CS Interview: Star Jeffrey Donovan on action-thriller Honest Thief
Ahead of the film’s debut in theaters, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with star Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice, Let Him Go) to discuss his role in the Liam Neeson-starring action thriller Honest Thief, which hits select theaters this Friday!
Much like many performers in the acting world, when it came to finding his interest in the project Donovan noted “it always starts with the script and it did with this one,” most notably in the fact it’s a character he’s never “really played before.”
“I often play the alpha in the room, and I thought it was really refreshing to me to play something where he wasn’t the fastest draw, he wasn’t the best in fighting,” Donovan expressed. “He was sitting behind a desk going through a messy divorce. So that was the first thing, and then the cherry on top was to get to work with Liam and with Kate and they added such an incredible cast of Robert Patrick, Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos. I was just kind of like, a kid in a sandbox, just so happy to be playing with all of these cool toys.”
Given his lack of portraying “a broken man” before, the 52-year-old star looked back and found that the biggest creative challenge for getting to the heart of his character came in trying to build his backstory, that was developed off-screen and off the page.
“I just wanted to kind of fill in his back story as much as I could, and you know, who had bought the dog and who gets the dog and why are they getting divorced, all that stuff,” Donovan explained. “That was a big challenge because it wasn’t on the page, we had to kind of make up that history. You know, it’s always a collaboration. It starts with their design and their story, and then, you make up your own history, and as long as it doesn’t run counter to what the story’s kind of presenting, then that collaboration is going to work. I think what was the fun part was bringing a certain amount of humor to Agent Meyers that I think Mark didn’t know was kind of there, and I was really happy that I was able to do that.”
Though bringing the sense of humor to his character that co-writer/director Mark Williams (Ozark) wasn’t fully aware of, the Burn Notice alum also sought to ensure his Agent Meyers was never “cartoonish” at any point in the film and sought to find the right balance between “grounded and funny.”
“I think that the storyline held onto him because he really was the opposite of Carter,” Donovan opined. “I mean, he was a guy who didn’t know where his life was going and didn’t know what his choices should be made and thought everything he did was right. Whereas Carter thought everything in his life that he did was wrong, and he wanted to make amends. So it was an interesting parallel that we got to play.”
Another of the elements of the film that Donovan found to be both challenging and fun was returning to the world of action sequences after starring in a number of more dramatic roles and supporting turns in the Sicario films.
“Those action sequences, they’re tough, you know, you get beat up and that’s real hands,” Donovan chuckled. “Liam’s a big guy, and once accidentally he got me one time, punched me right in the chest. But I had just accidentally punched him in the face, so I think he was just trying to make the playing field even [laughs].”
Working with Neeson also gave Donovan the opportunity to work alongside the 68-year-old’s celebrated stunt coordinator/double Mark Vanselow, who he’s worked with going all the way back to 1997’s The Haunting.
“They’ve got a history there and a shorthand, and you bring your own two cents to it,” Donovan stated. “Having done Burn Notice for seven years, I had a little bit of experience for action, so it was a great collaboration because when you work with someone who trusts you as much as you trust them, the process just goes so much smoother.”
When reflecting on his excitement for audiences to see the film in select theaters this week, Donovan describes how “when you’re making movies, you think it’s really important what you’re doing” but noting that “the health of our country is more important.”
“Trying to find that balance between people going to see it and staying healthy is a challenge,” Donovan expressed. “I hope people will go see it, as long as it’s safe and the theater has done everything it can to ensure that safety. But in the end, it’s your own personal choice what you do, and I wish it was a different time, but it is what it is.”
Donovan is best known to audiences for his lead role as Michael Westen on USA Network’s Burn Notice, in which he made his directorial debut, as well as helming the prequel spin-off film The Fall of Sam Axe, and in reflecting on the possibility of taking on a feature-length project he feels uncertain about doing so.
“As soon as I see how much work it is I politely tell myself, you’re out of your mind,” Donovan joked. “It’s so difficult. I mean, what Mark did to not only write it, then produce it and direct it, I mean, it’s a year of your life. My acting is hard, but it’s not digging dirt and mining coal. We’re just pretending on an air conditioned set most of the time. So I’m getting older and I’ve got a big family and I’m just trying to be home as much as I can and acting allows me to do that, whereas directing would just take me away from them for too long.”
In addition to seeing the actor next in Honest Thief and the forthcoming Kevin Costner and Diane Lane-starring Let Him Go, which he calls “a beautiful film,” Donovan recently wrapped production on Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man, previously titled Cash Truck, and though he couldn’t give many details aside from he and star Jason Statham being “on the other side of the law,” he did express excitement about the shoot and the film.
“I just had to go shoot some additional photography last week in London, so I got to see Guy and it was great to be back on the set, albeit a social distanced set,” Donovan noted. “It was kind of crazy how much testing my nose got in three days [laughs]. I enjoyed working with Guy, he has a real particular style, not only on screen, but how he makes that product. I’m such a fan of his movies, and now that I’ve done it, I want to just keep working with him. I love his films and I hope I can work with him again. Look, it’s Jason Statham, it’s Holt McCallany and Scott Eastwood, it’s myself and it’s a heist movie. And, kind of like Honest Thief, there’s a lot more depth to it than just an action film, but with Guy, you’re going to get a lot more humor, which again, I think is a lot of fun to do.It’s a kind of a thick as thieves type of film, and what a dad will do to avenge a death in the family. Hopefully in January or February or whenever it comes out, the world has righted itself and people can go back to the movie.”
Written by Steve Allrich (The Canyon) and directed by Mark Williams, the co-creator of the hit Netflix crime thriller Ozark, Honest Thief will follow a bank robber (Neeson) who after attempting to turn himself in after falling in love with an employee from where his loot is stashed must deal with the complications that arise when his case is taken on by corrupt FBI agents, played by Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos.
In addition to Neeson in the lead role, the cast for the film features Jai Courtney (The Suicide Squad), Kate Walsh (The Umbrella Academy), Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgement Day), Jeffrey Donovan (Lucy in the Sky), Anthony Ramos (In The Heights) and Jasmine Cephas Jones (Hamilton).
Williams produced Honest Thief alongside Tai Duncan, Stephen Emery and Myles Nestel of Solution Entertainment Group, which sold the international rights to the film to Briarcliff and Open Road in June.
Neeson has found large success in recent years in the action genre, starring in the fan-favorite Taken trilogy and starring in this year’s box-office hit The Commuter, the fourth collaboration between him and director Jaume Collet-Serra. The 66-year-old actor will next be seen in the upcoming comedy Made in Italy, the directorial debut of James D’Arcy (Avengers: Endgame), which is scheduled for an August 7 release.
Honest Thief is set to hit theaters on October 16.