As we did with Kim Dickens, today we celebrate an underappreciated character actor: Mr. Jere Burns.
Burns is a versatile, charismatic actor with a distinct look. He’s deserved a better career than he’s had, though he’s had a pretty good one, including a relatively late peak featuring roles on two great TV series.
Burns rose to some sort of mild prominence on Dear John, a trifle of a sitcom intended as a platform for sleepy Judd Hirsch. As smarmy would-be womanizer Kirk Morris — a prototype for Barney on How I Met Your Mother — Burns stole the show.
Kirk was a member of the One Two One Club, the divorcee support group joined by Hirsch’s jilted character in the pilot. Unlike the other members of the group, Kirk was there to meet women. Burns managed to take a character that have been one-note and exceedingly grating and give him enough texture that the show eventually felt it necessary to “redeem” Kirk, even going so far as to pair him with the show’s leading lady, Kate. Burns was unequivocally the only reason to watch Dear John.
After that show folded up shop in 1992, Burns bounced around, scoring roles on several sitcoms that didn’t last (The Mommies, Bob, Something So Right), before executives decided he’d had enough shots at leading roles. He then downshifted to guest turns on everything from Just Shoot Me! to Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.
Finally, in 2010, Burns landed a small role on a series that was worthy of his talent: Breaking Bad. There, he played the leader/facilitator of Jesse’s NA group, and again layers to a role that might not have had many on paper. While his characters exists wholly in service of Jesse’s development and story, Burns was given one big moment…and he nailed it:
That character could have been unmemorable…nothing more than a human prop. But Burns imbues him with vulnerability and kindness, while still hinting at the asshole he used to be.
After Breaking Bad, Burns moved to another multi-episode guest role on yet another great show: Justified. In seasons one and two, Burns’s character, Wynn Duffy, played like a severe threat to hero Raylan Givens: a badass placed very highly in the Dixie Mafia, and someone not to be trifled with. A walking threat. But in season three, the show has brought in a carpetbagger from Detroit to serve as Duffy’s boss…a character so psychotic and sadistic that he’s put Duffy in his place as the mid-level gangster that he always really was. This shift has allowed Burns to show different sides of Duffy. Now, he’s relatable and almost likeable as the viewers’ surrogate in witnessing his boss’s unraveling. Burns has been a big part of the reason that Season 3 of Justified has been so fantastic.
Jere Burns: get this dude some more work. After all, he’s got the eye best eyebrows in the business.