Sitting around, biding your time, patiently waiting until the inevitable threat on your life comes…it's all in a day's work. Sure, there are a few chases here and there and, if someone tries to take you out, you can come out guns a-blazin'. But the real action comes when you get burned—that's the government's version of a forced retirement, sans anything resembling a goodbye party or pension (it even sounds painful).
Just ask burned spy Michael Westen ("Touching Evil" alum Jeffrey Donovan), who's eager to track down who ordered his offing and why, and is forced to take a few odd jobs to get his life back. Drama, a love interest, a crazy hypochondriac mother and plenty of Miami skin make cameos in the show as well, and none is safe from the sarcastic observations of a severely pissed off ex-spy.
What exactly is a burn notice?
'Burn notice' is an actual term used by U.S. government agencies. They are given to spies to tell them that they no longer are affiliated with the U.S. government. And any assets—money, credit cards, a house in Paris, passports—get taken away from them. You're left with no identity, no way to travel and no money. Kind of like catching the plague. [Laughs]
Wow—have you ever gotten fired like that?
I think I've only been fired from a job once. In college, I was a camp counselor for kids. I was teaching acting and I took it a little too seriously.
So, in preparation for this show, were you able to shadow any CIA-type agents?
You can't shadow a real-life Michael Westen…I would be dead right now. But I was able to get in touch with a "government official"—with no name—and I emailed with him. He's been very helpful.
Are you learning a lot about the life of a spy?
Whenever you play a role, you do as much research as you can about the knowledge that's in that particular character's head. Fortunately—or unfortunately—Michael knows a little bit about everything on the planet. I feel like I've gone to graduate school!
How is it filming in Miami?
The character, being a CIA agent, is very uptight and by-the-book, and he got plopped down into a very hot spot. It's sexy and alive and a lot of energy.
How violent a character is this? You shoot two men in the pilot—we think—but it's only heard, never shown.
We keep a light tone with humor but [it's about] international espionage. How do we make a vicious knife fight funny? That's a tough thing to do—a funny action-adventure on television. So when you don't see me shoot them, but you hear the shot, I think it's a pretty good guess that I had to take them out. But it plays into the idea that you'll never really know what Michael is capable of behind closed doors, and I like that.
Cult favorite actor Bruce Campbell is in the pilot—what was he like to work with?
Oh, he's a hoot. Not only is he a wonderful talent, he's just a great guy. And he just shows up, so happy, with great energy everyday. The whole cast is phenomenal.
Bruce often talks about how he only became an actor so he could goof off all day. What made you decide to become an actor?
Someone said I was good at something and it just happened to be acting. I was 16 and a wonderful mentor took me aside in an acting workshop and said 'You might want to think about becoming an actor.' At that age, I didn't even know acting was a profession…
So, are we gonna find out who ordered the burn notice sometime this season?
Like Michael, I am being kept in the dark. I don't know when I'll find out who burned me or why I was burned. The writers love frustrating me. [Laughs]
Whenever the show ends—be it two or 10 seasons from now—are you scared you'll get a burn notice from USA?
[Laughs] I wouldn't want it any other way!
"Burn Notice" premieres Thursday, June 28 at 10/9c on USA.