Billy Burke's face lights up, his trademark smirk turns into a full-wattage grin, and his hands go electric to further illustrate his excitement the instant he starts talking about "Revolution," a tad ironic considering that the NBC thriller follows a ragtag group of resisters trying to survive the new world order after an instantaneous global blackout of all things electronic. It's especially so, considering the fact that the dark past of his character, Miles Matheson, includes helping install the oppressive military dictatorship that now holds his nephew and sister-in-law hostage, drafting child soldiers, murdering protesters, and misleading his only niece to believe that her mom abandoned her and died horribly many moons ago.
"This is the best job. I'm having more fun doing this than I've ever had, and I've been in this business for 20 years," Burke enthused over a lunch of calamari and charcuterie earlier this week at a busy L.A. mall. "To have this much to do and have it be this much fun and see the kind of success it's seeing right now, you can't ask for anything more. Cool doesn't even begin to describe it. It's f---ing amazing."
Watch a preview for Monday's all-new episode:
Burke stopped beaming long enough to shed some light on the final two episodes of 2012 (warning: spoilers ahead!), which of his "Twilight" co-stars he'd like to cameo, how he'd fare in an apocalypse, and why he thinks the show is so successful.
There have been an increasing number of films and TV shows that revolve around an apocalypse of some kind (zombies, Mayan prediction, alien invasion, out-of-control government weapon). Why are people obsessed with this idea?
It's [not] a new thing. The end of times has always been a fascination. But post 9/11, pretty much everybody will admit to having it on their minds more frequently than when they were a kid. You can't stop technology or science, and it is snowballing quicker than ever. Something's got to come to a head. How? Who knows? But it will. Shit can't last forever. That's why these shows are so popular.
What made you say yes?
The show is really about what choices you are going to make in these extreme-adversity cases. How would you reconnect with the people you love? When I first met with [series creator Eric] Kripke and [executive producer Jon] Favreau, that's the stuff I found most tasty. The beauty of the show is that the whole thing's hypothetical. Anything can happen, as we saw when Maggie died. Nobody would have ever thought we'd kill her off.
Did you jump at the chance to play a character so central to the story?
It's nice to be involved. I've never had a series that's gone past 12 episodes. On things like "24," I was a peripheral character. On the "Twilight" movies, I literally would show up for two weeks, go in, be oblivious, and go home. My character on this show is in the thick of everything. I've never experienced a workload like this in my life. But it's fantastic.
He's also physically pretty badass.
I have never been this physically active in my entire life. I'm not a guy who has ever seen the inside of a gym. I'm in shock. I'm in a lot better shape than I thought I was.
[Related: Burke on the premiere's big fight scene]
And flawed. Between him and the villains, there's plenty of material on the dark side of human nature.
The thing about the evil characters, if they are not psychopathic like Strausser, is that they became that way because they believe in what they are doing and they can't stop hanging on to that belief. Not hard for me to believe that those guys like Bass and Neville became that way. It's so much fun to try to figure out what that objective ever was that made that guy this way. It helps that they're played by great actors. I love working with Giancarlo Esposito and David Lyons from flashback sequences on down.
Give us a few teases about the final two episodes of 2012.
Just getting into the city [to rescue Danny] is the next big roadblock. Philadelphia has become a castle unto itself, surrounded by a moat of rivers and thousands of militia guarding the place. They also get into a situation where something makes them begin to become unclear about what is reality and what isn't. We'll start to see more of Miles and Rachel's relationship. More [Miles and Neville] showdowns. Bass and Monroe will be reunited soon in a very interesting, unexpected way. There was a point in the past 15 years where Miles tried to take him out. They were lifelong best friends, and having had that happen, coming back together is tough.
And the midseason finale?
It's a big episode. It ends in a cliffhanger. We've seen that the amulets can get something to work for a second, so imagine if that were amplified bit by bit. That's all I'll say.
Any guesses on future plot points?
From my understanding, we will get heavy into Miles's backstory in the second half of the season. I believe there are flashes of Miles and Bass several years after the blackout in an episode [we're about] to shoot. You start to see when the [militia] really started to rise. All of the memories of his past and the damage he's done is bubbling to the surface, and as he starts to do that, Charlie starts to get tougher, and we'll see them take on each other's characteristics. As it's called "Revolution" and because the Monroe militia would, if they could, take over the entire continent, my guess is that the other militias are going to go to war with them. It would make sense [to visit other republics] because it was a worldwide event. And eventually, because of his relationship with Rachel, Randall and Miles will intersect. The Randall character has much larger implications.
A lot of serialized high-concept shows have trouble with pacing and often get canned before fans are given the "Aha!" moment. That does not seem to be an issue with "Revolution."
One of the things Kripke talked about from the beginning was not to build expectations so high that you can't fulfill them. The reason the power went off is a central theme, but we're going to reveal that sooner than later, so that it doesn't have to be this enormous mind-blowing thing. It will be interesting enough, make sense, and move the story forward. That's a great and sustainable way to go about it. We even went back and did some reshoots on the first few episodes to reveal stuff sooner. Now the story is just trucking along. which may be the reason for the success it's having. I watch the episodes to see if I would truthfully be able to play along as a viewer, and the answer consistently has been yes.
When you signed on, did they give you a blueprint to the whole season?
Never broad strokes to the entire [endgame]. I only got broad strokes about the world we were going to create and my character. If you're a fan of any show like this, why would you want to know in advance? I'm as much going along for this ride as the audience. All I concern myself with is doing the best I can with the material given to make these characters believable and interesting to watch. I rest my head on a pillow of they have the answers. I know nothing and it's great, because if I did have answers, I'd have to sit here and lie.
But don't you question things like it taking 15 years for someone to get a steam engine train working?
From the moment we set foot on the pilot, it was all questions and discussions about the what-ifs. But they don't bother me that much. There's a certain amount of disbelief you have to suspend. When you're watching "Lord of the Rings," you don't ask, "How come that guy's magic and that guy's not?"
It's refreshingly bright for an end-of-days show.
The North Carolina landscape lends itself so well to this [plot]. It's nice to be outside, but Wilmington, N.C., in the summer is about 95 degrees and 2,000 percent humidity. It's challenging, but it beats sitting at a desk. The overtaking of the landscape sort of plays a character, and it offsets the darkness of what's going on with the characters as well.
Have you learned anything that could prove useful if the lights went out?
No. I have manageable skills in some areas because of roles like I've ridden horses on the show. I know enough to get by and not look like a total fool, but could I win the Kentucky Derby? No.
Do you think you'd fare well in a postapocalyptic world?
No, I don't. I'm a city kid. I'm not a camper at all. And in terms of combat, be it hand-to-hand, swordplay, or gunplay, I'd be f---ing useless. I can shoot a gun, but could I stand there and kill somebody? That's a big question mark.
What would you miss most if a blackout really happened?
Recorded music. I could live without cell phones and television, but if I were handed a great CD and had nothing to play it on, that would really suck.
Speaking of music, "Revolution" just licensed "Kashmir" and "Since I've Been Loving You" for an upcoming episode.
Huge Zeppelin fan. That's a big deal. I'm hoping maybe Plant and Page will come on and do cameos. We've got to get to England at some point. I'm sure they're just hanging out over there.
Which of your "Twilight" co-stars would you like to see guest on "Revolution"?
It would just be weird if any of those actors showed up on the show. I love them all to death, but it would be distracting and take [viewers] out of the show, so sorry guys, but none of you. I think they'll be all right.
Missed last Monday's episode? Catch up with this full episode:
"Revolution" airs Mondays at 10 PM on NBC.
- Arts & Entertainment