A Covert Affairs Interrogation with Chris Gorham   

COVERT AFFAIRS -- Pictured: Christopher Gorham as Auggie Anderson -- Photo by: Robert Ascroft/USA NetworkApologies for the delay in getting the rest of my Covert Affairs set visit transcripts posted, sometimes life cramps my online style. But I’m back! This time with the transcript from our chat with Chris Gorham. Chris is, without a doubt, one of the reasons I was interested in this show and this set visit. He’s been in A LOT of shows that I’ve loved over the years. I can’t think of one of his characters that I haven’t enjoyed. So it was a pleasure to meet him and get the low-down on his Cover Affairs characters, Auggie. Check it out…

Online Media: First, but it’s not really a related to the show question.

Chris Gorham: Then I’m not answering it. [laughs]

OM: Can you eulogize, for a moment, Ugly Betty?

CG: I don’t know, what do you want me to say? I’m curious.

OM: I don’t know, like, as an actor who- when you start a show, are you sad to see something like that go, and go so quickly?

CG: Well, I didn’t– It was on for four years. I don’t think it went that quickly.

OM: Yeah, maybe it was just me, then. I thought it was quickly.

CG: Well, I’ve got to say, four years is pretty good.

OM: Yeah, that’s true.

CG: The show had a good run. Could it have gone longer? Yeah, I think so. And I know Silvio wanted – like, in his mind it was a five-year plan. So, you know, I guess if you look at it that way, yeah, it went too soon. But four years is pretty good.

OM: Yeah, sure. It was just sad in the way they, like—

CG: It was quick, yeah. And I know they were disappointed that they had the episodes cut back and- you know, at the end. So that was disappointing. But I think, you know, looking back, it was a good run.

OM: Yeah. Sure. Okay, now we can—

CG: Why are you so pessimistic? [laughs]

OM: I just – I really loved the show and I’m having a hard time letting go.

CG: Yeah. Oh yeah. No, I don’t blame you. It was a great show, a great show. And really, really nice people, you know? Those guys are all great.

OM: So this show… It’s– a very enjoyable pilot.

CG: Yeah, thanks.

OM: What attracted you to the role? I mean—

CG: Well, let me tell you something funny, actually—

OM: It’s so different from anything you’ve ever done.

CG: Yeah, it’s a really different role. But before we completely abandon Ugly Betty, somebody asked me something about, like why – somebody asked me, like, why do you think people will watch this show? Or, why do you think it’s going to succeed? And, really, what popped into my mind – and the more I thought about it, the more true it is – is that when I watched it, it really reminded me of watching the pilot of Ugly Betty.

COVERT AFFAIRS -- Pictured: (L-R) Christopher Gorham as Auggie Anderson, Piper Perabo as Annie Walker -- Photo by: Robert Ascroft/USA NetworkObviously it’s a completely different show, it’s a completely different style of show. But the reason that I say that is because I feel like you really fall in love with Annie Walker in a way that you really fell in love with Betty Suarez in the first episode, you know? Like, you—this is somebody that you can trust, this is someone that you like, this is someone that you want to succeed and you don’t want to see hurt. And I feel like there’s a real kind of bridge there between those two characters. I mean, most of the similarities end there, but the feeling that I had, you know, about the main character of the show, was very similar.

Now, for me, being attracted– like, you know, going back to auditioning for the part, it was a great challenge. I mean, you know, the script was really good, there were great people involved with the show, obviously, with Doug and Dave and Gene. And, you know, Chris and Matt I wasn’t familiar with before, but they wrote a great script.

And the character is really interesting, you know? He’s a blind guy who’s, you know, kind of the tech guy, but he also used to be special forces, you know? I mean, he’s multi-dimensional and has a great sense of humor and some real physical challenges that have to be overcome and confronted, literally in every scene.

You know, I can’t just pick up my cup of coffee and have a drink and then grab my pen and, you know, or get up and walk across the room. I mean, there’s literally nothing that I can physically do that doesn’t require me thinking it through, you know? How am I going to do that, you know? I have to find my cup of coffee before I can pick it up and drink it, you know? I have to – everything has to be found before I can do anything with it, you know?

And it’s a big challenge, but it makes- for me, it has really kind of re-invigorated me to this kind of storytelling, you know? Like, this kind of ensemble drama where- like, it’s completely new again, you know? Because I’ve done a lot of shows and, you know, I’ve been the lead and I’ve been, like, the expository guy and I’ve been the best friend and I’ve been the- you know, all these different types of guys. And now it’s all new. So it’s really exciting.

OM: Physically, how do you approach it? Like, how do you look like you’re not focusing on—not look like you’re looking at things.

CG: [laughs] Yeah, it is difficult. It’s really tricky, on a couple different levels. I mean, one, I stop paying attention to what I’m seeing. I mean, obviously, I can’t not see, unless I close my eyes. But it requires a—it’s a different kind of focus. I just stop paying attention to what’s happening in front of my eyes, and start paying much more attention to what I’m hearing, you know? Like, I can kind of look near people but I never really make eye contact.

And the first couple of days were interesting too, technically, because we would shoot the master, you know, and I’d be talking to somebody like this. And then we’d go to my close-up and the camera would be right fucking there, [laughs] you know? And I’d be staring into the camera and it was like, “Damn it!”

Chris Gorham plays Auggie Anderson on the new USA show COVERT AFFAIRS.And so it required just some technical maneuvering like, okay, well where can I find my look that I’m not going to end up staring directly into the lens when we come around and- you know, and working with the director, Tim Matheson, on, you know, “Well, how does this look?” It’s one thing, like, in person, and it’s another thing- on camera it’s not always the same, you know? So, “How is this looking? Is it working? Is it not working? What’s working well, what’s—,” you know.

In the research that I’ve been doing and the people that I’ve been meeting with, especially with the guys who- and women- who’ve lost their sight as adults, they’re really good at making eye contact. It can be unnerving, because you think- you’re like, “Wait a minute, you can see me.” You know? And it’s only when you stop talking and move over six inches and they’re still looking where you were, that you realize, “Oh no, they just used to be able to see and they know what it is– they have physical memory of what it is to make eye contact.”

But I found that for the purposes of the show, I can’t really be as good at it as I believe Auggie really would be, because on camera it is confusing. So, you know, there’s kind of little variations like that, that you know, we’ve been getting better at as we go along, you know? And a lot of this stuff I’m learning as I go.

I mean, I started working with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind before we started shooting the pilot. And when we came back to start on the series, I immediately called them up. And I’ve, you know, spent many days over there and met with four or five different people who have lost their sight and, you know, a couple guys who have been blind from birth, and seeing what those differences are and just learning a lot about it.

And so I’m always learning new things that then I bring and, you know, put into the show. Or, you know, call the writers and say, “Oh my God, you’ve got to use this at some point, because it’s just brilliant.” Because, you know, people will be curious. They’ll honestly be curious. Like, how would someone do XYZ, you know?

We had – Leslie McDonald is a woman at the Institute who I’ve been working with a lot and has been very helpful, you know. We had her – I set it up so she could come out here and work with me and Piper on sighted lead, you know, to make sure we were doing it right. And it was – you know, we would do all kinds of stuff, and stuff that we may never use. Like, how do you do sighted lead in a movie theatre, you know, like for a theatre seating? Like, what do you do? Who knows if we’ll ever use that, I don’t know why we would. But it’s interesting to know, just in case.

And it’s, like, there’s fun little details. There was another guy who’s a blind criminal appeals attorney here in town, who is really excited and has been incredibly helpful and is so great, and sends me – every once in a while sends me an email with, “I thought of another thing,” you know? And sends, like, a little detail, like public restrooms, you know. He says you can’t imagine how frustrating it is to be feeling around in some nasty public toilet for the lever to flush the toilet, only to stand up in frustration and the goddam thing flushes itself. [laughs] You know, like, automatic toilets, you know?

Like, these random things that can be so challenging to someone, who otherwise is so accomplished and completely—I mean, you know, who argues in the Supreme Court. Argues cases in the Supreme Court but is completely defeated by an automatically flushing toilet. It’s just great, like, those little things are stuff that – We’re always looking to find ways to put those kind of details in the show. Like, I only recently learned that blind people can use iPods and iPhones because there’s an – on the 3G and above – there’s an accessibility option that you can turn on where you can operate it all with two-fingered and three-fingered taps and wipes.

OM: Wow. And does it speak?

CG: Yeah, and it speaks.

It’s a big frustration with the blind community, sites that are not accessible drive them crazy, especially for guys like Auggie, who are incredibly technically savvy and have been, to then suddenly not be able to get on, you know, whatever site, drives them nuts.

OM: Would you happen to know if there’s, perhaps, someone your character was kind of based on? Like, is this unprecedented or has there been people that worked in the CIA that didn’t have sight?

CG: Well, two things. One, the character was at least inspired by a friend of Chris Metz, who—he’s not blind, but he became disabled as an adult. And, you know, it changed who he was. So that’s kind of where the idea of that came from. So, on that level, yeah. As far as was, you know, Auggie drawn from someone in the military or from the CIA, no. But I just recently learned about, and I’m going to call and hopefully talk to, Capt. Scotty Smiley who – he has a book coming out pretty soon – who was blinded in the military, in the service in Iraq, and decided to continue his service.

And now, you know, he’s got a desk job and he’s working in the military and, you know, it’s a fascinating story, and has some similarities with what Auggie went through. So I’m really looking forward to talking to him.

OM: One thing I noticed that was really interesting was the stick, but it was—

CG: The laser?

OM: Yeah, the laser. So how does that work? And does that exist? I mean, was that – I’ve never seen it before.

CG: Yeah, it’s—it doesn’t exist. It’s not far from real, though. The laser part of it is actually fairly old technology. They have an actual laser cane. It looks, you know, kind of like a traditional cane, not like one of the long ones, and it shoots out three lasers. They’re not visible lasers but – you know, like on the show – but, yeah, it shoots out three lasers.

And the idea was – because the light cane only protects right in front of you, like, you know, where you’re walking. It doesn’t protect the upper half of your body. And the idea with the laser cane was it can protect, you know, your whole body. So that part of it is really legit.

The other part of it, though, I was actually talking about this with one of the guys that I met with, trying to figure out, like, what it would actually be. Because we, at least up to this point, haven’t talked specifically on the show, like, explained how it works. We didn’t really think it was important- or, important enough to spend time talking about, you know, the technical – [laughs] yeah, it works.

But I think what we’ve come up with is, it has the laser grid but also has sonar, because the lasers would go through glass and the sonar could bounce through glass, and it gives me a vibratory feedback. And then, also, I thought it would be cool if it had a little gyro in it so it could even give me some resistance, depending on how close I am to things. But, yeah, the advantage is I can kind of whip it around and get the idea of the dimensions of a room and if there are people in here or where the objects are. I think we used it that way in the pilot, in the morgue.

We’ve since decided, you know, that when I’m outside of the CIA, I’m always using just the white cane, mostly because we thought that the laser cane would attract a lot of questions in real life, and questions we wouldn’t necessarily want to answer, working for the Agency.

OM: And can you talk a little bit more about how we’re going to see Auggie’s relationship with Annie continue to develop as the season goes on?

Chris Gorham as Auggie and Piper Perabo as Annie on the new USA show COVERT AFFAIRS.CG: Yeah, you know, Auggie and Annie, they hit it off right off the bat, you know, on a very superficial level. Like with the Mingus thing, you know, like, they both have similar taste in music. But I think on a deeper level, they are kind of kindred spirits. Like, they just kind of operate on the same wavelength. And so their friendship continues to grow and deepen as the show goes on. And, yeah, they care for each other and they really watch out for each other. And, you know, I think Auggie kind of has this place wired and really takes her under his wing, you know.

OM: Does Auggie ever meet her sister?

CG: I can wait for that to happen, because I love Annie Dudek and we never get to work together. Yeah, so—

OM: Maybe someday.

CG: Someday. I’m sure, someday. Yeah, it’s one of the things that I want to start a betting pool on. You know, what episode is that going to happen.

OM: Are CIA agents allowed to be friends outside of the office?

CG: 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 talked with some agents. And it’s fascinating, like they—

OM: I don’t really mean just, like, friends, because you guys went to the bar and whatever but, like, being involved in other people—like, really getting involved in their lives.

CG: Yes, well here’s the interesting thing. The agents are allowed to tell whomever they want that they work for the Agency. The reason that they don’t is because they might be putting those people in danger. So—

OM: I didn’t know that they were allowed to tell.

CG: Yeah, they have actually quite a lot of freedom to tell whoever they want to tell. But they take their jobs really seriously, so, you know, they don’t- as far as romantic relationships, you actually have to get them cleared through the agency. You can date, but if things start to get serious, you have to put in an application. Yeah. And, I mean, it’s funny because apparently, because it’s such a bureaucracy, but many times you put in the application and by the time you hear back that you can or cannot date that person, you’ve already broken up with them, [laughs] you know? Like, it takes months and the relationship is over. And you get, like, “Congratulations, you can get married,” you know? [laughs] But they do—

OM: Makes a nice betting system, though, you know?

CG: Well, yeah, well they do it—well because it’s a serious—

OM: You don’t have to be accused of doing the background check.

CG: It’s a &ndas; they do a very intense background check into these people to make sure that they’re not agents of another country, you know? But it’s really fascinating. And that actually is something that we do explore during the show.

OM: Are we going to see more of Auggie’s womanizing ways?

CG: Yes. [laughs] Yes. Yes, we will.

OM: Doug Liman said that you were getting ready to do an action—

CG: Yeah, yeah, just yesterday we did our first rehearsal for that fight, yeah.

OM: How was that?

CG: It’s really good. It’s everything I hoped it would be. It’s just brutal and ugly, and I win. [laughs]

OM: Is this your first role with fight scenes like that?

CG: No. No, I did a show called Jake 2.0 years ago. I did a lot of fight scenes.

We did one episode where it was like a fight club episode. I had a sore neck the next day because we did seven fight scenes in a day. And I could not move my head the next day, just from taking – you know, pretending to take punches all day long. It’s not pretty.

OM: Can you say anything about this particular one?

CG: This fight?

OM: Yeah.

CG: Well I’m really excited because, A, it takes place in an environment where it could legitimately happen, and it takes place in an environment where Auggie could legitimately win. Like, he has the advantage. You know, like I said, Auggie comes from a Special Forces background. He can take care of himself, as long as he has a hold of somebody. You know, we talked about early on that, in a physical confrontation, if Auggie is able to get a hold of you, then he’ll win.

Obviously his disadvantage is if you’re standing off, you know, a couple of feet away, with a bat, [laughs] you know, or a gun, or whatever, then he’s at an incredible disadvantage. But if he gets a hold of you, it’s going to be a bad day. So, yeah, it takes place in a space where he can really take advantage of that. I don’t know how much I’m supposed to give away or not, so I don’t—but I’ll let them do that.

But, yeah, but it’s great. And, you know, and we meet someone from his past and, I mean, there’s – I’m so, really, I’m so happy because not only – like, just playing the physicality of being blind is a real challenge and requires an extra level of focus that has really made this kind of all exciting and new again for me. But on top of it, for the show it’s exciting because it never just stops there. It never just stops with “he’s the blind tech guy.” Like, this guy- we learn all kinds of new things about him where you’re constantly going, “Wait- what??” [laughs] Like, “Wait a minute, what is—holy crap!” You know, you learn a lot.

And sometimes you learn things about him before Annie does, which is kind of exciting. And you don’t always know what it means, you know? You learn something new about Auggie and you don’t know, you’re not sure how you feel about it. So it keeps it really interesting, and he’s very involved in the story line. He’s not in any way just a tool to explain techno-babble to the audience.

OM: Does that mean he knows a little bit more than- you probably can’t answer this. Is there a darker side to him that we don’t know about yet?

CG: Well, yeah. I mean, you know, he’s—I mean, one of the things that he’s struggling with in this season of the show is a real frustration of not being able to get out in the field, you know? I mean, he comes from being like one of those 12 guys who goes to Afghanistan alone. I mean, I read the book “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton. It’s about those guys that were the first to go into Afghanistan when we went in. They had no support and essentially, you know, won that war.

But he’s one of those guys, you know. He’s wicked smart. Like, he learns the language of the place that he’s going into. He knows the customs. He knows how to handle weapons but really – like, he’s taught – like, his weapon of first resort is his brain. You know, he’s a natural leader. You know, these guys, they don’t have to salute each other all the time, you know? They can kind of- they get told what their mission is but they don’t get told how they have to do it, you know? They’re allowed to make it up as they go along. And that’s where he comes from, like, that’s how he functions.

And so I think sometimes being in the bureaucracy of the CIA can be frustrating, you know? Like he doesn’t mind being told what to do, it’s being told how to do it that can really get on his nerves. And the fact that he’s, you know, he loves the tech stuff and he gets excited by it. Like, we do an episode where they bring up some really old—like an old code-breaking machine. And I think he really gets off on it, you know? He’s like, “This is cool,” and he’s feeling it, you know? But—What’s up Dudek?

Annie Dudek: We’re out of time.

CG: No worries. So anyway, yeah, we’ll definitely see that.

OM: Thank you very much.

CG: Yeah, no problem. Thank you.

Online media group shot with Chris Gorham on the set of COVERT AFFAIRS.

One last closing note, we split into two groups when interviewing Chris so you may want to keep an eye out elsewhere online for the other group’s chat with him as well!

3 Responses to “A Covert Affairs Interrogation with Chris Gorham”

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    Christy says:

    I love Chris, and really liking Covert Affairs so far. But, I’m curious if he’s aware that he says “you know” in almost every sentence. It’s like a bizarre drinking game reading his answers. Otherwise, well done interview. Can’t wait to see more from him.