A spy show with a female lead that kicks ass? It’s like USA decided it was time to make a show JUST FOR ME. Then I saw the promos and I was a little skeptical. I may love a lot of USA shows but I do not have a good track record with their other female centric stuff fare. I wasn’t sure Piper Perabo was going to turn that around. How wrong I was… She is, quite frankly, awesome as new CIA agent Annie Walker. And that was before I met her! Turns out she’s just awesome in general and I now (not-so-secretly) wish I could be friends with her. But then I’d have to listen to her talk about how great it is to play a spy on TV and I’d probably hate her guts, right? Right. I guess I’ll settle for tuning into Covert Affairs each week and living vicariously through Annie Walker instead.
Needless to say, when I got offered the chance to visit the set of this new USA show, I wasn’t going to say no. Luckily the airlines were looking out for me and made that decision easy on my wallet as well. (Seriously, when it costs less money for a round-trip ticket to Toronto than it does to fly one-way to San Diego, something is wrong.) Even better, Jody got to come with me! Or, as Piper noted, “How nice, you brought a friend.”
That’s why, last week at this time, Jody and I were wandering the halls of the CIA spying on the fictitious (or is it?) Domestic Protection Division. While the DPD may not be real, our set tour guides (producer Gene Klein and first AD Kevin Walker) explained the ways the Covert Affairs set echoes the offices of the actual CIA. Did you know there are no trashcans in their offices? Just burn bags and shredders. And agents aren’t allowed to leave notes or loose papers out in the open on their desks. A precaution against wandering eyes. Plus visitors are clearly marked with bright red badges and must be accompanied at all times. (Literally all times. At least if the story we heard about writers Matt Corman and Chris Ord being asked to step into the bathroom with the agent showing them around the CIA is to be believed. And I think it is.)
Ok, as fascinating as I find all the CIA stuff, the rest of you probably care more about the actual set visit and what we learned about the show, eh? I should have transcripts from our interviews soon but, in the meantime, here are some quick bullet points from the day:
- (The Voice of) Doug Liman! As much as I love The Bourne Trilogy and The OC, my awareness of Doug Liman really stems for my love for the movie GO. I was a little bummed that he got stuck in LA and we wouldn’t be meeting him in person but I got a lot out of our teleconference with him. He’s a huge fan of the spy genre and has wanted to develop a spy show for a long time. And with all the research he did for Fair Game he had a “huge treasure trove of CIA spy information” that had no place in that movie but he’s channeled into Covert Affairs. And even though there’s obviously some exaggeration in how quickly the show gets Annie into the field, he likes how that “as outrageous as it is, there’s a grounded reality to it.” As in, “just because you’re a spy doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay taxes or take lunch orders.” Annie is still going to be grappling with being the new person in the office. Doug also had nothing but good things to say about shooting the show in Toronto. In his words, “Toronto is an amazing back lot for us.” He had a lot more to say, including how intimacy is the scariest thing for him to direct and he likes that TV gives him a chance to meet and collaborate with other directors. So consider this just a sneak peek of what’ll be in the interview transcript!
- Anne Dudek! Super, super nice! Somebody that beautiful should make you nervous but she’s just so nice that I felt at ease with her. But here’s one thing that I didn’t expect… she’s ridiculously tall! She couldn’t tell us too much about what happens with her character (Annie’s sister, Danielle) except to say that their relationship gets more and more complicated over the season. Oh and I did find it funny when she admitted that she didn’t really get the sister relationship thing at first. Mostly because she herself doesn’t have that in her life and it’s less natural than one might think. She has, however, been enjoying this role because it’s more mainstream than other stuff she’s done recently. Speaking of, did you know that she met her husband through Josh Radnor? He introduced them after her time on How I Met Your Mother which she thought was funny because they now have a son and if he ever asks how his father met his mother… Adorable! We joked about how it’d be really funny if she turned out to be the Mother (which she won’t) it’d make her story for her son even better. (Follow Anne on Twitter: @annedudek)
- Chris Freaking Gorham! Of this cast, the only person who even comes close to matching Chris’ role in my TV past is Peter Gallagher. Thank God he’s awesome. No, really, I’ve always liked the characters he plays but now I adore him. And not just because he clearly shares my taste in TV. Or because he gave me shit for groaning when we had to take our group picture. (Look, of course I like having pictures with the cast but I wasn’t feeling very photogenic that day so, yes, I sighed at the prospect of a picture with Chris looking as I did.) Sure those things help but he’s a genuinely nice guy who didn’t hesitate to joke around with us and have fun with the whole “press” thing. All in all, a very engaging guy. It’s always nice to meet someone and recognize them as someone you’d want as a friend. Plus, I think I’m going to dig his character, Auggie. I was already impressed with how well he portrays someone who is blind but, given the amount of research he’s put into it, it shouldn’t be so surprising. Interestingly, he admitted that he felt Auggie would actually be better at handling himself than Chris can in the role because it’d be too unbelievable on camera. I didn’t think to ask at the time but now I wonder if his opinion comes from all the blind people he’s talked to in his research. Anyway, I’m excited to see what Auggie gets to do and just how our opinions of him will change over the course of the season. (Follow Chris on Twitter: @chris_gorham)
- Nice Digs – I think all of us were envious of Danielle’s kitchen! Especially when we found out it’s modeled after the kitchen where they filmed the pilot. I’m often jealous of TV character’s houses but this one’s pretty close to one that exists! Lucky ducks. Of course, it’s not an exact replica. Watch for the subtle differences between the kitchen you’ll see in the first episode and the kitchen in the second episode. Looks like someone got an upgrade on her appliances! Annie’s space is slightly different as well but I love all the details they put into the set design. As you’ll find out in the first episode, Annie’s a bit of a traveler and her entire room is decorated with things she’s bought on her treks around the world. What this taught me? I need to be doing more shopping on my trips!
- Visiting the White House - Funny that I’d have to travel to Canada for a glimpse at the Oval Office. Oh, sure, it’s not the real Oval Office but it’s probably as close as I’ll ever get! Once we were done touring the main set area, we headed out to the town of Kleinburg where there’s a pretty big White House set that was originally built for the movie Murder at 1600. Unlike other White House sets this one wasn’t torn down when they finished and now a bunch of things have been shot there. In fact, the new mini-series, The Kennedys, is slated to shoot there next. Covert Affairs was using the hallways to shoot a scene outside a senator’s office. We got to see a teensy tiny bit of said scene but mostly were there to meet and interview the star herself, Piper Perabo.
- Saucy Piper Perabo! Remember how I wasn’t too sure about Piper in this role? If the pilot hadn’t convinced me, meeting her would have erased all doubt. The woman has serious sass and I love it. In preparation for the role, she also got to meet and talk with CIA agents. Funny how she didn’t care about the stuff they couldn’t tell her (names, missions) and was way more interested in the stuff like where they shop and what they wear and who and what they’re allowed to talk about. One of the agents told her about having to brief the President on several occasions and Piper said the first thing she said was, “What’d you wear?!” Ha. Love it. In the show, Annie is really good with languages and I wanted to know if Piper also had an ear for them (mostly because I do not). She said that she is pretty good with them but they’ve been lucky enough to find local Toronto people for each of the languages she’s had to speak so far (she wasn’t sure if it’s up to 8 or 9 at this point). That really helps because someone who speaks the language can help adjust what you’re saying so that it sounds more natural (as opposed to a direct translation that may be grammatically correct but is not often how a native speaker would phrase it). I’ll never know of course but I still find it fascinating. And, as you can imagine, she’s also been training in various fighting styles for the stunts she has to do on the show. I don’t think any of us asked but I would be curious to know how much she does herself and how much is done by her stunt double. Anyway, she said a lot more so watch for that interview transcript as well.
Hmmm, so much for quick bullet points! What can I say, it’s hard to shove an entire worth of information into a quick post! Hopefully you get a feel for what our day was like. I tried to stick to my reactions and what we saw here so the transcripts won’t be too redundant. Either way, I can tell you the Covert Affairs cast and crew was beyond gracious and delightful.
Much love and thanks to everyone who showed us around, answered questions, and put up with us stomping through their offices. The same to Doug Liman for taking time out of his day to call in, Anne Dudek and Chris Gorham for joining us for both dinner and on the set to chat, and to Piper Perabo for answering our questions in the middle of her work day. As always, thanks to my friends at Electric Artists and New Media Strategies for all their hard work putting these opportunities together and thinking of me when they arise. And, finally, thanks to the USA Network for making it all happen. Not only did they provide in part for the set visit itself, they continue to support the online media. I mean, I’m not sure I’d call myself online media but, as a fan of their shows, I’m glad they do!
Oh! And here are the group shots from our visit…