Christopher Gorham (Ugly Betty, Jake 2.0) and Piper Perabo are the stars of USA’s newest drama, Covert Affairs. They both have spoken several times in the past several weeks with the press about the new show. They are very sweet and were fun to talk to. Chris is on Twitter, too ( @Chris_Gorham ), and he’s great! Check out the interviews below, and don’t miss the premiere tonight on USA at 10/9c.
Annie Walker (Perabo) is a young CIA trainee who is suddenly thrust into the inner sanctum of the agency after being promoted to field operative. While it appears that she has been hand-picked for her exceptional linguistic skills, it may be something from her past that her CIA bosses are really after. Christopher Gorham plays Auggie Anderson, a CIA military intelligence agent, blinded while on assignment, and Annie’s guide in this world of bureaucracy, excitement and intrigue.
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, you know, 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.
So having said that, “Jumping off of stuff,” is it barely possible that it’s you jumping out of that plane in the first episode?
Piper Perabo: I’m so mad, because I already told somebody that it wasn’t me. And then I talked to the woman who jumped out of the plane and she was like, “You don’t have to say it was me.” But it wasn’t me jumping out of the plane. I would have jumped out, but USA would never have let me do it.
Okay. But they don’t provide a double for you when you do things like love-making scenes, am I right? They just do a double for you when you’re jumping out of planes.
Piper Perabo: I insist on doing all the love scenes myself, and that’s since Eion Bailey’s playing opposite of me. Was that too much?
Chris Gorham: I like that. It’s amazing. Amazing. I’m blushing.
Piper Perabo: Yeah.
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.
And what do the two of you think about being on this network? Obviously it seems that all of the best shows on cable are on USA at this point in time — certainly all of my favorites. But not only that, but coming from Dutch Oven, I mean you’ve got some pretty heavy-hitters backing the show. What do the two of you think about that? I mean I – certainly I would think it sets you up for – to be as successful as possible.
Chris Gorham: Yeah I, you know, I think the way that they run their network I think is really smart. I mean it starts with development, and they only develop a very small group of shows and then they only shoot a couple pilots a year. Which is why I think they’ve had such a high success rate, because they only really get behind the stuff that they believe in.
So, I mean for me, I think it’s an incredible opportunity. I’m really excited. And on top of that, the show’s turning out great. So yeah, we have really high hopes.
Piper Perabo: I would [agree with that]. This is my first foray into a series, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. But when I compare it with films that I’ve done, it feels of equal caliber.
It seems like every episode that we do is like a mini-movie, with the amount of stunts and cameras and shots that we’re trying to achieve. So in that way I think it’s going to make for really exciting television.
Piper, I’m kind of assuming that some of those basic kind of, things they drop in are true, like the fact that the majority of people are young because they’ve lifted the hiring freeze, and the fact that there’s a Starbucks right inside the building. As far as you know, are those true?
Piper Perabo: Yeah, I went down to Langley for the day. Valerie Plame Wilson was our Technical Advisor on the pilot. And so we have connections down there. And so I spent the day down there and met agents who are the same age as Chris and I, and talked with them about their lives and what’s going on. And you know, a lot of the things that we’re drawing on from the show are based in kind of the dirty details of reality.
So what I wanted to ask you then is, giving that kind of general mood that they showed there, does it strike that another world you would have really enjoyed working in a place like that? Does it seem like, just for someone of your age and your interests and so forth, would you actually love being a CIA agent or?
Piper Perabo: I mean I – one thing that I thought I really liked about it, and that I would like about it when I met them was, that the reason that they’re there.
One of the agents that I spoke to was saying, you know, the – I – she said, “I serve at the pleasure of the President, regardless of who the President is.” So it’s bigger than even the momentary political agenda in that they are – you know, they believe in the ideals of the – this country.
And that was kind of an old fashioned and forthright mission statement that I didn’t expect. And I thought – it sort of charmed me in a way that I didn’t anticipate when I first got to the CIA.
Annie comes from this having been far traveled — she’s been to a lot of places and done a lot of stuff. And looking at your background, I kind of get the feeling some of that – I mean it says you were, “Born in Dallas, went to high school in New Jersey, went to college in Ohio, moved to New York, you’ve worked all over.” Is that true, have you kind of lived all over the country and beyond? And does that give you some kind of a background when you play a character?
Piper Perabo: I think so, I mean it certainly – my traveling — especially with my work in the last ten years — really has given me a lot of language background, which Annie, you know, has and also sort of understanding the cultures and customs of all the different places that Annie has to go. And so I think that travel and my work life definitely feeds into the show.
Could you guys talk about 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, you know, 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 – we’re getting, you know, ten minutes into rehearsal and I’m saying, “You know what, I’m sorry, I need another minute.”
But – so 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: Just to follow-up on what Chris said. 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.
Chris Gorham: Yeah.
I’m wondering if you’re 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.
My question was kind of with the blind aspect of it and how you, you know, applied what you learned at the institute, which I was kind of wondering you know, what it is that you learned from that?
Chris Gorham: You know it’s a million little things, and I’m still learning. You know, I’ve made a couple friends over there now; a couple sighted, a couple who are not sighted.
And it’s just – 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 big things, like – and very simple things like how to walk with a cane and you know, how to find your coffee on your desk. And you know, those kind of 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, you know, 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.
And you know, getting details from another friend who’s helped me over there of, you know, he’ll send me emails like, “Oh I just thought of this, something that’s really frustrating is automatic toilets in the public restroom.” You know, and I’m thinking like, “What do you mean?” He says, “Well imagine feeling around a nasty, like public toilet looking for the lever to flush the thing and then standing up in frustration and having it flush by itself.” You know, I mean, you know?
So like little things like that – those little details that we can put in. You know they’ve – like 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, had come out – came 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.
And you know, like doing kind of rounded corners on my desk, and keeping it relatively clutter free and having everything has its place so that I don’t lose things. And so it’s been interesting.
And like I said, I’m still going. I was just there the other day, you know, 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, and so I want to know my way around in there. So…
Piper Perabo: I didn’t see it yet.
Chris Gorham: Oh it’s great.
Piper Perabo: I’m excited.
Chris Gorham: I haven’t seen the whole thing. We’ve just – we’ve seen the living room. And it’s really cool.
In fact, they used one of my ideas, because I thought it’d be really neat in his apartment if…I don’t know the name of the artist, and I really should figure it out, but they – where they do those big kind of block letter, just words on a giant canvas. Like it’ll be – say, “Love,” or it’ll say, “You,” or whatever it is.
And I thought it’d be really cool to do that, but with like big brail, like a really tactiled painting, like a big piece on his wall. And so they took that and ran with it. And so there’s just this big brail work of art on the wall that’s just white, and it looks great.
Could each [of you] give me three words that best describes your character?
Chris Gorham: Oh you go first.
Piper Perabo: Oh god thanks a lot.
Chris Gorham: You’re welcome.
Piper Perabo: Brave, and fashion, and heartbroken.
Chris Gorham: God those are good. I would say, “Driven, fearless and hungry.”
I wanted to talk a little bit about the relationship between your characters. Can you tell us how – first of all, 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 sort of – I mean the instinct that I get from Auggie and my relationship with him is that 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.
There’s – you know, in the pilot there’s – they have kind of this superficial connection of that, you know, she loves Mingus and he’s obsessed with Mingus, and so they like the same music.
But then, yeah, as the show goes on, they quickly become fast friends. And you know, I think he feels protective of her and wants her to succeed. You know, I – there’s a real connection. And it’s definitely a big part of the show.
If you notice, on other USA shows, you know, say Burn Notice, you know, the relationship between Michael and Fiona is so important on that show. You know, it sort of sets it apart. And I think also here, the Mr. and Mrs. Smith connection to your production is… it’s got to be about the man and woman together.
Chris Gorham: Yeah, you know I think – well it’s interesting where we start off. Where their relationship starts off, you know, Auggie’s kind of – he’s slept with a lot of the women at the Agency.
And so I think when they first met, like he kind of assumes that they’re going to hookup. But it kind of – but the relationship with her for some reason, you know, quickly moves past the casual hookup and into a real friendship. And so you know, what comes out of that friendship I think is potentially a long-term storyline.
And Piper, Annie seemed kind of surprised when, was it Conrad, told her that the Agency encourages people to-date.
Piper Perabo: Yeah, I mean, that is true. I’m still kind of surprised by that.
But the more you understand sort of how secret you have to keep everything and how compartmentalized your life becomes, I can understand why you would date someone in the agency, because they’re really the only people who understand the full extent of what you’re doing in your life. And so I could understand how it happens.
So that really is a real thing?
Piper Perabo: Yeah, definitely.
Piper, this is your first series. Was it – were you finally to a point in your life where you were kind of looking for a series? Or had you been asked to do one before? Or, just sort of talk about that. And Chris I know this sounds like an obvious question, but was there discussion about whether your character would actually wear glasses or not, the dark glasses?
Chris Gorham: There was, yeah. It’s actually really interesting because that is a real kind of stereotype of the blind guy, one that I actually fell into because I showed up to the audition with sunglasses on. And was told on my way into the room by the casting director, “Oh no, they don’t want glasses.” And then had to on the fly kind of make up what the hell I was going to do to look blind. So yeah, there was a discussion. And we got up here we talked a lot about it. And as I’ve learned more, you know, really the glasses are to make other people comfortable, because obviously, you know, when you can’t see, the bright lights aren’t going to bother you when you’re totally blind.
There are a lot of people who are partially blind where bright lights really do bother them. But for Auggie, it’s not really a problem. So we just use them occasionally when we’re outside. But we never use them inside.
Piper Perabo: Yeah, I wasn’t looking for a series actually. I was in the middle of doing a Broadway play when this came across my desk. And you know, I was thinking of what I was going to do when the play ended. And I was reading films, and I just wasn’t finding anything that I really connected to.
And when this came across my desk, not only did it have the pedigree of Doug Liman, but it was a character that I thought would be really fun to play. And even fun to play, you know, episode after episode, and how it would evolve and change.
And I talked with the boys a lot about how Annie would evolve. But I even sort of like not knowing specifically where the story’s going. You know, when you make a film, you kind of know where you’re going for the whole arc of the story when you begin.
But in this arc, I can’t see the end yet. And so it makes for a whole different kind of work. And I didn’t expect that, and I’m really enjoying that about having, you know, started on the series.
Chris, how do you like the name Auggie?
Chris Gorham: You know what?
Piper Perabo: That’s an awesome question.
Chris Gorham: I – 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.
I was wondering what he likes about Annie.
Chris Gorham: What’s not to like about Annie? She – okay, well I’ll kind of run down – I’ll try to – in order of how Auggie would notice them; one, she smells good; two, she’s smart; she has a great sense of humor; and she gets him; and she likes Mingus; and after that like, he was done. It’s like, “All right I like this girl.”
And in the first episode she really proves herself that she belongs there. And that’s important to him. I mean, Auggie comes out of Special Forces, so he’s no – you know, he’s no joke when it comes to the operations. And you know, she passed every test.
And Piper, 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.
And I don’t know, in the summer, you know, if you have a little bit of a sunburn, and a nice guy and a barbeque, it’s good to have a little something to go inside to do.
[Is] there anything on the set that you are doing, or the production is doing, to be more eco-friendly and green?
Piper Perabo: Dude, oh my god. Wait, can I answer?
Chris Gorham: We are. Yeah, take it.
Piper Perabo: Well, first of all this week, not only do we have paper, plastic and glass recycling, this week we also started recycling our organic waste. So I was – I mean, maybe that’s not something that everybody’s excited about but I was really excited about that. And Chris, I don’t know if you saw the (blue) revisions on 107, but Chris throws out a pop can that’s on his desk. Did you see those new pages?
Chris Gorham: No, I haven’t seen them yet, I just got them.
Piper Perabo: He throws out a can of pop off his desk and it missed – somebody’s been in his office moving the furniture around, so the trashcan’s not where it’s supposed to be. And I called the creators and I was like, “Instead of it being a trashcan, couldn’t it please be a recycling can?” And so when the revisions came out, his recycling can isn’t where it’s supposed to be.
Chris Gorham: Nice. Also, they don’t – we don’t have water bottles on the set. It’s all cups and the use the kind of biodegradable plasticware when we need it.
Piper Perabo: Oh yeah, and they handed out personal water bottles so everybody can just refill their bottles on set.
First for Piper; I was thinking, 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 is she’s going to basically learn how to be a total kick-ass Alias type?
Piper Perabo: I mean she’ll – I think Annie’s definitely going to progress in her talent and level as a spy. But I also think, you know, 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.
Chris Gorham: Yeah, so you don’t see the same kind of thing twice so you can get really great at that one thing and be an expert at it, right?
Piper Perabo: Yeah, I mean you know, you can learn to pick locks and set explosives, but after that you’re kind of on your own.
So that’ll always be the heart of the show.
Piper Perabo: Right, lock picking and explosives.
Well no I mean the improvising on the fly.
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.
Christopher, I loved the idea that he can tell who’s hot by how guys talk to them.
Chris Gorham: Yeah, isn’t that great?
Is the advice we should take from that, “Don’t talk to hot girls any differently?”
Chris Gorham: Yeah, well listen, it’s – yes. I will – yes, that’s – in fact, I think that’s the entire moral of the pilot episode. Don’t talk to hot girls differently.
Well it is a great, sort of insight into how everyone else behaves. Are we going to see more of those sort of observations coming?
Chris Gorham: Yes, definitely. We’re…
Piper Perabo: Oh yeah, Auggie’s the king of that.
Chris Gorham: Yeah, I’ve got a – we’re shooting a really cool episode coming up where we do that. There’s a few times where, you know, we need a certain type of person, or we need information quickly and we have to get it through, you know, kind of quick observations.
And it’s fun, you know, so far like every time we’ve done it, we’ve – it’s worked. It’ll be interesting at some point to have it not work I think.
Piper Perabo: Oh, that’s interesting.
Chris Gorham: And then have to watch these characters adapt to that, you know?
Piper first off, did you go to any kind of training camp for the CIA or CIA-like training camp to physically getting into shape for it, or gun training and stuff like that?
Piper Perabo: Well, right now, my character doesn’t carry a gun. CIA officers don’t carry firearms when they’re on U.S. soil. And I did go to Langley and spent the day there with agents who are my age. And they briefed me a lot on their lifestyle and their training.
I didn’t go the farm where they do their physical training. But I did do a lot of physical training before the pilot, predominantly combat training. You know, fight training for the hand to hand combat things that we do.
Chris Gorham: Trust me, she can fight.
Piper Perabo: Thanks.
What surprised you the most about the whole CIA lifestyle, I guess is the way you would call it?
Piper Perabo: I mean you know, one guy that – 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. And I couldn’t believe that that really happens, you know? That that’s how secret it has to be. But every person that you tell, it puts them in danger.
So it’s not that you – your – the CIA policy, they said to me, is that you’re allowed to tell whoever you want, just with the realization that that’s going to put them in danger the more that they know.
Would you tell a spouse, if you were in the CIA, that – what you were doing?
Piper Perabo: I don’t think I would. I mean, when he was telling me this about his wife I really pressed him on it, and I said, “You know, I’m sure your wife’s smart,” and, “Do you think sometimes that she knows what you do and kind of has chosen to leave it the way you’ve set it up?”
And he said, “Yeah, some days I think she does know where I go to work.” It’s interesting though, it’s a complex kind of dual life that they have to lead.
Chris, would you tell your wife?
Chris Gorham: You know, it’s an interesting question because it’s – and the honest answer is, “I don’t know. I guess it would depend. I guess it would depend.”
You know, because I think the first reaction I would have had, if I had been there would be the same as Piper; I would have been kind of incredulous, you know? Because I know there are people whose spouses do know. And you think of Valerie and Joe, I mean they both – they knew what they did, right?
Piper Perabo: Yeah.
Chris Gorham: Is that true? I don’t remember.
Piper Perabo: And Valerie’s husband knew what she did.
Chris Gorham: Yeah.
Piper Perabo: But her kids didn’t.
Chris Gorham: Yeah, well like my kids, I would – that’s – I would definitely keep it from my kids. My wife, I guess it would depend. Like – yeah I don’t know. It would depend.
That’s a tough question, you know? it’s kind of one of those things where it goes from kind of like, “Ooh, being a spy sounds like a really cool job until you have the real, you know, real life, really hard questions that you have to ask when you do (unintelligible).”
You’ve both done really – Chris you’ve done a lot of television, great television, from Ugly Betty to this, everything else, and movies, and Piper you’ve done plays and – are the two of you satisfied with where you are at in your career right now? I mean is this where you want to be, in a show like this? I mean, is this where you imagined you would be?
Piper Perabo: I’m – actually I’m really satisfied with where I am…
Chris Gorham: Yeah.
Piper Perabo: I mean this kind of show and the challenge that it presents, both because of the quality of the writing and then, the ambition of the shooting style, to me is really fun. And it’s a really hard thing to find. So I’m really, really happy with where I am.
Chris Gorham: Yeah, I – ditto for me. I couldn’t be happier. It’s – you know, we have great writers who are doing a fantastic job, you know. Writing not only great stories, but really interesting characters.
And you know, the network is behind the show 100%. And everybody that works on it is really great, I mean not only talented, but just really nice people, which doesn’t always happen. And so yeah, just really happy.
Piper, 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: Well, I mean one of the things is like – this seems like a small thing, but 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.
And I know that, you know Sendhil Ramamurthy has joined our show. And when I’m in the field with him or Chris Gorham, there’s a pace that we can pick up because these guys, their characters have been with the CIA longer, and know how to handle, you know, situations just because of their experience level. So I’m looking forward to Annie having a little more, you know, confidence in having learned from these guys.
Yeah, I noticed she tended to – she’s kind of a klutz in the pilot.
Piper Perabo: She’s a little klutzy. 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 Gorham: Well it’s been fun though, because I mean we even – there’s a scene in the second episode where Annie gets so frustrated because she’s losing hand to hand fights. And so they have this great scene where Auggie’s training her in hand to hand combat.
Piper Perabo: Yeah, it’s cool. Yeah. And I think that kind of really speedy and sharp learning curve, I think, I don’t know if there’s an end to the curve, you know, when you’re in the CIA the sort of problems continue to present themselves.
Chris Gorham: Yeah
Piper Perabo: But I think that is really fun to act, you know, as you improve and improve and improve, whether it’s protocol or combat, or you know, how to jump off a building.
Chris Gorham: And it’s also part of what makes Annie so likable, like – is you can really route for her because she doesn’t have it all figured out. She’s learning on the job, and – you know. And so you really get behind her and want her to succeed, because you don’t know for sure if she’s going to.
Piper Perabo: Right.
Well 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.
And I think the whole – we worked on it with – Tim Matheson kind of wanted something – he directed the pilot and wanted something kind of visually more high-tech than your standard white cane for Auggie. So we came up with this laser cane, that actually isn’t that far ahead of current technology.
Something similar to it could exist. And there are things that have pieces of what we think that it does, that actually do exist. But that thing’s really great.
What’s the premise of that, is it like the light bounces off items so you know where they are?
Chris Gorham: Yeah, it’s a couple things; so one is that it has this visible laser that creates this grid. And so he can flash it around the room and he get’s vibratory feedback on the stick that he’s holding. He can also get auditory, but wearing the little ear bud thing gets annoying, so sometimes he takes it out.
But – and also it shoots out sonic waves. It’s like it has sonar on it, which again, is a real technology. 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 of 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.
Piper Perabo: That’s cool.
Chris Gorham: So yeah, it’s really neat. And so instead of just, you know, a white cane which only gives me information at my feet and only, you know, two or three feet in front of me, 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.
There’s going to be a lot, I know, 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: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ve had some amazing people.
Oded Fehr was one of our guest-stars, and he plays an Israeli spy – a – from the Mossad – Mossad spy. And his action film background, you know, made him kind of unparalleled as someone to work with and come in as a guest-star.
And Eriq La Salle was one in a recent episode. And then we just finished an episode with Anna Camp.
Chris Gorham: Yeah, Greg Itzin came in and…
Piper Perabo: Oh, that’s right.
Chris Gorham: Yeah, and did a lot of work with. Well and Peter Gallagher technically, I guess he is technically a guest, he’s recurring. But I mean, couldn’t be more valuable to the show. I mean he’s just amazing. I mean he’s amazing and we all love him dearly.
Piper Perabo: I think of him as part of our regular cast because we have him so much.
Chris Gorham: I know. Yeah, well that shit happened like yesterday. I’m (unintelligible). Yeah, but really, really good. And it’s continuing. I mean the caliber of people that they’re bringing in to play these guest parts is really exciting.
Is there anyone else you can perhaps give us a little flavor on someone that we don’t – that you just found out maybe is going to be working with you on an episode.
Piper Perabo: Well the one that you and I were talking about, you know, that I texted you about last night?
Chris Gorham: Yeah.
Piper Perabo: I don’t know if that’s confirmed.
Chris Gorham: I don’t know either.
Piper Perabo: Shoot.
Chris Gorham: I know.
Piper Perabo: We do, but we can’t tell you yet. It’s a spy show; some things have to be kept secret.
Chris Gorham: Yeah. Yeah, we do have – it’s a really cool one. We’ve got somebody coming in to play one – a very important part from Auggie’s past who’s coming in to an episode. And – but we don’t know that we can tell you yet, so we shouldn’t tell you yet.
Piper Perabo: Yeah, yeah.
Chris Gorham: But it’s cool. She’s great.
Piper had to go after the last question, so Chris stayed and answered a few more questions…
How much is Auggie going to be out in the field? And we saw her using him as like – a little bit in the field, but he… is that going to be a regular thing?
Chris Gorham: Him getting out in the field is – it’s an irregular thing, but it – but he does get out. And in fact we’re just about to start an episode where he’s really, really out in the field, actually on assignment.
There’s an 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 should have followed up right away when she mentioned Valerie Plame Wilson. Because I think that’s fascinating that you guys work on a show and, yeah, there you are with someone who was actually involved with kind of a bigger, real life adventure than even Annie gets there. So can you tell me, did you know ahead of time you were going to meet her? Did you know who she was as soon as you met her? And what did you find interesting about being with her?
Chris Gorham: Isn’t it great? Okay, a couple things; yeah I knew who she was. And I wasn’t sure I was going to get to meet her because I was coming directly – I was doing a movie in Michigan right before we started the pilot. So I was the last one to show up and almost missed her.
So I was really excited to meet her. A little star-struck, because of – for all the obvious reasons. And was really, I don’t know, not surprised, but it was just interesting. I didn’t know what to expect.
And when you meet her, you just kind – you can completely see; A, why so many people that were close to her had no idea where she worked; and B, you could see why she was so good at it.
And then from talking with Piper from the time that she was at Langley, you know, Valerie is I think typical of some woman agents there who, they’re pretty, but they’re not so beautiful that like you – everybody stops and, you know, it becomes a big issue when they walk into the room. You know, it’s – they’re memorable, but not memorable. And really smart.
And you know, they kind of – they look like anybody. Like it’s – it’s so hard to describe. But you spend a few minutes with her and you just – you just wanted to listen.
I mean she had some really great stories. And we – I mean I was with her for maybe an hour. But just listening to her talk.
Like her passion about Piper’s character specifically was so great, because you know, I think she’s proud of the work that she did. And she meant business and she was tough.
And so she was excited to – I mean I think, you know, she seemed excited to see that on screen; you know, to see a woman start out, you know, as a young woman and at the agency, but not impressionable. You know, she’s green, but she’s not dumb and she’s not ditzy. She’s tough and she’s smart and she’s someone to be reckoned with.
I desperately wanted to ask her about the what happened — desperately. But I figured I’d wait to see the movie.
Being up in Canada, what do you like to do in your free time?
Chris Gorham: Oh, well you know, for the first month and a half, most of my free time was kind of sitting around waiting for my family to show up. And now that they’re here, I just – I don’t want to leave the house — at least not without them.
So we’ve been getting out and exploring a little bit. We brought our Nanny with us and she broke her toe, like on the first day. So we’ve been spending some extra time inside making sure she’s taking care of that.
But yeah we have great – we – you know, we go out and we go to the park. I took the boys out the other day, we had a boy’s day, and we just rode the subway and rode the street cars. And I took them over to see the house that I lived in the last time that I was living up here. And went to eat in the restaurant that I took – you know, we used to take Lucas to when he was just a baby.
And so you know, at first anyway, it’s kind of reliving some old memories and showing my kids around. And – but I think we’re going to get up to cottage country a little bit, and hopefully take a road trip to Chicago and get to the falls. And so yeah, we’ve got a lot of plans.
This next part is from a call I was on a few days ago with Piper alone. There are some great questions in this one, too, so I decided to just combine them into one big post:
You’ve been doing a lot of interviews lately, and it seems that everyone’s favorite question to ask you is about Alias. I’m sure you’re kind of tired of talking about Alias at this point. I’m just wondering, personally I see a lot of differences between the two shows and I’m wondering, being lumped together with that show so frequently do you think that that’s something that’s going to help or hinder the show?
Piper Perabo: When I first got working on the show and I was speaking to actor friends of mine about what the show was about and how I was going to create the character, people said, “You should watch Alias.” I had never watched the show, don’t ask me how I missed it, so I got the pilot and I watched the pilot and I thought it was genius. I didn’t really want to watch anymore because I don’t want to in any way imitate what Jennifer was doing and I want to make sure that Annie is her own woman and dealing with her own world. But I thought that what I saw of the work on that pilot was really exciting and the fight sequences were really dynamic and she was just a really powerful, smart, intuitive woman who can make decisions on the fly, she’s brave, and she’s still a real person. I think those parallels can be drawn to Annie.
I think in our show, though, you see a lot more of the real life of a spy, what kind of car you drive and what it’s like when you get home at night after you’ve just been chasing an assassin all day. So in that way I think we are really different. I think that if people come and watch our show because they like Alias, then that’s great, but I think they’re going to get to see a much bigger world than they saw and so hopefully they’ll keep watching.
This is your first foray into series television. If it was a movie I’m sure there would be a premiere, but with this being a television show what sort of exciting plans do you have for the premiere night?
Piper Perabo: The premiere night, I’m going to be shooting actually. We’re trying to work out this—I don’t know if I’m telling you secrets that I shouldn’t be telling you. That’s another thing I don’t know about television, I don’t know how to keep a secret. But there’s a really intense action chase that we’re going to be shooting on Tuesday night in Canada, so I won’t be watching it. But I have two brothers, and they are having a party for the premiere where everyone has to come as spies in trench coats and sunglasses. So, they’re representing the premiere party aspect for me.
I actually [asked] the people on Twitter [for questions for you] and the person who responded was your lovely co-star, Chris Gorham. He suggested that I ask you to tell us about your day at the CIA and how you took notes.
Piper Perabo: Oh, that’s interesting. Yes, Doug Liman, our executive producer, was in the middle of editing Fair Game when I got cast in the pilot, which is the story of Valerie Plame Wilson, so I knew he had contacts down at Langley. And I asked him if he could get me an introduction so that I could go there and see what it’s really like and talk to real people who do this for a living. So he did, and this sort of shows my naiveté, but I brought a notebook with me so I could take notes. I had a lot of questions that I wanted to ask.
When I got there they told me, of course, you can’t bring a notebook into the CIA. … number one is … take notes in the secret agency. I said, “Oh, okay when we get inside could I have some paper and a pen?” And the agent who was taking me around said, “Sure, but you have to leave it inside when you leave.” Of course you can’t take notes out of the CIA either. I said, “Well, how am I supposed to keep all this information?” He said, “You have to be like a spy and remember it.” It was interesting that before I even got inside you can feel how tight and secret the whole world is. It was an amazing day. It started there and it was incredible.
How did the role of Annie Walker come to you? Doug Liman [the Executive Producer], when we were talking with him, he mentioned that he likes to tailor characters to the actors who play them, so I was wondering how Annie was tailored for you and what part you played in that process.
Piper Perabo: The way that the role came to me was I was doing a Broadway play, I was doing Neil Labute’s new play, Reasons to be Pretty, and we were almost done with our run and I was reading movie scripts and I wasn’t finding anything that was really speaking to me and my agent suggested that I read this. And I hadn’t thought about doing television, but when I read it, it kind of changed everything for me. She’s such a powerful character, she’s so smart, the action is so intense, and I really thought it would be fun to do.
Then I met Doug and I went to the CIA and I started creating the character, and I met the creators, Matt Corman and Chris Ord, and we did a lot of talking about how – because the pilot is Annie’s first day at the CIA. And so as the show continues Annie’s really a rookie, and so what she excels at and what she isn’t very good at, I think is in some ways tailored to me. I really like driving. I really like action. I really like stunts. And those are things that I haven’t gotten to do in the past and so when I told them that all of a sudden that stuff started getting more and more intense and more creative. And Doug has been very active in ramping up the action sequences for each episode we do, so I think in a lot of ways the action was even kicked up a higher notch because I was so excited to do it.
What’s it like on the set? You’ve got a pretty high powered cast.
Piper Perabo: It’s going really well on the set. Sendhil Ramamurthy joined us for the season, and Sendhil, Chris Gorham and I really get on like a house on fire, which is good because a lot of times when we leave the CIA those are the people I’m leaving the CIA with to go abroad. It’s really long days because the action sequences, if you’ve ever been on a set where they’re shooting action, it takes a long time. It goes in really long pieces so that you can get the angles you want and that everything is safe, and so I’m really lucky that I really love the people that I work with, and it’s not bad doing a 17 hour day with these guys.
You mentioned that you were at the CIA, I’m assuming Langley. What sort of special training did you get while you were there or did you have to undergo to play this character?
Piper Perabo: The fight training that I went through to play this character wasn’t at Langley. They go to the farm to do their fight training and I wasn’t able to go there. The fight training that I did was with our head of stunts, and they hired different martial arts and hand-to-hand combat teachers.
So, first, the creators and Doug sat down about what kind of style of fighting Annie would have. Doug is a real fan of close hand-to-hand combat that you shoot on a steadicam, the way that Jason Bourne fights, but you have to tailor that to a woman because obviously when I’m fighting a man, if we’re going to keep it real, which is what we’re going for, Annie Walker isn’t a super hero, then you have to find styles of fighting that could give her an advantage and make it plausible that she can win or at least hold out in some of these fights. So we ended up with Krav Maga, which is Israeli army style of street fighting, and Wing Chun, which is a martial arts that was developed for women. So we were working for weeks and weeks on that and training on that, I was training on that before we started the pilot.
When I went to Langley a lot of it was really I couldn’t train there and they can’t really show me the technology they have. So a lot of that day was about asking the agents about their personal lives, because that they can sort of share, they’re not telling me their real names anyway. So, does your boyfriend know what you do, and what kind of car do you drive, and how much do you make; those kinds of questions are really important when you’re creating a character, and they were really forthcoming with that kind of information.
Is there anyone [guest stars] in particular that you’ve especially enjoyed working with?
Piper Perabo: Eriq La Salle did an episode … and I really liked working with him. I watched ER a lot, especially when I was in college studying acting was when ER, I’m sure you remember, they did that episode once that was live and they did it live on the East Coast and live on the West Coast. As a theater student we all sat down as actors together and watched it together, the East Coast one and the West Coast one, and it was so cool and it was so brave and it was so exciting. So I wanted to really pick his brain about that and about how you shoot for such a dynamic emotional one-hour drama, and he was so patient and generous and also just a really good actor.
I wondered if you could talk a little bit more about the time you spent with Valerie Plame and what insights she gave you that you took to Annie.
Piper Perabo: Valerie Plame was our consultant on the pilot, which was incredible to have her insight, because since she’s no longer in the CIA and because of the way she left it, she is more willing to share things than someone who’s from the agency can’t really talk about it. Also, just being on the ground, she can walk through the set of the CIA. We were shooting a scene that had extras, there’s an induction ceremony situation, and there were extras that came in to the CIA and in their wardrobe they had purses, but that’s impossible because you can’t carry anything in or out of the CIA, so having Valerie around to continually say well, these are the kinds of ID cards. And another thing was the CIA is a giant office, like any other office, and so there are reams and reams of paper. They’re can’t be regular trash in the CIA because obviously that paper is carrying all kinds of top secret documents, and it’s not just shredded at the CIA, it’s all burn bagged. So then all the trash cans were taken out and all the burn bags were brought in so everyone has burn bags under their desk. It was just again and again her attention to detail that was really, really helpful.
In the pilot we saw a lot of different sides to Annie, the vulnerable side, the tough side, and is there a lot about her that we don’t even know yet?
Piper Perabo: There’s a lot about her that you don’t even know yet. Annie’s whole family life and also what happened in her relationship is still to unfold. And actually going back to talking about Valerie for a second, Valerie was also really generous with me about emotionally the toll that it takes keeping all those secrets from your family and your friends. And I think that her personal story that she told me was also very helpful in kind of folding into Annie’s secret and how that plays out in her relationship with her sister and her family. So as Annie weaves the lie that she has to tell so many people, the secrets start overlapping and overlapping, and it just gets very complicated.
What film or TV characters were an influence for you, or did you influence you as a reference point for Annie?
Piper Perabo: There were two. One is the original La Femme Nikita that Luc Besson did. I thought that film was a great balance of the pressure of the job and the real emotional pull that it takes. Also, I loved how he handled action with a woman and I just think that movie is so beautiful and she’s so strong, and it just was a big influence on me for Annie.
Then Lee Miller, who was an artist and a war photographer, she was a beautiful journalist who put herself in the middle of these battles in order to take photographs. So I had read a lot about her and how she maintained her integrity and still was a beautiful woman amid the battlefield, and I thought that was really inspiring thinking about Annie.
Why do you think we’re seeing more and more film stars making a transition to TV? This isn’t really something that we would have seen 15, 20 years ago.
Piper Perabo: Yes, that’s an interesting question. I’ve been thinking about that a lot too. One of the things is I think there’s a lot of great writing happening in television, not that there hasn’t been great writing in television before, but there seems to be a burst of new writers, young writers writing for television and writing really dynamic, complex characters, so that will always draw actors is good writing. I also think there seems to be a surge of dramas helmed by women, which wasn’t the case before, so that draws great actresses to the screen. Damages is one of my favorite shows, and to watch Glenn Close and Rose Byrne do those scenes, it’s great writing. I think maybe that’s what got them there in the first place. I don’t know, but I would assume so. Then when you add that talent to it, it just makes for great television. So I think creating these powerful female characters is changing television.
What would you say are Annie’s strong points and shortcomings?
Piper Perabo: Definitely language is a strong point for Annie. Then she has things that can be both a strong point and a shortcoming. Annie’s a little bit of an adrenaline junkie, and so that can help sometimes but it also can take her off track. She’s also quite a flirt, and so although that can get her in the door at some of these embassy parties, I think she can be a little distracted by all the beautiful men and she’s not always paying attention to the mission at hand, depending on how handsome the guy in the tuxedo is. Hopefully that won’t get her into too much trouble. I have that problem as well, so I can really sympathize.
Annie is very stylish, which I love and respect. I think it’s great. You mentioned your closet as being very Sex and the City. So I’m wondering, are you interested in fashion and what do you think of Annie’s clothing so far?
Piper Perabo: I am interested in fashion. I really like it. I live in New York City and I think the women here are dressed so beautifully. I think the glamour of fictional characters and of the spy world have always interested me. I’ve never played a character who wore suits before, so that’s really an interesting thing diving into that whole line of fashion. But it’s really fun because there’s a certain fantasy element. Obviously on a government salary you can’t have this many Louis Vuitton shoes, but it is really fun to pick the ones that go best with your pinstripe suit in the morning.
Yay for my first question! I was actually going to mention Alias, but after the person above said that about the show, I decided to leave that out. LOL
Jenny Rarden: Annie is a member of the CIA and she can’t tell her friends and family. In that respect you kind of have two roles on the show, the CIA operative and a regular person who has to keep that other side of her secret. Is it fun to play two different personalities on the same show?
Piper Perabo: It is. The actress who plays my sister who doesn’t know what I do for a living is Anne Dudek, who is on so many television shows I can’t keep track. But she’s a really great actress and she’s very aware of the kind of balance that I’m trying to strike between my relationship at home with her and then my relationship with work. She and I have worked a lot on that and what our family is like and who our parents were and how we deal with each other, and as the season goes on we spend more and more time together. You get a glimpse of her in the pilot, but you see a lot more of her as the season goes on. She and I have worked a lot on that, about what it’s like at home for the Walker sisters.
Jenny Rarden: This is your first starring role in a TV show. Were you nervous when you started, and did either Chris or Peter or anyone else really give you any advice since they’ve starred on shows before?
Piper Perabo: Yes, both of them did, actually. Both of them are so talented and successful and confident with their work on television and they understand the speed of it. You shoot television much faster than you shoot a film, and so you have to have a certain fluid quality to the scenes and be able to change them really fast and be really confident about your choices, because there’s not always time to try it ten different ways. I think our director took a real cue from that in how confidently they approached a scene and they really know how they want to do it. I’m really lucky to have both of them on the show.
You’ve touched a little bit on how physical your role is and we’re wondering, do you have a stunt double or do you do all the stunts yourself?
Piper Perabo: No, I have a stunt double. I have different doubles because not everybody can do all the … do it this way and as the season continues Annie is getting wilder and wilder and the stunts are just getting more and more intense. I think each director is trying to top the last one, so we keep having to find some girls who can do things that I … do. So there are definitely multiple pinstripe suits for certain days on set.
On the show I know it just started and you’re probably getting into the swing of things, but how much creative freedom do you have in regards to … adlibbing or maybe if you see a scene, there’s a direction that you give your input into, like maybe if you see how you might want to change it.
Piper Perabo: I actually have input, although it’s not necessarily always on the day. Because of the action we get our scripts fairly early, and so there is a lot of time to have a dialogue with the writers and the directors while they’re in prep about ideas that come up in scenes and maybe is it possible if we do it this way. We even have a chance as actors to rehearse our scenes on our own before the day, so there is a big dialogue going on about it, but it’s not just me changing it on the day because we have our scripts so much in advance that it’s a dialogue that goes on with the creators and the stunt coordinators and the director and everybody.
Beyond the first couple of seasons how will your character adjust to essentially being a much more experienced agent at that point, since a lot of the show seems to be based on your inexperience right now?
Piper Perabo: That’s a really interesting question and that’s come up with me and the creators already. It’s funny that you noticed that. Because one of the things that I really like about Annie is how inexperienced she is, and obviously the longer we stay with her, the more she’ll gain.
What’s fun about being an inexperienced CIA agent is that you don’t follow protocol because you don’t know it. So that comes up again and again with Annie, is that it’s not that she’s particularly flouting authority, she just hasn’t had the training to know how she’s supposed to do it. So she has to come up with her own ideas. I hope that Annie will be successful enough that eventually she’ll be allowed to give it a little bit looser range, because the creativity that the writing department continually comes up with as to how Annie solves a problem is really fun to watch her do. So hopefully even with her experience she’ll just get better at creative solutions, but not necessarily become an expert. Do you know what I mean?
How do you feel about it being on the USA Network where most shows do become a big hit? Is there any pressure for you with that?
Piper Perabo: It’s a combination. Because they’ve had so many successful shows, they have a great idea about how to create successful shows, because it’s their original programming that’s so successful. So I put a lot of faith in network notes and ideas they have about character and also about how we’re bringing the show out, like doing calls like this and talking to you guys. They have such a great track record with introducing new shows that it makes me really excited, that the show that I think is really good and going really well is going to get out there.
You work with Chris Gorham on the show who’s playing a blind character. Is it harder as an actress to work against somebody who is normally sighted but has to not make any eye motions and make eye contact with you?
Piper Perabo: No, it’s not hard because Chris Gorham is such a good actor and he’s so emotionally available, that it’s really not hard at all, because the character of Auggie is really Annie’s foundation in the CIA, I trust him and I have my most intimate discussions with him. No, it’s actually not difficult at all.
Do you find yourself tempted to try to make him break character because you know he can see what you’re doing?
Piper Perabo: I started saying to him that if we are so lucky to get to another season I think that the reveal should be that he’s not blind and we should do a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon moment where I throw something at him and he catches it. But I don’t think anybody’s listening to me.