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Covert Affairs Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is an interview with Sendhil Ramamurthy on November 18, 2011 about the show Covert Affairs.

Sendhil Ramamurthy

Question:
So you got a promotion this season?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
I did get a promotion. I weaseled my way into a promotion.

Question:
You have your own office and everything?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
Yes, a nice office. Let me tell you. It's nice to be in it. It's the hottest set that we have. Like I don't know if the air conditioning just doesn't work there or I don't know about that. I'm writing letters to people about the air conditioning situation in my office.

Question:
How are you going to fit back into the storyline because you kind of just randomly appeared so far in episodes. And you have moments where you're kind of arguing with Jill but other than that, we don't see you?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
Yes. It's interesting. Trust me, I had that question too. Well there's basically the office of special projects that Jai is now heading up is tasked with different has different tasks that it has to perform and he answers to everybody's boss; even to Arthur's boss. He answers to the DCI. And as we'll see in coming episodes, the - what the job entails, what that office, what the specifics of that office are, they're not that specific and Jai finds that out very quickly.

Like he's not quite sure what he's supposed to be doing and then Henry Wilcox actually will figure into informing him about what this is and kind of point him in a direction or put him on a path that he kind of goes on which all comes to a head in the finale; actually in the final episode; you know, the season where you'll kind of see what the office of special projects is and then what Jai is going to do about that without wanting to give too much away. I know that was pretty broad.

Question:
Does Henry volunteer this information or does Jai have to go and kind of question him about it? Henry seems to give information when he feels like it?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
You know what their relationship is like. You know Henry, they don't have the greatest relationship so it kind of comes out in a typical Henry, Jai Wilcox fashion. There's usually moments of contention between these two and that's kind of where a lot of the information that Jai gets from Henry come out of the situations and we have plenty of them coming up.

Question:
You appear for a moment in an episode and then you go away. That changes?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
It's coming. It's coming. I think that next season what they have planned is to kind of bring Jai more into more into the fold with Annie because this season Jai was very much kind of on his own show a little bit. Kind of exploring other avenues and I think that the plan for next season, the writers went back last Monday. They went back into the writer's room last Monday. I think that's what the plan is for the next season is to kind of bring him more into Annie's world now. So and again the finale, especially Jai's final scene, really kind of sets the tone for where he's going to be headed for season three.

Question:
Do you find that you're pretty in sync with Jai?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
No. They're not in correlation. I'm completely surprised by everything really. I didn't see anything that has come so far or that is coming up in future episodes. Like I couldn't have thought of them which I suppose is why I'm not a writer. I'm I always think okay. So now he's going to do this and then it goes the opposite way of what I'm thinking.

So you know it keeps me on my toes really. And I put the work into kind of try and make it all make sense to me. You know, you kind of have to go back and I find it actually helpful to go back and watch previous episodes to kind of help me and to plot his journey because it is quite extreme at certain points. He does extreme things; like what happened in the premier of this season 2.5 as we call it on set. I don't know what everybody else is calling it but we call it season 2.5.

I didn't see that coming at all, you know. That was the last thing was him kind of you know using very Henry Wilcox like methods to kind of get what he wants but he was pushed up against a corner. So I think that you know that's kind of where Jai operates out of a lot of the time is he - or so far anyway, is he kind of exhausts avenues that are ???the right way to go about things.??? You know, he goes through the proper channels and if all of that fails, then he kind of has to go to his plan B or his plan C and what I'm curious to see is does that keep up?

Because the CIA, it's all about hierarchy and following the rules a lot or at least the way Jai sees it or saw it. Is he going to continue on like that or is he just going to be like a rogue guy like a Ben Mercer type guy.

Question:
Going into the third season and knowing what you know and what we'll know soon enough, if you could give Jai a piece of advice, what would it be?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
If I could give Jai a piece of advice it would be to maybe trust people a little bit more. I think that because of the way that he has been treated within the CIA and because of whose son he is and the reputation of his father, I think he at first he kind of came in really game and I think over the course of these two seasons, he's become slightly jaded and I'd like to see him back to being able to trust certain people. I think that he does still intrinsically trust Annie. I think that there's a possibility and I'm watching to see some more interactions between Jai and Auggie in the next episode.

But I think the sentiment that everybody is against Jai, while a lot of the time that seems to be true, I'd like to see if that's something that he can work around and kind of be able to trust people and to have people trust him because you can't do things on your own in an organization as big as the CIA. And, at some point, Jai is going to have to learn that. He's going to have to know that he can't just kind of use people to get what he wants all the time. That's where I'd like him to go. That's what I'd like him to learn and we'll see if that happens.

Question:
There was a lot of hoopla over in the Twitter world when you went shortlist and Gorham was going in on it too and I was just wondering, do you like to do those kind of scenes and do you go to the gym and work out or do you just kind of prepare yourself when that scene's going to be coming around?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
First of all, to the first part of your question is no. I don't. I don't think any of us like doing those scenes because it's hard work but having said that, I've always been a really athletic guy. I was competitive tennis player and I don't lift weights. I don't go in and do weights in the gym but I do a lot of Pilates and stuff like that and yoga and I play a lot of tennis. I travel everywhere with my tennis rackets and any chance I get I get onto the tennis court. So I've always been a very active person but I wasn't there requesting to have a scene where I take my shirt off that's for sure.

Question:
Now that you'll be on a hiatus from the show will you be working on any other projects?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
I'm helping to produce a movie that we're hoping to shoot in February. I'm actually in Los Angeles right now working on it. I'm working on the script with the writer/director and we are hoping to start shooting right before actually we go back to work on Covert Affairs to shoot the movie for a month in Los Angeles in February so we'll see. We still need a little bit more money. We still need to raise a little bit more money. That's kind of what I'm spending my hiatus on is begging venture capitalist for money and trying to get this thing done so that's pretty much what I'm doing over this hiatus.

Question:
Since Jai has now shown himself to be at least as capable as his dad at the sneaking and conniving, I'm just wondering if that's going to be something that he uses more frequently or will his use of subterfuge kind of be a last resort in situations where he just doesn't have any other option?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
It's a question that I don't know the answer to but I can tell you what I'd like to see. What I would like to see is that he varies it up otherwise he just becomes the sneaky subterfuge guy, you know. And he just becomes his father. And I'd like to see Jai be more evolved really. It's the CIA at the end of the day. Like you are going to have to use subterfuge at some point. I'm talking even within the walls of the CIA just politically in any organization; whether it's the CIA or anywhere else.

You will have to use that a little bit. So I hope I like it when he is forced to use those kinds of things but I don't want it to be his go to. Like his first port of call to be sneaky and kind of devious and underhanded. I don't want him to be that because then he just becomes Henry. Then he becomes his father. And I don't think that will happen just because I think that that's actually Jai's greatest fear is becoming his greatest fears are failure and becoming his father. Those are two things that drive him to excel and in mind and try and to try and be the best he can be and get to the strongest position that he can be within the CIA.

Jai's never going to go against the CIA or his colleagues or anything like that. I think that he just honestly feels that his talents aren't being utilized at the CIA and he feels honestly that he can do these jobs better than some people and that's why he goes after it. That's always kind of the approach and the position that I've seen him in. I don't look at him as this bad person; as this evil person. There's a great scene that's coming up where he kind of explains what he wants this new position to be.

What his goals and aspiration for the office of special projects is and what his role as the director is. And it's actually quite an unlikely person and it was a lot of fun shooting that scene. It's in the next episode. And he kind of explains it and you see that he actually just really does have a passion for what he's doing and he has definite goals and ideas of what his position and what this office should be within the CIA and what he's capable of but there are obstacles. There are roadblocks and he has to try and figure them all out.

Question:
Now that he has through his use of subterfuge gotten some respect from Henry, how will that effect his mostly adversarial relationship with his father?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
That is explored thoroughly in these next three episodes. Greg Itzin and I had a really great time when he came up. He's so much fun to work with and he's so detailed. Like I learn a lot when I work with him. And we go through all the scenes beforehand. Like we always meet for dinner when he comes into town. When he flies up to Toronto, we meet up maybe two nights before we shoot our scenes and we go through them all and we just talk through them all.

And the relationship is an adversarial relationship. They don't have this lovey dovey father-son relationship and I would kind of be surprised if it ever becomes like that. I mean you never know but I would be surprised if I think that so much damage has been done just like during his childhood and I'm still very curious to see what happened with Jai's mom and how that all played out between Henry and the mom and Jai. And I think there's a lot of baggage there and I think there's a lot of hurt there on Jai's part.

And you know I don't know that it's ever going to be a lovey dovey relationship but they have a relationship that they need each other certainly at this point in the story that we're telling. It kind of comes to a head actually in the finale and ends again in a place that I never thought that we would go. Like I didn't really even see that avenue which is why it's a good thing I guess I'm not a writer.

Question:
What lengths will Jai go to in order to make his own name?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
Jai isn't pleased with what's been happening. He's being blatantly overlooked and set aside by Joan and by Arthur and he feels that it's really not for the right reasons because it's not like he's screwed up or it's not like he's doing his job poorly. A lot of the reason is this ingrained notion that he must be like Henry because he is Henry Wilcox's son. And I think that a lot of what you've seen, like you know how he got his promotion and all that, it's kind of like well if you keep telling somebody that their likeness then eventually they're going to go to that place and show you that they can be that.

Now I think what's going to be interesting is to see the different layers of Jai which we actually saw a little bit of in the last episode. He took the hit. He took the hit for shooting those people even though it was Eyal who did it. He's not a guy who's strictly out for himself. He's going to take some heat for that. For saying that it was him that shot these people even though it wasn't and it's very clear that's it not. I mean he just blatantly lies to Agent Rosavi. So I'd like to see the layers there and not him just not going to devious places all the time. So we'll see. We'll see how it all plays out over the next few episodes and, more importantly, I think in the following season; in the third season.

Question:
How did Phoenix change Jai's mindset?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
It's basically you're in the major leagues and you're being sent down to the farm. You know, you're being sent down to AAA or AA or A or whatever it is, when you're a player, when your last name's Wilcox and you're being demoted to the Phoenix office, that's going to get around really quick. Everybody's going to know and that is ringing through Jai's head when he makes these decisions. In a sick way you can look at it as family honor, as well as just pride. You know, this guy has gone to Yale. He has succeeded at everything that he's ever done and he is getting for lack of a better word cock-blocked by people within the CIA; namely the Campbells. Really.

And it's turning into like a Campbell versus Wilcox type situation. And you know he's kind of moved out of that realm where he doesn't actually he doesn't really see Annie anymore. He doesn't really work with Annie except on vague missions and he's really being sidelined I think on the various missions; whether it's being taking points on a mission or anything like that.

So you know he's not happy about it and he's going to do something about it and when Phoenix comes up, that's just the last straw for him. You know, there's always the straw that breaks the camel's back and that's it. When it's like we're sending you to Phoenix, it's his back up is up against the wall and he has to do whatever it take to - even if it's extreme. You know, he screws over his friend. He screws over Cam, his friend on the hearing committee.

And he does say that he will make it up to him and I'm very curious to see, because I've always seen Jai as a man of his word, I'm curious to see in the third season if he does or not. I think it's I pay attention to all of those little things. I always mark them down because I want to see if there is payback for it further on down the line. But Phoenix was absolutely the impetus for him to go to the extremes that he did. He hasn't done anything wrong and he's being overlooked. That's Jai's point of view. And when that happens, you can either take it lying down and be a doormat or you can go after it and he's a Wilcox. He goes after it.

Question:
I think Jai will make it up. I'm interested to see how he does it.

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
Me too. I really am too. No, I'm very curious to see. You know, and Matt and Chris and all the guys and the writers are as much as we the actors keep track of it, those guys keep track of it even more. I mean they plot this stuff out so intricately and to be able to juggle that many balls. You know, it's not something that I'm capable of. I was about to say it's hard enough juggling Jai Wilcox's balls but I think I'll but that a different way.

It's hard enough juggling all those balls and I have a hard enough time just juggling my character's stuff. So for those guys to be dealing with all of our characters, it's a monumental feat and I'm kind of in awe of what they do and I have no doubt that they will figure it out and it will be in a way that challenges me as an actor which is the thing that I appreciate the most. It was a pretty extreme jump for Jai and that Matt and Chris and all the writers kind of trusted me to make it was quite cool.

Question:
Where would you like to see this character go and how far will you push it in terms of your acting in season three?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
This as far as I'm concerned is the right direction; like where we're headed with this character because it was tough for the first ten seasons where they were building his dissatisfaction. It's a difficult thing to sustain as an actor for ten episodes when you're more or less kind of dissatisfied and glaring at people. And then the exciting part for an actor is when you get to take action. You know, it's really hard to play something that's passive and now he's more active and I don't know if aggressive is the right word but he's working towards something anyway.

I think we've certainly established that and I think that you know it's certainly going to be a confrontational relationship with a lot of the characters just because listen, he came in. He was shoehorned in by Arthur. He was brought into the DPT and automatically as an interloper. So he came in this very difficult situation into the DPT and into Langley and he's come from London.

I'm still very curious as to what happened in London; what he was doing there but that's a whole separate story. I want to see I just want to see more layers to him than we're exploring them right now and I think it's such a complex character and my biggest fear is that Jai just becomes the evil guy. Because I just think that again becomes limiting. You can't keep playing that without exhausting the story very quickly. Like how evil can you get within the walls of the CIA without actually going against the country and going against the CIA which I just don't think is something that Jai would ever do.

So I'd like to see variations in what he does and I think that the way that can be explored is through his interactions with the other characters because as other people have been saying too he has been very separate this whole season. And I'd like to see him brought more into the fold with the others characters and see how those interactions happen and how they affect him and how the antagonism maybe between certain characters and him goes and then how maybe they find common ground. Like that's kind of the way things work in within the CIA. So I'd like to see that.

Question:
How do you like playing a character that is gray area of both friend and foe?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
Gray area is the way I look at it. I don't actually see any villainous because it's villainous is really from what perspective you're looking at it. If you look at him as a villain that means that you think that Arthur and Joan and what they're doing is right and Jay certainly doesn't see it that way. And so but the gray area is something that I'm very interested in for Jai and just as an actor. Those are the things that I find really interesting to play.

Where it becomes hard is that if the gray area becomes all black or all white because then there's nothing to play. So I really want Jai to balance it and that's hard. That's hard to write and it's hard to maintain as an actor. It's it's a very difficult thing and there are actually very few shows that are able to do it properly and I think that ours is going to be one of those that's able to do it because of the just because of the strength of our writing team.

But I'd love for it to when you think Jai is doing something wrong and you think he's going down the wrong path, for him to prove you right and then when you think he's doing great and he's going to be the good guy, then he can't help himself and his ambitions get in the way. That's really what I would like to see more of because just being a good guy and being the good guy, I just find that really boring to play. It's not something that appeals to me.

So I want to see him teetering on the edge and to be kind of pulled in different directions and for his emotions to be pulled on as well. You know, and we get a little bit of that actually towards the end of the season involving Jai and Henry. You know, I think it's certainly an avenue that the writers are open to exploring and I think that we'll see more of that in the third season as well.

Question:
What do you think the audience and the fans think of your character?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
I have no idea. The comment that I get most of the time, just by people walking up to me is what is he up to because I think it was very difficult for the audience because in the first ten episodes he was there but not there. And then all of a sudden he kind of jumped into the story in the premier of season 2.5 and I think that it was kind of like oh, okay. So he's coming into the story now.

So I'd like to see Jai be a bit more of a constant presence in the story. How that's done, I don't know but you know I think it's difficult now to connect with him simply because his appearance is so sporadic but that changes so you know we'll see how it goes. Right now I'm not sure that the audience knows what to think of Jai and I don't see that as a bad thing as long as that's kind of resolved.

Question:
How about guest stars. Who would you like to have coming by to Covert Affairs?

Sendhil Ramamurthy:
I'd love to see Santiago Cabrera come back. He's a very good buddy of mine. I was actually at dinner with him last night and I'd love to see him come back. It's always fun when Odette comes back. He's certainly one of our favorites. He and Bailey is really great to work with and for me personally my stuff with Greg Itzin is some of Jai's juiciest stuff is with Henry and I'd love for him to come back.

Jaimie Alexander who played Reva. That was a fun character. Yes. We've actually been really lucky with a lot of our guest stars. We've had some really good people and you know I have a feeling that you'll be seeing more of your favorites hopefully in the third season. Again with guest stars it's tough because it depends if they're available so I know for sure that last season there were people that we wanted to have back but we weren't able to because guest stars aren't under contract. They're just under contract for the one episode so you have to you have to make sure that the actor is available. So that's dependent on that a lot.

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