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Since its premiere in 2007, the hit series "Burn Notice" has created a world where much of what happens in the present - notably the 'burn notice' put out on Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) that started the action in the series - is heavily influenced by events in the past. While it didn't come as a huge surprise that creator Matt Nix would eventually get around to making a prequel to the series to truly dive into that past, it was a surprise that he did not choose Westen but, instead, the character of Sam Axe (played by Bruce Campbell) to take center stage. The feature-length prequel, "Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe," directed by none other than Mr. Donovan, premieres this Sunday on the USA network.
Our Jim Halterman talked to Nix earlier this week about when the kernel of this idea began, the fine line in making this film stand on its own while not losing the "Burn Notice" flavor as well as if we could possibly see more movies down the line with other characters from his top-rated series.
Jim Halterman: When did the first thought of doing the movie come to you? When you first created the show, you probably had a lot of back story already, right?
Matt Nix: I, like most people, knew Bruce as a movie star and so it was really in season two when I was saying 'Maybe we can do a movie with Bruce.' He has his fans, we have our fans and it seemed like we had a good opportunity here. I didn't really actively start working on it for some years but it was something that had been percolating for the last few seasons.
JH: How did it come to fruition that Jeffery Donovan would be the right person to direct the film?
MN: We wanted somebody who really knows the show, right? It's gotta be both the show and not the show. It's gotta be something that's recognizably of the 'Burn Notice' world and somebody who knows the tone really well. At first, I think everybody liked the idea but everybody was worried that everybody else would hate the idea so we all went 'I like this idea but you don't like this idea, right?' and then everybody talked to each other and we were all into it.
JH: Bruce said recently that he was excited that he had a love interest in the movie and I figured that's how you got him to sign on.
MN: [Laughs.] It was fun, actually, because the show is 42 minutes of screen time and we don't really want to leave a trail of broken hearts so Sam occasionally has a girlfriend or some aspect of it but to do a story where he gets to have a real romantic interest with someone is something we don't get to do on the show. It was a lot of fun.
JH: You touched on this a little about the fine line of making this its own movie but also staying true to 'Burn Notice.' How did you accomplish that specifically?
MN: It sort of evolved. One of the things that I realized is that the voiceover is so important to 'Burn Notice' and how we tell the story so for the Sam movie, one of the challenges was how do we both have a voiceover and not have a voiceover? It's obviously not a Michael voiceover but by coming up with that framing device that Sam is being debriefed, it allows Sam to do the voiceover but to keep the pace of the 'Burn Notice' in there without it turning into a 'Burn Notice.' We could [also] go to more dramatic places because we had the time but at the same time there was a lightness to the movie so that was a big part of it, as well. The main thing is that Sam himself sort of encapsulates the tone of 'Burn Notice' in the film so ultimately it wasn't that hard. It wasn't like starting from scratch.
JH: I feel like after the movie we might be looking at Sam differently in 'Burn Notice.' We never doubted that he was capable of a lot but it's nice to see him be at the forefront of the action.
MN: A big thing for me was looking at from the standpoint of wanting to explore when Michael Westen shows up in Miami in season one of the series. Why is Sam someone who just automatically says 'Yes, of course, I'd love to run around and help people I don't know with their problems?' One of the things in the movie is what turned Sam into that guy? The answer was this experience where he's a soldier and there for a particular reason but then when he's presented with the situation he has to deal with he really has to ask himself 'what kind of guy do I want to be?' He answers those questions in this movie and that's what led him to Miami.
JH: Talk to me about the decision to shoot in Bogota, Colombia, which seems like a huge undertaking. You could've gone anywhere so why there?
MN: I know people's reaction to going to Colombia is generally dangerous but it's actually not dangerous at all. I went down there a little nervous but by the end of my time there I was walking 20 blocks at night by myself. That was all great and the people were really enthusiastic and terrific. At the same time, you're shooting at a place that doesn't really have an established film industry so there were great opportunities like shooting in national parks and on the majestic landscape and at the same time there are little things that we didn't think about because we work in the industry in the United States. One specific one was dealing with cars in Colombia, which was an incredible difficulty. Cars are just difficult to find [and] difficult to exchange so how do you know that when you're writing a movie? You get down there and you realize 'Wait a second, I just said I need all these trucks but what do I do know?' But you work it out and that's part of the fun of making the movie.
JH: Might we see some of the characters from the movie in the series down the line?
MN: Part of the idea of the timing was that it's also a good time to bring complicating factors to the world of the show. Sam makes some real enemies in this movie and one of the things we wanted to do was bring that into season five of 'Burn Notice.'
JH: What can you say about the upcoming new season of 'Burn Notice?'
MN: Michael is reengaging with the intelligence community and with that comes a whole new set of challenges. One of the questions is how does one go about getting un-burned? What can you do about all the people that were involved in the organization that burned Michael? If he is engaging with the intelligence community, what does that mean for all the people he's been hanging out with in Miami? A big question next season is 'is Michael the same person he was when he got burned four years ago?' What does it mean to go home again? That's a big part of the season.
JH: An obvious question is if the Sam Axe movie is a success, could we see more? Maybe a Fiona back story movie?
MN: I'd love to do that. You never know... USA doesn't really do original movies so if it's a successful original movie on USA, I don't really know. We're at a weird time. There used to be something called TV movies and that hasn't really been true for quite awhile. A few networks do them but not that much. But, yeah, I'd love to. This was great fun and it's also fun to take a character that I know really well and put that character in something other than 'Burn Notice.' It doesn't happen often to write a character from one thing and put it in another thing. It was actually a very cool experience.
"Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe" airs this Sunday at 9:00/8:00c on USA and look for season five of "Burn Notice" to premiere Thursday, June 23 at 9:00/8:00c.