It’s a little difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys on USA’s “Burn Notice,” and that’s one of the things that make the character-driven thriller unique.
When star Jeffrey Donovan was cast as the spy who is driven in from the cold, he knew a lot about Bruce Campbell, who was to play his unkempt cohort, Sam.
“I knew of Bruce,” says Donovan. “I actually had heard about him through a friend of mine who knew him. So I knew just of him, but that’s not to say that I wasn’t a fan of his because I don’t actually know many actors - because I don’t go to the movies and I don’t watch television. But now that I’ve gotten to know him, I couldn’t ask for a better costar. And I’m sure actors say that all the time, but they’re lying. I know all of them. They’re lying. And this is the truth. You can’t ask for a better actor coming from his huge career, to come and grace us on this show has been just a blessing for us.”
But Campbell, the veteran actor from shows like “The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr.” and “Jack of All Trades,” says he knew “jack diddley” about Donovan. In the case of “Burn Notice,” which returns to USA with new episodes on July 10, it was a case of choosing the right man for the right job.
“The role was offered and I just did some research of who was involved and what their deal was because in television you’re kind of trapped in an airless box, working very closely together with these people. And if the dynamics aren’t right it can be a very trying situation,” says Campbell.
“And so I just did enough research, to find out a little bit about this Donovan guy. My research, I think was successful in that it led me to the right direction and the right decision because I chose this show because of its unique nature. And what I also like about it, there’s a retro feel to this show. There’s a weird ‘classic’ feel to it. It’s a little bit iconic. I like this show. I’m a fan of this show because I like the nature of it. It’s not bitter. It’s not jaded.”
Campbell should know. He’s been around the block more times than a school bus from as far back as his days with director-pal Sam Raimi and the “Evil Dead” movies. Campbell directed many episodes of “Hercules: the Legendary Journeys” in which he played the role of a villain, a character he repeated in “Xena: Warrior Princess.
He thinks episodic television hasn’t changed much since his “Briscoe County” days 15 years ago.
“They usually pick seven or eight days that you get to make your movie. You either get a support crew to shoot stunts and carnage and mayhem, or you don’t. Generally speaking, you’re shooting between six and nine pages a day, which is really fast, really aggressive. And so those aspects really haven’t changed. Somebody came across these genius amounts of days to make a TV show and everyone has stuck with that,” he says.
“And so the actual process of shooting episodic has not changed that much aside from a second camera. I’ve noticed that pretty much two cameras are now standard whereas episodic I did years ago wasn’t always as much as two cameras. But, you know, mechanically it’s similar.”
Campbell has become a cult favorite among fans and filmmakers alike. A known scene-stealer, his proclivity for snatching the limelight doesn’t rattle Donovan. “Let me set the record straight,” says Donovan. “You WANT Bruce Campbell stealing scenes on your show. I mean, you want that ... I’m the straight man, and you need someone like Bruce Campbell because he never does it so far that it detracts from the show or the scene, or the characters.
“It’s a blessing that Bruce has stolen scenes in the past because it lends him an ability to come in here and do the same thing here. You know, it’s awesome.”
It was two other big TV stars who gave Donovan advice early in his career that helped form the pattern he followed from appearances on a soap to “Touching Evil” and now “Burn Notice.”
Alison Janney (“Juno,” “West Wing”) and Anthony LaPaglia (“Without a Trace”) costarred with Donovan in “View from the Bridge” in New York. “I knew they’d gone in and out of movies,” says Donovan. “And I turned to them one day and said, ‘Is there any difference?’ They said, ‘No. Truth, that’s all it is.’ (After that) it wasn’t that hard for me to figure out how to do TV and film.”
Anyone who has seen Holly Hunter’s performance as the self-destructive Grace in TNT’s “Saving Grace” should not be surprised that she grew up half tomboy and half Southern belle. “I was very feminine when I was little, always loved to dress up, always loved to do female things,” she says. “Then I went through a tremendously aggressive tomboy period where I was always in trays, running around and making my friends execute tests. We’d go through tests like: Can you jump over this ditch? Can you hop from one tree to another? These daredevil things. Then I got into boys.
“I broke into a couple of people’s houses just to see if we could, just to see if we could break into people’s houses, maybe even when they were in them, that was the worst thing we ever did. We never stole anything. We just wanted to see if we could trespass without being detected. We were never ever busted.”
Hunter returns with “Grace” on July 14 and the first season of the show arrives on DVD the next day.
Bart Simpson may be 10 years old but the show on which he stars is pushing 20. Fox has just announced that it knows a sure thing when it sees one and will renew “The Simpsons,” the animated series for another year, tying it with “Gunsmoke” as the longest-running TV series ever. Of course Bart isn’t really a 10-year-old boy. He’s a 50-year-old divorced mother of two. And Homer is really Dan Castelleneta, who says it was a kid who first gave him the idea of acting.
“I studied to be an art teacher and was student teaching and I used to do a bunch of voices for the kids and one kid goes, ‘What are you doing here, man? You should be in Hollywood.’ I thought, ‘That kid’s got something.’ I decided rather than get ensconced in teaching and maybe wish I’d tried acting, I said I’ll do it now while I’m young, and if it doesn’t work out I’ll still have a chance to go do something else rather than get a family get tied down.”
Josh Duhamel will guest star as himself on the Disney Channel’s “The Replacements,” airing July 7. Duhamel, who stars on “Las Vegas,” remembers when he managed his first acting coup. “The first thing I did was an independent movie. It was the same kind of thing where I started having a breakthrough in the actual audition where I was raging at this girl who broke my heart, he was like ‘Dorian Gray,’ a man without a soul basically, and I was verbally abusing this girl in this scene. And I said, ‘You know what? Screw it I’m just going to go for it.’ And I had to pretend like I was breaking these mirrors and I literally lost it. And they said, ‘Very good.’ I learned that if you’re going to go for it, you’ve got to REALLY go for it. People can tell if you really believe it or not, whether you’re phoning it in.”