Valleywood – Burning Bright

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Actor Jeffrey Donovan at the “Changeling” film premiere at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

If you are a “Burn Notice” fan, you know that USA Network aired the spy drama’s seventh and final season this summer. What you might not have known is that leading man Jeffrey Donovan, who played Michael Westen, is a Merrimack Valley native, born and raised in Amesbury. Valleywood spoke by telephone with Donovan, who was in Miami filming “Burn Notice,” about his Valley roots, his introduction to acting and his plans for the future. Donovan, 45, splits his time between Miami and California.

What was it like growing up in Amesbury?
Growing up in the rurals, as I call them, there was nothing better than coming home from school and getting a couple of friends to go grab apples from the apple orchard. And the four seasons … you can’t beat it. Autumn in New England is, I think, the most beautiful place in the world.

What kept you busy in Amesbury as a kid?
After school, I would often go to Amesbury Park. That is where everything was the most fun. You had the Pines, the baseball field and, back then, the tennis courts. I grew up in that area doing all of the outdoor activities that every kid alive should be able to do, like running around in the trees and camping up in New Hampshire.

Who were your inspirations, acting or otherwise?
Patty Hoyt, my English teacher, was a big influence on me. She took me aside one day and told me that I had a lot of talent imitating people, and that I should put it to good use and try to become an actor. There was no drama club … and no theater program, so there was really no one to model my life after. I just tried to learn from very important people in my life at the time and listen to their advice, Patty Hoyt being the major one.

Do you ever come back to Amesbury?
My grandmother is still in Amesbury, and I visit her once a year. When we were growing up, Amesbury was kind of a poor town and it has gotten quite nice now. I wish I was growing up in Amesbury now.

You are into martial arts and flying planes — have you always been drawn to intense activities?
Just like any kid, I played sports — baseball and basketball — and in college I just happened to pick the karate club. When you get out and travel the world and you are lucky enough to make a little money, you can be more adventurous — I’m a thrill seeker. I just learned how to scuba dive, and now I am learning to fly. So I want to keep expanding my horizons and being adventurous.

How has your success as an actor impacted you?
There are two ways that you can define success, and I think most people define it by “you know who I am, so I must be successful,” but I’ve been succeeding since I was in high school. I felt like I was a success when Patty Hoyt said “good job” on that play, and when in college I had a role and did a good job finding the truth in that moment. There have been successes throughout my life, but they are not necessarily definable by the measurements of other people.

What have you been doing beyond “Burn Notice”?
“Burn Notice” is the most recognizable, but I’ve actually been doing movies and theater simultaneously for the past [several] seasons, as well. I [was] also an investor in a Broadway play about [basketball legends] Larry Bird and Magic Johnson called “Magic/Bird.” Becoming an investor in theater is a new arena for me. I’ve always produced theater and starred in it, but now I am an investor in someone else’s work. It’s a risky venture, but I believed in the project and I am a big fan of the writer. It was wonderful to meet Larry Bird, and knowing that I helped his story get on Broadway was a great feeling.

This interview took place in April 2012. Today, Jeffrey Donovan is married to model Michelle Woods. They welcomed a daughter late in 2012. Following the wrap of “Burn Notice,” Donovan is taking quality time with his family and developing future television and film projects. *Obtained from People.com Up Close.

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