Have you ever been to the network up fronts? Luckily I get to attend a few. ABC has a fantastic one at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood and the Fox one is gaining steam. Now the cable networks are having them and this is where some of the best interviews and sound bytes come from. Now conference calls are all the rage. On a recent USA Network call, there were two surprise guests: Jeffrey Donovan (Michael Westen) and Gabrielle Anwar (Fiona Glenanne) of "Burn Notice". Here are the highlights from the call.
USA: Are you at all surprised that you've been able to move past "cable hit" and into "bona fied hit?"
JEFFREY DONOVAN: 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.
USA: I'm big into evolution these days, are you happy with where you guys are and the evolution of your characters?
GABRIELLE ANWAR: Do you think we've evolved? I don't know where we're going, where are we going, Jeffrey?
DONOVAN: Well, I think that, I'll speak for Gabrielle, I mean 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?
ANWAR: 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.
USA: What first drew you to the show and to your characters?
ANWAR: I was drawn to the character because she 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 writes the show and created it], 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 grabbed onto this script with great hope.
DONOVAN: I got hooked on the voiceover. Right there on the first page, it reads, "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 burned 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.
USA: What draws you to television vs. film?
DONOVAN: 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. 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.
ANWAR: 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 sort of 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.
USA: Any plans for guest stars on the horizon? Who would you like to see appear on the show?
ANWAR: Steve McQueen.
DONOVAN: Yes, he's dead.
ANWAR: He is?
DONOVAN: Don't you read the papers.
ANWAR: I didn't realize it had to be somebody who could actually appear on the show, but I would say Steve McQueen.
DONOVAN: I would love Angelina Jolie. Actually, I would like to do a crossover somehow with White Collar, I think that the show tonally is similar to ours. I don't know how that would work, but I would like to see that. I don't think we would work with any other show. I think Psych and Royal Pains doesn't figure into our tone.
USA: What kind of training and research are required for your roles?
DONOVAN: We have an ex-operative that actually is a consultant on our show that Matt and the 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 actually real. I have a black belt in Shotokan karate and studied 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.
ANWAR: 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.
USA: What's your guys favorite part about filming in such a diverse and vibrant city?
DONOVAN: I love the weather and that the climate is constantly being washed and rinsed. You're living in the Caribbean in the United States and sometimes it's incredible blue skies and sometimes it's an incredible thunderstorm that kind of screams through, but I love that part of Florida.
USA: Why don't you ever sweat?
ANWAR: I do, but Jeffrey doesn't.
DONOVAN: I do sweat, I just hide it well.