Jeffrey Donovan may be best known for being on TV's Burn Notice and in the Clint Eastwood-directed film Changeling with Angelina Jolie, but the handsome 40-year-old is an accomplished theater veteran as well, having appeared in Boston's Shakespeare in the Park, among many other shows. Windy City Times recently talked with him about being in the acclaimed theatrical production Don't Dress for Dinner, which will run at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted, through Sunday, Jan. 11.
Windy City Times: You're quietly becoming a triple threat. [ Donovan laughs. ] I loved you in Changeling, by the way; I really wanted to hurt [ your character ] .
Jeffrey Donovan: Yeah. I get that a lotnot just on-screen. [ Laughs ]
WCT: Then there's Burn Notice, which I like primarily because the chemistry you have with Sharon Gless, Gabrielle Anwar and Bruce Campbell is very palpable. [ Donovan smiles. ] I'm sure everyone's been asking you what it's like to work with Angelina Jolie or Clint Eastwood, but what's it like working with Bruce?
JD: What a hoot he is. I didn't know who he was before the show, and then I looked him up and watched a few of his moviesand I love that this guy is doing this campy stuff. I thought he was going to be a guy who was fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants, but he is such a student of comedy, acting and film, and he takes it all quite seriouslyand that kind of campy horror [ as in Evil Dead and Army of Darkness ] is as hard to pull off as farce, which is what we're doing in the play. And, to some degree, there's even some correlation with what we do in Burn Notice: How do you make something funny but never take away the seriousness of the moment? He and I talk about that a lot.
He's a great collaborator and such a great guy. He also has a smile for me every morning and calls me "Number One"which is what I am on the call sheet. But on Star Trek, they call the first mate "number one," who is actually the person under [ the captain ] . So I wonder if he's actually making fun of me. [ Laughs ] "Make it so, number one."
WCT: You know that Sharon Gless [ was ] in town, filming [ Hannah Free ] .
JD: Yesand she's great, too. She's a pro, and I turn to her a lot for advice because, you know, she did Cagney and Lacey for like eight or nine years. She had some advice for me, and she's just been very maternal. I'm very happy and proud to be on TV with her.
WCT: I've read that Don't Dress for Dinner is a "sex farce." Is that an accurate description?
JD: It's a "naughty farce." It's about sexual liaisons, affairs. It's about a married British couple in Paris; the wife is having an affair with an Americanthat's meand the English husband is having an affair with an American model, who's visiting. We all show up at the same time at the house, and hijinks ensue. It's one of the funniest things I've ever been a part ofI crack up on stage sometimes, although I hide it. The other cast members, the pros that they are, never crack up. That cast is so talented.
WCT: Yes, Patricia Kalember is part of the cast; I remember her from [ TV's ] Sisters. By the way, that's how you can tell a man is gay, no matter how he looks: If he says that he remembers someone from Sisters... [ Sustained laughter from Donovan ]
JD: That's so funny! The other day, the director said some musical-theater term and one of the other actors laughed. I [ asked ] , "What's so funny?" They both looked at me and said, "Not gay." [ Laughs ]
WCT: You are a theater veteran. What brought you back to theater?
JD: I miss it. I've done more theater than TV and film combinedtwo Broadway shows, six off-Broadway shows and at NYU, I did 11 productions. I've created a theater company in L.A., and just did a play by Mike O'Malley, who was on [ TV's ] Yes, Dear; the play is called Searching for Certainty.
Theater is incredibly important to meprobably more than the other twonot just because it's the basis of how I started but because it feeds me. It feeds my soul, and that's not a disparaging comment on TV or film. It's a mechanical venue that you work in; therefore, it's not live. The transaction is inorganic, whereas the transaction on stage with the audience is organicand you get literal feedback from that. Every three years or so I need to go back to theater, and my agents have been really understanding about that.
Plus, I've always wanted to do theater in Chicago. Chicago is a big theater townand, in some ways, I think this city is savvier and smarter than New York. Sometimes, I think it's a little too chic to go to theater in New York these days. I saw Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Edward II, and I plan to see [ Gatz ] and The Seafarer, with John Mahoney.
WCT: You've been talking about feedback. Do you get something from every bit of feedback, whether positive or negative? Some people appreciate positive feedback, but get defensive with the negative.
JD: It's important to measure the positive and the negative. I've said that to friends who get hurt by bad reviews: If you believe the good, then you have to believe the bad. Don't discount them, but measure them.
A review is a piece of entertainment. John Simon, the despicable critic for The New York Magazine, [ once ] said, "I don't write reviews. I write entertainment." That's how he defended his despicable reviews, but there are lines.
If someone says to me, "You're horrible in Changeling. I despise you," then they're lumping my performance in with my character. But if someone says, "Burn Notice is one of the worst shows on television," I could sit there and defend it or just say, "Alright." I have to measure thatI can't please everyone.
WCT: Or you could say, "I didn't want Bruce on the show..."
JD: [ Laughs ] Or "I'm trying to get Gabrielle fired..."
I think the hardest part of acting is the stage, and the hardest part of stage acting is farce. It is so meticulous and exact. That's why farce is very seldom donebecause of its difficulty.
WCT: And on TV and film, there's always a second take. On stage...
JD: ...there's no hiding. And if you're supposed to be funny and you get no laughsthere's instant feedback for you.
See www.dontdressfordinner.com .