Piper Perabo (Covert Affairs)

Piper Perabo: The Interview (Covert Affairs)

Piper Perabo stars as Annie Walker in COVERT AFFAIRS, USA's much-anticipated, new drama series, premiering Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 10/9c.

SHAKEFIRE: You’ve been doing a lot of interviews lately and it seems that everyone’s favorite question to ask you is about Alias.  I’m sure you’re kind of tired of talking about Alias at this point.  I’m just wondering, personally I see a lot of differences between the two shows and I’m wondering, being lumped together with that show so frequently do you think that that’s something that’s going to help or hinder the show?

PIPER PERABO: When I first got working on the show and I was speaking to actor friends of mine about what the show was about and how I was going to create the character, people said, “You should watch Alias.”  I had never watched the show, don’t ask me how I missed it, so I got the pilot and I watched the pilot and I thought it was genius.  I didn’t really want to watch anymore because I don’t want to in any way imitate what Jennifer was doing and I want to make sure that Annie is her own woman and dealing with her own world.  But I thought that what I saw of the work on that pilot was really exciting and the fight sequences were really dynamic and she was just a really powerful, smart, intuitive woman who can make decisions on the fly, she’s brave, and she’s still a real person.  I think those parallels can be drawn to Annie. 

I think in our show, though, you see a lot more of the real life of a spy, what kind of car you drive and what it’s like when you get home at night after you’ve just been chasing an assassin all day.  So in that way I think we are really different.  I think that if people come and watch our show because they like Alias, then that’s great, but I think they’re going to get to see a much bigger world than they saw and so hopefully they’ll keep watching.

SF: How was your last day at the CIA and did you take notes?.

PP: Oh, that’s interesting.  Yes, Doug Liman, our executive producer, was in the middle of editing Fair Game when I got cast in the pilot, which is the story of Valerie Plame Wilson, so I knew he had contacts down at Langley.  And I asked him if he could get me an introduction so that I could go there and see what it’s really like and talk to real people who do this for a living.  So he did, and this sort of shows my naiveté, but I brought a notebook with me so I could take notes.  I had a lot of questions that I wanted to ask. 

When I got there they told me, of course, you can’t bring a notebook into the CIA.  … number one is … take notes in the secret agency.  I said, “Oh, okay when we get inside could I have some paper and a pen?”  And the agent who was taking me around said, “Sure, but you have to leave it inside when you leave.”  Of course you can’t take notes out of the CIA either.  I said, “Well, how am I supposed to keep all this information?”  He said, “You have to be like a spy and remember it.”  It was interesting that before I even got inside you can feel how tight and secret the whole world is.  It was an amazing day.  It started there and it was incredible.

SF: Doug Liman mentioned that he likes to tailor characters to the actors who play them, so I was wondering how Annie was tailored for you and what part you played in that process.

PP: The way that the role came to me was I was doing a Broadway play, I was doing Neil Labute’s new play, Reasons to be Pretty, and we were almost done with our run and I was reading movie scripts and I wasn’t finding anything that was really speaking to me and my agent suggested that I read this.  And I hadn’t thought about doing television, but when I read it, it kind of changed everything for me.  She’s such a powerful character, she’s so smart, the action is so intense, and I really thought it would be fun to do. 

Then I met Doug and I went to the CIA and I started creating the character, and I met the creators, Matt Corman and Chris Ord, and we did a lot of talking about how – because the pilot is Annie’s first day at the CIA.  And so as the show continues Annie’s really a rookie, and so what she excels at and what she isn’t very good at, I think is in some ways tailored to me.  I really like driving.  I really like action.  I really like stunts.  And those are things that I haven’t gotten to do in the past and so when I told them that all of a sudden that stuff started getting more and more intense and more creative.  And Doug has been very active in ramping up the action sequences for each episode we do, so I think in a lot of ways the action was even kicked up a higher notch because I was so excited to do it. 

SF: We’ve heard mention of a lot of different guest stars that you’re going to have this season and I was wondering, is there anyone in particular that you’ve especially enjoyed working with?

PP: Eriq La Salle did an episode … and I really liked working with him.  I watched ER a lot, especially when I was in college studying acting was when ER, I’m sure you remember, they did that episode once that was live and they did it live on the East Coast and live on the West Coast.  As a theater student we all sat down as actors together and watched it together, the East Coast one and the West Coast one, and it was so cool and it was so brave and it was so exciting.  So I wanted to really pick his brain about that and about how you shoot for such a dynamic emotional one-hour drama, and he was so patient and generous and also just a really good actor. 

SF: Can you talk a little bit about working with Christopher Nolan in The Prestige, and if he called would you want to play Cat Woman?

PP: If Christopher Nolan called I would play anything he wanted me to play.  It was amazing working with him.  I had been such a fan of all his films and I didn’t know how he worked until I got on the set with him the first day and how closely he works with Wally Pfister, his DP, and how fluid and alive his sets are.  Also having Christian Bale, who has worked obviously multiple times with Nolan and Hugh Jackman, it was kind of a dream experience.  I would do anything to work with Nolan again.
SF: I’m wondering, why do you think we’re seeing more and more film stars making a transition to TV?  This isn’t really something that we would have seen 15, 20 years ago.

PP: Yes, that’s an interesting question.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot too.  One of the things is I think there’s a lot of great writing happening in television, not that there hasn’t been great writing in television before, but there seems to be a burst of new writers, young writers writing for television and writing really dynamic, complex characters, so that will always draw actors is good writing.  I also think there seems to be a surge of dramas helmed by women, which wasn’t the case before, so that draws great actresses to the screen.  Damages is one of my favorite shows, and to watch Glenn Close and Rose Byrne do those scenes, it’s great writing.  I think maybe that’s what got them there in the first place.  I don’t know, but I would assume so.  Then when you add that talent to it, it just makes for great television.  So I think creating these powerful female characters is changing television.

SF: I read that you’re an action movie fan.  I was wondering, I know this is probably your first real action based role, but how crazy was it acting through that whole sniper scene in the pilot, which was so intense?  Was that hard to do?

PP: It was really hard and it was really crazy.  They buried … in the wall so that when you built the set there are little, for cameras when you’re doing marks they have all these rolls of tape and they’ll use the tape where all the … are , so that in the rehearsal you know what parts of the wall are going to blow up.  But when we shoot everybody else on the crew puts on face shields and packing blankets over their bodies, and they take away all the marks where the explosions are going to happen, and the only person who’s not protected is me.  Then they say, “Go,” and the room explodes.  So it took a little getting used to.

SF: I was wondering, in the series beyond the first couple of seasons how will your character adjust to essentially being a much more experienced agent at that point, since a lot of the show seems to be based on your inexperience right now?

PP: That’s a really interesting question and that’s come up with me and the creators already.  It’s funny that you noticed that.  Because one of the things that I really like about Annie is how inexperienced she is, and obviously the longer we stay with her, the more she’ll gain. 

What’s fun about being an inexperienced CIA agent is that you don’t follow protocol because you don’t know it.  So that comes up again and again with Annie, is that it’s not that she’s particularly flouting authority, she just hasn’t had the training to know how she’s supposed to do it.  So she has to come up with her own ideas.  I hope that Annie will be successful enough that eventually she’ll be allowed to give it a little bit looser range, because the creativity that the writing department continually comes up with as to how Annie solves a problem is really fun to watch her do.  So hopefully even with her experience she’ll just get better at creative solutions, but not necessarily become an expert.  Do you know what I mean?

Peter Oberth
Interview by Peter Oberth
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