The high-octane spy series BURN NOTICE may give off the impression it is an “all boy’s club,” but what would the show be without the powerful love story of Michael and Fiona. After all, Fiona was the only person who came to Michael’s rescue the minute she found out that the super spy had been “burned” by his former employer. For the past six seasons, Fiona has proven to be more than just the eye-candy or trigger happy-girlfriend, she has been the reason that Michael found the strength to pursue his oppressors and frequently spurned him into helping more than one client in distress. In a recent press conference call, star Gabrielle Anwar shared what it is like playing such a strong, powerful and capable woman on the show.
The job you guys do on BURN NOTICE has to be the funnest. But it could be potentially a lot harder because you play so many different personalities on the show when Fiona is undercover. Do you find that challenging?
GABRIELLE: Actually, it has its moments of being challenging, particularly when there’s different dialects involved. But I am very grateful to play these roles because after six years of playing the same character, it really does breathe a breath of fresh air into each episode when we get to do something that’s completely out of character. Jeffrey Donovan, who plays Michael, gets to do it much more frequently than I, and I get a little bit sulky about that. [Laughs]
Have you had like weapons training for the show since you’re always shooting guns and blowing stuff up?
GABRIELLE: I haven’t had any formal training in much of anything, actually. Now that I say that out loud. But I did go shoot some pretty heavy machinery a few years back. Not only are the weapons incredibly heavy, but they’re very disconcerting to be holding something that actually is a murder weapon; that is to say something that is, unless used properly, could bring down an entire family, which kind of throws me for a loop. I’m an ardent pacifist in reality, so I’ve made it very clear to my children from the get-go that there would be no guns in the house – and yet here’s mummy going off to work doing that very thing for a living. So I’m a bit of a bloody hypocrite now that I think of it.
Do you have a favorite episode or a scene for this season?
GABRIELLE: We did in fact just shoot episode 6.09. I think it was 6.09 — could have been 6.08. They all kind of merge into one after six years. I get to play a Boston mobster, so that was tremendous fun for me to get to sort of mix it up a little bit and incorporate different characters and accents and costumes and hair and makeup. It’s just fun. It’s like dress-up as a kid.
So we’re seeing a lot more strong female roles on TV these days. How does it feel to continue to play such an awesome female character like Fiona? I mean, she certainly does her part at standing out when it comes to female roles.
GABRIELLE: Yes, doesn’t she? I’m very grateful that she was even created. I think there are more fabulous female roles coming our way lately, particularly in television, HOMELAND and THE GOOD WIFE. There’s plenty of good women being represented as we are, which is incredibly exciting and refreshing, and let’s hope that there’s more to come. I think we’re well deserving.
Six years into this series, is there a piece of advice that you would share with your character Fiona?
GABRIELLE: Well, that’s a very good question. I think I would probably just tell her to relax. I think though having said that I think that Fiona is sort of chilling just a tad over the years. I think with the lowering of her skirt hemlines, I think that her angst has been somewhat calmed, quelled. Let’s hope so.
How much of a challenge is it to keep a straight face when you’re working with Bruce Campbell and Jeffrey Donovan?
GABRIELLE: It’s a huge challenge, and one that I’m not particularly good at, as the gag reels will attest to, particularly with Bruce. I mean, he just has such as phenomenal sense of humor. His wit is unparalleled. Even his tweets, I can’t help but read his tweets, and I’m around him all day long and I’m reading his tweets on top of it.
If it was up to Fiona, where would she and Michael be in ten years?
GABRIELLE: Oh. Well, they would definitely be together. There would be no CIA in sight, nor FBI, and they would be saving the world, one hand grenade at a time.
How much research went into the prison scene? Did you visit any prisons, or did you do any research on it?
GABRIELLE: No. Oh, God, what a dreadful actress I am! I did not. I didn’t, and I have no excuse. I figured that I would just feel what was going on in the moment. I mean, the set design and the over-props and all the extras and it was pretty realistic, I have to say. I actually had the most phenomenal shooting schedule while I was in jail, because they carried on shooting all the other storylines, and so I would work maybe one day a week, which is unusual on this show. So when it came time to be talking about Fiona’s release from jail, I was begging the writers to keep me in so that I could spend more time with my children. So I think I may be one of the few people on the planet who was begging to stay incarcerated.
Who are some guest stars you haven’t yet worked with that you would like to work with?
GABRIELLE: Oh, let’s see. God, I don’t know. It’s funny because all the guest stars that we’ve had for the last six seasons have been so good that I’ve never spent an episode going, “God, I wish this was being played by Harrison Ford or whomever.” I’ve been very impressed with all of the actors that have contributed to our storylines. It’s been such a joy. And when the guest actors come, it really does infuse the cast and the crew to bring in some fresh blood and something new to play with. It’s a wonderful thing.
Can you talk a little bit about what it is about Michael and Fiona’s relationship that would make her sacrifice her freedom and possibly her life for him?
GABRIELLE: Love. I think it’s just plain old love. I mean, I like to think that when there is that sort of commitment and devotion to another person that you would in fact sacrifice your freedom for them. I mean, I certainly feel that way in real life about my children, so that kind of love does exist, and I like to think that that’s what Fiona and Michael have between each other.
Is there anything about Fiona you can relate to?
GABRIELLE: Oh, God, yes. Yes, I mean I really appreciate her impatience, her intolerance, her disdain of men on many levels. And I love that she’s just so erratic and uncontrollable. I love all those things about a person that are considered negatives – those are my favorite things about Fiona.
For five years, Fiona has primarily interacted with Michael, Sam, Madeline and Jesse, and now that Fiona’s in prison, she has very little contact with them. What challenges or benefits came to you as an actress because of this change of pace?
GABRIELLE: Well, as I mentioned earlier, my shooting schedule was an enormous benefit for me. But I think, there was I think a maturation of Fiona while she’s in prison where she realizes the importance and significance of her relationships with those characters that you mentioned. I think she had somewhat taken them for granted, and when she’s in prison I think that there’s the realization that they really are her family, even though she would hate to admit that she even likes them. And then she develops relationships with some of the female inmates, which is hard for Fiona to do, because in the last six seasons, Fiona hasn’t really had any BFF’s. There’s no girl action. She doesn’t have a lot of female cohorts, which is very interesting, because I think that there’s an element of distrust between women and reliability and I love that it’s being somewhat, even though it may be subtle, somewhat portrayed in the show.
Are we going to see anything like the Sam Axe movie where we got background on him, are we going to see more of Fiona’s background in the show?
GABRIELLE: I don’t know. I mean, that would be a question for those who created the Sam Ax movie and Fiona. I have my own version of who Fiona is and where she came from, and I don’t know if I have anything in common with Matt Nix’s variation. I guess we could find out, but as far as I know there are no plans to delve any deeper as of yet.
How many more seasons do you really think are sustainable for the show, and do you have any plans after that?
GABRIELLE: Well, I think as long as the writing team can continue to come up with stories, and there are so many spy stories. I mean, we’ve all been watching spy thrillers for so many years, I mean, if we run out of our own we could certainly pinch some of those, but I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how long Fiona can be running around in a bikini and high heels carrying a shotgun. I’m not sure if the audience is going to want to see me doing that into my 50’s. So I don’t know. I mean, six years is a damn good run and I’m incredibly grateful for the longevity thus far. So I mean, I’m in for a little longer — maybe without the bikinis.
After six seasons, what has been your biggest challenge on this show so far?
GABRIELLE: The heels. Yes. My little toes — they’re done. They’ve completely left the building. They retired I think season two. [Laughs]
How do you run in those heels?
GABRIELLE: I don’t know how it happens, but I have a little window of the ability to run in my heels, and if we don’t catch it in the first couple of takes, it’s over. So I think it’s an incredible skill that I have developed, and I’m going to put it on my resume. I don’t know. I mean, possibly the pain that one endures as a dancer certainly is comparable to the pain I’m enduring when I’m running around in those bloody heels, so perhaps it has paid off, all that dance training.
What compelled you to become an actor?
GABRIELLE: I was training as a dancer, and I had an accident and was transferred to the drama department, and was so enthralled by the comparatively easy drama classes compared to the grueling ballet, so I said, ah, this is the job for me.
Fi is a “clothes horse.” She has probably a second house filled with clothes, little outfits and all that. What do you think of prison clothes all of a sudden?
GABRIELLE: It’s funny because I had kind of this idea that maybe I would sort of somehow temper the orange jumpsuit into something kind of hip and cool, and then once I got into jail I realized that it was something that Fiona wouldn’t even think of. She’s so intent on finding her way out of the prison that her outfit had no relevance whatsoever. And I was kind of grateful that she wasn’t as vain as I thought she was.
When you signed on with this show, what were your expectations? Does it boggle your mind that you’re still playing the character and doing this show at this point?
GABRIELLE: It does. I’m a little bit in denial about the length of Fiona’s role. I didn’t think that the pilot would even be picked up, because I’d heard so many horror stories about, so many pilots that are shot and then never go to an actual show, so I had no expectations whatsoever. And I got into so much trouble shooting in South Beach for the three weeks of the pilot that when they did say that this was going to be going into a – a first season, I thought, God, I don’t know if I can survive South Beach for a year – a year or two or three, and here we are six years later, and I’m still alive. I liken Miami to Vegas, Vegas at the shore. And so there’s an inordinate amount of partying that is just inherent in landing at Miami International Airport, and it seems to not cease until you get back on the plane to wherever you may go. And so I just indulged.
Do you do a lot of stunts yourself on the show?
GABRIELLE: I do. I do a lot of stunts — hoping to do less now that I’m not quite as flexible as I used to be — but I do a lot of stunts. It’s odd. I think it’s easier somehow. When we’re coordinating the stunts, and the schedule is so tight and we shoot so quickly that it’s almost easier to just say, “What? I’ll just do the bloody thing.” So that there’s not these cuts of the stunt girl doing some sort of tai kwon do, and then me jumping in and pulling the expression on my face that I kicked someone. It just takes longer and I’m rather impatient, so I just say, “Oh, bloody hell, just teach me the moves and I’ll do it.” And obviously I’m not as equipped as the stunt double, but I give it a damn good try.
You talked kind of about how you have your own idea for your backstory for Fiona. Is there something specific that you’d like to see happen for her on the show?
GABRIELLE: Well, that’s a good question. I think I would like us to do an episode in Dublin, in Ireland, maybe a parent is sick and she flies home and we get to see, who she is, just walking into the front door of her home would say so much. We know so much about Michael and his family of origin and even though there’s something to be said for the enigmatic idea of where she came from and who she is, I would love to go to Ireland and just take a little slice of her life and reveal something. And I have a whole concept of who her family is and how she lived and perhaps the idea that she came from a significant amount of well to do upbringing, and so the fact that she’s running around with Michael and Sam and Jesse is not because she has to support herself financially by these means. It’s because she wants to. I think that’s an alluring idea.
Of all of the undercover personas you’ve played so far on the show, is there anyone in particular that you’ve really, really enjoyed?
GABRIELLE: Yes, I mean, I played a sort of gum-chewing kind of New Jersey girl a few seasons ago, which was so much fun. I had some cleavage, and just prancing around with an attitude, and I just recently played a Boston girl, which is a very hard accent to do well. So I like to play these women that are sort of clichés of — sort of bimbo-esque gals who actually underneath it all have a whole other world of intelligence and skill, and that’s always a bit of a fun role.
Does Fi end up having a CIA relationship post-prison?
GABRIELLE: There is some CIA influence that takes place, much to her absolute chagrin.
What can fans expect this season? We know that you’re going to be separated for several episodes. Does Fiona get to at least hear from Michael or any of the characters about what they’re trying to do, or is she kind of in the dark?
GABRIELLE: Well, it’s interesting, having spent a bunch of episodes in jail, so to speak, there is this whole underground life that goes on in prison where these prisoners, if they have a means to information, whether it be trading cigarettes or other kind of favors, which we didn’t really explore too much as this is USA Network, but I became very keenly aware that there’s a lot more access to the outside world than you might think, even in a top security jail, because all the sort of it’s a whole other existence in there with a bunch of trading that takes place in order to get the information that one requires. So there is some connection that takes place between Fiona and the outside world.
You have a lot of kind of tense, dramatic scenes obviously in the beginning of the season. Do you prefer more of the drama or more of the action type scenes?
GABRIELLE: Well, like most sets, television also, it’s a very male-dominated environment. There’s a lot of men on the set, and there’s a handful of girls, women, and so when we’re doing action sequences on BURN NOTICE, the boys get really excited, and it’s kind of overwhelming. Our stunts often take over – explosions and all the pyrotechnic stuff take over the day, and the drama kind of falls a little bit to the wayside so that the boys can, do their thing with their big toys and their weaponry and all the booms and pows and kapoos and kapows. And I get a little overwhelmed, to tell you the truth. I just want to go sit with the girls, with our script supervisor and our makeup and hair department and wardrobe department and just talk about shoes and have a cup of tea. So the drama I think is what short-changed, and I think I blame the men because of it.
Are they very strict with the scripts? Are you allowed to improvise sometimes?
GABRIELLE: I think it depends. If the dialogue is pertinent to the plot, they get pretty specific about having to really be able to stay on point. It’s interesting, unlike film where it’s usually just one writer for the entire script, so there’s sort of a continuity in character and nuance and the pacing of the dialogue, we have, different writers for each episode. So it’s interesting how some writers have a specific voice for Fiona or for Michael, and then other writers have their own ideas, so after six years of speaking as Fiona, sometimes I’ll read the script and go I don’t know if Fiona would say it that way, or I don’t know if she’s that sounds a little masculine, because most of our writers are male. I don’t know if a woman actually says “douchebag”. Like I think mostly that comes from men. Women don’t usually sing about douchebags. It’s just not what we do. So then I’ll sort of argue my point as a chick, and then they roll their eyes because I’m being a bloody feminist again, so it depends whether it’s of value and significant to the plot rather than if it’s a character choice.
Is there a specific scene that you’re looking forward to fans seeing this season that you can talk about without spoiling it too much?
GABRIELLE: Yes, there are some scenes that are emotionally charged, romantic. Because there’s so much action and there’s humor and bikinis, I always gravitate towards those scenes of true emotional vulnerability and connection between characters, so there’s some rather endearing scenes to look forward to in the near future.
Fiona is always listed as “trigger-happy ex-girlfriend” and this season in last week’s premiere, they changed it to “trigger-happy girlfriend”. What was your thoughts on that?
GABRIELLE: Oh, they did? I didn’t even know that. You just broke the news to me. So my initial reaction is that I have a little bit of temperature rise in my body, because I think that Fiona doesn’t like to define things. Like the relationship, or the house with the white picket-fence. I don’t think that’s what she’s about, and so hearing that it’s official that the two of them are dating, I am having a visceral response to it. So it’s interesting. I think that she thrives on an unconventional definition of life, of who she is and who they are, so I’m going to have to watch that intro. Right now my heart is racing. I may be getting hives. I’m teasing. I think we need more of this in our lives, we compromise only so far and we sacrifice only so much, and I think that true love is about, making those choices, and you’re not doing it for the other person. You’re doing it because it’s what you are compelled to do for yourself. That’s the key.
With Fiona’s fate hanging in the balance and to see how her time in prison impacts all her relationships, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of BURN NOTICE on Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m. on USA Network.
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