I have to admit, when I first heard about Covert Affairs, I vaguely recognized the name Christopher Gorham, but really didn’t have a clue who he was. His credits have included Ugly Betty, Harper’s Island, and Jake 2.0, series that I’d never seen. But I did remember that a couple of friends mentioned they were fans, and were gracious enough to give me a crash course on what I needed to know.
I got to meet Chris during the recent Covert Affairs set tour in Toronto, and does he ever leave an impression! Not only did he share some really fascinating stuff about this new series and his character, Auggie Anderson, Chris has this magnetic personality and manner of speaking which has led me to track down some of his previous work. But let’s focus on current series for now, in a piece I’m going to call Inside the Covert Affairs Studio With Chris Gorham.
Here’s Chris on his character, Auggie …
It’s a really different role. Going back to auditioning for the part, it was a great challenge. The script was really good, and there were great people involved with the show.
Auggie is really interesting. He’s a blind guy who’s kind of the tech guy, but he also used to be special forces. 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, or get up and walk across the room. There’s nothing that I can physically do that doesn’t require me thinking it through. I have to find my cup of coffee before I can pick it up and drink it. Everything has to be found before I can do anything with it.
It’s a big challenge, but it has really re-invigorated me to this kind of storytelling, this kind of ensemble drama. I’ve done a lot of shows, and I’ve been the lead, I’ve been the expository guy, and I’ve been the best friend. I’ve been all these different types of guys, and now it’s all new. So it’s really exciting.
…on convincingly playing a blind character
It’s really tricky, on a couple different levels. 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 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. I can kind of look near people but I never really make eye contact.
In the research that I’ve been doing and the people that I’ve been meeting with, especially with the guys and women who’ve lost their sight as adults, they’re really good at making eye contact. It can be unnerving, because you think, “Wait a minute, you can see me.” 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.”
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. There are little variations like that we’ve been getting better at as we go along, and a lot of this stuff I’m learning as I go.
…on working with the CNIB
I started working with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind before we started shooting the pilot. When we came back to start on the series, I immediately called them up. I’ve spent many days over there and met with four or five different people who have lost their sight and a couple of guys who have been blind from birth, seeing what those differences are and just learning a lot about it.
So I’m always learning new things that I bring and put into the show. Or, call the writers and say, “Oh my God, you’ve got to use this at some point, because it’s just brilliant.”
Lesley MacDonald is a woman at the CNIB who I’ve been working with a lot and has been very helpful. I set it up so she could come out here and work with me and Piper on sighted lead, to make sure we were doing it right.
There’s a blind criminal appeals attorney here in town, who is really excited and has been incredibly helpful. Every once in a while he sends me an email with, “I thought of another thing,” And sends a little detail, like public restrooms. 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 thing flushes itself.
…on the inspiration for Auggie
The character was at least inspired by a friend of Chris Metz. He’s not blind, but he became disabled as an adult, and it changed who he was. That’s kind of where the idea of that came from. As far as we know, Auggie isn’t drawn from someone in the military or from the CIA. But I just recently learned about, and I’m going to call and hopefully talk to, Capt. Scotty Smiley who was blinded in the military, in the service in Iraq, and decided to continue his service. Now, he’s got a desk job working in the military. It’s a fascinating story, and has some similarities with what Auggie went through. So I’m really looking forward to talking to him.
…on Auggie’s relationship with Annie
Auggie and Annie hit it off right off the bat, on a very superficial level, like they both have similar taste in music. But I think on a deeper level, they are kind of kindred spirits. They just kind of operate on the same wavelength. So their friendship continues to grow and deepen as the show goes on. They care for each other and they really watch out for each other. I think Auggie kind of has this place wired and really takes her under his wing.
…on Auggie’s fighting style
Auggie comes from a Special Forces background. He can take care of himself, as long as he has a hold of somebody. 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 a couple of feet away, with a bat, 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.
…on Covert Affairs gone Fight Club
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 pretending to take punches all day long. It’s not pretty.
…on some mysteries in his character’s past
Sometimes you learn things about him before Annie does, which is kind of exciting. And you don’t always know what it means. You learn something new about Auggie and 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.
…on Auggie’s Special Forces background, and adjusting to not being in the field
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. He comes from being like one of those 12 guys who goes to Afghanistan alone. I read the book “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton, about those guys that were the first to go into Afghanistan when we (the USA) went in. They had no support and essentially won that war.
Auggie’s one of those guys. 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, his weapon of first resort is his brain. He’s a natural leader. You know, these guys, they don’t have to salute each other all the time. They get told what their mission is, but they don’t get told how they have to do it. They’re allowed to make it up as they go along. And that’s where he comes from, that’s how he functions. I think sometimes being in the bureaucracy of the CIA can be frustrating. He doesn’t mind being told what to do, it’s being told how to do it that can really get on his nerves.
Photo courtesy of USA Network