Monday, July 12, 2010

Peter Gallagher Talks About his New Show, Covert Affairs

Photo by Steve Wilkie/USA Network

For all those O.C. fans out there having Peter Gallagher withdrawals, have no fear. Peter is back on TV tomorrow night at 10:00 PM in USA Networks new crime drama Covert Affairs.

The show stars Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly) as Annie Walker, a CIA trainee, Christopher Gorham (Ugly Betty) as Auggie Anderson, a CIA agent who was blinded on a mission and becomes Annie's guide. Gallagher plays Arthur Campbell, the ex-Navy pilot and imposing Director of the Clandestine Service Department of the CIA. Admittedly a bit of a departure from the liberal and compassionate dad/lawyer Sandy Cohen, but he is excited to be creating a new character with the aid of producers Doug Liman and Dave Bartis.

In a recent interview with Peter, he told us why he joined the cast, why it's different from the other crime dramas, and what it's like working for USA.

Q: What made you want to be a part of the show?

PETER: Very simply, I wanted to work with Doug Liman and Dave Bartis again. Doug Liman directed the pilot episode of The O.C. and he and Dave were producers on the first season of The O.C. and I just love these guys. I love the way they tell stories. I like the people they are. In my experience, when the people at the top of an organization are people you respect and you like then chances are they’re going to surround themselves with other people that you feel the same way about. And you know what? That’s exactly what happened. So I was drawn to working with Dave and Doug again. As I say, I like the way they tell stories, because they’re powerful storytellers and they like to have the story they tell find a place in the world we live in.

Then they sent me the script because we’ve been talking about doing stuff. I said, “Man, this is great.” At that point I don’t know what kind of future Arthur Campbell had or has in the show, but he seems to be perking along and I’m having a great time. Everybody on the show is great, so that’s why I’m there.

Q: What was your first impression of the show and blind agent storyline?

PETER: My first impression of the show was that it was really well written because, as I say, I started talking with Dave Bartis, our Executive Producer, about wanting to just do something together and so we were talking about things that they were looking at. He said, “We have something for you. We’ve got something going on. It’s called Covert Affairs. Do you want to take a look at it?” I read it and I loved it. I thought it had real wit. I thought it fulfilled the obligations of the genre. I just thought it was really well written.

To answer your question about the blind agent, you know what? It didn’t really register a blip. It seemed… a little fantastical maybe with some of the gadgetry, but not that far off in terms of what maybe is available, but I just thought it was interesting. I think the good news is I didn’t think, “Oh, no. What’s that all about?” He was a soldier. It makes perfect sense. It’s nice to know that his skills are still valuable.

Q: Since it’s covert and intelligence based, why does Arthur feel the agency needs more transparency? Wouldn’t it need more secrecy?

PETER: You’re so smart. I have the same question myself. Why am I saying that? Is that just to put somebody off? I think transparency, the way I justify it in terms of the use of that word transparency, is not so much transparency with the agency and the outside world, but within the agency itself. And so that the left hand will know what the right hand is doing, because, as we’ve seen with the challenges, as global challenges mount and the areas of conflict or problems are so many and varied, that the only really viable approach, as I’ve read, to deal with it is through a coordinated effort not only of the various departments of the CIA, but also coordinated efforts with the various law enforcement and military and even foreign agencies. So obviously, you don’t want to have a completely transparent spy agency, because you obviously wouldn’t last long in the job and the nation wouldn’t benefit. So that’s what I think it must mean.

Q: Do you have a favorite moment of the episodes you’ve done so far this season?

PETER: I had some fun with Emmanuelle Vaugier on a scene. I love Kari and I had a fun little bed scene. Don’t worry. I keep my clothes on. I’m going to be doing three more, so I look forward to seeing what’s in store. All I can tell you; it’s a wonderful set… the vibe is very good. Our DP was from The O.C. as well, Jamie Barber, who just is a marvelous cinematographer. He’s a great guy.

Q: What do you feel it is about a show like Covert Affairs that will help it stand apart from other crime and legal dramas?

PETER: You know what I believe? It’s just the kind of magic that when something works it’s very hard to attribute the reasons why it does. The same reason why something doesn’t work; it’s hard to attribute the reasons why it doesn’t, but if it works it will have probably nothing to do with any of the apparent and conscious elements; it will have to do with the fact that there’s something that happens among the group of people in front of the camera. Something happens among the group of people behind the camera. When we’re lucky I call it the beast lumbering to its feet. If the story starts to feel alive, if it embodies the kind of wit and the performances feel real and identifiable then it doesn’t matter whether you’re doing a crime drama or any kind. It doesn’t matter. It’s going to be engaging. It’s going to be compelling. If there’s wit, if there’s a little bit of humor it will even resemble our lives even more.

The worst thing I see in shows, I call it "seriosity," where something has the appearance of seriousness, but it’s not really… Or somebody is being a cop, “Well, I don’t know, Bob. Things look pretty bad.” It’s like I’ve never seen any cop talk like that or a detective or a soldier. So hopefully we’ll be free to continue behaving as people would in these extraordinary circumstances. I can promise you this; everybody is working their butt off and trying their best. That’s the best you can do. We’re holding our breath.

Q: The show has been compared a lot to Alias. But it seems like Covert Affairs is a little bit more realistic, perhaps gives us a little bit better understanding of the real CIA. Do you think that that’s a fair assessment?

PETER: Well, you know what? I really know nothing about the CIA. I’ve always read about it. I’ve always been fascinated with it. I always think I have a couple of friends that are in it, but of course, they can never tell me.

So I don’t know, but I will say this: That the reason that working with Doug Liman and Dave Bartis appeals to me so strongly is, obviously, their strong storytelling skills and what I saw Doug bring to The O.C. in the pilot episode was real. He would start. He had the camera operator pointing in another direction entirely from where the scene was going. He’d call, “Action,” and have the operator find the action. So it gave the camera a sense of urgency and a sense of your point of view and made it feel and was interested in making all of the scenes feel real. That’s exactly how I feel about anything we do, even if it’s the CIA or the mob or whatever you’re doing. If it feels real, chances are the story will be better told. If it’s important to you you’ll look for those moments and opportunities to keep things on the planet so the rest of us on the planet can look at it and say, “Oh, I recognize that.”

Q: Is there anything you find particularly challenging about the role?

PETER: Commuting to Toronto, but I love Toronto, so that’s not so bad… I’m New York born and raised, but you don’t have to spend much time in the warm weather before your blood gets a little thin. That’s the truth.

Q: Now, what was it like working with Tim Matheson? Is it easier working with a director that is also an amazing actor, like yourself?

PETER: Well, I loved working with Tim. I had met Tim before, probably 500 years ago. You know what? I love directors. I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of wonderful directors, but it’s nice to work with a director, who’s been an actor, because they get it. I mean at least they get your thing. I loved working with Tim. I thought he did a terrific job.

Q: The Executive Producers came from the Bourne movies. Do you feel like the series is going to have that kind of intensity?

PETER: Oh, completely. Oh, this is the greatest thing about this. Doug and Dave are not full of sh*t. They’re not just phoning this in. Doug Liman is not like just doing movies and then, “I’ve got this little TV show.” That’s not it at all. He’s involved. They’re the real deal…. I just love them because I like the way they work and I like who they are. They’re honorable and imaginative and they like to make it real. For instance, not long ago there was a scene and somebody was saying there needs to be a little more tension in this one chase scene. Doug’s response was, “Well, we need four frames of her head turning left to right and another four frames of the fender as it comes in from right to left.”

To answer your question, I think we’re essentially making a movie every week. I mean it’s real. I mean Doug is very involved. Dave is very involved. Nobody is doing this in their spare time. It’s really they’re committed, so I think you’ll see all of that stuff, all of that kind of great action, wisdom and knowledge. You’ll see as much as you can do in eight days any way.

Q: Covert Affairs is going to premiere with White Collar. What has it been like being a part of the USA Network?

It’s pretty cool. It’s like being part of the future a bit because things just make sense? You can feel it instantly. It’s kind of like it’s just the experience, as I say, the people at the top of an organization pretty well define the organization, I think, which is why I wanted to be in business with Doug Liman and Dave Bartis… Because I admire them and I respect them and I trust them and there’s nothing more fun than working with people that you feel that way about. That’s when good work happens too. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Some people think it’s all about control and say this and do that. That’s baloney. It’s a lot about the things that happen that are surprising to everybody.

Working with USA what I found surprising was, for instance, I put on a suit in the pilot. Within a couple of hours Bonnie Hammer, the head of the network, had seen a picture of me in that suit on her iPhone and approved it. Within a few hours. You know what? There’s not a really heavy, heavy bureaucracy there at USA. There are a couple of people that do the job that, in some places, 50 people do, so they’re people who are responsible and you get to know them. So things happen. I haven’t felt there’s been unproductive interference from them; that they’re sort of allowing us to do our jobs. Obviously, we’re not screwing it up too badly, at least in their eyes.

Listen, the best thing in the world is when things happen in a good way and things are really happening in a good way and I have to credit USA for creating that environment. I have to credit Doug and Dave for creating that environment and for USA allowing them to create that environment. So it’s pretty cool. Whatever they’re doing it’s right and there are only 13 episodes, so chances are the writing will stay good.

It’s fun. It’s great to promote something that you’re proud of and that you like the people in and people seem to be responding. It’s one of those. I’m not going to say any more. Let’s not count any chickens. We’re not out of the gate yet. Okay.

See more of our interview and a Covert Affairs slideshow at

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For other similar celebrity interviews check out:
Pop Culture Passionistas: Jeff Eastin Looks Ahead at White Collar Season 2
White Collar: Not Your Typical Buddy Cop Show
Diahann Carroll: White Collar, Her TV Legacy and Future Plans

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