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[Warning: Spoilers ahead from the series finale. Do not proceed if you have not watched Thursday’s episode.]
Burn Notice bid farewell to one of its own characters in the series finale.
With the knowledge that not everyone would survive the final fight, the last episode of the long-running USA Network espionage drama was full of intensity. There was even a funeral for Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) and Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), though it turned out to be fake. The real sacrifice came when Michael’s mother Madeline (Sharon Gless) sacrificed herself by detonating a bomb in order to save her grandson Charlie, Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) — and everyone else.
For TV-veteran Gless, who jumped on the phone with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss her character’s heroic sacrifice, the end of Burn Notice still hasn’t hit her. And it likely won’t. At least, not for a while. “It still feels like a break, like we’re going to go back soon,” Gless admits to THR.
The actress, along with creator Matt Nix, discuss the events of the series finale with THR.
When did you find out about Madeline’s fate?
Sharon Gless: I think I was the only one who knew. Matt had told me, and the other actors said they didn’t know. I had called Matt because my hair had gotten longer — before it was platinum and shorter — to see what he wanted. I had given up smoking and Madeline is the biggest smoker on television. I wanted bongs everywhere, everything but cigarettes that could hurt her, and I said, “I want her to fail.” In the very last episode, I want her to pull out a cigarette and say, “Oh f—k it. This sucks.” In the very last scene in the last show, I want her to pull out a cigarette and light it up.
He said, “Here’s what’s interesting. I want you to pull out a cigarette as your last scene also, but for a different reason.” And then he told me.
This was before the season began?
Gless: Right. He had not told anybody else. I was the only one who knew and I kept it in.
How hard was it for you to keep that secret?
Gless: I knew it wasn’t going to work if it wasn’t a secret. It wouldn’t have worked in the end. My feelings weren’t hurt, I just thought, “Wow, what a cool way to go and for a cool reason.” The truth is, the way he wrote it, there was no other choice. It’s not that she had a death wish. There was no other choice, if she didn’t take one for the team…
I didn’t know how it was going to play out, frankly, until I saw the last episode written out. I didn’t know how she was going to do it, I just knew that she was.
When did your castmates find out about Madeline’s death?
Gless: I don’t know. Jeffrey may have known a couple of episodes earlier. He said he didn’t, but he is Jeffrey Donovan. I don’t think the others knew because they were all looking at the ground when I walked into the makeup trailer. (Laughs)
Did you have any hopes or desires in regards to how Madeline’s story wrapped up?
Gless: I didn’t. I didn’t dream of anything. I just had to trust Matt. I just needed him to be very clear to me. There were things I had questions about.
What was the last scene that was filmed?
Matt Nix: Madeline dying. That was an interesting scheduling thing because, for efficiency’s sake, you want to shoot things really out of order, and your actors are paid to deal with that. In a series finale, you really don’t want someone saying goodbye to someone forever right before they have a scene where they’re hanging out. So we had to schedule it that way, and it was a sentimental thing. We wanted to do the last scene on stage because everybody didn’t want the last scene on Burn Notice on 23rd Street.
What was filming like for Madeline’s death scene?
Gless: It was an upsetting day. It was surreal. It was a late day, and it was all me.
Was there added weight to the moment because Burn Notice was finished after that scene was completed?
Gless: I didn’t hold on to the fact that it was my last scene ever shot as that character. I just thought this was the last chance I had to do this particular take. I tried to do the best I could for Matty but it’s so fast. It doesn’t take long to blow yourself up, but she does have stuff she goes through before she does it. She knows she’s right — that part I did read enough. There was no other choice, there just wasn’t. I hope the audience doesn’t know early on what happens.
Was that the most difficult part of filming this episode?
Gless: In the early part of the episode, when Michael says goodbye to me knowing he’s going to die, for me that was the hardest scene to play. For me, to take myself out was not as hard as saying goodbye to him because I thought he was going to be hurt and I would never see him again.
What do you remember most about the final day on set?
Gless: [Jeffrey] came in and he did off-camera for me like I did on the scene when I say goodbye to him. I came in to do off-camera for him. He didn’t want the script girl to be doing it. He’s on the telephone, so he can’t see me, but I’m standing on the set with him. He was kind enough to do that for me also. He came on that last day of my work and did that for me. What was really wonderful about having done that [scene] before was I knew what he was going to do because I had already seen him do it. I knew how to do my half [of the scene]. He was so wonderful.
What do you take away the most from your Burn Notice experience?
Gless: Just a lot of laughter. I had such a good time. I really feel Matt Nix wrote very smart scripts, and with that cast I tend to fall in love too easily. I loved our family. Jeffrey Donovan will always be my kid. Really intimate bonds were made on that show and everybody worked really, really hard. It was a great honor for me to be a part of this.
What’s next for you?
Gless: I’m going to go to the health spa. (Laughs) And be back again, hopefully. That’s my plan [to return to TV]. Let’s hope it’s everybody else’s.
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