Revolution: Interview: Billy Burke

Burke revolutionIn Revolution, Billy Burke plays Miles Matheson, a former Marine turned bar owner in an America which suffered a blackout fifteen years earlier. Although he was one of the founders of the Monroe Republic, during the first season we learn that he turned his back on his former friends and is now regarded as a traitor. With the first season released this week on DVD and Blu-ray, Burke looked back at the first year of the show, created by Supernatural’s Eric Kripke…

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You play Miles, who has a complex relationship with the leader of the Monroe Militia, played by David Lyons. Can you define that relationship a little?

It is a lovely, classic non-brother/brother relationship. They are obviously not blood-related but they might as well be. It is the closest thing that they have ever known, and that they still have, to family. It’s not only the longest relationship Miles has had in his lifetime but it is definitely the deepest, be that good or bad. For that reason we are going to see it play out in various different ways, hopefully, for the eternity of the show.

What do you enjoy about playing Miles?

There is nothing I don’t like about it. It’s a perfect gig for me. Right now, for where I am in my life, this came at a really opportune time. When I was a kid, it is one of those gigs that I would have watched on television and would have said, ‘That’s what I want to do as a living.’

Why did this role come at a very opportune time?

RevolutionS01E02PicFirst of all, I have been very fortunate for the last 21 years in having jobs in the business. Not all of them have been desirable and you have got to make some concessions for commerce. There are times for all of us where we end up doing wok that we are not necessarily pleased with. I had just come off a great run of gigs with the Twilight movies, which did open some doors for me. They did all right business, but there was a real danger there of being forever connected to that character. So when this role came along it was such a great and different turn. I suppose that is why I say that it came along at a time that seemed very fortunate and opportune.

Miles is a former military man. Did you have to train?

Yes, I spent a lot of time at Marine School (laughs). No, as a matter of fact, it was surprising to me that they had interest in me for this gig. For years and years and years, I have never ever, ever got a military gig. They [the industry] just never ever bought it. I have played about 400 cops but never anybody who came out of military school, so that was not only surprising but sort of a personal ‘win’ for me. How the actual military feels about me playing this role is a different question! I don’t know. I hope that it is not too offensive to them!

Miles does use a few weapons during the show…

He does, in his own way. It’s one of those things. Like I said, when you envisaged gigs as a kid for yourself, when you grow up wanting do this for a living and you are running around in the woods with sticks, actually doing this stuff is more fun that you can imagine. Absolutely.

Did you have any mishaps while rehearsing or filming the action scenes?

There are little things that happen from time to time. There was a moment with Giancarlo [Esposito, who plays Tom Neville] and I. He came at me with a weapon at some point and he got me pretty good and then, of course, I turned around and on purpose got him back (laughs). But usually it is not doing the big fight sequences that your little scrapes and bruises and things happen. It is usually doing something stupid.

Burke and LyonsWhat have been some of your favourite moments from Season One?

Well, some of my favourite stuff to do was with David [Lyons]; the Miles and Monroe stuff is always very enjoyable, not only because we like the material and what’s on the page, but working with that particular guy, we have similar styles in how we approach stuff. And from the get go we had an automatic, natural understanding of the way in which each other works. So they were some of my favourite moments. Also, the scenes with Giancarlo — he is just so fine at what he does and comes from a completely different modus operandi than I do, which for me is no training whatsoever! He’s so refined, yet has the ability to take all that knowledge and make it natural. That is definitely some of my favourite stuff.

J.J. Abrams is an executive producer on the show. Do you have much contact with him?

I see him from time to time. He is obviously not on set a lot because he has a lot of stuff going on. But I have a lot of interaction with Eric Kripke, the show’s creator. We talk and communicate quite frequently. What’s great about that whole team is that they have been so accessible and so trusting of us as performers. They do what they are supposed to do — hire the people that they think are right for the job and then they let them do it.

You were hired to play another role originally?

I was hired to play David’s role [Sebastian Monroe].

Why the switch?

David came along and they thought he was better (laughs)! No, we don’t really know how that happened. It was a happy accident, really. When they approached me and started talking about this show, it was with that role [Monroe] in mind and, ultimately, I was hired to play that role. We did shoot one scene for the pilot with me playing that role and I guess something clicked while we were doing it. They were on this constant quest to find who was going to play the Miles character and I guess they saw something, some quality in there, that made them think that I was that guy.

Long-form TV drama seems the place to be right now…

For some reason it’s where all the good stuff is now. It’s where all the more compelling storytelling is being done and my guess is that’s because movies over the past 20 years, by nature of money, have become too safe. People are finding, especially with the advent of cable, that they can take more risks on television than they can on movies because they don’t have to make their weekend gross.

Do you prefer one medium to the other?

I don’t. It depends on the project. It’s all about where it ends up on the screen. There are things that I have done over the past 20 years that are unwatchable and there are things I can look at and I can go, ‘Yes, I can say I am pretty proud of that.’  What’s been nice for me is watching the transition over this past year because for the past several years the recognition was from the Twilight movies and now that’s started to be not the case at all. As a matter of fact, when this show first started airing there was a bit of confusion in the recognition factor because a lot of people didn’t even believe that I was the same guy, which is the ultimate compliment.

Burke TwilightWhen you were cast in the Twilight films, did you expect them to be so popular?

As far as I know I am the only one from the get go who will admit that I had a pretty good idea that we would have an audience, because it had such a built-in following. When I first met [Twilight director] Catherine Hardwicke on the first movie and she brought me in and we played around with a couple of scenes, she asked me after we were done, ‘You know what you are doing here? You have heard of this?’ I was like, ‘Have I heard of what?’ She said, ‘Well, this is based on a series of books. Go on Google.’ So I went on and looked it up and sure enough there was this huge phenomenon, so from that point forward I was like, ‘Yes, this is going to do some business.’ No one could ever imagine what it would turn into but I had a pretty good idea at that moment.

I know that the younger cast-members have had a variety of unusual experiences with Twilight fans. What about you?

No, I did not have to deal with any of that stuff. The good part of the role I played was that I was the old guy and he was oblivious to everything. So I got the luxury of being oblivious to everything on and off set. It was a great gig. I’d come in for a couple of weeks at a time and then we’d shoot and I’d be done. Meeting fans happens from time to time and I would have to say almost 100 per cent of the time people are very sweet.

You started out as a musician…

As early as I can remember I was never going to be in any other industry. I was always going to be in the entertainment industry somehow. So how that manifested you can never map out for yourself, growing up. I was playing in bands from about 15 years old to my early 20s and had small modicums of success, locally. Then I got the opportunity to do an independent film when I was about 19 and that led into another gig immediately. Then I took my music tack back again, moved to LA and while I was in LA decided that I would try to read for everything that I could and started working as an actor.

Revolution s1 DVDYou thought you would pursue acting while playing rock’n’roll?

Yes. I had a solo project with Warner Bros. as a matter of fact. I had a solo demo deal with Warner Bros. that ultimately didn’t pan out. But while I was in LA doing that, I had some friends who made some connections for me to get me in to read for some parts, completely unrepresented. Those were the days when you could get away with a lot more lying than you can now! So I started working as an actor and it has been fairly consistent so far.

Who were your heroes growing up, rock stars or actors?

I wasn’t introduced to my all-time musical hero Tom Waits until later in life. He is my number one. But growing up it was David Bowie, Elton John, Billy Joel and Prince, people like that, the continually growing, shape-shifter, great songwriters. And then cinematically, Burt Reynolds and Warren Beatty. Those two guys were kind of it for me and still are in a way.

Revolution season one is out on Blu-ray and DVD on 30 September Click here to order it from Amazon.co.uk

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