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Interview with Matt Nix of "Burn Notice"
"Burn Notice" is a great show on USA Network. I never
miss it! This is a fascinating interview with the creator of the
Burn Notice Ė Matt Nix Conference Call
February 17, 2010/1:30 p.m. EST
Moderator Our first question comes from the line of Emma Loggins. Please
E. Loggins I just had a quick question for your guys about Comic-Con. I
know that was so successful last year with the shows first appearance
there. Are you guys planning to do anything there this year?
M. Nix We would love to. It was a blast and any opportunity to be on
stage at Comic-Con with Bruce Campbell isó I know he screams for me like
that so thereís lots of fun.
E. Loggins So you guys donít have any plans yet but youíre open to it?
M. Nix Yes, Iíd say more than open to it. It really though is just the
logistics of getting people from Miami to Comic-Con are just kind of
ridiculous. People often ask about, why donít people do more talk shows
and things like that and they sort of forget that well, most actors are
either in New York or Los Angeles where talk shows shoot similarly when
weíre shooting. Things like Comic-Con are just logistically tough, but
we love doing them.
E. Loggins And could you also talk upcoming guest stars that you have
M. Nix Oh. Please bear in mind as I answer these questions that we were
shooting these things a while ago so I just need to do a little review
and try to remember what have you guys seen and what have you not seen.
Well certainly in the finale, we have Garret Dillahunt coming and doing
a pretty amazing bad guy. Letís see, the guy who played Tony Almeida on
24. Iím completely blanking on his name. In any case, he is in the
episode after this weekís episode and he is playing a bad guy who Fiona
has a real connection to. Oh sorry, Carlos Bernard, yes playing a bad
guy who is really sort of only removed from the characters on the show
byó under other circumstances he could have been one of the team, but he
is willing to do certain things that theyíre not willing to do and
thatís a divide that they just canít cross. But heís a guy whoís really
committed to what heís doing, really cares about what heís doing. Itís a
pretty devastating performance. Heís pretty awesome. Iíd say Garret and
Carlos Bernard are the ones that are upcoming that really jump out at me
Moderator Our next question comes from the line of Jenny Rarden. Please
J. Rarden I do have two quick questions. My first question is do you
guys get a lot of fans that tell you they want Michael and Fiona
together romantically because this season thereís been a definite hints
both subtle and not so subtle in that direction. Do fan wishes have
anything to do with that or was that something youíd been planning all
M. Nix Itís certainly important to us that thatís something that fans
respond to. One of the things that weíre interested in in that
relationship Iím particularly interested in is just the idea that in
life, people have complex relationships that remain unresolved all the
time. Thatís a really common experience. That there are people that you
can care for deeply and be romantically involved in who for one reason
or another, having a conventional relationship with them, no matter how
much you might want it, is extremely problematic.
Whatís emerged for us is that Michael and Fiona are two people who have
a really hard time being with other people and at this point, thereís no
question that theyíve acknowledged how much they care about each other.
Theyíre not really built for stable romantic connections. So really what
weíre playing with is the idea that they have this unstable romantic
connection. That itís something that they canít really settle into and
they canít leave alone.
Itís something that comes up a lot when people talk about relationships
on television. Itís always the Sam and Diane model, which is that
thereís romantic tension between two people and then that romantic
tension gets released and then itís all over, right. Weíre sort of doing
the exact opposite of that, which is nothing get released. When people
get together, it is not necessarily true that suddenly everything
becomes simpler. Often times everything becomes more complicated.
J. Rarden Great. Well, I have one follow-up question and itís kind of
similar. Sam and Maddy have a unique kind of chemistry and relationship.
He seems to have more patience with her than Michael does. Are there any
plans for them to have any sort of romantic relationship or is it more
just a mother and son or friends type only?
M. Nix I can absolutely promise you that Sam and Madeline will never
have a romantic relationship. That is creepy and wrong and we would
never go there. That said, it isnít really something that I sat down and
planned, but it is something that emerged out of seeing the actors
together on the screen and just realizing that certainly Sam is kind of
Madelineís best friend.
J. Rarden Right.
M. Nix In a roundabout way, Madeline is Samís best friend. Michael is
Samís best friend mostly, but when it comes to a certain kind of stable,
like count-on able friendship that doesnít have all of the baggage that
comes along with being friends with Michael, itís really all about
Madeline and exploring that relationship. I think we really only just go
to the point; no it happened in Season Two and certainly in the first
half of Season Three where we got to the point where theyíre the kinds
of friends who could have a fight and then reconcile. Itís sort of
emerged to be one of the more complex and interesting relationships for
us to explore. Itís not something that you see a lot like an adult manís
friendship with his best friendís mother, but it works for us.
Moderator Our next question comes from the line of Sheldon Wiebe. Please
S. Wiebe First an observation. I donít know if anyoneís mentioned this
before, but Chris Vance looks an awful lot like Dougray Scott. That
wouldnít have had anything to do with his casting by any chance?
M. Nix Actually, no. I literally just imdbíed Dougray Scott to see what
you meant. Of course, youíre right. No actually, Chris Vance is somebody
that Ė he was the star of Mental and Mental was made by the same studio
as Burn Notice. So they all spoke glowingly of him. Heís a terrific guy
and a lot of fun to work with. When weíre doing those arcs, itís usually
not an audition process and if it is, itís sort of a high level audition
process, but we like to be able to have conversations with people and
know that this is somebody who has a lot of range, can play with things,
can have fun with the role and is someone that we really want to work
with. Chris was somebody who just hit all those marks for us and weíre
really excited to get him. But no, it certainly is not true that we sat
down and said letís find someone that looks like Dougray Scott.
S. Wiebe Also, following up on that, Gilroy. He seems like the kind of
character that could go for more than just one season because heís at
least as intelligent as Michael though he has this blind spot where
maybe heís a bit too sure of himself. I was wondering if heís going to
be around for a while or do you have someone even more diabolical lined
up to bring the pain to Michael.
M. Nix Well, I donít want to give too much away but Iíd expect option
two. The fun thing actually about Gilroyís character is this sort of
snuck up on us in the execution. Heís a really, really bad guy and itís
fairly clear he has a sort of flirty energy with Michael. I guess whatís
fun about him for us is he never stops being a bad guy and his
relationship with Michael in the penultimate episode takes a really
unexpected turn. Itís actually one of our more touching moments in the
season, but we didnít think of it that way, it just sort of worked out
that way. So heís a villain who over the course of his arc comes to have
an odd affection for Michael.
Moderator Our next question comes from the line of Melissa Lowery.
Please go ahead.
M. Lowery Iíve got a question here. This is actually from Liz whoís
working and she wanted me to make sure to ask you about in ďA Dark
Road,Ē the episode with Tyne Daly, who is awesome by the way. We see
Michael arguing with Madeline that he helps people when heís describing
what he does for a living and he repeats that a couple of times during
the course of the episode. So what weíre wondering is, is Michael going
to be able to settle with this kind of living as opposed to working as a
spy where you follow orders for kind of unknown reasons?
M. Nix Thatís a really good question. You kind of have to work backwards
in a way like youíre making a television show but like, why does Michael
help people every week. You obviously donít get to say he helps people
every week because heís aware that heís on a television program and that
the television program needs a story every week. So you really have to
think well, what kind of person really does this?
When I think about it, Michael has been kind of coming to terms over the
course of the last three seasons with the fact that there is a part of
him that has to do this, and that if you look at the first season, he
tends to take this attitude of this very reluctant hero. He doesnít want
to take cases but he does. Thatís sort of evolved at this point because
in our conception of the character and I think, if I can talk about him
like heís a real guy, in Michaelís mind he has come to realize he is
self aware enough to know yeah, there is a reason I do this every week
and itís related to why he got involved in the spy business in the first
place. Heís doing dark deeds for a noble purpose and thatís kind of the
gig and just because he lost his job doesnít mean he stops doing that
and he is sort of a guy who is willing to use the dark to save the
light. Thatís sort of a pretentious thing to say but itís true.
So, thatís something that, in dealing with Madeline, part of it is her
confronting him with the damage that he sometimes does with the reality
of the fact that heís a guy who decides whatís best for people and then
just goes out and does it. Michael basically having to confront the fact
that thatís who he is; he does this and he doesnít really feel like he
has a choice and you kind of got to take him or leave him. And
ultimately, as is the case in the end of that episode, he is willing to
really put his own Ö on the line for the sake of these other people.
Itís not an easy thing for him to do and it certainly comes at great
cost. You kind of think heís not a very demonstrative guy and thatís how
he cares about people.
Moderator: Our next question comes from the line of Troy Rogers, please
T. Rogers I wanted to know, at this point in the series, how necessary
is the original arc because Michael already knows who burned him?
M. Nix Well, I think it sort of depends on what you consider the
original arc to be. I think that really, he kind of knew who burned him,
in a roundabout way, in the middle of season one. So the question of who
burned me is no longer the central question for him. Itís really more,
what do I do about it?
If the first season was who burned me, the second season is what do the
people who burned me want with me? The third season is can I get
unburned and if so, at what cost? So, weíre kind of examining that
question from different angles. I think people do sometimes look at the
show and think, and I understand why, theyíll talk like weíre still
asking the question who burned Michael, when in fact, itís not really a
question that heís asked since season one precisely.
So, I think that there is something to Michael having an ongoing
investigation into matters related to his circumstances for a lot of
reasons. But no, as far as the who burned Michael Weston, there may be
more to explore with regard to that question at some point, but itís not
sort of what weíre spending our time on at this point. And, indeed, by
the end of this season, we answer a very big question about Michaelís
burning, as you will see. Itís not necessarily the question that people
would have thought to ask, although I think that it is a very
interesting question to ask, but it is not who burned me.
T. Rogers I always enjoy seeing Tim Matheson showing up as Crazy Larry.
I wanted to know, how much will he factor into the series in future
M. Nix Well as a director, certainly we love Larry. I think that one of
the things that weíre conscience of in working with characters like
Larry and Jay Karnesí character, Brennan would be another example of
this, the Michael mirror characters, the guys who are really in
significant ways operating on Michaelís level, and whose primary focus
is on Michael, as opposed to some Ė I mean that wasnít true actually of
Brennanís first appearance but it was true of the second. Those
characters whose primary focus is on Michael, you just canít do that
every week. In the writerís room, we always joke that Dr. House canít
operate on himself every episode. Those are special episodes and you
love them, but you canít do them every week.
So, the answer is yes, Larry will factor into the series in season four.
We havenít exactly figured out how but we have a basic idea and we love
him. He loves Michael. Part of whatís fun about Larry for us is that
heís a guy whoís primarily motivated by his love of Michael, which is a
really odd thing for a bad guy. Heís sort of like I love money and I
love killing people, but mostly, kid, I love you, letís just hang out.
T. Rogers Does he love matching wits with him? Is that what it is?
M. Nix I think he loves matching wits with him. I think at a really deep
level one of the things that we look at in the series is the idea that
this job is really lonely. If youíre Michael, you donít get to go to spy
conventions and talk to other people who do what you do. Itís a
profoundly lonely gig. Michael gets to hang out with people who are
reflections of himself in a certain way. Sam has certain skills that
Michael has. Fiona has certain skills that Michael has. They both have
inclinations and a world view that is not precisely Michaels. But Larry
looks at Michael and says, thereís the one true friend that I ever had,
thereís the one guy who really understands me and yes, he thinks Iím a
psychopath and he sort of hates me, but he gets me, man. Thatís worth
something. Thatís what makes him so much fun to write. Itís just not
something you get to do a whole lot, a guy whoís sort of arrogant but he
wants to be Michaelís Dad.
Moderator Our next question comes from the line of Sarah Fulghum, please
S. Fulghum Where do you get the spy tips in the show?
M. Nix Our primary source is the consulting producer on the show,
Michael Wilson, who worked in intelligence and sort of around these
things over the course of his career and can give us a lot of stuff. We
also read a lot of books and source material and stuff like that. We
even talk to law enforcement.
In a roundabout way, we end up drawing on any arena where you can find
interesting technique related to deception. Weíve gotten things from
undercover narcotics officers. Weíve gotten things from the ATF. Weíve
gotten things from folks at the actual CIA, all over the place and
reading tons of books. Foreign intelligence agencies tend to be really
useful, so histories of particularly the intelligence agencies like the
KGB or the Mossad or the agencies that do the more hardcore, devious
stuff and certainly the Soviet Union donít have to worry about a
judiciary thatís going to come down really hard on them so the pallet is
a little bid broader. Iíd say on a day to day basis, we talk to Michael
Wilson a lot but we also do a lot of other research.
S. Fulghum Wow, thatís a lot of effort that goes into it.
M. Nix Yes, absolutely. I think itís sort of, you know, weíre doing
these voiceovers and the last thing we want is to be showcasing
technique that isnít true. It seems like sort of a cheat.
S. Fulghum Thinking back to the creation of the show, were there any
difficulties in getting the script from just an idea to the hit TV
series it is now?
M. Nix No. I am joking of course. Yes, I think every phase has itís
challenges. Really, Iíd never worked in television at all before, so I
wrote the pilot of Burn Notice and itís funny to me now, the first
writer I hired was my friend, Alfredo Barrios whoís been a writer on the
show for the full run of the series and he was really the first guy who
sat me down and said well, you got away with writing a pilot that had no
act outs, but let me teach you what an act out is and I said oh,
interesting. Terrific. So, something exciting should happen before the
commercial. Good to know. Iíd been working in movies for years and so I
just didnít think about it.
So, there was certainly a fair amount of learning the form, evolving
what the series was. The original conception of the series was a much
darker show and it became a lighter show for USA, so that was another
aspect of it. But then just kind of working out what are the values of
the show, whatís the kind of mass of an episode because people use the
term formula like itís a bad thing. Ultimately itís a well worked out
formula that makes the show work. The shows that go for a long time and
people really care about are shows that have formulas that are concrete
enough that they know what theyíre sitting down to watch. They know what
the show is and flexible enough that they can still be surprised every
week. So, working that stuff out is an ongoing challenge and it never
really gets any easier.
Moderator Our next question comes from the line of Lena Lamoray. Please,
L. Lamoray As Burn Notice progresses, does it get easier to write the
episodes since you now have established characters or more difficult
since they have already done so much?
M. Nix Iíd say both. Certain aspects of the series get easier because we
donít have to have a long debate about what Samís basic world view is.
We know more about the characters, so those things are easier. At the
same time, you donít want to repeat yourself and really I think you want
to find new ways that the interaction with the sort of A stories. Itís
really important to us that those not be or itís really important to me
anyway, that that interaction not be mechanical.
Ideally, every episode is demanding something of Michael as a person.
Pursuing the case of the weak is not simply a matter of rearranging
pieces on a board and making sure that the client wins. It also
challenges Michael and it challenges the other characters to dig deep
and discover things about themselves, discover things about each other
that they didnít know before.
One of the opportunities now that the show has established, and people
understand that these people fundamentally care about each other, is we
have the opportunity the put them in more conflict. We can do an episode
now where people really violently disagree about how to pursue a
particular problem and whereas if we had done that in the first season,
people might have been confused as to what the relationships between the
characters were. But, now we can get away with it a lot more easily
because people understand those things.
Another thing that weíre exploring is episode 15 of this year, the
episode before the finale, thatís an episode where the person taking the
lead on the case is really Fiona. Itís not fundamentally Michaelís case.
Michael is hugely involved and itís a big deal for him, but thatís a
whole new arena for us to explore. Itís a big challenge for Michael when
Fionaís going into stuff and doing things alone and facing her own
challenges as a person and heís just got to be kind of sidelined and do
whatever he can to protect her, but knowing that, ultimately, she is
going to have to save the day in a Fiona way and he has got to stand on
the sidelines and know that he might solve this differently but heís not
the guy on the ground, and thatís another really interesting thing for
C. Fehskens Ladies and gentlemen, thatís all the time that we have for
todayís session. Iíd like to once again thank Matt Nix for joining us
and remind everybody to tune into all new episodes of Burn Notice,
Thursdays at 10/9 Central on USA network. Thanks again everyone and
enjoy the rest of your day.
M. Nix Thanks all.
Moderator Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude our conference for
today. Thank you for your participation and for using AT&T Executive
Teleconference. You may now disconnect.
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