For slightly younger audiences, actor Jere Burns is perhaps most known for starring as Wynn Duffy in the Western crime drama Justified. He did a brilliant job portraying the ruthless, cold-blooded Duffy – a middle man in the Dixie Mafia.
But Burns has been active in the entertainment industry since 1970, and if you watched sitcoms during the ’80s, you probably recognize him as the sleazy Kirk Morris in Dear John.
Today, the Massachusetts-born actor is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, not long ago, he commented on a topic that confused his fans for years…
Jere Burns, whose given name is pronounced as Jerry, was born in 1954 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father was a gown manufacturer and his mom a homemaker, so Jere grew up without a clear connection to acting.
Instead, he played many sports and looked at himself as an athlete. He had no interest in drama or acting – until he started a private high school in Cambridge. There, he got exposed to something that would changed his life forever.
”We had this great little drama program. And I loved it. I loved the attention; I loved the response, I loved the girls, I loved the whole thing. But I had been an athlete too, so there was a little conflict there,” Jere said when interviewed on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show.
After high school, Jere attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst and studied English. He didn’t have the guts to study drama or acting – partly because he didn’t see himself making a living out of it. Not only that, but growing up he felt he didn’t have any entertainment-based role models that he looked up to.
”From Boston, Massachusetts, you know – everybody is a doctor or a lawyer, a businessman or whatever. I didn’t know anyone that ever went in to show business,” he said.
But late in his college journey, Jere decided that he simply couldn’t let go of his dream of becoming an actor.
By 1970, he had already appeared in one episode of The Psychiatrist, a drama series that aired on NBC. During his last years at UMass, he took courses in acting and “muzzled” his way into many leading roles.
In 1980, he relocated to Manhattan to attend NYU Tisch School of the Arts – but the aspiring actor left after a year and a half. Jere was 25 at the time, his girlfriend was pregnant, and he did some soul-searching. A friend offered him a place at the New York Shakespeare Festival, keeping him employed so he could pay his bills.
Fortunately, Jere would soon get the chance to learn from two amazing actors. In 1982, he got the opportunity to understudy for John Malkovich and Gary Sinise. Back then, the relatively unknown actors were cast in the Steppenwolf production of Sam Shepard’s True West – Jere worked closely alongside Gary and John, watching them performing every night.
As you could probably imagine, Jere couldn’t have asked for a better pair of tutors. Learning from two actors that went on to become two of the most appreciated performers in the country certainly helped him.
However, it would be six years before Jere landed the TV role that many consider to be his breakthrough. Playing the sleazy Kirk Morris on the sitcom Dear John made Jere a famous face on the streets. According to the man himself, the show was “a great learning platform.”