As it so happens, Jere Burns booked back-to-back runs of cable-TV villainy this year. This Thursday in Burn Notice‘s Season 5 finale (USA Network, 10/9c), puppet master Anson Fullerton will brazenly respond to Michael’s discovery of his endgame by asking his asset to do the unthinkable. Then, almost a month to the day, fans of FX’s Justified will see Burns return to the role of Wynn Duffy in a much bigger way than ever before, this time in partnership with a new baddie played by Neal McDonough. TVLine spoke with Burns about his fortuitous twin billin’ as a villain.
TVLINE | My first exposure to your work was in the Dear John days, with Kirk. Was the smarmy smart aleck a pigeonhole you had to wiggle out from?
It took a little while to get looked at for the gritty single-camera stuff that I love, so I kept doing one four-camera [comedy] after another, though none of the characters returned to the smarmy level of Kirk, who I loved dearly and was so much fun to play. That character opposite Judd [Hirsch]’s was kind of golden, and Judd was so good. I kind of got spoiled by him.
TVLINE | Still, could you have imagined back then that you’d now be playing two nefarious TV villains?
I had played bad guys on a smaller scale prior to [Dear John]. I had just come out [to Los Angeles] from New York and Off-Broadway and Broadway theater, and immediately you start playing bad guys on Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey… and nobody would see me for comedy. But in those days, the networks would always throw you a TV-movie [during the hiatus]. There’d be a woman-in-peril movie and people like Ted Danson or me could play a pedophile, or a rapist….
TVLINE | Actors who plays bad guys tend to insist they’re not the bad guy, that their character believes in what they’re doing. What does Burn Notice‘s Anson believes in?
That this guy, Michael, destroyed his life’s work, and for that Michael owes him a lot. He can get Michael to do whatever he needs done, and if Michael has to suffer a little in the process, so be it. The great thing about Anson is that he knows more about Michael’s life than anyone, because he was part of Michael’s life well before the series started.
TVLINE | What is Michael’s play now that he knows Anson is out to rebuild his network? There’s an early scene this week where Michael confronts him, and Fi even takes a shot at you.
That’s Michael posturing, but it’s a posture he can’t really maintain. Because until the finale, he doesn’t win anything.
TVLINE | Anson compels Michael to burn some spies, which is the second most devastating thing, behind putting Fi in prison, to throw at him.
Right, right. But even if that doesn’t happen, Fiona is still not off the hook. In this world, people – including Anson, to an extent — are always having their integrity challenged. Like, how far will Michael go? What is the grey area? What’s legal doesn’t matter, but what is ethical? What rules do we live by?
TVLINE | Speaking of unethical types, I hear that you’ve got a very juicy storyline this season on Justified.
It’s really good. We’re shooting [Episodes] 7 and 8 concurrently right now, and the whole season is kind of amazing. Neal McDonough is fabulous [as Quarles, a Detroit mobster], and he and I sort of play cohorts. It becomes all about oxycontin and the battled of the distributors down there in the South, and who’s involved.
TVLINE | Are Wynn Duffy and Quarles equal partners, or are you just his local muscle?
Initially when he comes down, I’m happy to let somebody else take over, use their connections to finance this oxy business, and let him think that I’m his lackey-slash-partner. I’ll give him that satisfaction.
TVLINE | Was it at all intimidating for you and Neal to basically fill the void left by Emmy winner Margo Martindale (who played Mags Bennett)?
No, because Neal is so good and the writing is so good, and that show is unusually collaborative. Nothing is ever daunting, everything’s exciting, and everybody is enjoying the s–t out of what they’re doing!