Photo by Robert Ascroft/USA Network
The freshmen season of USA's newest show Covert Affairs is well underway and so far reviews are positive and buzz is building. Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly and Bevery Hills Chihuahua) plays Annie Walker a newbie CIA officer and Chris Gorham (Ugly Betty) plays Auggie Anderson, a blind agent showing her the ropes. Adding to the drama is also Annie's sister and roommate, Danielle (played by Anne Dudek), who doesn't know she's a CIA agent. Other CIA employees include Annie's boss Arthur Campell (played by Peter Gallagher), his wife Joan (played by Kari Matchett), and Jai Wilcox (played by Sendhil Ramamrthy).
We spoke to series' creators Matt Corman and Chris Ord about the casting process, the complex relationships between the characters, and who we might expect to see for guest stars this season.
After the jump, read the what they had to say and see our video interview with Piper Perabo and Chris Gorham about getting cast on the show.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the casting process on the show?
MATT: We started first and foremost with Annie. It was critical that we get an amazing Annie. When Piper came in, we immediately knew she was the person. It was like a light bulb went off and then we couldn’t think about the character in any other way. She just inhabited it in such a natural way that it became self evident immediately that she had to be the person.
CHRIS: It was a challenging character to cast, too, in the sense she always wanted her to be beautiful and smart and athletic and charming and gifted and sweet. It was a big ask and when Piper came in, she answered all those questions and it was... complete.
Q: Can you talk about the decision to make Chris Gorham’s character blind?
MATT: Chris Gorman is a really gifted actor, first of all, and he’s doing a tremendous job with it. We’re so appreciative of his efforts because it’s not an easy thing to pull off. The idea to do this character was based, actually, on a friend of ours who was an accident. In his case, he was paralyzed. He was not blinded. But the accident was transformative for him in many ways terrible, but in some ways good. His character changed to a certain extent. He became more inquisitive, more open, in some ways more emotional, so that was the starting off place.
We wanted to look at a character who in Auggie’s instance was in the military and was probably a very straight forward person before his accident. But afterwards, it has opened him up to the world, made him a little bit more vulnerable, perhaps given him a sense of humor that he didn’t have before. That was sort of our way into it.
CHRIS: And going from there with Chris Gorman, it was important to us as we cast the role to have an actor who could do it without sunglasses on. I think that when you put those sunglasses on, it really puts a barrier between the character and audience. It was important to us that this character could connect with both Annie and our audience.
MATT: Chris has done an amazing job of really throwing himself into trying to understand what it means to live as a blind person. He’s constantly meeting the Canadian Institute for the Blind. We shoot the show in Toronto, Canada. He’s talked to a lot of blind people. He himself is involved in crafting the space in which he works and in which he lives. He’s consulting our set designers as to how a blind person would actually have… a room and what they need to function properly. So in many ways, he himself has become an in-house expert.
CHRIS: And every scene gets blocked that involves Auggie. It’s all determined on what he could do or not do in that situation. So if he doesn’t know that someone has left the room, well, he’ll play that. He’s a really gifted actor and he always has that in his mind and it’s been a great help to the show.
Q: How would you pinpoint the relationship between Annie and Auggie right now and where do you see that going?
CHRIS: I think what we love about the relationship right now, and it’s both on screen and off screen, is that Piper and Chris just became fast friends immediately both as Auggie and Annie, but also off screen. And they get along really well and you feel that when you see them interact on screen. So we really see the relationship right now as friendship and it’s great for Annie to have such a cool mentor in the agency. But over time and over the series, I think if we have the fortune of having a number of seasons, we would definitely explore romantic possibilities between the two, but that would be way down the road.
Q: One of the more interesting relationships on the show is between Joan and Arthur. At the very least we can describe their relationship as unusual. On top of the friction in their personal lives, she works for him. What can we expect to develop there?
MATT: You’re quite right. It’s always complicated to work with someone you’re married to. This is an added specificity of complication in that, as you said, she does work under him. But both of them I think it’s important to note are committed to trying to make their marriage work, so that’s what we can see, them trying to work through it on an emotional level and trying to cohabitate as coworkers as well. So we thing both actors, Peter Gallagher and Kari Matchett, are totally gifted and we really love that dynamic, so you can expect to see more of that.
Q: Are we going to get a look at how they rose to the positions that they’re in?
MATT: Potentially, yes, maybe we’re definitely going to get into their back story more. I think it’s really interesting to see people that are both powerful, both within the same industry try to navigate that. So absolutely, we’re going to get into their back story a bit more. And in our research, one thing that really came out of the CIA in terms of relationships is that working at the agency is very hard on relationships. I think when we asked everybody there that question to a T, they said no doubt, it’s very hard on relationships. We’ll watch Joan and Arthur go through those ups and downs and we think that’s really in those sort of character relationship moments is where the heart of the show really lies.
Q: In a previous interview you mentioned that the CIA prefer the relationships to be within the agency as opposed to people that they don’t know about. Is that true or is that just something that you put in for creative license?
CHRIS: No, that is true. They actually encourage dating and relationships within the agency. The reason is from a national security, it’s a national security reason, which is when you have two people who are together in the agency, A, those are two loose ends that can be tied up. And then, B, it’s easier for those people to empathize with one another. They can recognize the challenges of working in this job, even if they can’t exactly talk about classified information with each other. At least they can recognize what the other might be going through.
Q: Piper Perabo said in an interview that Annie's sister, Danielle's life is going to get more complicated. Can you give us a hint of what’s coming ahead for her and for their dynamic?
MATT: For us, one of the most interesting aspects about being in the CIA is the confluence of your work life, which is potentially dangerous, has a lot of intrigue and secrets, and a normal home life. Everyone in the CIA is somebody’s son or daughter. Often cases, they’re married. They have a boyfriend or girlfriend. And there’s complex emotional negotiations as to whether or not you tell the people around you what you do or how much you tell them.
At the outset of our series, of course, Danielle is completely in the dark and Annie is protecting her from this information. As the series progresses, that dynamic will be tested and it’s very difficult for Annie because the person who she’s closest to in her life is her sister. She tells her sister everything except there’s this one blind spot where she’s lying about exactly who it is that she is. So we’ll progress that, but it will take time.
CHRIS: It’s not as simple as just reading her in. I think what everyone at the CIA recognizes is that if you tell somebody you’re in the CIA, which there are times you can do that, you are putting their lives at risk now by doing so. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly and we want to explore that as the series goes on.
Q: Can you tell us about Sendhil’s character?
MATT: Sendhil is going to be playing a really interesting character named Jai Wilcox who’s a second generation CIA man. First of all, Sendhil is a magnificent actor and we’re really lucky to have him and he’s a good guy to boot. But the character is very complex because he’s caught between two father figures. He’s working for Arthur Campbell, who’s played by Peter Gallagher and then his father was legend at the CIA. So he’s in a very complicated situation and he’s someone who is going to be getting close to Piper’s character for various reasons. And we don’t want to tip our hand too much, but their relationship is going to be very juicy and it’s going to have a lot of layers to it.
Q: There's an ongoing arc revolving around Annie’s mysterious ex-lover. Is that going to be a full season arc or is that more or less and what got her into the Langley?
CHRIS: We don’t want to tip our hands too much, but it’s obviously a big part of her past. It will continue to play out for some time. When you say what happens when it ends, you presuming that it does end. So we want to leave that very open ended and we want to have the mystery that we established in the pilot continue on going forward. So I know that’s not the most specific answer in the world, but that is intentional.
Q: Will Joan end up being a mentor to Annie?
MATT: What we love with the dynamic with Joan and Annie and both Kari and Piper play it beautifully, is that they both see themselves in the other. So Joan is looking at Annie and saying that reminds me of me when I first entered the agency. And Annie is looking at Joan saying, wow, this is a strong, smart, powerful woman, but she’s pretty intense and is that going to be me in ten years. And so it that relationship and that dynamic that we really feel offers a lot of opportunities for great scenes between them and that will be ongoing throughout the series.
Q: In a recent interview Tim Matheson said he’d like to play a double agent as a guest appearance on Covert Affairs. What do you think?
MATT: Hey, man, we think that that would actually be great. He’s a tremendous actor and I know he did a great job with the pilot. So I think we’ll have to take that note and see if it fits in anywhere down the line.
Q: Can you talk about what guest stars we’ll see this season?
CHRIS: Sure, we have some great stars. This coming Tuesday, you’ll see Steven Brand and Rya Kihlstedt who are fantastic actors. We have Oded Fehr coming up in a few weeks, who is great and really a pleasure to work with.
MATT: He plays a Mossad agent.
CHRIS: D.W. Moffat is coming up in a few weeks after that.
MATT: Lauren Holly.
CHRIS: Lauren Holly, I’m trying to think of who else, a very young gifted beautiful actress named Liane Balaban is coming up.
MATT: Eriq La Salle.
CHRIS: Eriq La Salle, we have some goodies.
Q: Is there any kind of dream people that you’d like to work with on the show, if you could pick anyone?
CHRIS: I don’t think we’ve been so audacious as to dream too big. I think we have a great casting director with Susie Ferris, who casts the pilot and now she’s casting the series. She just has the ability to find very talented actors and bring them in front of us. So we trust her judgment and so far we have had just a phenomenal string of guest stars who can all not only act, but they’re great people and they brought a lot to the series. So we’ve been very blessed with Susie.
MATT: And I would say for our main characters, we are working with our dream cast. Everybody that we got as a main or recurring character is sort of our first choice. And many of these people have or could carry their own show before. Chris Gorham had his own show. Peter Gallagher could absolutely have his own show if we wanted to.
CHRIS: Kari had her own show with Invasion.
MATT: Yes, and... is amazingly skilled and we’re lucky to have her. So we sort of feel like we have this murder’s row of people on our show that any one of which could carry their own television program.
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For other Covert Affairs interviews check out:
Piper Perabo Takes on Her First TV Role
Peter Gallagher Talks About his New Show, Covert Affairs
Tim Matheson: Actor, Director, Former Animal House Star