Sharon Gless of Burn Notice
By Marla E. Schwartz
Meet Sharon Gless. This deeply shy yet effervescentindividual is known for playing outspoken leading ladies. This charismatic, stunning dame of American television, film and theater, is currently recognized for her magnificent portrayal as Madeline Westen in the hit USA Network series BURN NOTICE. Gless is a testament to how one should nurture a career, so it’ll blossom into a lifelong journey by a woman who dearly loves her craft.
Gless has portrayed numerous iconic characters:
Maggie Philbin, Switch, Sgt. Christine Cagney, Cagney & Lacey, Rosie O’Neill in The Trials of Rosie O’Neill and Debbie Novotny in the Showtime series Queer as Folk. Her portrayal of Cagney earned Gless two Emmys®, a Golden Globe®, six Emmy® nominations, and five Q Awards and for her portrayal of O’Neill she received her second Golden Globe® and two more Emmy® nominations. In 1995 she was honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
She excels at portraying courageous characters. “I don’t know if I’ve actually played courageous characters, but I’ve portrayed characters who did courageous things, like Christine Cagney who had her life on the line. Madeline is courageous because she raised those boys while being battered. Debbie was courageous as she would fight for those boys against authorities. Jane, she didn’t have to put herself out there emotionally, it’s a different kind of courage. I do play courageous women,” she says, rather surprised at not previously making this connection.
Gless has received much recognition during her career. If you want the entire run-down, go to sharongless.com, aroundheeledwoman.com or usaburnnotice.com. For now, let’s focus on her recent achievements. The Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival honored her with its 2010 Career Achievement Award the night it premiered her starring vehicle HANNAH FREE. She also received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Delray Beach Film Festival; a Gracie Award at the 35th Annual Gracie Awards Gala for Individual Achievement as Outstanding Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama Series for her role in Burn Notice and was honored with the Bridge to Unity Award by the Lesbian & Gay Police Association Gay Officers League of Chicago. She also received an International Sony Award for her work on the BBC radio play ‘Night Mother. Her performance on Burn Notice earned Gless a tenth Emmy® nomination in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
The accolades keep pouring in for this woman who appears in one groundbreaking role after the next. Although she began her career in television, it was work in the theater that she wanted to experience. She appeared in Watch on the Rhine, Cahoots, The Vagina Monologues and Stephen King‘s Misery at the Criterion Theatre, and Neil Simon‘s Chapter 2, at the Gielgud Theatre, both in London’s West End. She has now established herself in another plum role as Jane Juska in A Round-Heeled Woman, a stage adaptation by Jane Prowse from the book.
Juska, a retired English teacher who hadn’t dated in thirty years decided to place an ad in the New York Review of Books: “Before I turn 67 next March, I’d like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.” Thus begins her adventure which she wrote about in A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance. The meaning of round-heeled woman, if you haven’t already figured it out, is a woman who yields readily to sexual intercourse.
The play opened in San Francisco before it came to GableStage at the Biltmore in Coral Gables. The Miami production featured the exceptionally-talented Antonio Amadeo, Stephen G. Anthony, Howard Elfman, Laura Turnbull and Kim Ostrenko. Ostrenko appeared in Season 2, Episode 11 of Burn Notice. “I’m so fortunate to be working with these actors. How lucky am I! They totally hold me up,” Gless said. “All six of us are in that little dressing room, so we’ll get to know each other pretty well. Antonio is a dream. He’s my son, my lover, and my salsa teacher.”
“Working with Sharon is great,” Amadeo said. “She and director/playwright Jane Prowse are very kind and have embraced us local artists, which makes it easy for us to feel welcome in the development of the play.”
The partnership between Prowse and Gless is unique. “She’s one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with in my life,” Prowse said. “She’s funny, compassionate, warm and we’re bonded way beyond something we understand, especially around this play because we both so believe in Jane and her story.”
This is the first time Gless is appearing on stage in Miami, her residence of fifteen years. “What’s really scary for me is that I’m doing what’s now my hometown. Sometimes it’s easier when you’re trying out something new and you do it someplace where you don’t know anybody,” Gless said. “I’m not classically trained but I’ve learned that acting is like music and you go to certain words like you’d reach for certain notes. I want to make sure that I hit the right notes, especially when playing Madeline.”
In terms of Burn Notice, “At the beginning of year four, we were picked up for seasons five and six, unheard of in the history of television,” Gless explained. “We shoot eighteen episodes, it’s a big order for cable and I couldn’t be happier.” Gless speaks very fondly of all her co-stars on the show, and the feeling is clearly mutual.
“Working with Sharon is like working with a live wire that’s broken off from a power line. It’s alive with energy, vibrant and utterly transfixing,” Jeffrey Donovan, who brilliantly portrays her son Michael Weston, said. “Though you think you’ve seen her performance in rehearsal, during her performance out comes spontaneity and an immeasurable depth that’s mined take after take. One of my favorite scenes with her isn’t always on the page. Last year she had a look, a quizzical ‘I know you look’ that just called Michael on all his shit. I was embarrassed and taken aback.”
“My favorite scene with Sharon is every scene with Sharon. I just want to marry Michael, so I can call her Mom,” Gabrielle Anwar said. “Working with Sharon on Burn Notice is hardly considered work. I’m in awe of who she is as a woman – which transcends even her virtuosity as an actor. We share a double trailer and I’m hoping that simply by being so close as to feel her move around the confined space next door, it’ll elicit some improvement in my own proficiency.”
“Sharon is awesome. Most people wouldn’t know that she’s unassuming and shy,” Bruce Campbell said. “I always look forward to scenes together, because Sharon is game for anything. After 170 years in the business, she’s still like a kid when she works and it’s infectious. We had to do a scene where the spies have to recruit her to help. She reluctantly infiltrates a bingo game and the results are hilarious. For having done so much drama, Sharon is really funny.”
After her vibrant performance at GableStage Gless says, “I’m going to California, checking into The Oaks at Ojai, lose weight, rest and get ready for Burn Notice.”
GableStage, led by its incomparable Producing Artistic Director Joe Adler, who recently received five Carbonell Awards at the 35th annual presentation honoring South Florida thespians in April 2011, for: Blasted: Matt Corey/ Sound; Tim Connolly/Scenic Design; Jeff Quinn/Lighting; Joseph Adler/Best Director of a Play and Best Production of a Play. Fifty Words: Gregg Weiner won Best Actor in a Play. And most recently GableStage received news that it was one of the fifty-six Knight Arts Challenge (www.KnightArts.org) finalists. Let’s hope GableStage gets its wish and receives a grant, because this is what it’s going to do with it: introduce a new audience to an old master by launching a Winter Shakespeare Festival, which will blend classic techniques with contemporary references in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company and acclaimed Miami-native playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. If you haven’t made the drive to Coral Gables yet – this’ll certainly get your motor running!
GableStage continues its extraordinary season into the summer with the following not-to-be missed productions:
IN THE NEXT ROOM or The Vibrator Play by Sarah Ruhl
May 14 – June 12, 2011 Southeastern Premiere
A comedy about marriage, intimacy and electricity. In the 1880s, a new medical device is developed to treat and pacify “hysterical” women, but it unknowingly produces a very different result. The Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright shares this story of repressed sexuality and physical exploration with equal doses of humor and emotion.
MASKED by Ilan Hatsor
July 9 – August 7, 2011 Southeastern Premiere
An explosive Israeli play about three Palestinian brothers locked in a life-and-death struggle over issues of deception and betrayal. Set in a village on the West Bank in 1990, it depicts the tragedy of one family torn between duty, kinship, principles and survival.
THE BROTHERS SIZE by Tarell Alvin McCraney
September 3 – October 2, 2011
Winner of the New York Times 2009 Outstanding Playwright Award
Set in Louisiana’s bayous, the play explores the struggles of two brothers locked in a fierce tug-of-war for their souls. This is the first Southeastern production of a work by this 28-year old Miami native and New World High School graduate whose plays are pushing the boundaries of form, language and sexuality in provocative and poetic ways.
BOX OFFICE HOURS
Mon – Wed: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Thursday at 8 pm & Sunday at 7 pm: $37.50
Discounts are available for groups of 20 or more. Information and reservations may be obtained by contacting the Box Office Manager at 305.445.1119.
For information go to, GableStage.org. For questions or further information call 305.446.1116 or e-mail us at email@example.com.
Burn Notice (BN) on the USA Network is one of those rare jewels of an action/drama television series that has captured a worldwide audience enthralling the masses with its fascinating storylines. Because the program takes place and is filmed on location in Miami, South Floridians are abuzz with elation over a show they can call their own. Many people may not realize that the series was originally envisioned to take place in Newark, New Jersey – but the colorful arena of people from poor to wealthy, above the board to sketchy along with its eclectic atmosphere, makes Miami a perfect locale for BN.
This electrifying series begins its fifth season in the 9 PM, Thursday night timeslot on June 23rd, after a day-long Season 4 marathon, beginning at 6 AM, while the cast and crew continues shooting its sixth season right here in Miami. BN hit the scene in June 2007 and in 2009 it became the highest rated original cable program. The series title refers to burn notices issued by various intelligence agencies. In this case, Michael Westen, the main character of the show, who is consummately played by Jeffrey Donovan, had served in Eastern Europe and the OPEC countries as a covert operative spy. He now finds himself dismissed and discredited but uses his training to help others in trouble. The majority of each episode focuses on a person who desperately needs Michael’s help while other elements focus on Westen’s journey toward finding out who burned him.
The credit for BN’s success belongs to creator Matt Nix who is also one of its three Executive Producers, along with Mikkel Bondesen and Jeff Freilich. In 2008 Matt won the Edgar Allan Poe Award, honoring him for Best Television Episode/Teleplay. Matt first conceived the show to be a lot darker but Bonnie Hammer, President of NBC Universal Cable, thought it would be better if a few changes were made to it. He took her suggestions, did a re-write, turned it in and the rest is history.
“The USA Network is the most amazing network and Bonnie has been at the helm since its inception,” said Sharon Gless, one of the stars of the show, who portrays Madeline Westen, Jeffrey’s mother. “She’s so hands on in our show and was precise about what color of sunglasses I had to wear. She knows her stuff. She’s a very, very, very lovely woman. I’m sure she has her tough moments because you cannot run a network without being tough. But everyone loves her and for a woman to have that reputation and be as powerful as she is and still be loved is unusual. She built that network from nothing and now we’re the highest rated cable show in the nation. In fact, we were opposite Mad Men on Thursday nights and they had to change their time slot. They get all the respect, but we get the numbers.” She also gives kudos to Matt. “I call him my boy genius,” Sharon explained. “He always writes me a little gem for me when Michael walks in the door.” And for fans of Sharon – you’ll be happy to know that the second episode of season five
prominently features this extraordinary gifted actress.
It seems the question foremost in the minds of fans is whether or not Michael will want to return to the spy business after making a difference in the lives of so many people, which he doesn’t do alone. His ex-girlfriend, former IRA agent, Fiona Glenanne played by Gabrielle Anwar, and his best friend, a former military intelligent operative Sam Axe portrayed by Bruce Campbell help him out. “Absolutely,” Jeffrey said. “That’s what he was born to do, bred to do.”
The Paley Center for Media hosts various opportunities throughout the year for members of the BN team to speak to its fans and the press about the show. During one of these events Matt, spoke about the main cast. “You guys get together and do whatever you do and that’s really magical when it happens and it’s inspiring. It’s fun to write.” And in return Jeffrey said, “The writers are so good that they inspire us.”
The show is associated with many celebrities who have either appeared as an actor and/or a director in it. The list includes such luminaries as Moon Bloodgood, Tyne Daly, Tricia Helfer, Jay Karnes, Richard Kind, John Mahoney, Tim Matheson, Robert Patrick, Seth Peterson, Danny Pino, Richard Schiff, Michael Shanks and Ben Shenkman. But the one celebrity the local’s were delighted to see on the show was Burt Reynolds. Adding another layer to fan excitement was the reunion of Sharon (Sgt. Christine Cagney) and Tyne (Sgt. Mary Beth Lacey) from the NYC 1980s detective hit Cagney & Lacey. It was the episode called ‘A Dark Road’ that re-teamed these two incomparable talents. Tyne was a widow who hired Michael to help thwart a group of con artists and in turn Michael needs his mother’s help in the situation.
“They had me go undercover,” Sharon said. And watching them perform one heartbreaking scene in particular was very poignant. Working together again was “kind of like bicycle riding,” Tyne said. “You know, with Sharon we fall into a rhythm and it was nice and easy. It felt like a great tennis match.”
Of course the glamorous and alluring Gabrielle as Fi re-enters Michael’s life after he’s dumped in Miami. She’s a trigger-happy explosives expert but serves him well. The question on everyone’s mind is whether they’ll get back together? “I don’t know to be perfectly honest whether she does want to settle down,” Gabrielle said. “I don’t think that’s interesting to her at all. I think she wants to feel secure, but I don’t know what that definition of security might be to her. It’s certainly not your typical conventional idea of marriage.”
Then we have Michael’s relationship with Sam. Bruce plays him with such ease that his portrayal seems innate. Yet don’t let this fool you because it’s not easy playing a character who is now best pals with a guy he used to inform on. His character is a mojito loving former Navy SEAL who makes his living as an unlicensed private investigator. “They do have a bromance,” Jeffrey stated. This Royal Oak, Michigan native now finds himself in the thick of Floridian swampland in some of his scenes. Bruce finds it very important that BN is filmed in Miami.
“It matters, it really does. People can tell. We’re on beaches and we’re in swamps and at the edge of the everglades and running around in funky alleys and buildings, so you don’t have to fake your angles,” Bruce pointed out. “And we’re really the main show that has stayed. Dexter left, CSI Miami left and we’re it. People are excited to have us here.”
If you missed the prequel movie, “The Fall of Sam Axe” based on Sam’s life before the events of BN occur it’ll surely be repeated. The gist of the story focuses on Sam’s life before he met Michael that serves as a lead into the current season and is directed by Jeffrey. The prequel was absolutely seamless and it’s sure to shown again on the USA Network, so keep your eyes peeled for it.
One of the most resourceful elements to the series is the fact that two local casting agents, Ellen Jacoby and Lori Wyman, cast Floridian based actors to be in it. Jeffrey has actually taken his association with Ellen to another level. “We created an acting seminar together which is basically a small institute for beginners, advanced and intermediate actors in the area.”
Ellen Jacoby Casting International has also done work for such highly successful films as Something About Mary, Birdcage, and True Lies. Ellen has received countless awards but it was in March 1990 when the Mayor of Miami Beach Alex Daoud presented her with the World’s Greatest Casting Director Award, declaring that day to be Ellen Jacoby Day. Her company is located at 3525 Collins Ave and you can call 305.531.5300 for more information.
Lori Wyman Casting, one of the prominent casting agencies in the southeast, also conducts casting calls for The Glades, Dexter, and C.S.I Miami. She has worked on B.L. Stryker (with Burt), 21 Jump Street, Cane, The Sopranos, and more. She has also done casting for Striptease (also with Burt), Wild Things, 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Perfect Storm and many others. She has written a book called ‘The Organic Actor’. “The writing of this book has really been a selfish journey for me, because we’re running out of actors to hire locally,” Lori said. “Instead of going to Louisiana or South Carolina, I thought we can increase the talent level of the locals, so that’s why I wrote it.” BN is always looking for actors of all ages and types, Florida residents only. Send pictures/resume to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the subject line of your email note the name of the show that’s of interest to you. Also check out loriwymancasting.com.
There have been many gifted Floridian actors who have appeared on BN. The two most impressive casting coups have been Paul Tei in the recurring role of Barry Burkowski and Gerald Owens as a therapist.
Barry first appeared in the pilot episode and continues to thrill us with his antics as a metrosexual money-launderer. Michael is Barry’s source to Miami’s underworld that occasionally doctors financial records and creates covers for him. Michael’s requests are-risky for Barry, but always come around. Why? “Because he’s comfortable with his relationship with the crew,” Paul explained. “I think he’d like to be a part of that crew.” Paul went on to explain how he feels lucky to have had “the freedom to develop the character and to shape his destiny.” What most people want to know is what’s in Barry’s bag, and my favorite question which is, when is Barry coming back?” Paul said. “Which I say, I wish I knew.”
Gerald also waxes eloquently about his experience. “I auditioned in late summer. Television series make casting decisions very quickly, so I knew within a matter of days that I’d be working the following week,” Gerald explained. “The director of the episode who sat in on the callbacks was Tim Matheson. My episode was entitled ‘Double Booked’, and Tim also played the villain, an affable, sociopathic contract killer, a onetime colleague of Michael’s. I was part of the subplot that week, a pompous family therapist engaged by Michael’s mother to help them mend their relationship. The shoot itself was pleasant. Sharon, Jeffrey and Tim were very charming. Surprisingly, the mother’s house has been constructed in its entirety as a standing set inside the Coconut Grove Convention Center – they’ve hung a false sky on all four sides. One of my Laughing Gas colleagues Fawad Siddiqui, was cast earlier in the season as the head of the fictional Pakistani consulate in Miami. He got to do an extensively improvised argument with Bruce.”
For everything BN you can go to the following websites and twitters pages:
@Tim_Matheson Los Angeles, California.
A Toledo, OH native, a graduate of Kent State, Marla E. Schwartz is a Senior Writer for Miami Living Magazine, afreelance writer for Lighthouse Point Magazine and the a cultural arts columnist for AroundWellington.com Her photographs have appeared in these publications, in many Ohio periodicals, as well as in The Miami Herald, The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and The Palm Beach Post. She has had numerous plays published and produced around the country. Her short play, America’s Working? was produced in Los Angeles at both the First Stage and the Lone Star Ensemble theater companies, in Florida at Lynn University and at an Off-Broadway playhouse in NYC. Her piece, The Lunch Time Café, was a finalist for the Heideman Award, Actors Theatre of Louisville. Please check out the re-prints of her interviews with authors Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson and Dexter novelist Jeff Lindsay in the October 2010 issue #2 and Chris Bohjalian in the April 2011 issue #3 of Duff Brenna’s ServingHouse: A Journal of Literary Arts at www.servinghousejournal.com. You can contact her at email@example.com.