew with the training these guys are supposed to have, that it couldn’t be John Wayne type of fighting. They work to make it slightly different, using cool quick moves.

As far as the explosives and other things that seem homemade on the show, no one has to worry about them being too real and people trying it out at home. Campbell knows as a kid he was lucky to survive it all, making UFOs and homemade explosives, and he looks back on it now and knows it was all stupid. Gless asked the writers about the stuff that is mixed and constructed on the show, asking if they were basically giving folks at home a recipe, and was assured that the writers always leave something out so that it won’t work if followed at home.

Switching gears into the current storyline, since it seems Michael is considering leaving to go back into the spy business, Gless and Campbell were asked how they thought their characters might handle his departure. Gless thinks Madeline sees Michael, Sam, and Fiona as a unit, as far as what they do for each other and how they protect each other, but she’s not sure if she considers herself one of them or not. Campbell figures Sam would be happy for Michael to get back into it, even tough it might seem to everyone else like it’s not worth it. Yet, he knows Sam would end up missing him, as he’s enjoyed getting back to work, instead of just drinking and hanging out with rich women.

In the summer finale on Thursday night, there will even be a mini Cagney and Lacey reunion with Tyne Daly appearing on the show. Gless recalls it was wonderful to work with her again, and she wants us to know she’s not just saying that. Daly is one of the finest actresses she’s ever met or had the pleasure of working with. It was just like old times for them, even though these are different characters. Daly’s mom used to have a great expression, “Sweat makes a great cement,” and after six years of sweat on Cagney and Lacey, they’ve become cemented, knowing each other’s timing and how each other works. Both Gless and Campbell would welcome the opportunity to work with her again, maybe even making her the bad guy, like a crime syndicate boss.

Asked how long they think the show will last, Gless guesses seven seasons, but Campbell is figuring at least eight, since that’s how long Monk is lasting, and they’re outpacing them in the ratings. Either way, he figures he’ll be around for the long haul, as there is no better gig. Gless figures the same, but her husband likes to tease her that on an episode we’ll see a tear on Michael’s face, and the camera will pan down to a tombstone that says “Madeline.” For most of us, we hope it’ll be a long time before we see any tombstones on the show, unless it’s for one of the bad guys.

Catch the summer finale tonight on USA at 9 PM EST.

Laura Tucker Laura Tucker is the webmaster of Reality Shack, and its accompanying Reality Shack Blog, and is a freelance writer providing reviews of movies and television, among other things, at Viewpoints. She is also an Associate Instructor and 2nd dan black belt in tae kwon do with South Elgin Martial Arts. Laura can be reached at

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