We talked to Piper Perabo and Chris Gorham, the stars of USA’s new series “Covert Affairs”. The two discussed the relationship between their characters, the challenges of working with a blind character, and what they learned from talking with actual spies during development.
I wanted to talk a little bit about the relationship between your characters. Can you tell us how important this relationship is going to be to the show? I mean, is it going to be as much relationship stuff as action and shooting?
Piper Perabo: I think that the instinct that I get from Auggie and my relationship with him is this sort of relationship that you just start to see the beginning of in the pilot, really takes hold as the episodes continue. He’s my one sort of, person that I can touch and confide in, and not worry about failing in front of. And so he becomes a really important sort of component to me being able to succeed.
Chris Gorham: Yeah, I think, you know, Auggie really takes Annie under his wing in the beginning. And they have a real connection. As the show goes on, they quickly become friends. I think he feels protective of her and wants her to succeed. It’s definitely a big part of the show.
It’s interesting where we start off. Where their relationship starts off, you know, Auggie’s slept with a lot of the women at the Agency.
And so I think when they first meet, he kind of assumes that they’re going to hook up. But it kind of quickly moves past the casual hookup and into a real friendship. What comes out of that friendship I think is potentially a long-term storyline.
Chris, how do you like the name Auggie?
Piper Perabo: That’s an awesome question.
Chris Gorham: It’s grown on me. His full name is August. And that I actually really like. And so you know, it would automatically get shortened to Auggie. And then I’ve been able to kind of just fill in the blanks for me, as far as to how that happened and how much fun I think his buddies in the military would have with his very intimidating sounding name. So yeah, it’s grown on me.
Piper, many times I’ve talked to actors who dig playing cops and cowboys and spies because it allows them to, you know, revert to being a kid, when they were playing cops and robbers, and cowboys and Indians, and secret agent and whatnot. And probably now they’ve got better props and better special effects and plots and more talented playmates. Does that apply equally when you’re a girl?
Piper Perabo: I think so. I mean I was pretty, you know, kind of a tomboy growing up. But it’s better now – I mean the props are definitely better, and the playmates, but also your mom isn’t there to stop you.
You know, I was a tomboy and jumping off the roof and stuff like that. But it’s much more fun when I have Chris and Doug, and we’re jumping off of buildings, and jumping down elevator shafts and crashing cars. They’re encouraging you to break stuff, so I enjoy it even more.
Piper, how much do you know at this point and how much can you share with us about Annie and her mystery man?
Piper Perabo: I think I know less than I knew when we started. As I’ve seen more of the Ben Mercer character, it’s gotten muddier about whose side he’s on.
So I think – somebody asked me the other day if we’re going to find out who he is by the end of this season, and even I don’t know that. It’s definitely getting – it’s getting more complicated than less, with him.
Are you actually happy that there’s a lot of humor in the show — that it’s not just a straight on dark, kind of edgy kind of drama, it’s got a lot of humor.
Chris Gorham: Very happy.
Piper Perabo: Yeah, I’m happy about that. I mean Chris makes me laugh. So there would kind of be – even if they wanted it to be dark, I would sort of be giggling in the background. But it’s good that we’re allowed to be funny.
Could you guys talk about, for each of you, what was the biggest challenge in doing this show?
Chris Gorham: I mean, for me kind of the obvious thing is playing a blind character. You know, having that kind of a physical disability was a big challenge and something that I was really excited about.
I’ve been working closely with The Canadian National Institute for the Blind up here, starting during the pilot and then have continued as we’re – as we’ve been doing the show. And it’s just been such an adventure.
I mean we talk – I’m constantly apologizing to directors because what seems like a very simple little scene ends up becoming really complicated because I start to think about how I’m going to do this without being able to see any of the furniture or my coffee, or you know, anything. So we’re constantly getting ten minutes into rehearsal and I’m saying, “You know what, I’m sorry, I need another minute.”
It’s a big challenge, but it’s also really exciting and kind of – it’s kind of made the process of doing a show brand new again for me. And so I’ve really loved it.
Piper Perabo: Well to follow-up on what Chris said, he’s had some of his teachers from the Institute for the Blind come in to work with me, because I’ve never had a close friend who’s blind. And so there’s a whole skill to leading someone, walking with someone, and how you have a sort of, you know, close friendship with someone when you’re sighted and they’re not. And that’s been – I agree with Chris, you know, kind of a fascinating angle on the show is how to work that out. And I think more and more as we get into the field, it’s going to get even more interesting.
How did you apply what you learned at the institute, and what did you learn from that?
Chris Gorham: You know it’s a million little things, and I’m still learning. It’s been invaluable. Just, the little details and things that then I can take and apply in the show. Because you know, there are very simple things like how to walk with a cane and how to find your coffee on your desk and entry level training – the training that they give you at the center when you lose your sight.
But really kind of the fun little details and things that we’ll work into the show are things like how other people behave around someone who can’t see. Because I’ve gone out to dinner a couple of times with a friend of mine who’s blind and it just blows me away at how people just freeze up. You know, waiters not only stop talking to him, but they’ll stop talking to me because they don’t know what to do. It’s really interesting.
So little things like that, those little details that we can put in. Things like the design of my office: We had the woman, her name is Leslie McDonald, at the center who has been a great help to me, come out to the set just to kind of look through my office set and see what she’d think, because she actually helped with the design of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s building. Things like the rounded corners on my desk, and keeping it relatively clutter free and having everything has its place so that I don’t lose things. It’s been interesting.
And like I said, I’m still going. I was just there the other day with a blindfold in the kitchen learning how to pour hot liquids into a cup and, because we’re going to see Auggie’s apartment now, I want to know my way around in there.
I don’t think we’ve ever seen a spy show where the hero is sort of learning on the job. Do you think – do you see the eventual progression of the show as she’s going to basically learn how to be a total kick-ass Alias type?
Piper Perabo: I think Annie’s definitely going to progress in her talent and level as a spy. But I also think when I talk to officers who really do work in the field: your whole job for the length of your career is on the fly.
You know, there are so many things that come up that you could have never planned for and trained for. And these people are really, in a lot of ways, creative types because they have to solve problems that you could never imagine were going to come up. You can learn to pick locks and set explosives, but after that you’re kind of on your own.
So improvising on the fly will always be the heart of the show?
Piper Perabo: Yeah, yeah. I think, you know, I think that’s what makes it interesting. I think that’s certainly what interests Doug Liman, is that kind of how – you know, there’s a kind of Nikita quality to it. You know, these people that can – or the professional, how you see them in a situation and you see them start so quickly adapting. I think it’s really dramatic.
What surprised you the most about the whole CIA lifestyle?
Piper Perabo: I had lunch with a bunch of different agents, and one of the guys told me that his wife doesn’t know that he works for the CIA. I couldn’t believe that that really happens, you know? That is how secret it has to be. But every person that you tell, it puts them in danger. The CIA policy is that you’re allowed to tell whoever you want, just with the realization that that’s going to put them in danger.
Annie is such a complicated character, I’m wondering what you hope she will have learned or maybe achieved by the end the first season?
Piper Perabo: Annie’s still learning kind of basic protocol on how to take on an assignment. And in some ways, you know, it slows her down.
I know that Sendhil Ramamurthy has joined our show. When I’m in the field with him or Chris Gorham, there’s a pace that we can pick up because these guys’ characters have been with the CIA longer, and know how to handle situations just because of their experience level. So I’m looking forward to Annie having a little more confidence in having learned from these guys.
She’s a little klutzy, and I’m a little klutzy myself, so I think maybe that’s the writers just giving me a little help. I don’t know if Annie would be klutzy if I weren’t playing her.
Chris, Auggie is the gadget guy on the show. What’s been your favorite tech item to play with so far?
Chris Gorham: Oh you know, I have this active brail keyboard that’s pretty cool.
Piper Perabo: That’s just nerdy dude. You’re so nerdy it’s awesome.
Chris Gorham: It’s really cool. There’s two things; so my active brail keyboard is really exciting, and the other thing, I have a laser cane, it’s like – it’s this thing that we have invented for Auggie. We came up with this laser cane, that actually isn’t that far ahead of current technology.
It has this visible laser that creates this grid. And so he can flash it around the room and he gets vibratory feedback on the stick that he’s holding. It shoots out sonic waves. One of the guys that I’ve been working with through the center has one of those kind of sonic wands and let me try it out to listen to the sounds.
The nice thing about that is because lasers would go through glass, it wouldn’t bounce back. But sonic waves bounce back off everything.
And on top of it, it gives you an idea of what it is that you’re looking at, because every physical object has – resonates at a different level. So it actually sounds different if I’m pointing it at wood, or I’m pointing it at tile, or a carpet, or a glass wall, or brick wall, or a person. I can use that to flash around an entire room and get an idea of the dimensions and what’s in that space. So it comes in really handy.
How much is Auggie going to be out in the field? Is that going to be a regular thing?
Chris Gorham: Him getting out in the field is an irregular thing, but he does get out. In fact we’re just about to start an episode where he’s really, really out in the field, actually on assignment. There’s another episode where he’s out in the field but really shouldn’t be. But he just can’t help himself sometimes.
So yeah, he does get out of the office. And they’ve been really good about making sure that that happens and being really creative about it. And also real because you know, he does have limitations. He’s very capable and great at what he does. But not being able to see does limit some things that he can do.
I was wondering if you guys could each give me three words that best describes your character?
Piper Perabo: Brave, and fashion, and heartbroken.
Chris Gorham: God those are good. I would say, “Driven, fearless and hungry.”
There’s going to be a lot of amazing guest-stars on this season. Can you talk about some of them and maybe even reveal some that we don’t know about yet?
Piper Perabo: We’ve had some amazing people. Oded Fehr was one of our guest-stars, and he plays a Mossad spy. His action film background made him kind of unparalleled as someone to work with and come in as a guest-star. Eriq La Salle was one in a recent episode. We just finished an episode with Anna Camp.
It’s summertime, so why will people want to spend their time indoors to watch the show Covert Affairs?
Piper Perabo: Well, we come on at 10:00, and so then you can, you know, shower down, finish your barbeque, and sort of get into the air conditioning. I think that the show, each week, feels like a mini movie, and so you know, it’s exciting television.
“Covert Affars” premieres July 13th at 10 PM/9 Central on USA network.