Covert Affairs [USA Network, Tuesdays, 10/9C] follows the adventures of rookie CIA operative Annie Walker [Piper Perabo] as she tries to balance her personal and professional lives. At work, blind tech whiz Auggie Anderson [Christopher Gorham] has her back.
I took part in a teleconference Q&A with Perabo and Gorham on Friday in support of the show’s second season. As these things go, it was pretty enjoyable – both because I’m a fan of the show and because Perabo and Gorham are cheerful, intelligent, articulate and fun to chat with.
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Christopher Gorham: Sure.
Piper Perabo: Yeah. My pleasure.
My husband and I are huge fans of the show. And Chris we’ve loved you since we first saw you in Odyssey 5, although…
…you’ll always be Jake 2.0 to us no matter what else you do. And I love following you on Twitter. And Piper we’d love to see you on there too.
Perabo: I know Chris is trying adamantly to get me onto Twitter.
Well I think you have a lot of followers just from the fans of the show and everything. So if you ever do decide to join, you know. Well I have a question for both of you but I’ll start of just with one for Piper.
I’ve spoken to Chris before and asked him this but I wanted to ask you two very similar questions. What’s the most challenging aspect of playing Annie Walker and on the flip side what’s the most challenging aspect of playing opposite Chris as a sighted person playing a blind character?
Perabo: Well actually the – I mean the thing with playing opposite Chris is really interesting because he was very serious and detailed about his research within the blind community and working with the Canadian Institute for the Blind about exactly how everything would be done and doing it properly.
So then I also had to learn. And we constantly in blockings we have a certain sort of rehearsal that we have to do because we really need to physically know each beat of the scene especially if Auggie and Annie are not in the DPD in our office. We did a scene this season where we walk into a bar together and – do you remember this Chris? We were like…
Perabo: …we poured beers and even our cinematographer was like, "Wow, you guys have this down." I mean we rehearse it pretty serious so that it’s – so that it’s correct.
And although I – I mean the most difficult part of playing Annie Walker is I think the balancing of all the different aspects of the show. The show has a comedic element. We do a lot of languages. There’s quite a serious action component to the show. So you have to make sure that each thing gets its own time to rehearse and prepare so that we keep it, you know, strong across the board.
Anxiously waiting – we’re waiting for the premier of the next season. And the question I have is for each of you. As this new season breaks out, how is your – how are your characters evolving from what it was in the first season because Auggie really evolved a lot at the end of the season and Annie was starting to really get more – be less of a rookie?
Gorham: You know, I…
Perabo: You want to start Chris?
Gorham: Yeah. I was just going to say I think the writers have done an amazing job in Season 2 because they’ve really taken all of the best parts of the first season and built on them. And that goes for the two things that you’re talking about. You know, we really pick up right where we left off at the end of Season 1 not just with the plot but also with the character development.
And so you will continue to see growth like you did last year. And – but, you know, it’s part of what makes our show so great is that, you know, part of growing is making mistakes and, you know, they don’t always do everything right. And sometimes, you know, the mistakes that they make can be the most fun.
Moderator: You know, hold on one second. I think we lost Piper. Hold on one sec.
Okay. This is interesting.
Gorham: Oh, technology.
Yes. Don’t you love it? So what did you do on your summer vacation Chris?
Gorham: That’s a good – what did I do? We – I mean one of the fun things I got – I got to go to Sundance for the first time which was a lot of fun. I mean our summer break wasn’t really over the summer but because obviously Sundance is in the winter. But that was kind of one of the highlights we went through the (stome?), I did Copper Ledge and got to spend a few days up there in the snow which was great. But…
Gorham: What’s that?
Perabo: I’m sorry Chris. I dropped off the call but I’m back, sorry.
Gorham: Oh great. Good. Good.
Oh good. Piper. You’re…
Say that again, I’m sorry.
Perabo: Oh shoot. We’re like on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. You’d think the reception would be perfect.
Never. Not (nowhere). You kidding.
The point is that your character came in as a rookie and now it’s a lot – well, I wouldn’t say she’s (quite) experienced but she’s got her – you know, got some chops going on and you got interaction with all the characters particularly Auggie’s at your back. How is you character developing and how are you feeling that it’s going to go?
Perabo: I think that this year – I mean Annie has a little bit more experience than she did last year. I mean she certainly still relies – within the hierarchy of the office she’s still kind of low man on the totem pole. But she does have more experience and just a rookie starting out. And they think – they’re starting – this season they let Annie do more complicated and difficult missions because she has a little bit more experience.
But I think in the evolution of Annie will keep her sort of – I mean I hope that will keep her sort of at rookie status because it’s interesting to sort of – I mean to act I think and hopefully to watch to see her kind of trying to solve problems on the fly and not being this, you know, (uber) slick perfect spy. I think it’s fun to watch her solve it.
Piper, I was reading the blurb for the premier and it says Annie is assigned as the new handler for a professional tennis player and long time CIA asset. And my first thought was I Spy. So I was wondering that are the challenges that a rookie like Annie handling a long time CIA agent especially globe trotting tennis play, what kind of challenges will that present for her?
Perabo: I think the thing with – I mean this goes along with what we’re saying before that Annie’s getting given larger, you know, more difficult assignments. And they think there’s something when you’re sort of dropped into the deep end, I think you learn a lot faster. And so Annie – the possibility for Annie to kind of gain skills in the field has more potential.
But I think also it becomes much more dangerous because you’re running with a certain level of asset and spy that are very savvy in this world and how – who they trust and how they, you know, deceive people and how they know how to get around and disappear into thin air if they want to.
So it makes it much – the stakes are much higher for Annie because she’s working with a much higher level of asset and agent.
I wanted to ask Piper if she thought Annie and Ben could ever be happy together. Like if anybody was ever going to let them be happy together.
Perabo: Well, you know, I don’t know. I know Ben is not that trustworthy of a guy. You know, in Season 1 he puts Annie in a lot of dangerous situations, kind of a lot and kind of doesn’t go help her out. I mean sometimes I get sort of mad that Ben doesn’t help Annie out a little more. (Could) he, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know about that.
I think – but it’s like that with any kind of bad boy romance. You know what I mean? You kind of can’t tear yourself away but you know he’s really not that good for you. So it’s tricky with Ben. I don’t know the answer.
I was going to say so do you think she’ll do a complete turnaround and maybe she and Auggie can get together.
Perabo: Well that’s what I’m going to say. At least she’s got Auggie in the office and he’s so easy on the eyes and Jai Wilcox too. I mean they’re certainly, you know, quite distracting men around if Ben Mercer doesn’t make it.
Right. Is Auggie ever going to settle down Chris?
Gorham: I don’t know. He’s not going to settle down any time soon anyway.
My question is for Chris. I read recently and as Piper mentioned before that you and then you and she both went back into some retraining for your character’s blindness. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you did this time around and about going out blindfolded with the cane specifically?
Gorham: Yeah. We – I had this kind of – my friend and coach over at the CNIB, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, a woman named Lesley MacDonald who – I had her come out to the set and work with me and Piper at the very beginning of the season and just as kind – just as a refresher really just – and really started – we started at the beginning and went over everything that we did last season just to make sure that we remembered all the little details because we use them so often in the show.
And, you know, we don’t have someone there to check with on set. So we need to make sure that we’ve got it in our brains. And then in addition to that this year, I went out with Lesley and did blindfolded mobility training out on the streets of Toronto, you know, navigating around the city and crossing busy streets and intersections by myself. And it was just an incredible learning experience.
You know, you get just the faintest bit of understanding of what it must be like to start that process having lost your sight. You know, you know, you get a new respect for how quickly you can get disoriented. I remember part of it I was standing – I’d crossed an intersection already and was standing on the corner and had turned around and was getting ready to cross again.
And as I was about to step out into the street, I heard some kids crossing the street but they weren’t – it didn’t sound like they were coming from the right direction. It sounded like they were coming diagonally across the intersection. And it was only then that I realized that I must not be facing the crosswalk. I must be facing the wrong direction and was about to step out into the middle of (black) traffic.
You know, and it was – I – honestly like I couldn’t figure out how it had happened because I thought for sure that I was lined up and ready to go. So it was just a great learning experience. And terrifying not just for me but also for the drivers who were sitting at the intersection as I walked into their cars with my cane, you know.
Chris, last season one of the highlights was seeing Auggie in the field. Will we be seeing him in the field again this year?
Gorham: Yeah we will and more than once. So one of the earlier episodes Auggie gets out in the field with Annie to help her out on one of her missions, which is – was a lot of fun. And then a little later in the season we’ll have kind of an Auggie centric episode where Auggie’s out on vacation and we’re in Istanbul and we get a flashback and see him in Iraq before he lost his sight and finally get the answer to the question of how he really lost his sight.
So there’s a lot of really exciting like field stuff for Auggie this year. And true to how we did it last year too. It’s all reasonable and makes sense. It all comes out of what he is capable and incapable of doing. And so it’s a lot of fun.
Are you telling us that Auggie is a globetrotter?
Gorham: Oh absolutely.
Gorham: Absolutely. As we all know, Auggie gets around.
I just wanted to know what strengths will play against your characters and what weaknesses will play for your characters this season?
Perabo: Well, that’s a good question.
Perabo: I mean I think Annie’s inexperience still continues to be both a weakness and a strength for her. She has a, you know, she has a kind of trust in her gut instincts on how to solve things but not only can it kind of lead her off in a strange direction but actually lead her more quickly to the answer. But it can also put her in a lot of danger because she kind of leaps before she looks.
So in some ways, you know, what aids Annie is also what can put her in danger.
Gorham: Yeah. I think for Auggie like one example of that is one of the earlier episodes because Auggie – you know, Auggie’s got the CIA dialed in and he’s very good at what he does.
And because of that he gets an opportunity for kind of a major promotion and really has to do some soul searching and decide what he wants his life to be like at the CIA and what he really wants to do because he gets this great opportunity because he’s performed so well but then really has to ask himself if that’s – at the end of the day if that’s what he wants and what’s going to make him happy. So it brings up kind of a crisis of a conscious and a big potential turning point for him.
I was wondering that now that the show is a bona fide hit, how does that affect going into work every day and how do you approach your scenes. Does it make it more fun knowing that your job isn’t on the line?
Perabo: It’s always more fun when your job’s not on the line. That’s for sure.
Gorham: That’s true.
Perabo: I think – I mean I think (unintelligible) first year really emboldened everybody all the way through. You know, the product design this year has been really gorgeous and detailed and exciting all the way up through the actors and the writing, the guest stars we’ve been getting have been amazing. You know, great guest starts that we had last year are returning and so those characters are developing. And we’re getting to know them better.
We did – I think it’s the second episode that has Oded Fehr in it again and we met in the first season. And so, you know, we’re shooting internationally this year when we do our international exterior. So it’s sort of hand an emboldening affect all the way up and down the line.
I wanted to know if you could talk about some of the guest stars that’ll be coming up for this season.
Gorham: Yeah. I think Piper just mentioned that Oded Fehr is coming back for more than one episode actually. And we just had Jamie Alexander from Thor who’s done a couple episodes. Rebecca Mader just started shooting an episode for us from Lost.
Perabo: Peter Stormare came in and did…
Perabo: …direct an episode. (So amazing. Amazing.) Yeah. It’s been – we’ve gotten really good guest starts this year. Mark Moses from Mad Men. It makes it really fun.
I also wanted to ask Piper about your stunts this coming season. Are they going to get more oh, I don’t know, exciting?
Perabo: Oh my gosh. They’re so much more exciting like I – it’s so – one of the funnest parts of doing the shows is the stunt. And I mean all the action sequences are worked out to such a degree and the writers are so, you know, going for the fences with the action.
We were doing – you know, Doug Liman is our Executive Producer. And so a lot of times he comes up and talks about the structure of the action sequences with the directors. And we did one shot – this is so early on in the season this year. But we did a shot where Annie, an asset that she’s with us in Argentina, has to get on a helicopter but the helicopter doesn’t land. You have to actually like run and jump into a helicopter.
And the director as I was just saying as we’re about to go, he’s like, "No matter what happens, do not try and jump into that helicopter." They know me and I will try for it. As soon as I see that door open and the camera inside, it’s hard. I mean it’s really fun stunts this show.
Moderator: You guys unfortunately Piper’s going to have to jump off the line but if there are any further questions, we do have a few more minutes with Chris. Thanks for joining today.
Perabo: Thank you so much everybody. I really appreciate it.
Gorham: See you later.
Perabo: Bye. Talk to you later Chris.
Piper said that you guys are actually shooting internationally. What – where have you gone to do that so far?
Gorham: Yeah. We’ve sent people to Puerto Rico. We’ve been to Paris. I’m going to Istanbul soon. And I think we have at least one more international location this year that’s on the books. So we’re really getting out there. I mean it’s (fun). But we kind of tested the waters with it last year sending a second unit crew to different spots around the world. And then at the very end of the season they sent Eion Bailey to Sri Lanka.
And so since we had success with it last year, this year they’ve allowed us to kind of expand things a little bit. And it’s been great. I mean the second episode of Season 2 is the Paris episode and, you know, you know, it was Doug Liman shooting Piper in Paris and at the Louvre. And the footage is incredible.
And it just – it really adds to the show and just broadens the scope and makes the show bigger. And so it’s been great and really – we’re shooting like two full production days in Istanbul for the Auggie episode. So it’s just – it’s going to make it incredible.
And won’t that be fun for you since you get to play yourself sighted in flashback?
Gorham: It is fun. Yeah. We just started – we just started shooting the episodes so I’ve done – I had my first day of sighted Auggie and yeah, it was a blast actually.
(Krissa Pravoka): Very cool.
Forgive me if this has already been asked. I’ve had a really bad connection. But I wanted to know if Auggie has any really great new gadgets this season that you can – that we can look out for. I know last year some of the gadgets were my favorite part.
Gorham: Yeah. Well, you know, we do have some new stuff. It’s – we haven’t – none of it’s been incorporated into the story per se but we do have some new things, some of which are new to us and some of which are not new to the world but I think will – might be new to audiences.
For instance, Auggie uses an iPhone this year, which a lot of people don’t know is completely accessible to the blind. Right out of the box. So, you know, I wanted to make sure that we used that and we do.
Another thing that he has this year that we didn’t have last that we – that I was asking for all last year but we just – we didn’t end up getting it but now we do is a portable Braille device. It’s a portable Braille keyboard and reader that he can take around is – around the CIA so when he’s away from his desk he can still not only input in Braille but read the Braille keyboard.
Last year, with the pilot, Tim Matheson got the series off to a really great start. I was just wondering if he was directing any episodes this year or maybe sneaking in a guest star spot.
Gorham: No. I – Tim’s not directing any this year. Part of the – part of Tim’s problem is that he’s so talented and – is that he’s too busy. So yeah, he’s not directing. As far as guest starring, I don’t know. I think he’s guest starred on just about every other USA show. So we need to have him on for sure. I don’t know if there’s anything planned right now.
But one thing about Tim that a lot of people don’t know is Auggie’s laser cane was Tim’s idea. So we have him to thank for that specifically among others.
Well, Auggie and romance. Is there anything this season on the horizon?
Gorham: Yeah. One of the – one of our guest stars as I mentioned Rebecca Mader plays a woman that Auggie become romantically entangled with during that episode. And then there is at least one more relationship coming down the pike. We haven’t quite gotten there yet but I’m hearing rumors about it. So yes.
Good. Because you’re just too cute and he’s such a great character to be single, so…
Gorham: Well he likes being single. Don’t get me wrong.
Well yeah, you know, but still I mean he’s got to have – he’s got to have some fun.
Gorham: Yeah. No, definitely. He does. And, you know, even when it’s not – I mean – you know, the show really is Annie’s story. So don’t assume that just because you don’t see him dating someone for a few episodes that he isn’t.
Chris, I know that the fans certainly took to your shirtless scenes last year.
I’m wondering how your wife is putting up with you as the new sex symbol.
Gorham: Well, you know, it’s funny because like the – she – what – it’s actually not a lot of fun most of the time because what that – what it means is that I’m – my diet’s kind of restricted and spending a lot of time at the gym. So I’m typically kind of sore and hungry and grumpy.
Well she must like that part and how that works for you.
Gorham: Yeah. So it’s, you know, the results she enjoys. It’s the process that’s no fun.
I watched some of the comments that come into you on Twitter and I think don’t they know she’s on Twitter too.
Gorham: Yeah. Yeah. Every once in a while I have to remind folks. But most of my followers are pretty well behaved.
Moderator: Great. I think we can wrap it up here. Thank you everybody for joining. I just wanted to clarify one point. Chris mentioned that, you know, they’re shooting on a lot of locations. And Doug Liman is one of the Executive Producers or Covert Affairs but he did not direct those episodes.