Coby Bell Tackles Burn Notice Badassery and The Game's Big Laughs

If you thought the big menace in Burn Notice‘s most recent engagement was two-legged mercenaries laying siege to a Caribbean island, think again. It was eight-legged arachnids.

Entrenched in the Florida woods for that location shoot, “At a certain time of year there are bananas spiders, and they’re just huge,” Coby Bell, who plays Jesse Porter, reports with a laugh. “They’re like the size of a tarantula, but skinnier. And they look more athletic!”

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That however was not Bell’s first run-in with the critters. “Bruce Campbell and I go on these 26-mile bike rides, and this one time we went down a path between these trees when I hear Bruce go, ‘Whoa!’ He ducks, I duck, and we look up and there are just hundreds of these giant spiders. So I hadn’t seen those guys for a while, then here we are on this location and they were everywhere.”

One can only imagine how guest star Lauren Stamille (aka CIA handler Pearce) reacted to the creepy-crawly invasion. “She was not cool with it. No one was cool with it,” Bell says. “They won’t kill you if they bite you, but they’ll ruin your week.”

Attempting to ruin Team Westen’s week this Thursday at 9/8c is reliably slithery character actor James Frain (True Blood), playing a shady pharmaceutical magnate. “My character kind of handles the main story in that episode,” Bell previews. “And James, well he is just great.”

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React and adapt has pretty much been the theme for Bell ever since he joined the USA Network series a season-and-a-half ago. Dropped into the mix as a CIA agent burned, ironically, by Michael himself, “It all happened really quickly, as far as getting the job and then doing the job,” Bell recalls. “When I booked it I was like, ‘OK, cool, now I’ll take a minute to figure out what I’m doing,’ but they were like, ‘No, no, no – you’re on a plane next week!’ It was pretty crazy.”

Equally crazy, Bell believes, was the show’s brief flirtation with the idea of any flirtation between Jesse and Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), who at the time was Michael’s ex. “I was never really on board with that,” he admits. “Michael Westen is like Superman, and you can’t have Aquaman come in and start flirting with Lois Lane. But I think that once the writers got into it, they said, ‘We can’t do this. The fans will be very upset.'”

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It would seem that on par with fending off spiders or Michael’s jealous eye, Bell might have fretted that once Jesse’s own burn notice mystery was resolved, he’d be off the show. Series boss Matt Nix, however, kept the reassurances coming that Jesse was a keeper.

“I’ve been on shows from the beginning, where characters are added and for whatever reasons it doesn’t work out,” Bell says. “And these were good actors that I became friends with. So when they brought Jesse back this season, that’s when I said, ‘OK, they didn’t have to do that. Now I’m part of the gang.'”

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Had Bell himself been “burned,” it would turn out that he had a backup plan, when BET somewhat miraculously sent The Game -– canceled by UPN -– into overtime. “That was insane,” he says of the comedy’s resurrection. “I literally got the call during the first or second Burn Notice episode I shot, and luckily NBC Universal let me do both. So as soon as this [Burn Notice season] is done, I get to get my comedy thing going, which I love.”

Bell has no idea yet what is in store for his Game alter ego, retired NFL player-turned-analyst Jason Pitt, but he says he’s been very satisfied with the character’s trajectory.

“They’ve set him up to this place where he can kind of have these serious or tender or even dramatic moments with his kid, but the other 80 percent of the time it’s like no kind of silliness is out of the question,” the actor enthuses. “He can say or do the stupidest things — and it’s believable that he would do it.”