Television star and USA Network's golden boy, Jeffrey Donovan - who The Los Angeles Times boasted had "charisma to burn" - was, in reality, a seasoned Shakespearean stage actor who ended up as one of the most promising action stars in years. Frequently alternating between stage and screen, it became obvious to TV programmers that Donovan had a penchant for wisecracking and intelligently wacky characters, particularly law enforcement types. He was also believably brutish when called for, which attracted both male and female viewers alike to shows like "Touching Evil" (USA Network, 2004) and "Burn Notice" (USA Network, 2007-13), as he effectively portrayed gun-wielding, troubled and unpredictable heroes in the vein of Bruce Willis and other multi-layered action stars before him. He transferred that quality over to the big screen, where he delivered strong turns in the thriller "Hindsight" (2008) and Clint Eastwood's acclaimed period drama, "Changeling" (2008). But it was his starring role as the blacklisted spy, Michael Westen, on "Burn Notice" that propelled the actor to stardom and earned him a place at the table as one of television's top leading men.
Born on May 11, 1968, in Amesbury, MA, Jeffrey T. Donovan was raised by his divorced mother, Nancy Matthews, who worked in a factory in order to rear her three boys - one of whom died in a car accident in 1987. At that time, Donovan described his close-knit family as "incredibly poor." Growing into his teens, Donovan discovered that acting was a successful way to demand attention. During English class at Amesbury High School, the assignment was either to write about Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice or act out one of Shylock's monologues. Not a fan of putting pen to paper, Donovan decided to don a black robe for his first amateur role, which the whole class applauded and for which he received an A. From that moment, he realized his calling. Famous for his impressions, he once fainted so believably in front of his English teacher that the instructor called for an ambulance. Performances like these led to a lead part in the senior play, "The Sting," with Donovan playing Paul Newman's iconic role. At that time, his passion for the craft helped him to reactivate the Drama Club as its first president. The high school Donovan, however, was anything but the 'tormented artist.' A jack of all trades, not only was he voted "class chatterbox," he was also on the tennis and football teams, and, according to his yearbook, spent his spare time "with his friends or on his motorcycle." During summer break, the then 18-year-old took acting classes at Bradford College in Haverhill, MA to hone his skills before attending college that fall. He was, in fact, proudly the first member of his family to receive a college education, attending Bridgewater State and University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he starred alongside other soon-to-be-famous thespians, including Hampshire College alumna Liev Schreiber and Oscar winner Anna Paquin.
To make ends meet, Donovan worked daily as a campus bus driver, while at the same time, taking on a full class schedule as well as attending rehearsals for the school's theatrical productions. The long days paid off. After graduating, Donovan headed to New York City with just $75 in his pocket but eventually entered New York University's graduate school for actors - being one of 18 actors chosen out of more than 1,000 for the Master's of Fine Arts program. Still, even with a master's degree from NYU, Donovan fit the struggling actor mold. He spent 11 years working in Manhattan - mostly on the stage - and after taking out $50,000 in student loans, maxed out his credit cards. But upon graduating and with agents vying to represent him, he began making headway. With a multitude of accents at his disposal, it was clear Donovan had more to offer than just good looks, making him a hot commodity. He played a Greek (and Billy Crudup's best friend) in the off-Broadway production of "Oedipus;" a Brit in the Broadway rendition of "An Inspector Calls" - his stage debut - and also starred in the plays "Skyscraper," "Freedomland" and "Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight." In 1994, he divided his time between stage work and performing in a recurring role on the soap opera "Another World" (NBC, 1964-1999). Even with a television credit now under his belt, Donovan was not fond of soap acting. In fact, when he first saw the show, he thought he was too good for it.
Six months later, Donovan traveled to California where he was promptly stuck up at gunpoint and robbed in broad daylight. The seemingly questionable decision to relocate to Hollywood, however, quickly turned around. Donovan landed his first lead role in his feature film debut, "Throwing Down" (1995), an independent caper flick about a novice con man, which won critical acclaim and took home the grand prize for Best Feature Film at the Hamptons International Film Festival. The kind of stage training he had endured had a profound impact on the way Donovan prepared for all of his roles, no matter the medium. Known for his intense character preparation, for "Throwing Down," he studied the kids on the streets of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, listening to the rhythms of the street and trying to mimic them in an organic way. Things continued to move along nicely for Donovan. In 1996, he appeared on the big screen again - only this time in a barely noticeable role in Barry Levinson's "Sleepers" alongside Brad Pitt, Jason Patrick and Robert De Niro - as one of the four guards in the all-boys juvenile detention center who winds up murdered. Putting his disdain for soap operas aside, Donovan went on to do other daytime dramas, including "One Life to Live" (ABC, 1968-2013) and "As The World Turns" (CBS, 1956-2010). Other series and TV movies on which he guest appeared were a bit more impressive - "Homicide: Life on the Streets" (NBC, 1993-99) and "Law and Order" (NBC, 1990-2010) both in 1995; "Millennium" (Fox, 1996-99) in 1997; two years later on "Spin City" (CBS, 1996-2002), the short-lived "The Beat" (UPN, 2000), "Witness to the Mob" (NBC, 2000), "When Trumpets Fade" (HBO, 1998), and "Critical Choices" (Showtime, 1996). Most notable of all was his recurring role from 1997-99 on "The Pretender" (Fox, 1996-2000), in which he played the role of Jarod's (Michael T. Weiss) brother.
Now a young adult actor, Donovan became involved in his first movie that enjoyed major Hollywood exposure. Coming off the heels of the highest grossing improvised horror movie ever, "The Blair Witch Project" (1999), Donovan was cast in 2000 as the lead in the scripted "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" (2000). As the tour guide who leads the group of Blair Witch fans into the woods, Donovan's character was the focus of the psychological thriller. Fascinated with the paranoia that gripped the country on whether or not the first film was real, Donovan was immediately attracted to the story and wanted to put his own spin on it, including adding a touch of comedy to the scenes. Again embracing his Method style of acting, he spontaneously shaved his head and put on a dressing gown to play the former mental patient - a backstory to the character Donovan himself had created. Unfortunately, unlike its predecessor's history-making ticket sales, "Blair Witch 2" failed to scare people into the theatres. Although the horror sequel did not rocket the actor to stardom, his next movie helped him inch a bit closer. Also that year, he starred with Jamie Foxx in the action-comedy "Bait." In it, he had a supporting role as the ex-con who ends up the comic foil to Foxx's character. It had been Donovan's role in the stage comedy "Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight" that got him the part in "Bait," which Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert described as "a deadpan action comedy with a little Hitchcock; a little Bond and a lot of attitude." Next up was 2002's independent film "Purpose" - a small film about the tumultuous process of Internet start-ups going public, starring Peter Coyote and Mia Farrow. It was not until two years later that Donovan got the role that would catapult him into leading man status.
Since feature films were not proving as commercially successful for the actor, he went back to television - this time playing a tortured, yet quirky cop with a past he is trying to remember in "Touching Evil." The made-for-television crime thriller marked the beginning of the actor's collaboration with USA Network and was such a hit with viewers and critics, that Donovan went on to reprise the role in the short-lived series that followed. As Det. David Creegan - very much a Bruce Willis-type character - Donovan finally stood out from the pack with a unique intensity. It was no coincidence that Bruce Willis also served as executive producer for the series. The small screen adaptation of the popular British series of the same name partnered Willis with Arnold Rifkin and another film great, Allen Hughes of the famed directing duo, The Hughes Brothers. Although the show took its cue from the original, it emphasized more of Creegan's emotional chaos and depicted his wilder behavior, which, according to Rifkin, was a lot like Donovan's real-life persona: "There's an element of Jeff that would do that," he said, insisting that British star Robson Green would never have done have of the things Donovan was putting onscreen. Donovan's version of the flippant police officer made "Touching Evil" a cult classic, and for the first time, allowed him to demonstrate his range as an actor. Comedy aside, the show was darkly psychological and complex in its story of an investigator who returns to work at an elite San Francisco crime unit after a near-death experience from a gunshot wound to the head. As a result of his injury, Creegan has no shame and displays scores of inappropriate antics, but uses these quirks to ultimately capture the bad guys and reclaim his life. Staying true to his Method acting roots, when it came time to for his character to be plagued by insomnia, Donovan stayed up for 48 hours to accurately portray the lethargy. He also met with a UCLA neurologist to study the results of a frontal lobe injury. Even though the show came and went after only 13 episodes, Donovan said his Creegan character actually had a remarkable impact on his life. Having been somewhat shy before, the role freed him in both his professional and personal life.
Returning to the big screen, Donovan appeared in the 2005 hit comedy, "Hitch," perfectly portraying Vance, a handsome, yet smarmy stock broker who solicits the help of Alex "Hitch" Hitchens (Will Smith) in order to find Mrs. Right - or in his case, Ms. Right Now. Moving easily from caddish to caring, Donovan showed his softer side in "Come Early Morning" (2006), the feature writing and directing debut of actress Joey Lauren Adams. As the kindhearted outsider who falls for Ashley Judd's emotionally damaged and promiscuous character, The Wall Street Journal hailed the "fine performance by Jeffrey Donovan." The dawn of 2007 was equally as fruitful for Donovan, who had a brief stint as a recurring character in five episodes of "Crossing Jordan" (NBC, 2001-07) as William Ivers, a special prosecutor appointed to investigate the morgue. Heating up the small screen again for another NBC Universal nighttime show was "Burn Notice," Donovan's most successful TV show to date and one that blazed new trails for his career. Donovan had made such a charismatic, yet dangerous impression with the short-lived "Touching Evil" that USA Network producers did not hesitate to reapproach the steely-eyed actor. Donovan proved to be the ideal candidate to portray a former government agent struggling to piece his life back together. The breezy summer series was anything but a beach, showcasing Michael Westen (Donovan) as a spy who was burned - i.e., blacklisted - unexpectedly by the U.S. government. An actual term used by government agencies to inform spies that they are no longer affiliated with the government, the show centered on Westen's quest to find out just who 'burned' him. Using his "MacGyver"-like skills to survive as an agent-for-hire in Miami, Donovan more than held his own opposite screen veteran and cult movie icon, Bruce Campbell. And par for his Method past, Donovan met with government officials in preparation for the role. One of the few critical hits of that summer "Burn Notice" succeeded mainly through sharp writing, amusing Campbell/Donovan chemistry, and the latter's spot-on, cool-as-ice lead performance.
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Made his film debut in "Throwing Down"
Appeared briefly on the daytime soap "Another World" (NBC)
Co-starred in "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2"
Series debut in a regular role, the UPN police drama "The Beat"
Played the lead on the short-lived USA Network series "Touching Evil"
Appeared in the romantic comedy "Hitch" starring Will Smith and Eva Mendes
Starred in "Believe in Me" opposite Samantha Mathis and Bruce Dern
Co-starred with Ashley Judd in the film "Come Early Morning"
Cast in a recurring role on NBC's "Crossing Jordan"
Played the lead on the USA Network series "Burn Notice"
Cast opposite Angelina Jolie in Clint Eastwood's "Changeling," as a corrupt police officer
Nominated for the 2011 Teen Choice Award for Choice TV Actor: Action Adventure
Portrayed Robert Kennedy in the biographical drama "J. Edgar," starring Leonardo DiCaprio; again directed by Eastwood