Billy Burke Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution
Year: 2013 (6.3.2013)
Photo: Brownie Harris / NBC
There haven’t been many sure things in this past network TV season, Revolution has been a good bet for NBC. The post-apocalyptic thriller looks at a not-so-distant future Earth in which all technology has stopped working. It was created by the powerful team of Eric Kripke (Supernatural), Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and J.J. Abrams (Star Trek).
Though the series is very much an ensemble piece, the main character is probably Miles, a jaded former Marine who is sort of drafted into a leadership role amongst the survivors. Miles is played by Billy Burke, a long-time character actor who is no stranger to iconic roles: playing Kristen Stewart’s father in the Twilight movies, a homicidal lawyer on the TV show The Closer, a special agent with a personal history in Rizzoli & Isles and an addicted baddie on 24.
A few days before the first season finale of Revolution, Burke spoke with us and some other websites about the show and his career.
It looks like in the next episode that there’s a good chance they’re going to try to turn power on regardless of what’s going to happen. Is the issue of the lights being on and off going to continue to be what the show’s about? Or is it going to move next season more into being about the revolution and going against Monroe and his people?
To answer your question as honestly as I can, I have zero idea what’s going to happen after this episode. (laughs) I’ve not seen one line of one script for next season, so I don’t have a clue what we’re going to be going into. All I can say about the end of this season is that it all comes down to [the fact that] everything we’ve been fighting for comes into question.
Okay great. I guess my second question then you can’t answer either. .
What do you find the most challenging?
I’m not sure that I find anything particularly challenging. I’ve had more fun doing this than I’ve had doing anything in a number of years actually. It’s just been a joy every day. It’s hard work. I mean we work an average of 14, 15, 16 hour days. It’s a very physical show and I’m getting shit beat out of me all the time whether the character is or not. Me, the actor is going through a lot of physical stress. But I don’t find it particularly challenging at all. I like the way it works. We don’t know much more ahead of time what’s going to happen than the audience does. So it’s a good system for me. We kind of make it up as we go.
So far Randall [Colm Feore]’s been a bit of an enigma this season. What can you tell us? Will we be finding out anything about his intentions in the finale, what he wants?
The short answer is yes. (laughs) I can’t go into detail about it but yes, you’ll find out Randall’s MO in this last episode.
You’ve already lost two main characters this season. Should we be prepared for any deaths in the finale?
Well I don’t know that. The nature of the show is this, we’re all in precarious situations and all in the same precarious situation collectively together. The nature of the show is people are going to die in this scenario, the world being the way it is and the battles that we’re fighting. So I can’t speak to particular characters one or the other if they’re going to be around or not. As the show goes on and moves into the second season, it’s my guess – and I don’t know this for sure – that we’ll see new people and we might be saying goodbye to some others, yes.
What I’m looking forward to seeing in the finale – and I don’t know if it happens – is a confrontation, one on one between Miles and Monroe [David Lyons]. I know you can’t talk about it, but maybe you can say yes or no that there is one. Can you talk about theoretically if Miles would actually be able to kill Monroe if the opportunity presented itself? Or would their friendship still get in the way?
Well to answer the first part of your question it’s pretty safe to say that I don’t think that we’re going to end this season without some final showdown between those two characters. To answer the second part, we’ve seen that conflict go on for so long. The nature of these two guys is that, yes, they’re both fighting different sorts of pathos within themselves. Each one thinks that they’re doing the thing for the common good and for the overall right. That’s the struggle that we deal with. The brotherhood between them seems to be so strong that it’s kind of overcome a lot of those moments. But I don’t know how long that will continue.
One thing about Miles that’s been really obvious this season is that his relationship with Charlie [Tracy Spiridakos] has really softened him and changed who he is. But he’s also watched her get harder.
Can you talk about his fears for her and if his changes are going to stick with him?
That’s been the fun dance to play with throughout this entire first season. We didn’t know it was coming any more than anybody else did. But as the scripts kept coming in, we kept making the show, what I realized is is that yes, there was a do-si-do going on. He was taking on her characteristics and she was taking on his. Naturally his fears for her becoming everything about him that he wouldn’t want anybody to be, those are boiling to the surface.
The interesting thing about this character I think is that he’s kind of 50% reliable and 50% unreliable. He’s the guy who has been pushed into a leadership role but would rather be the guy sitting in the back row making smart-ass comments to his friends. The internal struggle with him, is that the sort of line you’re walking as an actor with this guy? He really seems to be a natural leader but a truly reluctant leader at the same time.
Yes those are the fun things to play with. The question that does arise quite frequently while we’re producing these episodes is what’s going to be too far? What is going to actually be redeemable in the end and does it need to be redeemable? For me because I still am not even clear on what the whole term anti-hero even means. We’re making that up for this character as we go. When we first met him at the beginning of the season, he wanted nothing to do with this fight. So you’re absolutely right, he’d rather not have the responsibility on his shoulders. But as we all know you get pulled back into things in life that you just kind of have to deal with. That’s been his struggle.
When you get home every night and you turn on the lights and they come on do you breathe a little sigh of relief?
I don’t think about it that much when I’m home. But we do think about it quite a bit on set. We talk about it a lot. It’s a big part of everyday conversation all the what-ifs. I suppose if I had to think about it when I came home (laughs) if I couldn’t open the refrigerator and find something cold in there I’d be pretty pissed off.
What do you think about the move to Austin? Are you all looking forward to it? Is it going to be a little jarring or bring a lot of possibilities?
Absolutely looking forward to it. Austin, it’s one of the coolest cities that we have here in the United States of America, I got to say. That being said we will all miss Wilmington. North Carolina was really good to us. We loved everybody there. I couldn’t have imagined at the time a better place to be making this show. So although we are all looking forward to Austin we’re going to miss where we were last season too. But Austin’s got a lot of great stuff to offer. I was just down there a couple days ago as a matter of fact.
Was there any particular reason behind the change or was it just financial stuff?
Yes, it was all administrative stuff that I’m sure we’ll never know very much about. (laughs) But the other thing about this show is that it is not only nationwide, but it’s a global event. I think it enriches the show the more territories we visit and the more landscapes we see.
You’ve done a lot of stuff even before Twilight and stuff like that. You have a really, really vast career. Would you say this is one of the highlights of your career or are you still looking for that big highlight?
I would absolutely say that this is. I’ve been having a great time making this show. When I think back to my childhood and looking ahead to what I wanted to do, there was never really any question with what I wanted to do. Then I look at this gig. I can’t see it getting any better than this in terms of stuff to do and fun to be had. This is a pretty rich role and good thing to be doing as your job every day.
On paper in the beginning it looked like it could go either way. I mean it came from Eric Kripke, who did Supernatural which I adore. And once you all got into doing it it was obvious it was going to be a hit.
Well I appreciate you saying that. I don’t know if anything’s obvious in network television these days. (laughs) But as far as what it looks like, as you say on paper I would agree with you. I mean if this isn’t an entertaining show then I’m not sure what is.
Talking to some other people we were all kind of in agreement that the second half of this season really seems to have taken on a different kind of energy and a different feel. I was wondering if that was the same with you as an actor and if that was an intentional change or just something without the intent being there?
Yes, we as actors talked about it during the little break that we took, the hiatus that we took. Then as we came back and started to see the scripts roll in we don’t know if that was intentional from the get go or if it was just lucky happenstance. But we are all in complete agreement with that. We feel like it almost became a heightened version of the show it already was. We’re all looking forward to that climbing the ladder even more for next season.
How much of Miles did you know about when you took on the role? And has that changed a lot since the season has been going on?
I knew what happened in the pilot because that’s what they gave me to read. (laughs) Then Kripke and [Jon] Favreau, who I sat down with initially to talk about it with, gave me an overview of the show. But not necessarily an overview of the path that any of the characters were going to take, including mine. So I’ve been watching this go as you the viewers have.
Miles is such a great character. We’ve seen him change and transform so much even just in this first season. What’s been the give and take between you and the writers in creating this character?
Initially, here’s what you really appreciate as an actor – if you can be trusted. I felt that from the very first moment that I sat down with Kripke to talk about it. I felt like they were going to trust me to do what I was going to do with the material given. That being said I’m so thankful to him and the rest of the writers for really giving a shit about not only my character, but all these characters and the precarious lines that they walk. My character in particular has taken a path around himself to get to where he is now. That’s always the greatest stuff to play with. Yes the sword fighting is fun and we’ve been having a ball with everything, but especially for television I can’t think of anything that would be more enriching to work with.
You spent some time on 24. I see some similarities between Miles and Jack Bauer. Kiefer Sutherland has said that Jack Bauer was the kind of character who just could never be happy. Do you see Miles sort of in that same vein? Do you think that ultimately he can be happy or is he just going always sort of be fighting or crusading for something?
Happiness is something that he doesn’t even think about or strive for, in my mind. Lights at the ends of tunnels don’t even come into this psyche at all. I think first and foremost, like everybody in this world that we’re living in, he just wants to survive. Beyond that if he can do something to help the common good I think all his choices are based on: yeah I’m going to have to do some shitty things, but in the end is it going to help the common good? I think that’s all he thinks about.
So you don’t think he’s going to be happy ultimately?
(laughs) Short answer: I think it can be his kind of happy, which is in tiny little spurts.
You touched on my question but you didn’t exactly answer it. What technology do you think you’d miss the most if you were in the world of Revolution?
Well after being – as you can imagine – asked this question several times, what I always keep coming back to is I grew up a musician. I still play music. And mostly I listen to music. So the absence of recorded music would be my biggest. I mean beyond refrigerated food, (laughs) recorded music, that would be the big one.
Did you talk with any Marines or former Marines to help get into the character’s mindset for the role?
I would love to say that I did, but no I did not. (laughs) We got this gig and the next morning we were shooting. Then on set we’re working 16 hour days, so there’s not a lot of time for any kind of quote-unquote research.
Sure, sure, I understand. Now this is a little off topic, but I just saw the season premiere of Major Crimes and they mentioned your character from The Closer. I was wondering will you be coming back and resurrecting that role again on the new show?
Well, we haven’t talked about it yet. That’s nice that that character’s having a life of his own. (laughs) But I can’t foresee at least for this next season because of the schedule that we have. I can’t really see me having time for that. But who knows?
A couple of two-fold questions. The first is regarding Sebastian [David Lyons] and Miles. He now knows about his son with Emma [Annie Wersching] who was Miles’ fiancée at the time. How is this going to affect their relationship? Is this going to be an ongoing love triangle or triangle of some sort? Will we see any of this happen in the finale?
Love triangle – who would be the third point of the triangle because Emma’s dead?
Well not necessarily a love triangle but I guess a triangle with the son and Miles and…
Is it going to be an ongoing story arc?
I have no idea. You don’t often in any story lines, television or otherwise, introduce a character like that. Like a son even if we haven’t seen him yet. You don’t often do that if you don’t intend to follow through with it. So I would imagine going into this next season that will come into play. But I’m only guessing cause I haven’t seen any scripts from the next season yet.
Okay so nothing in the finale?
Not to my knowledge.
It seems like we’ve moved from the territories to the tower. Is the focus shifted now completely from like the ongoing war with the territories to the new life, that has been created because of the tower versus the Battle of the Republics which is what we were doing before?
Well you will see in this final episode that it all does culminate in the event that’s about to take place in the tower. What happens is that we all find out that what we’ve been fighting for all along may not be physically, or spiritually, what we thought we were fighting for. What happens after that, don’t know. But it all comes to a big head.
Sword fighting is one of the most exhilarating parts of the show. What kind of training and fight choreography process you go through for those sequences?
Training and choreography was created by our masterful Jeff Wolf who from the get go made this whole thing up. How it works is we know that there’s a fight sequence coming up. He’ll talk to the writers and produces about what it means and what the content’s going to be. He’ll choreograph it. He’ll video [it]. He’ll email it to me. So there’s not a lot of prep that goes into it at all. We kind of just wing it.
Were you in any way reluctant to commit to a potentially multiyear program so soon after coming after the multi-year Twilight commitment or was it just a no brainer?
Given the pedigree that this show had with the Kripke and [executive producer JJ] Abrams and Favreau directing the pilot, I was going to make a choice like that – and this had been the first time I’d even been presented with a choice like that in years because I hadn’t been available to do television for so long because of the Twilight movies.
Do you have a lot of stunts that you do, besides just the fighting, that you can talk about?
So far it’s been mostly battle scenes. There’s some running and jumping around and stuff like that all of which I always want to do for myself. My poor stunt double Eddie Davenport, lovely guy, but he’s hanging around most the time waiting for me not want to do something so… (laughs) Yes I do the large bulk of it myself, yes.
Without giving away spoilers is there something specific in the finale that like you’re really excited for fans to see?
The final episode and how we all sort of get to the end of this road and now have to think about internally why we’ve been fighting for so long. That’s how it culminates. I think it’s a great way to not only cap off this season but bring us into the next.
Early on when we see the flashbacks Miles and Monroe had a lot in common and they were together working. What do you think it was specifically that changed Miles that made him decide to go in the opposite direction?
I get a little annoyed with actors who talk about the internal struggle of the characters and all that crap. But from the day a lot of it was exhaustion. He was exhausted with the day, struggle for what’s probably going the wrong direction. That’s why at the beginning of the series we found him and he had walked away from the fight because he didn’t want to be in there anymore. A lot of it was his personal… he saw Monroe going off in this direction that looked dangerous and for lack of better term wrong. He didn’t want to be a part of that. But he knows now that he’s back in the fight that he’s got to do some stuff that’s ugly, too.
Will we get any further insight in the love triangle between Rachel [Elizabeth Mitchell], Miles and Nora [Daniella Alonso]?
Further insight, maybe. (laughs) I hate to be vague but at this point we sort of get it. I think viewers see the overall dynamic no matter how oblique that might seem. But yes, you’ll start to get what’s happening – at least from where Miles is concerned.
Is it fair to say that whatever their romantic relationship was it began way before she got married to his brother or were these the same time? Or do you have any signs of that situation?
You know what? I’m going to be very honest with you here. We still don’t know that. The actors don’t know that timeline. It’s something that we had asked the moment that it came up and as it continued because it’s difficult to place stuff that you don’t know. (laughs) But in terms of the timeline and when it all happened, we actually don’t know. I’m determined to find out as you are though.
In the description that NBC put out for the finale it says Tom Neville [Giancarlo Esposito] and Randy Flynn bring new meaning to the dark side. Does that mean that the two of then hook up to do something together? Or can you talk a little bit about what that means?
It doesn’t necessarily mean that, no. But I think definitely those two characters individually have their own agendas. We will see those come to a head in the finale. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re doing that in tandem.
Okay. Can you describe the finale in a few adjectives like cliffhanger or explosive or without – you know, that way you don’t have to say what happens in it but we get some really good adjectives to use?
I would say brilliantly implosive.
Does that work for you?
Yes that does. Thanks.
– Interview by Jay S. Jacobs