Aug 4, 2011

Exclusive Interview With Burn Notice's Lauren Stamile

Exclusive Interview With Burn Notice's Lauren Stamile

Last week I teased a lengthy interview I conducted with the newest spy on Burn Notice, Agent Pearce herself, Lauren Stamile. As promised, here is the entire transcript of that conversation, just in time for her third appearance on the show tonight. Lauren is a friend of mine, and I was thrilled when she got this part, as Burn Notice is one of my favorite shows. I'm grateful to her for taking the time to share her experiences with spy fans on the Double O Section. Lauren and I spoke on the eve of her first appearance, right before Comic-Con, and discussed everything from working with Jeffrey Donovan to the works of spy writers like Greg Rucka and John Le Carré. One of the cool side effects of playing a CIA officer is that she's become quite a spy fan via her research reading!

00 Section: What can you tell me about Kim Pearce? [When Stamile was first announced for the role, the character's name was given as Kim Pearce.] Who is this character?

Lauren Stamile: You know what? First of all, I actually think her name is different. It's Pearce [not "Pierce"], and that's generally what people call her, is Pearce, but I believe it's Dani Pearce now. At least that's what it says on the call sheet. Nobody's ever called me by my first name; it's always Pearce. But I think it was originally Kim, and now it's been changed. I think!

00: But Pearce is what we call you.

LS: Yeah.

00: Well, who is Pearce?

LS: Ah, Pearce is a CIA agent, and she is smart, tenacious, no-nonsense when it comes to her job... but not without a sense of humor, if that makes any sense. And I believe that it's her ability to kind of balance the gravity of what she does with a little bit of levity is kind of a testament to her intelligence. She is extremely passionate, but her mind is definitely at the helm of every operation. And I would say that when we meet her, she's kind of... Michael Westen has met his match. So she kind of has the very unique challenge of needing to be two steps ahead of the man who is ten steps ahead of everybody else. Which is a great challenge.

00: Well, yeah! Definitely. So would you call her a female version of Michael Westen, to some degree?

LS: Yes! I absolutely would. I think that her... Michael is a bit of, in Pearce's eyes, is a bit of a wild card, so she... respects him. His name is infamous in her world, so she doesn't fully trust him. And as, you know, as an agent for the CIA, she doesn't really trust anybody. But I think that, in common with Michael, she has a very strong moral compass, which is challenged—obviously—being a spy, and she respects the people that employ her and the Agency that employs her, but at the end of the day she will always go with her instinct about what is right. Which I think she does have in common with Michael. Sometimes in the field, you know, what seems to be the right thing to do can kind of butt heads with, maybe... the bureaucratic machine. Unlike Michael, though, she is not a burned spy.

00: So she's not afraid to go against CIA policy if it means doing the right thing?

LS: Exactly. I think that she... She, again, she respects it, but it is always about doing the right thing. And I think that that is something that she respects—well it's probably something that, you know, frustrates her about Michael and that she respects about Michael! You know, she has these rules and she has bosses and all that stuff.  And Michael, as anybody who loves and knows the show knows, is always doing the right thing. And that's what's so remarkable about his character.

00: So is she Michael's boss? Or is she more of an equal?

LS: When she meets Michael... I don't want to give too much away! Are you caught up on the episodes this season?

00: Ah, personally, I haven't seen the very last one. [Ed: all caught up now!] But don't worry about spoiling anything for me. I'll get caught up.

LS: [laughing] I'm not gonna ruin it! I'm gonna be careful! I just wasn't sure what you'd seen. Um, when we meet Pearce—or when Michael and Pearce meet—she is heading a case that he is involved in, basically. And she has asked him to come in, and they're going to be working on it together. So they're colleagues.

00: Oh, okay. So she actually asks for him?

LS: She asks for him.

00: Well, I think that that's a neat twist. It sounds like she's something a little different from what we've seen before. Because previous characters that come in during seasons kind of give him orders rather than asking for him, and don't necessarily want to be working with him, it seems.

LS: Right. She makes it clear that it's her case, but, you know, but that she... she knows. I mean, anybody who knows who Michael is knows how good he is at what he does, so she absolutely.... While she doesn't trust him fully, she respects him.

00: Have they worked together prior to the show? Do they have a history?

LS: No, they do not have a history. She just knows what she's researched about him. And he doesn't know her.

00: So are most of your scenes with Michael? Is he your main contact? How does Pearce fit in with the rest of the gang on Burn Notice, I guess, is what I'm asking. Do you mainly hang out with Michael?

LS: I mainly hang out with Michael. I have gotten to, on occasion, hang out with almost everybody else. And I will be meeting the only character that Pearce has yet to meet, she will meet during this episode that I'm shooting now. So, it's mainly Michael.

00: In the TV movie The Fall of Sam Axe, Sam has a sort of unfortunate run-in with the CIA. Since Pearce is coming from the CIA, does she have any bad blood with Sam for that reason?

LS: No, she doesn't have any bad blood with Sam specifically. Sam's pretty hard not to like!

00: Will you talk about the kind of research that you'd done on the CIA? Well, first of all, had you ever played a spy before?

LS: No, absolutely not. And, um, I have to, I have to first of all, I have to thank you! [laughs] Because you have been my... I have been so fortunate to know you as a friend, and as a research guide!

00: [laughing] Thank you! I'm telling you, I've always wanted to get that call! "Matt, I'm playing a spy. What should I read?" Are you kidding? I live to answer that question!

LS: Kind of like the show, how the show, I think, is so interesting—the tone of the show is so interesting, because it kind of is a big mix of action, drama, comedy and heart. So I have tried to approach my research for the show kind of from several different angles. You know, non-fiction research about spies and the CIA as well as graphic novels, more serious novels, more comedic novels... it's very interesting to me because the mind of a spy is so wildly different from the mind of an actress! Um, spies don't like to call attention to themselves, and... [laughs] actors do! And I think also, just the, the kind of lonely existence is something that's kind of interesting to me. I don't think I'd be a very good spy, and so, what's been really important to me about getting into the head of a spy is... actually I've had a lot of luck reading fiction, because a lot of the spy authors have former ties to, you know, the CIA.

00: Sure, some of my favorites do!

LS: Yeah, absolutely! Or, you know, the equivalent, in other countries. And so that has been really helpful to me. As well as, I tried to, I asked myself, if a spy were researching this job, what would they do? And the first thing I did was, well, you know, if I were a spy, I would watch every single episode of this show, which I did!

00: Mm-hm. Had you seen it before?

LS: I had seen several episodes, but not in any consecutive order. So I started from the beginning, and watched everything. And I have to say, after the first episode, it just didn't seem like work anymore! I had to keep telling myself I was working, because the show was so great! So that was extremely helpful.

00: So you're a fan now.
LS: Oh yeah! For sure. There is something so fantastically irreverent about the tone of the show. Fi can be arguing with Sam about his taste in shirts while aiming her sniper rifle at the villain who is actively attempting to kill Michael. Furthermore, there is so much going on beneath every moment in Burn Notice, so rarely does a "hello" mean just that—and "Pass me the C4" can easily be code for "I love you." That is what makes the show so interesting to watch - and so challenging, fun and, quite honestly, terrifying to be a part of. It keeps me on my toes, to say the very least. And as I'm continuing to work, I'm continuing to read books, to try to keep my head in that world. Again, because it's so foreign to me.

00: Interesting. Have you taken that approach before for parts, or is this unique to being in a spy frame of mind?

LS: I'm a big researcher; I love to research. Generally, though, I don't really have the luxury of time in order to do it. In this particular case, though, I've had time, because it's a role that is ongoing, and, I think even, specific to this role, the research has been even greater. Because, like a spy, I want to leave no stones unturned! And I feel like there's only more I can keep learning.

00: Any particular books you recommend to get into that headspace?

LS: Yeah, the first one I read was Thwarting Enemies at Home and Abroad by William R. Johnson. [Ed: An essential CIA how-to manual that actually reads like one of Michael Westen's monologues!] That was the first one. And that was fantastic. After that, um, I started reading The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, and, um, have also... I've really, really, really gotten into Greg Rucka. I've read A Gentleman's Game, and I have to tell you, I'm gonna geek out for a second, but I was really upset when I finished it because I didn't have it to look forward to reading any more! And I'm reading all the Queen and Country graphic novels. I'm almost done with the second volume, and I think there are four. And then after I finish that I'm going to go and get Private Wars. I'm reading A Handbook of Practical Spying; I'm almost done with that.

00: I haven't read that one.

LS: I'm in the middle of Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy [by Lindsay Moran], which is interesting because it's kind of got a comedic side to it, which is great, but a completely different voice. So... let me see. I'm in the middle of about three right now.

00: That's a great way to stay in the spy zone! Do you find yourself getting paranoid while you're in a spy headspace all the time?

LS: Well, it is interesting, I do find myself... yeah, I do! And I've questioned everything that people tell me! I just think it's funny. You know, if people tell me something, my first question is, are they lying? Are they telling the truth? So it can make you a little neurotic!

00: Have you ever found yourself tailing someone on the street?

LS: [laughs] I have yet to do that.

00: You talk about how into the Queen and Country books you got. Do you see any similarities between Queen and Country's heroine, Tara Chace, and Pearce?

LS: I absolutely do! You know, it's very interesting... I am definitely not cool enough to be working on this show, or to be a spy! However, and that's one thing about Tara Chace. She is... I think that there are a lot of similarities between Pearce and Tara. I think that Pearce is maybe a little more, um, tightly wound. But what I think is so interesting about Tara is that she is in this man's world—or what is traditionally a man's world, I guess—but she just kicks ass anyway! That's so inspiring and so great. I think, too, looking at this project, it still is extremely intimidating to me. But when I think about Tara Chace, I think, would she be intimidated? No! So there's no place to be intimidated. It's all about being confident in what you're doing. And that, that's extremely helpful to me. Every time I start to doubt, I kind of go back to that: she wouldn't be that way; I can't be that way. If that makes any sense.

00: So she's become a personal hero to you?

LS: Absolutely.

00: You mentioned Tara kicking ass. Does Pearce kick ass? Or do you do mainly the more intellectual side of spying?

LS: Well, I have to say, most of it is intellectual, but there is one particular episode where there is some ass-kicking. And I, personally, as Lauren, am not a great ass-kicker! So I hope I pulled this off! We'll see if it actually comes across as ass-kicking, and you can let me know.

00: Did they give you a fight coach or anything?

LS: They did not, but the second I read the episode, I mean, I had to leave for Miami about two days after I got it, but I met with a kickboxing trainer, and I met with, also, a guy that teaches martial arts. I met with each of them a couple of times, and they were fantastic and, um, I just can't imagine how bad I would have been had I not met with them! [laughs]

00: They have really good editors on Burn Notice. I have a feeling you're going to look very professional!

LS: I hope so. It's something I've gotta work on, for sure!

00: Kickboxing and martial arts. What about guns? Does Pearce use guns?

LS: Yes, Pearce does use guns. And I have to say, I'm a little more confident with a gun. So that will be coming up, too.

00: Did you have any training on that?

LS: I did not, but it wasn't the first time I have had to use one. For a job.

00: "For a job." Thanks for the clarification!

LS: [laughing] Yeah, really! Absolutely.

00: I asked about the intellectual side because you had mentioned something to me early on, that one of the writers told you your part was in part inspired by George Smiley, which I found really interesting, because you're certainly not who I would picture when I think about George Smiley! So how does that figure into Pearce?
LS: Obviously Smiley in his big overcoat, and he's chubby, and he's always, he seems disheveled and not...

00: Yeah, I think Le Carré describes him as "toad-like" and he says he seems like a man who's spent a lot of money on very bad clothes.

LS: And in that way, I think physically it's a very different situation! Though I do think that vanity is not something that's part of Pearce's life. You know, I am only in the beginnings of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. John Le Carré's novels are dense and have been kind of tough for me to crack—which is definitely a sign of his creativity and intelligence and, unfortunately, I suppose, a sign of mine. [laughs] But like Smiley, Pearce has a brilliant mind and can see circumstances from so many different angles. And that mind is what enters every room first—before her choice in clothing and concern for social propriety. And her personal life... well, at this moment, it is really a non-issue—everything in her life bows in deference to her work.

00: Smiley's sort of an Everyman. He can completely blend into a crowd. He's not in any way remarkable.

LS: Absolutely. I think when you stereotypically, when you think "spy," the first thing that would come to my mind is like, you know, some seedy-looking, kind of shady person who looks suspicious, which is, you know, the worst spy in the world! You have to be as vanilla—or gray—as possible. I was reading something about how they don't even like to hire people, like women over—which would be bad for me, because I'm really tall—but they don't even like to hire women over a certain height! Or men, even. You have to be as unremarkable as possible. And that, actually, is much harder to do! Also, because the job of a spy will often require you to adopt some other persona, you know, to fit into different worlds in order to get information, you have to be, well, I guess like an actor in that way, you have to be malleable.

00: Yeah, there is certainly a connection to an actor in that respect. Definitely not in the need for attention that you talked about earlier, but in changing your personality. There's a lot of acting skills. But, you know, it's funny; what you talked about earlier, about a spy being ordinary, certainly runs counter to television casting! I am imagining that the make-up department probably isn't trying to make you look "ordinary," right?

LS: Well, I have to tell you, though, that's something that is really interesting. Especially since we shoot in Miami and there's a ton of humidity and I have really curly hair, they're going to make sure there's no frizz and, like, that my acne is covered up, but other than that, they're not trying to create some... It's not a big, makeup-y kind of situation at all. It's not a glamour thing that they're going for.

00: Not a Bond Girl kind of role.

LS: Not. At. All! There's a lot of suits. Especially when I'm working kind of behind the scenes. And I think especially because Pearce, I think, as a spy, but also as a person, is not really... She doesn't have time for that kind of stuff! You know, she's lucky if she takes a shower! (Or, she will take a shower, but that's... You know, be clean and then get work done!) Work is her main loyalty.

00: Mm-hm. So do we see a personal side of her on the show? Will we see any romantic storylines for her or anything?

LS: You know, you will find out, she's got kind of a delicate backstory, romantically, and you will find out a little bit about that, but other than that, I think, at least when we meet her, for the first several episodes, she's got a big fish to fry, and I think that her personal life is not even on her radar.

00: So what does the future hold for Pearce? Are we gonna be seeing a lot of you?

LS: Ahhhh... I don't know! I mean, I think it has yet to be determined.

00: But you're on for at least the rest of the summer season, right?

LS: Yes!

00: Well, that's exciting. So let me ask about you as an actor. Where have people seen you before?

LS: Most recently, I did a recurring role on [Season 2 of] Community, which is a comedy on NBC, and then some people may be familiar with my storyline on Grey's Anatomy. I think it was a pretty unpopular storyline. [laughs] Because I kind of came between McDreamy and Meredeth.

00: You've done that a lot! [Also on Community.] On this one you're definitely not coming between anyone?

LS: No, no, no! Definitely not! Please, please, please put that out there! When I got the wonderful call to get this job, my first question was, "Oh my God. Please tell me... please let me not be coming between Michael and Fiona, because those two are—at least their version of—happily ever after and they need to stay together!"

00: I'm glad you're not in that awkward position again.

LS: Yes. That would be very unfortunate.

00: I know you did one other show with Burn Notice creator Matt Nix...

LS: Yeah!

00: Was that how you came onto his radar?

LS: Um, I believe that's how I came onto his radar. Oh my gosh, The Good Guys! That show was so fun! Yeah, so I think that that's kind of how I came onto his radar and I am so grateful to be doing another show with him.

00: Have you worked with him directly? Is he actually on the set?

LS: I actually, I am working with him on the episode we're shooting right now. He is directing it. So I'm very fortunate.

00: What's the set like for Burn Notice? Is this a fun show, too?

LS: The set, and I would say honestly, the last time I had this much fun on a set was on The Good Guys. Which was also a Matt Nix show, like we said. The set is fantastic. It's fun, and it's extremely supportive. On the first day, Jeffrey Donovan, who plays Michael Westen (who is a rock star, like Michael Westen but minus the ego!), he came up to me and he said, "Welcome;" he said, "please remember that this is your set now, too." He just, from the beginning, that's kind of how everybody is! They're so beyond welcoming, helping me, kind of catching me up on how the world of Burn Notice works, and making me feel very at home in a city I don't live in. Like when I was watching the episodes, I keep having to tell myself I'm working, because it's so much fun it doesn't feel like it, and I keep telling myself that in some strange way, I deserve to be here, and I cannot believe that! Like I said before, I'm definitely not cool enough to be on this show, but everybody makes me feel like I am! The whole experience has been extraordinary.

00: One final thing I have to know is... do you ever get to eat yogurt with Michael Westen?

LS: I do! [laughs] Let me tell you, I have to tell you, finally, in my last episode and the episode that I'm working on now, when I saw—oh my God, I get to eat yogurt!—I think that was one of my happiest days. I felt like I was part of the club.

00: Thank you, Lauren. I can't wait to see you on the show!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lovely interview! I liked Lauren's character right from the start (it helped to know that she wasn't going to come between Michael and Fiona!) so she's been a welcome addition. I'm glad she's having so much fun and I really can believe that the BN people would be so welcoming and generous. Some people are just danged lucky!! I should have moved to Miami a long time ago!