On Set With Covert Affairs Star Piper Perabo

Last night, Covert Affairs made its Canadian debut, so what better time to share this little gem with all of you from last year’s set tour in Toronto. After spending time on the main set of the show, we were whisked to a studio just north of the city to sit down with star Piper Perabo, who is now a Golden Globe nominee for her portrayal of Annie Walker on Covert Affairs. Here are some of her thoughts on her character and the series, her move to television from film and theatre, her extensive language and fight training for the role, and being a butt-kicking femme while wearing Louboutins!

I understand you had the chance to go to Langley to research this role. What type of prep have they given you in order to really embody your character, Annie?

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 pre 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, personal contacts at Langley. And so all I had to do was ask. I went and I met agents who are my age who work in the field, women, and got to talk to them. The funny thing is the things that they can’t talk about aren’t really the things that I (wanted to know). I don’t need to know where you’re stationed or what you’re doing. My questions were more like, “What kind of car do you drive? Does your boyfriend know what you do? Do your parents?” 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. Because this show is kind of a humanist approach to the CIA, seeing that it’s not a fancy car, it’s like a pretty cheap economy car [laughs] … because you’re on a government salary. One woman that I talked to who’s an officer, her specialty is Anbar Province (in Iraq) and I said, “Have you ever briefed the President?” And she said, “Yeah I briefed Bush three times.” I was like, “Whoa, what did you wear?” And she said, “Well I bought a new suit every time.” 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.” You’re a normal person, you’re not wearing the Gucci suit to brief the President.

Can you talk about what originally attracted you to the role and what it’s been like so far playing such a strong female character?

I’d been doing a play for almost a year, Neil Labute’s new play, Reasons to be Pretty. 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. 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, not just playing the girlfriend of the sidekick or the person who’s always being rescued. 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, they know what is cool but they don’t have to act cool all the time. I really appreciate that in a writer. That made me feel good about starting a whole world together.

We talked with Chris Gorham earlier, and he talked a lot about training with the CNIB for his scenes. Did you have any training for scenes where you are leading him?

He’s been working a lot with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. (Chris) was training me himself and then one of his teachers also came. Once we got into that main set of the CIA, the DPD and stuff, we worked on a lot of things (like) in a workplace environment where you’re there all the time, how that differs from a new environment. It was funny, we were walking through with (the teacher), but (when) we were going through the DPD, there was no braille on the elevator numbers when we crossed through that elevator bank. And she was like, “This isn’t to code” It was cool to have her around. 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.

Your character is supposed to be a master at languages. How challenging has it been to learn these different languages?

I’m pretty good with picking up languages because I’m good at accents. But some languages I have no experience with, like in the pilot we’re in Sri Lanka and so we’re speaking Sinhalese. That has a sound that I’m not used to at all. We have a dialect coach who works with us, and 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 far, we’ve been able to find a native speaker of every language we’ve done. We do recordings of native speakers that we can then break down and use … so it doesn’t sound like a language teaching tape, you know, it can get too perfect and then it sounds fake.

In the pilot, there’s the whole mystery surrounding Annie’s mysterious lover/savior. Will be be learning more about this character, and will we see him again?

He does 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.

What kind of physical training have you been doing for this role, and how hard is it to do some of those scenes in Louboutins?

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 105, 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]. I know I love them more – I take better care of them, but I’ve got bruises all over me. It does require a lot of training. 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 Win 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. Win Chun is called the “glass body technique”, because one punch, you’re kind of history, you know what I mean? So how do you use his oncoming energy to deflect and move him past you, and then what hit can you get in as he’s moving past. It’s hard. [laughs] I’m tired.

What can we expect from the series when it comes to Annie’s work life versus her home life?

We’re trying to keep it sort of balanced between her real life and her work life. You keep being reminded that she’s a real person with concerns at home … because real people do bring all that to work.

Best of luck to Piper this Sunday at The Golden Globe Awards! And Canadian fans, don’t forget, Covert Affairs airs Sunday nights at 10pm on Showcase.

Photo Courtesy of USA Network

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