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Covert Affairs Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is an interview with Chris Gorham on August 13, 2010 about the show Covert Affairs.

Question:
In the upcoming episodes, it says Auggie is going to be a handler for the Special Ops unit he used to work in?

Chris Gorham:
Yes, I believe that's this coming week's episode.

Question:
How will that affect him? Will he have memories of what he used to do, or how is that going to play out?

Chris Gorham:
Up until now we've really seen Auggie helping Annie out. This is one of the opportunities where we get to see the shoe on the other foot, where Auggie is having some trouble and he needs to work something out in this episode and the roles are reversed. Annie helps him kind of get over his personal obstacles so that he can do his job the way he used to do it.

Question:
How much effort does it take to stay in character so you don't do something a blind person wouldn't do? When they say cut, do you still try to stay in character when you're having lunch and things like that?

Chris Gorham:
Oh, God, no. It would take far too long. They don't give me enough time. It's tricky but we kind of work out all of those kinks during the rehearsal. They give me a little extra time to rehearse these scenes because we don't really get a chance to rehearse them ahead of time so it all happens right before we shoot. They block out a few extra minutes so that I can figure out the physicality of what we're doing.

Typically what will happen in a regular scene is the case will rehearse and then we go away and we have stand-ins that come and stand in for us while they finish the lighting. Often I'll just stay there and keep working on the physicality of what I'm doing and what my actions are during the scene just to make sure that it's as accurate as I can get it. I'll just stay all the way through the lighting process and keep working on it.

Question:
So I was looking ahead a little bit and I noticed in one of the upcoming episodes I see some photos of Auggie, a little bit of racy photos. I'm wondering what kind of trouble he's going to be getting into.

Chris Gorham:
Auggie gets into some pretty deep trouble. I think the pictures you're referring to are from the August 24th episode titled, "Communication Breakdown." In that episode there is a Russian actor that's causing trouble and it turns out to be Auggie's ex-girlfriend. He has to go and try and bring her in and get something from her. He ends up in a lot of trouble because of her. She's kind of the wrong girl for all the right reasons, if you know what I mean.

Question:
Do you ever have any trouble filming those kinds of episodes where I guess you're scantily clad?

Chris Gorham:
Well, thankfully I had a lot of notice so I could work on it, but really Auggie is former Special Forces and one of the things I did kind of early on is did some research on the Special Forces and the training that those guys go through. I've tried to emulate that a little bit, which has meant that I've had to get in much better shape than I had been previously. Just in doing the research and working on the physicality for this part did most of the work for me.

Question:
Now that Sendhil says that you can be in the Heroes movie if it happens, what role do you want to play?

Chris Gorham:
Well, the fact that he says I can be in it makes me highly suspect that it's going to be made, first of all. I'd have to play a new part. If I had to pick a super power I've always wanted to fly. I know that's completely cliche, but it's absolutely true.

When I was in elementary school somebody told me that if I kept my fingers crossed for 24 hours non-stop that I'd be able to fly at the end of that 24 hour period. I did it and I remember keeping my fingers crossed all through school the next day and until I went to bed. Then that night I actually had a dream that I was flying. In some way I felt that whoever told me that was telling the truth.

Question:
You've played many characters on different shows. Odyssey 5 and Jake 2.0 and now Covert Affairs and your role as Auggie are both similar as it's kind of an action drama, but they're also incredibly different since he's a spy and of course who's now blind so you don't get out in the field. Then you were also in shows like Ugly Betty and Felicity and Out of Practice totally different genre. Do you have a preference as to what type of show or character you play?

Chris Gorham:
I don't have a preference. I always try and look for something that's interesting and different. I don't always get a choice as to the parts that I play, but where I do have a choice I lean towards things that I have not done before. It's one of the things that really excited me about this role in particular, was playing not just a blind character, which is physically very challenging and very interesting to me, but he's complicated.

He's the tech guy, he's also a veteran of Special Forces. He's like the toughest tech guy you've ever met. It's really what draws me is something that's a little different when I get the chance to choose.

Question:
What has been the reaction that you've gotten from your PSA announcement?

Chris Gorham:
The reaction that I've gotten directly has all been very positive. I was really honored to do it. I was surprised that they asked me, but looking back on it I guess it makes sense just because it's a high profile character. There are not a lot of disabled leading men characters on TV, so I think it made sense. It was definitely a worthy cause. It was an honor for me.

Question:
What can you tell us about Auggie and what it's like bringing him to life?

Chris Gorham:
Well, Auggie is a complicated cat. He comes from a military background and especially coming from Special Forces he's a specific type of military guy. He's very driven; he's very creative and he's been trained to use his brain before his gun. Being blinded was of course an incredibly difficult and challenging time for him, but I think it changed him in ways that I think were unexpected to him.

It will be interesting at some point to kind of explore what kind of guy he was before he was injured, but he's definitely changed. In fact, in the episode that airs on the 24th, "Communication Breakdown," there is some talk, his ex-girlfriend is in the episode and they actually dated before he lost his sight. Him being blinded is completely new information to her and so there is some talk about the type of guy that he was before he was injured as compared to the type of guy he is now.

he character is based loosely on a friend of the show's creators, Matt Corman and Chris Ord, who was disabled and they talk about how it changed him as a person and how it kind of opened up his life quite a bit in ways that were very unexpected, but in some very real positive ways. I think Auggie has had a very similar experience.

Question:
How did you land the role of Auggie?

Chris Gorham:
Getting this part was the very traditional audition route. I went in and read. The only kind of unusual thing about it is because of the physicality and kind of the idea that everybody has about blind people or blind characters is I had a lot of the same stereotypes so when I showed up to the audition I had sunglasses on and was ready to go in and rock my Ray Charles.

On the way into the room the casting director told me that they didn't want sunglasses and I had to take them off and it kind of threw me for a loop, as it did a lot of the guys who were going in, I'm sure. I just kind of had to make something up on the fly. That was a little nerve wracking.

After that I kind of settled into what I was going to do for the audition process. Once I had the part was when the real, the hard work really began as far as getting very serious about doing the proper research so that I could portray not only the character, but his disability as honestly as I can.

Question:
What kind of research did you put into that?

Chris Gorham:
I spent a lot of time with the Canadian National Institute of the Blind, the CNIB. During the pilot, a woman named Leslie McDonald came out and worked with me on using a cane, worked with me on sighted lead, which is how you see Piper and Auggie when they're walking together. You'll see me holding onto her elbow, that's called sighted lead, how to do that properly, a lot of just little physical details.

Then I met a man named Randy Fer, who was blinded when he was 20 years old in a car accident. I talked with him and just observed him for not only the physical aspects of his disability, but also we talked a lot about the emotional journey that a person goes through when something that traumatic happens to them and how they come out of it at the end of that journey.

When we pick up Auggie at the beginning of the show he's gone through that already, he's not still suffering, he's not still angry about it; he's not still feeling sorry for himself at all. The guy doesn't have an ounce of self-pity in him. Then when we started the series I've just continued along those lines meeting with other people who have been blind since birth, other people who have been blinded as adults, spending time at the CNIB building doing training on things like getting around the kitchen and all kinds of little details like that.

Question:
In a recent show - I think it was episode Auggie had the interrogation scene - I felt like we saw a little bit of a mad Auggie. Did the character kind of moved towards that, or expand on that because that was like his soldier training sort of thing coming out?

Chris Gorham:
Yes, you know, we see it occasionally. One of his arcs for this season is that frustration that bubbles up at times of not being able to get out in the field in the way that he would like to, in the way that he used to.

He was very good at it. Clearly he's limited in his ability to do that now so you see some of that in this Tuesday's episode you see some of that struggle because he is actually involved in helping some of his old buddies on a mission in the Middle East. You see some of that frustration, but also some of that anxiety and kind of self-doubt as to whether or not he can still really help his guys out in the way that he used to.

In the following week's episode on the 24th you actually get to see him get out in the field and in many ways he proves that in certain situations he can still very much function at the high level that he would demand of himself.

Question:
Do you prefer James Bond or Jason Bourne?

Chris Gorham:
I like Jason Bourne. I'm not just saying that because Doug Liman is my boss. Yes, I love the Bourne movies. When they came out, don't get me wrong I love James Bond, too, but the visceral brutality of the reality of those Bourne films, the humanity of that character are attractive to me. It's something that in a lot of ways we try to emulate on our show.

Question:
When you first got your script for the show was your character originally blind or was that like a last minute thing?

Chris Gorham:
No, he was blind right from the get-go.

Question:
What got you interested into the role of Auggie?

Chris Gorham:
Well, he's a character that's unlike anything else that I've seen on television. Every procedural show has a nerdy tech guy who lays pipe and explains things to the audience. I don't know another show that has a tech guy who's not that nerdy, who used to work in Special Forces so knows about 57 different ways to kill you, is quite a successful ladies' man, and also happens to be disabled. It's a combination that is, I believe, unprecedented and having the chance to try and bring that to life, and do it in a way that's as honest as possible was very attractive to me.

Question:
In Jake 2.0, you were the super spy, you were the action hero. Now you're the backup. You're the guy that action hero goes to when he needs help. What's it like working from that other angle?

Chris Gorham:
It's a lot of fun. I think if it were a lesser character, if Auggie wasn't so interesting and the writers weren't doing such a great job of writing really interesting things for him to do, I don't know that I would enjoy it that much, to be honest. With this character on this show, and particularly working with this actress, being Piper Perabo, I couldn't be happier.

In a very practical sense, creatively I'm incredibly satisfied by the work that I'm doing on this show. Also, I'm a dad, I have three kids. I love my wife and having this part gives me the days off that Piper doesn't get. I use those to spend time with my family that otherwise I wouldn't be able to.

Question:
You mention that we'll get to see a bit more of an action Auggie?

Chris Gorham:
Yes.

Question:
Will we get to see a flashback of him in the Special Forces?

Chris Gorham:
I hope so. I hope we get to see a flashback someday. I think that would be a lot of fun. We don't see that this season so we'll keep it in mind for season two.

Question:
Your character and Piper's character are seemingly fast friends. She's gotten many love interests; you've got many love interests. Could they ever be love interests to each other, or is that totally off the table?

Chris Gorham:
It's not totally off the table. I think it is a potential long-term story arc. Like you said, in the short term they both have very complicated love lives right now.

Question:
Would you say Auggie is 50% into his tech job and 50% living vicariously through Annie? How would you rate that?

Chris Gorham:
Auggie loves his job. We should make that very clear. In fact, there is a line in an upcoming episode where he says, I'm a techno-geek that gets to play with all the coolest toys in the sandbox and I get paid for it.

He loves his job. He also loves what he did when he was in the field. In an ideal world he would have that job back where he can meld those two things. Having things the way that they are, he's said as much in one of the episodes, that sure he harbors some jealousy because he would love to be out there with Annie.

I think there is some conflict between Auggie and Jai Wilcox, Sendhil Ramamurthy's character in the show for a number of reasons, but one of the reasons is absolutely that Jai gets to go out in the field and he's running around out there doing the things that Auggie is very confident that he could do better, but can't anymore.

Question:
What's the story behind the Led Zeppelin episode title?

Chris Gorham:
You know the guys love Led Zeppelin. I think it's going to be a theme with the show that every season they're going to pick a different band and the show titles will be from their play lists, so put in your suggestions, bands with large play lists.

Question:
With Harper's Island, I know you only received a script just a little in advance so that the cast is surprised. How does it work with Covert Affairs? Do you find yourself surprised when you read the script or do you kind of know Auggie so well now that it all just kind of makes sense for you?

Chris Gorham:
It varies. We're often surprised by plot turns. We had a conversation with Chris and Matt early on because as a cast you get curious as to what's going to happen over the course of the season. They really prefer to keep us in the dark, not that we need to be kept in the dark, not that we're going to spoil anything but they just kind of like giving us the story an episode at a time, like a serial.

There are character things that happen that recur. There are certain characters traits that at this point we're very solid in what the relationships between the characters are so for the most part when it comes to those relationships we kind of know where they're going to live. Plot wise we don't always know very far ahead of time and it's kind of fun. It's different than in Harper's Island because there is not the threat of one of us getting killed off every week.

Question:
What's the best piece of trivia you've learned while filming that, and also what's a piece of trivia about you that maybe we wouldn't see online?

Chris Gorham:
Oh, boy. This is asking a lot. Okay, here's one interesting piece of trivia I learned while there was that in the law school at the University of Michigan, in the law school cafeteria there is a secret room and that's the secret room where they take whenever they get like the President comes to visit or some big celebrity comes to visit or speak at the law school, they actually eat at the law school cafeteria but they get to eat in the secret room, which I got to see and was really cool.

Then trivia about myself, boy, that's a good one. Oh, I still have my retainer from high school. I never lost it.

Question:
Do you ever wonder just how much of what happens on the show is similar to how things are in real life in the CIA, the types of story lines, how things are handled, the inner workings that type of thing?

Chris Gorham:
I do wonder. I get the answers to some of those questions and some of them I don't. We actually make an effort on a lot of the little details on the show we work really hard to make them accurate. For instance, you'll never see anyone talking on a cell phone within our CIA because in the real CIA no cell phones are allowed.

You'll never see anyone with a purse or a personal bag because those are not allowed in the real CIA. Instead of garbage cans there are burn bags under all the desks. Those types of details that the way the top secret documents are transferred around the CIA in these bright orange, zip up lockable envelopes, we use the same ones on the show. A lot of those things we replicate and they're absolutely true.

There are a lot of facts in the pilot that we used that came directly out of the CIA that are true. As far as the missions, I don't imagine that they work exactly like they do in the show. I've been reading a book called Legacy of Ashes about the history of the CIA, kind of boning up on my own knowledge of that organization. I think, while I say that what we do on the show probably doesn't happen so much in the real CIA, having read that book there is a lot of crazy stuff that's happened over the decades, so even in saying that sometimes we may actually get pretty close to home and maybe sometimes unintentionally.

Question:
I've been gathering that your personality is closer to Auggie than say that of your previous character Henry. What do you think are your similarities between you and Auggie?

Chris Gorham:
Well, Auggie, I mean the kind of guy that Auggie is - the kind of guy that goes through the military and makes it into Special Forces and succeeds in that organization has the type of drive and the type of motor inside him that I honestly don't have. He is a truly extraordinary human being.

I think we have a similar outlook on life, I would say, in that trust is one of the most important attributes that you can have as a person. I think it's one of the reasons why he and Annie get along so well. They instinctively know that they can trust each other and that their relationship may be the only truly safe relationship that each of them has in that place. That's one similarity. I can also keep a really good secret.

Question:
What would be the differences between you and Auggie?

Chris Gorham:
We both have a good sense of humor. One glaring difference is that I have very little technical skill when it comes to the computer world and he is a whiz at it. In that arena we are worlds apart.

Question:
So far in the series we've seen hints of the CIA politics in their inner workings mostly through Kari Matchett and Peter Gallagher's characters. Will we see the internal politics expanded upon in further episodes; will we see episodes that are sort of very building focused?

Chris Gorham:
You will see an expansion of some of the internal politics, for instance, you see Peter's character, Arthur and my character, Auggie end up having some interactions that I won't give away what exactly they are, but definitely has to do with the inner workings of not only the political situation in the CIA but kind of the interpersonal relationships in the CIA, so that stuff is dealt with a little more as the season goes on.

I don't believe any of the episodes are solely focused within the building, but at least for the time being, not off the top of my head. But, the interpersonal relationships within that building and how the politics affect those personal relationships is a part of every episode. It's a part of the theme of the show, which is essentially how the personal life and the professional life of being a spy intersect and collide and intermingle.

Question:
You're very active on Twitter and have been for a long time, even before Covert Affairs, and you're interactive with the fans as well on there. Have you found any sort of difference with your newfound fame almost with Covert Affairs now?

Chris Gorham:
I haven't seen a big difference. I think I have a lot of followers, I guess, but there are many, many people that have hundreds of thousands of followers, so I think that I really appreciate my followers because I feel like I've got what I lack in quantity I make up for in spades in quality. There are some really smart people. My followers tend to be smart, they tend to be funny, they tend to be witty, and very rarely do I ever have any problems with anybody that I need to block then. I think I put it on my Facebook page that go ahead and post stuff on here but just keep in mind that I am married, I do have kids, so keep it PG.

I think the vast majority of the time they respect that I have a personal life and I respect their interest in the things that I'm doing, especially in this show. I'm happy to interact and to kind of give them a sneak peek and behind the scenes of what we do and how it works.

Question:
What's been your favorite episode so far to film with Covert Affairs?

Chris Gorham:
That's an interesting question. There's been a couple favorites. I guess my biggest episode is "Communication Breakdown" which airs on the 24th. It's a very Auggie-centric episode. It's the only episode that I worked every day. It was really satisfying. We got to really explore Auggie in ways that we hadn't done before. That's going to come back to haunt me. It was a fun episode. Auggie has a fight scene in that episode and he's on the run and he's helping his ex-girlfriend who is kind of the love of his life and so it's very big. It's very emotional and exciting and that was a lot of fun.

That being said, we're working on the season finale right now, and that's also been a blast and I don't have any big action scenes in the finale, but there are just some developments and some character development and relationship development between Auggie and Annie in that episode that I think is really strong and interesting.

Question:
How hard is it doing TV with kids, and I know yours are too young really to watch Covert Affairs, but do they ever come and visit you on set?

Chris Gorham:
They do come and visit me on set. In fact, I tweeted something a couple of weeks ago that one of my sons said that I thought was really hilarious, kind of an insight as to what their understanding of what I do is. He was sitting at the breakfast table talking to my daughter, who is 19 months old, explaining to her that she has to eat healthy and get in shape so that she could be famous and sit. That's what he thinks I do.

He's like daddy works hard at the gym so that he can go to work and sit because that's all he sees me do when he comes to work. We're sitting around talking, it's like me and Piper hanging out. Piper comes over and talks to the kids, Sendhil comes over, they sit down, we talk.

It's really funny, in fact, I watch Wipe Out with them mostly because watching people fall down is funny. They told me the other day that they want me to quit my job and go be on Wipe Out so that they can watch me on TV.

Question:
Well, I'm sure they'll appreciate it all when they get older and they're able to watch.

Chris Gorham:
Yes, yes. They will some day. They really want to see some of the fight scenes, which they can't see on this show so I told them that I'd get out some of the old Jake 2.0 episodes and show them those.

Question:
Do you have any funny outtakes that have happened during filming or like jokes during the filming?

Chris Gorham:
The hard part is that I never mess up. I'm sure there are some. I know there are some. We had one the other day where we were actually doing Piper's close up and I messed up and was just ruining the whole thing and was literally begging them to cut the camera. Just please cut. Just cut, cut, cut, please. Please, cut the camera. A couple times a day something silly will happen. I'm hoping they're going to put together a gag reel for the end of the year, but we'll have to wait and see.

Question:
Are you sure that they'll put some of that stuff on like a possible DVD or not?

Chris Gorham:
If they make one, I hope they will. I know they always did that on Betty. I don't know if that's something that all shows do. I think lots of times it just comes down to time and money if they have time to put it together. Hopefully, yes.

Question:
Before you were in Covert Affairs, you were in a few different shows that were unfortunately canceled before they came to a proper ending. Is there any show that you do regret most about not having a conclusion?

Chris Gorham:
I did a sitcom called Out of Practice years ago that was just an amazing experience. It was with Henry Winkler and Stockard Channing and Ty Burrell, who is on Modern Family now, and Paula Marshall, Jennifer Tilly, and the writers were Chris Lloyd and Joe Keenan. They'd just come from Fraser and Chris Lloyd is now doing Modern Family. It was a really, really good show and great writing and a fantastic cast. That one I was really sorry to see that one go.

Of course, any time a show ends prematurely it's tough, but then you move on and I'm really happy that it looks like this show is going to be on for a while. It's doing very well and I couldn't be more pleased.

Question:
Have you been given any indication if there is going to be another season or two after this one?

Chris Gorham:
No, we haven't heard anything, but we have our fingers crossed. I think the quality of the episodes has been very high and I think the audience has been responding. The ratings have been great; we've been in the top, last week we were the number five show on cable, so on a very competitive night, so we're very happy with how it's been doing.

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