In Between Scenes with Covert Affairs’ Piper Perabo   

COVERT AFFAIRS -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Piper Perabo as Annie Walker -- Photo by: Robert Ascroft/USA NetworkAs promised yesterday, here’s the transcript from our interview with Piper Perabo from the set of USA’s new show, Covert Affairs. We talk a lot about the show and, to some degree, the first episode but I don’t think any of is too spoilery (and you know me with the spoiler phobia). I don’t know if Piper’s sass comes through but I think you’ll definitely get a feel for why I think she’s makes a great Annie Walker. Enjoy!

Online Media: I understand you had the chance to, like, go to Langley to help research this role. What type of prep have they given you in order to really embody this character?

Piper Perabo: Well when we started – for the pilot – I started training four weeks before I even came to the pilot. And then we did, I think it was four more weeks of training prior to the beginning of shooting, and Doug Liman was cutting Fair Game at that point. So he had, because of that and because of his previous projects, he has contacts, personal contacts at Langley. And so all I had to do was ask and he was like, “Yeah.”

It was cool, like I went and I met agents who are my age who work in the field, women, and got to talk to them. Not just about – the funny thing is the things that they can’t talk about aren’t really the things that I, you know, I don’t need to know where your stationed or what you’re doing. But my questions were more like, “What kind of car do you drive? Does your boyfriend know what you do? Do your parents?”

You know what I mean? There was a lot of personal stuff that they actually could talk about, even though I’m sure they didn’t give me their real names, that kind of stuff was really useful. And because this show is like kind of a humanist approach to the CIA, just sort of seeing that it’s not a fancy car, it’s like a pretty cheap economy car. [laughs] Because you’re on a government salary, you know what I mean?

And one woman that I talked to who’s an officer, her specialty is Anbar Province and I said, “Oh well have you ever…” she was my age, and I said, “Have you ever briefed the President?” And she said, “Yeah I briefed Bush three times.” And I was like, “Whoa, what did you wear?” [laughs] And she said, “Well I bought a new suit every time because I was so nervous I didn’t want anything, you know, to be wrong.” And I said, “Oh my God that’s so expensive,” you know, like when you do budget wardrobe the suits are really expensive. And I was like, “What kind of suit?” and she was like, “Ann Taylor” and I was like, “Right, right.” [realization donning] Because you’re a normal person, you know what I mean, you’re not wearing like the Gucci suit to brief the President. So it was really, helped to kind of fill out the real, to make it less James Bond, you know what I mean? Although we do take sort of a little leeway with the fashion.

OM: Can you talk about what originally attracted you to the role and how it’s been playing such a powerful lead female character for you?

PP: I’d been doing a play for almost a year, Neil Labute’s new play, reasons to be pretty. And because of the sort of actor de facto strike and then the real writers strike, there had just been kind of a real slow down in film and scripts coming out. And so when this came up, although I hadn’t really considered doing television before, because it was a feminine heroine, that really attracted me to it, you know what I mean? Not just playing like the girlfriend of the sidekick or the person who’s always being rescued. It’s just, there’s nothing to do in those roles and they get pretty boring.

And then when I met the creators, Matt and Chris, we really got along. They’re really nice guys, and they’re really confident in who they are, like they don’t, they know what is cool but they don’t have to act cool all the time. And I really appreciate that in a writer, you know what I mean? So we get along really well and that made me feel good about, you know, starting a whole world together.

OM: One of the lines in the pilot episode that interested me is, Auggie’s character, he says didn’t think that your character was the right type for the CIA. And when you basically said you’d been burned in a relationship and this and that, is that just makes you perfect for the role, the fact that you want to protect yourself and not get involved. And it’s like, is that the type they presented you with at Langley or where did that come from?

Chris Gorham and Piper Perabo play Auggie Anderson and Annie Walker on the new USA show COVERT AFFAIRS.PP: Well you, I’m not sure where the inspiration for that, but I know what you’re talking about, that kind of CIA recruiting type. And I think that, there’s two things that they said at Langley. One is, especially since 9-11 they’ve been recruiting in a much kind of broader profile, because they wanted more diversity of age and background, because what they’re doing just requires, you know, a different kind of blending in.

In fact, one of the women that I saw when I was there was in her 90s and she had the kind of key like an officer has, I mean they call agents officers there. And I said to the officer that I was with, “That lady’s a spy?” and he said, “Yeah she’s a Russian language expert. And because of her age she understands all the different, like, nuances of the different dialects in Russian and so what that signifies.” And I was like, I called my grandma, I was like, “Dude, like you could work here!” [laughs]

But I think also a kind of, that slightly closed but interested in someone else personality, you know what I mean, that you keep your cards close to your vest. The people that I met when I was there they like, tell a great joke, you know what I mean? They’re really quick to – it’s like when they’re laughing at something – are easy to laugh. It’s like people that you would want to sit next to at a bar, but when you got up from the bar they didn’t really tell you anything about themselves even though you were talking the whole time. And I found that consistently with the people, they were all sort of pretty but not like smashingly good-looking. You were just like, “Oh they seem so…” you know easy to love but also easy to kind of forget. And so, that was the type that I was seeing when I was there.

OM: How do you, I noticed in, you know, we saw one episode that you portrayed at least three different personalities, personae. How do you, how were you able to switch, I’ll say switch roles, because the character Annie is playing different roles?

PP: Well I think a lot of it, especially now that we’re up and running at speed with show, a lot of it has to do with the prep with hair, makeup, my dialect coach, wardrobe. We’re trying really hard to differentiate the different people, so that especially if you’re tuning into the show late you kind of get why would I have a different name or what’s going on or why am I switching languages.

Like we just did a scene in Portuguese here in the last scene, on the set, and so it requires kind of a team of people to keep it all straight. Because since I’ve never done TV before, I also haven’t ever shot this fast. And so when you’re trying to do, you know, ten pages in a day, you never do that on a film. [laughs] And so as I’m trying to keep everybody separate, the language differences actually help. Because I remember, like, well if I’m speaking Portuguese then I’m definitely this person, you know. But I think the creative departments are helping me clarify all that.

OM: So for you it’s the process from taking off one personality and then starting to apply the next one, it’s a process for you that gets you there?

PP: Yeah, it’s the creative process of building that person so that by the time we’re on the day, I know it’s like a language, a shoe, you know what I mean? There’s certain components that help you key in quickly.

OM: We talked with Chris earlier and he talked a lot about training to do the blind scenes. In the scenes where you have to lead him, did you have to take training for that?

COVERT AFFAIRS -- Pilot "Day 4" -- Pictured: (l-r) Piper Perabo as Annie Walker, Christopher Gorham as Auggie Anderson -- Photo by: Steve Wilkie/USA NetworkPP: Yeah, he’s been working a lot with, I’m sure he told you, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. And so one of his teachers has come to set a couple of times. He was training me himself and then one of his teachers also came. And we did, once we got into that main set of the CIA, the DPD and stuff, we worked on a lot of things. Just about, in a workplace environment where you’re there all the time, how that differs from a new environment. Because in the pilot he and I are out on location together and so that requires much more leading, obviously, because he’s not familiar with the surroundings.

It was funny we were walking through with her, we were doing something else but we were going to work on stairs, because there’s a certain way to lead for stairs. It’s sort of like dance, you know, like how the man leads in certain dances, it’s kind of that way with blind leading. Is that there’s certain cues that you give, you know, “We’re about to up a set of stairs.” Or, and one guy told Chris, when he’s with his friends who are sighted, they’ll like, if something’s happening that’s off, they’ll make an X on his back. So like as though, if you could see you would know, like, “Oh God here it comes,” you know what I mean? But since they can’t, they even have signals to each other about, like, so we’re looking for a place so I can do it to Chris when our boss is coming and stuff like that.

But we were going through the DPD, there was no brail on the elevator numbers when we crossed through that elevator bank. And she was like “This isn’t to code” like, you know what I mean? She’s so aware of the handicapped codes that are required. So it was cool to have her around, so yeah, I’ve been doing training with him.

OM: Annie is supposed to be a guru at languages, so how hard has it been to learn the different languages? Or were you already pretty fluent, or not fluent but able to pick up languages pretty quickly?

PP: I’m pretty good with picking up languages because I’m good at accents. But some languages I have no experience with, like when we, in the pilot we’re in Sri Lanka and so we’re speaking Sinhalese. And that has a sound that I’m not used to at all, you know, like in foreign films and stuff, you hear a lot of the same kind of language, even like Korean, Chinese, blah-blah. But like, Sinhalese? That doesn’t come-so those ones require a little more work.

And now we have a dialect coach who works with us, and we, because we’re in Toronto, it’s one of my favorite little facts about Toronto, it’s the most diverse city in North America. So, so far, we’ve been able to find a native speaker of every language we’ve done here in town. So we do recordings of native speakers that we can then break down and use. So that, just so that there’s very, so it doesn’t sound like a language teaching tape, you know it can get too perfect and then it sounds fake. You want to be kind of, we’ll fuck up, because that’s how we talk. You know what I mean that you’re not that consistent and you’re—

OM: Right, you want to sound natural.

PP: Yeah, yeah. So it’s been okay so far, we’ll see. I think we’re up to, like, eight or nine languages now.

OM: In the pilot, there’s a whole mystery surrounding Annie’s mysterious lover/savior, is that something we’re going to obviously explore? Are we going to get an answer to that before the season finale or is that something we’re really going to have to wait until the end of the season?

PP: I don’t know, they’re working on the season finale right now. I actually called Chris (Ord) this morning and I was like, “What’s going on with the season finale? I want to fly somewhere,” [laughs] for real. I have only read, I am only one episode ahead of where we’re shooting, so I don’t know. He’s come back. We see him in the first season kind of a lot, and it’s getting more mysterious than less. But I don’t know if we’re going to solve it this season or not.

OM: Do you like to know, as an actress, do you like to know what’s coming ahead or do you like it just kind of play the mystery knowing nothing?

PP: I like to know what’s coming ahead. Because I feel like, you know, because I’m an actress, I can act like I don’t know, and there are moments that you can carve out or throw away that, then later, like hopefully the show is good enough that then if you watch, you know, season one, if you watch it on DVD, if you know how it arc’d then when you go back… Chris and I talk about this all the time. That there will be moments that then we did it purposefully knowing how the long arc is going to lead. And for me, like I love that show Damages because I feel like the long arcs are so cool. And I’ve never gone back and now done the whole first season again, but I fucking bet you they’re doing that you know what I mean? And I love that kind of smart, it’s like you know… What’s the Haley Joel Osment movie with Bruce Willis?

OM: Sixth Sense.

PP: Yeah, it’s so awesome! You know what I mean? So I’d rather know and carve the scene especially for that, because I think fans—I mean when I’m the viewer I like that.

OM: I really love the show already, Annie is the epitome of girl power, and you don’t even use a gun. It’s like, you’re like a bad-ass in high heels. So I wanted to know first, like, what kind of physical training you’re doing, and second how hard is it to do in a pair of Louboutins?

PP: Okay it’s so hard to do in a pair of Louboutins, but so worth it. I did a scene, I think it’s in 1×05, where I repel down an elevator shaft with this really hot guy, in the Louboutins. And I was like, “This is like my favorite job ever!” [laughs] There are days too where like I’m going like through like, there’s like a car accident, and I’ll take off the shoes and, like, carry them into the car accident. And then put my shoes on and be like, “Okay go, hit us!” You know what I mean, like I’m protecting them.

OM: They’re kind of like your partner in crime.

PP: I know I love them more-I take better care of them, I’ve got bruises all over me but I’m like, [pantomimes protecting the shoes and holding them delicately] “Here’s the shoes…” [laughs] It’s really fun. It does require a lot of training. We’re doing, because of Doug and the Bourne Identity, you know, Jason Bourne rarely uses a gun too, and I think it makes for a smarter character. It’s fun to watch someone like get out of, you know, if you just blow everybody away it makes for a shorter show. [laughs] But, and CIA isn’t supposed to carry weapons when they’re on US soil. So it’s true to life in some ways.

We’ve been, the fight style that we’re working with mostly is Krav Maga, because that’s such a tight hand-to-hand street combat, it’s what the Israeli army uses for their street combat. And then for me, when I’m doing fighting, there’s also Wing Chun with it, which was created for nuns during the samurai period and it’s mostly deflection but to use as a man’s coming at you. Because the idea is that, like, if a man were to hit a woman, one punch—Wing Chun is called the glass body technique, because one punch, you’re kind of history, you know what I mean? You’re not really—if it’s real you’re not going to make it. So how do use his oncoming energy to deflect and move him past you and then what hit can you get in as he’s moving past. So the combination of Wing Chun and Krav Maga are the styles I’ll be working with. It’s hard. [laughs] I’m tired.

OM: It looks great.

PP: Thanks, good.

OM: We were just talking about how you do a lot of stuff in this show. You do a lot of action, you’ve got some funny scenes with Chris and then you’ve got your family moments with Anne. So just personally what’s more appealing to you? What do you get excited about, what kind of scenes that are coming up?

COVERT AFFAIRS -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Sendhil Ramamurthy as Jai Wilcox -- Photo by: Robert Ascroft/USA NetworkPP: Well Chris and I have a similar humor in real life, so it’s really fun doing scenes with him, you know we’re like the kings of [rubs her hand over where her mic would be located on her chest]. You know usually your mics are here, so when Chris and I are on set we’re doing this up until the last second because we’re talking, like, shit about everything. [laughs] So I like to do scenes with Chris, because then it’s, like, fun and fun.

But recently, finally I did a big episode with Sendhil which is very action, and that was really cool, like there was parkour in it. And it was, Sendhil is so athletic that you can do, the action sequences all of a sudden really open up when he’s in it. So they’re fun, different ones are fun for different reasons you know.

OM: I’m curious to know kind of about the episode to episode balance between whatever mission or case you’re working on and home life or your life otherwise, outside of the agency.

PP: You mean like how, are we connecting them?

OM: Yeah, or just sort of how the balance is.

PP: We’re trying to keep it sort of balanced between her real life and her work life. Just so that you, so she seems like a, you keep being reminded that she’s a real person with concerns at home and her sister’s annoying and, like, it’s too loud in the morning and the coffee and the stuff. Because real people do bring all that to work, you know.

Most episodes, like I said, the long arcs of the show are good, and so the episodes do tie together. I think there’s only one episode that we did that they said, the writers were like, “This is the only evergreen episode.” And I was like, “I don’t know what that means.” But it means like you can work out of sequence, you know what I mean? So, yeah, we’re trying to keep it balanced between the home life and the work life.

OM: Is she—is Danielle ever going to find out what you actually do?

PP: It’s going to get, like, it’s going to get way more complicated than her just finding out what I do. Yeah, in fact I know more about what she doesn’t know, and then will know. Like Annie Dudek is so, like, sweet and pretty and she’s like making cereal and I’m like, “You’re whole world’s about to explode girl.” You know what I mean? Like, she is so nice, sometimes I feel bad that I know more about what’s going to happen to her, but it’s sort of exciting. It’s not just going to be, like, “I work for the CIA,” let’s put it that way.

OM: Can you talk a bit about Annie’s relationship with Joan? Is she a mean boss, is she mental?

COVERT AFFAIRS -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Kari Matchett as Joan Campbell -- Photo by: Robert Ascroft/USA NetworkPP: Joan is a fucking bitch! [everyone laughs]

I mean like, it gets so much worse, Joan, she said this, she did this scene with me the other day when we were like being debriefed. And it’s just like, Joan, I mean I think now I sort of realize that Joan was a great agent in the field in her own right. And now that she’s higher up and a bit pinned-in in her office, maybe there’s a little bit of envy there with what Annie does, but Annie certainly doesn’t have that. If anything like the X on the back symbol that I give to Auggie is always when Joan walks in. Like Joan is just… And she always gets to wear a dress, it’s so annoying!

Yeah, it’s pretty difficult with Joan. And it, I like having, I mean, I like that it’s not all a bowl of cherries in there, you know what I mean? I mean, obviously her job would be very high stress and like she’s doesn’t have time to baby me or walk me through. And I don’t know that she knows that I’m bait, because I don’t think Arthur told her. And so I think she’s still annoyed, like why is this girl even in, like I don’t have the training or, like I don’t have the level of training that I should even be in her office. So I’m sure I’m kind, it’s kind of annoying to her that I’m even there, like I can understand if I step out of it, but nah, I really don’t like her. [laughs]

OM: I think over the, you could probably say decades now, entertainment and viewers have been sort of indoctrinated with this idea of the CIA as a villainous entity. Like movie after movie it’s portrayed as sort of a negative, you know, embodiment. Do you feel that this show is kind of closest to a reflection of what the real CIA is? You’ve been there, you’ve talked to the officers and whatnot, do you think that it’s, we’re getting sort of an actual true picture of what the organization is about, versus the sort of the more probably fantastic nature of it as a villain?

PP: Yeah, I mean I think that the villain portrayal is probably fantastical, although I’m sure there’s truth in it. And the people, you know the people that I was allowed to meet with, I’m sure they’re not going to let me meet with the people who are disgruntled. [laughs] You know, although Valerie Plame Wilson was our advisor on the pilot, and so I did get a really good sort of mirror view from her, you know.

But one thing that somebody said when I was there that was really interesting, it was the woman who briefed Bush. I said, “Oh, like how did you feel about that, you know, are you pro-Bush or how do you feel about Obama being in? Like do you want to brief Obama?” And she said, “You know, for me it’s not about who the President is, like I work at the pleasure of the President.” Like full stop, it’s not to President Bush or President Obama.

And she said, “I’m in this because I really believe in the ideals of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.” And so for her it’s such a wider ideal that she’s fighting for, and to me that was something I could really get behind and understand. And is much more idealistic then the things that you see in those kind of villain movies. But that sort of perspective helped me in some ways, get behind the show, because it’s like these are people who believe in sort of ideals that I share. And so it’s easier to sort of think, like, “Oh yeah, I can see why you would risk your life, you know, for that.”

OM: How do you see Annie’s relationship with Auggie kind of developing over the rest of the season? Because right now, I mean her problem seems to be she doesn’t really have anybody to go to.

PP: Yeah, I mean, I think as the season starts he becomes a real confidant and now that we’re getting into mid season that may change. You know, Auggie has a really secret past as well that he alludes to in the pilot, you know, he said he was at special forces. And then he doesn’t say anything about that for a long time and now that story is starting to break about his unit and what his work there was, and that’s going to kind of un-end our foundation. So I don’t know how it’s going to go now, it will seem good for awhile. Now I don’t know if it’s good anymore. [laughs]

OM: We look forward to seeing it.

PP: Thank you. Thank you, guys, those are good questions.

Online media group shot with Piper Perabo on the set of COVERT AFFAIRS. Photo by: Steve Wilkie/USA Network

2 Responses to “In Between Scenes with Covert Affairs’ Piper Perabo”

  1. 1

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rae and ♥Shasha♥, Covert Affairs. Covert Affairs said: RT @raelee: One of the interviews I promised in yesterday's post: In Between Scenes with @CovertAffairs Piper Perabo – [...]

  2. 2

    [...] To be friends outside of the office? Yeah. Well, you know what? This is a really good question for Piper because she – I’ve talked a lot with her about it, but she actually went to Langley and [...]