On Tuesday, July 19th, fans of COVERT AFFAIRS will finally see how CIA Agent Auggie Anderson lost his vision and became the blind guy who befriended Annie Walker, played by Piper Perabo, and took her under wing. Taking a few minutes to share with press what it was like filming such a momentous episode for his character is one of the stars Christopher Gorham.
Can you tell us how you got the part on COVERT AFFAIRS?
CHRIS: Yes. It was a pretty traditional kind of audition process. I think interesting part of the story is that I, like most people who haven’t spent any real time around blind people, came into the audition with a lot of preconceptions and stereotypes. So I showed up with a big pair of dark sunglasses and was asked by the Casting Director on the way into the room to take them off because we wouldn’t be using them on this show, and then had a mild panic attack because I tried to figure out what I was going to do. But other than that, it was going to be a pretty traditional audition process, going in and testing at the network level. The real work started after I got the role, and really right before we started shooting the pilot.
Have you like done research or like maybe watched some blind people to kind of get into that character, because you’re very convincing?
CHRIS: Thank you. Yes, I’ve done a lot of research. I’ve been working very closely with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, which is an organization in Toronto where we film COVERT AFFAIRS. I’ve been working with them since before we started shooting the pilot until now. I have a close relationship with people at the Institute and the people that I’ve been introduce to through them. I have friends now who are blind and I can go over to their house for dinner and really kind of get a close look at what their lives are like and how they get around and how they do things, and how they feel about things. It was very important to me from the beginning to get the portrayal right. Because while Auggie is not real, there are many, many people who do live with this disability and it was vital for me to do them justice and respect those lives.
In what ways do you find yourself to be the same and yet different from Auggie?
CHRIS: I am very different from Auggie in many ways. Auggie is one of the extraordinary few. He was in Special Forces in the military and the weeding-out process that goes into being a part of those units is something that very few people can get through and he did, and he was highly successful doing that. On top of that, he’s had to come back from this life changing injury and has had the strength to come through and, not just survive, but thrive after that. So I think the strength in Auggie is something that’s extraordinary and something that I honestly don’t know if I have. You can’t know until you go through something like that. It’s one of the things I’m so grateful about for the show, this amazing portrayal of a disabled veteran who is a leading man on a major television show. It’s another community that deserves respect, because there are thousands of very real people who’ve gone through things similar to what Auggie’s gone through, whether it was losing your sight or losing limbs, or some traumatic brain injury and depression. They, like Auggie, are not just surviving, but thriving and having very full lives after going through something like that. I just think it’s extraordinary.
COVERT AFFAIRS is primarily a story about Annie Walker. Why do you think that it was so important to delve into Auggie’s past, and particularly how he became blind?
CHRIS: Well, I think it’s all tied into Annie’s story really. I mean, because you’re right. This show is about Annie Walker. It’s not about Auggie Anderson, and it’s not about the Annie and Auggie [relationship]. It’s about Annie. As to why it’s important is because this is an important step in a very important relationship in her life. Her relationship with Auggie is very important within the context of her life and especially where she is right now. So this is a big step for those two characters. That’s why an episode like this is important and not just fun.
Do you think there’s going to be any future ramifications for what Auggie had Annie do without her knowing?
CHRIS: Honestly, I think that the bigger ramifications come in the kind of deepening of their friendship. Because Auggie’s telling [her what happened to him]. I mean, that’s why. I don’t know how to say this without (giving it away). But I think she gets her payback at the end of this episode – the fact that this is all being revealed is his ‘thank you’ to her.
How was it filming in Istanbul for this episode?
CHRIS: Filming in Istanbul was one of the most extraordinary trips I’ve ever taken. It was just one of those moments in your life where you just have to step back and just say ‘thank you.’ Whether it’s for something or just saying ‘thank you’ to God or the Universe, or to whomever. It’s just one of those moments where I get flown to someplace and it’s one of the most extraordinary places in the world and get completely taken care of and I get to do this amazing job that I love while I’m there. All the while, seeing these incredible places and being taken and eating incredible food. Then I get to come home. It was kind of overwhelming really. It was an extraordinary trip. I took tons of pictures and video. It’s very well documented. It was amazing for the show. We’re so lucky that we have the producers that we have, who are so creative and have figured out a way to take these characters and instead of being satisfied with sticking them in front of a green screen, finding ways to send them to Puerto Rico, to send them to Paris, to send them to Istanbul, to Rio. I am just incredibly grateful.
How does it feel to get an episode focused specifically on Auggie?
CHRIS: It feels great. Part of the reason why I feel it’s great is because I feel it’s very much in keeping with what we’re doing with the show. Like I don’t feel it’s just a gratuitous way to satisfy me personally. I feel like it’s part of the larger fabric of COVERT AFFAIRS and the story of Annie Walker and where she is right now. So it feels good. Mostly because I feel like we’ve done it well. Auggie is a very unique character. He’s a leading man who’s a disabled vet and what he’s gone through is something that thousands of our veterans have gone through. So you have to respect it. Like you can’t just make things up, whole cloth. You have to kind of go and really explore the real emotions and the real journey that these men and women go through every day — and I feel like that we did that justice.
Can you talk about working with Rebecca Mader for this episode?
CHRIS: Rebecca Mader? She’s incredible! She was so much fun. She was just the right kind of actress to come in and play this role, because like her character, you get thrust into this kind of crazy adventure. We flew up to Toronto two or three times, and then flew her across her across the globe to Istanbul to shoot. It felt like a little gorilla independent film for three days, and she just really rolled with it. We had a great time. And she’s so talented and she was amazing.
Were you able to have much input into Auggie’s backstory or was it kind of already set in stone?
CHRIS: The actual events that happened? I don’t know if they were set in stone, but they were maybe set in quick-dry concrete. It was a question that I had actually for Chris and Matt — the creators of the show — when we were shooting the pilot. Because in the pilot [Auggie] tells the story to Annie – which is just one of the many versions of the story that he’s told to Annie and other characters. But I just thought that it didn’t sound real. Why would you get out of your armored Humvee to go investigate a dead dog? But they assured me that based on their research and the people they’d talked to, that stuff like that did happen. They also said, ‘You know, listen. We know where this is going. Just trust us.’ So I did, and it turned out fine, I think. I’m really happy with how it turned out. I think that typically where I have the most influence is sometimes with the emotional journey and when I pick up little details from my own research that I can come in and add. Like I met with a military advisor, an Army Captain, in preparation for this episode and brought a few things to the table based on the conversations that we had had — and with my blind research, I have a lot of say as far as to how that is portrayed on the show.
Can you talk about the choreography for the big fight scene at the end of the episode, because it was really amazing, and you playing it as a blind man made it even more amazing?
CHRIS: They wrote that into the script and a big part of this fight scene was how important it was for Auggie not to lose contact with the guy he’s fighting. So our stunt coordinator and our stunt guys really designed the fight. It hinges on life-or-death in making sure that he can stay physically connected to this guy. Because as long as he’s physically connected, then he can win the fight . . . What then becomes exciting and dramatic within the fight is the moment where he loses that connection, and then you see how very limited he can become very quickly.
How much research went into the military aspect of the episode?
CHRIS: I talked with two different guys, one in the States and then one guy who’s up in Canada working with our show directly. We had long conversations and we went over the script and talked in detail about the stuff that was feasible and the stuff that wasn’t and things that might be tweaked and things that he felt like were totally great. For me, some of the questions were like, ‘Well, how much freedom do I have? What’s kind of set in stone? What’s kind of fluid? What’s made up between the guys in theater?’ So some really great, interesting conversations were about that. Also like: physically, like what things look like? What does it look like when an IAD blows up? What does it feel like? Demeanor? What do you wear your helmets even when you’re in the Humvee traveling between cities in the middle of nowhere? Random stuff like that.
Do you consider Auggie to be a role model for anyone that has had to overcome such odds?
CHRIS: Well, I tell you I don’t know. I don’t look at Auggie as a role model, so much as I look at him as an example of what people do every day. Because there are people like Auggie all over this planet who get up and go to work and do their job, and live their life and refuse to let people feel sorry for them despite any number of challenges that they might have. So I think this character, I think he honors those people. That is how I think I think about it.
The tone of this episode is much heavier and much more intense than any other episode before on the show. Obviously, that’s because of what the episode is about. Can you talk a little bit about how different it was to film this episode compared to episode with much more humor and lightness?
CHRIS: It’s maybe not as different as you might think. Just because every week we come in and we do our best to play what’s on the page as honestly as possible. So the process isn’t much different. Maybe the tone sometimes on set changes a little bit for the heavier stuff. But it’s not quite as different an environment anyway as you might think it is, depending on the tone of the episode week-to-week. While we do deal with some pretty heavy emotional issues in this episode, there’s also some fun to be had. So it’s not a full on tissue-box from start-to-finish, but you might want to have it for the end.
Getting into a character such as Auggie, how was it going from blind to sighted to blind? Did it make it harder to get into character and stay in character?
CHRIS: No. But you know what? It was weird. It didn’t feel right. That’s funny because playing him sighted suddenly didn’t totally feel like Auggie. So it was kind of strange. The first day, we only did the sighted stuff for a couple days, but for the first maybe few hours anyway of the first day, I really had to consciously say, ‘Oh, okay. I can make eye-contact. It’s okay. You can make eye contact. You can see,’ to kind of remind myself that it was all right.
After watching the whole episode, it was really interesting to see Auggie evolve and show parts of him that you don’t usually get to see. Even Annie kind of goes, ‘Wonder what he did before?’ You see that her mind working. How do you think Annie’s character is going to react in future episodes after this?
CHRIS: Well, I think it’s a place to build on. I’m trying to think. In the last three episodes of the summer season you’re not going to see — at least in the short-term — a direct link to what happened in this episode. But what happens in this episode changes their relationship. Auggie really opens up to [Annie] for the first time about something that’s very close to him and something he has only told maybe two people. So over the course of the series, I think this will be a defining moment for those two characters.
It’s going to be interesting because as the two characters draw closer, then there’s more vulnerability for each person. Do you think those characters can deal with it, given what the risks are in terms of being an active operative?
CHRIS: Well, we’ll see. We’ll see. I guess its part of why people respond so much to the relationship between Annie and Auggie. It is because we work very hard to keep that tension between the two of them so that you’re not sure where the relationship’s going to go. You’re not sure, are they just friends? Are things going to get romantic? What’s going to happen? And we really like living there right now. We really like that there are many possibilities and there is great tension in those possibilities. So, right now, we very much like where we are. At some point, you’re going to have to start making choices and then there’s going to be consequences to those choices. We’re not there yet, but sooner or later, it’ll happen.
You mentioned the friendship that’s developed between Auggie and Annie, and I’m trying to figure out why he chose a new CIA recruit to kind of reach out to and trust with this personal aspect of his life? I mean, normally older operatives and more experienced operatives don’t allow the new operatives that close to them.
CHRIS: Well, I would say two things. I would say, one, is that you’re right. It’s unusual — especially for Auggie — to reveal so much about himself, and certainly something so intensely personal. The flip-side of that is I feel that he and Annie’s relationship is also a highly unusual one for him. That for whatever reason, he was drawn to this woman from the beginning. There’s something about Annie that rings very familiar to him. That he, in many ways, sees a lot of himself in her, and has taken her under his wing and feels very protective towards her. And now that we’re in our second season, it’s not like it’s brand new. They’ve become good friends. In this particular instance, the fact that he’s revealing this information to her is not arbitrary. It’s truly something that he feels he owes her because of her helping him out in a very tough squeeze and a very tough spot.
When you were doing this particular episode, as an actor, you would have to draw upon like a kaleidoscope of emotions to portray going from sighted to non-sighted and back again. Can you talk a little bit about the different emotions that you had to tap into to portray that?
CHRIS: Well actors come at that in many, many different ways. It’s always very personal what your process is. For me, I really try to ask myself kind of the ‘what if’ questions. What if I were in this situation what would it feel like? It’s kind of a digging down and asking questions of ‘what if’s’ and in doing your homework and doing your research. Then once it comes time to rehearse and perform it, finding a way to let that all go and then just play the scene and just be present and listen to what the other character is saying to you and just to try to react honestly. I mean, at the end of the day, as an actor you’re top goal is just to portray this person as honestly as you can. So that’s what I try to do. And I felt like we pulled it off. I feel like in that last scene, the one where you have just Annie and Auggie — as an audience, you’ve lived through this entire journey and saw what happened — and now it’s just the two friends talking. I feel you see the complexity and you see on Auggie’s face what he’s been through and what it means, and how he remembers it. I hope that it works and I hope that it comes across as very honest and real. I think if it does, then you’re going to have a really solid, emotional punch at the end — like you can’t help but empathize with what you see about what this other human-being has gone through.
What emotion do you think is underneath the surface for Auggie? What is the core emotion he relies on to kind of make it through his current existence?
CHRIS: The first thing that came to mind – – I don’t know if it’s so much an emotion — but there’s ambition. Auggie is one of these human beings who just has an intense fire burning inside of him. He’s the type of person that just simply, not only won’t give up, but can’t give up. Because those are the only type of people that can become Special Forces — guys like Seal Team 6 that took out Osama bin Laden. These are the best of the best. The most physically and mentally fit and sound and most driven human beings on the planet — and Auggie is one of those people. So in that way, not just because he lost his sight and he’s succeeding after that. He’s an extraordinary person with sight or without.
To see what happened to Auggie Anderson and the strong portrayal by Christopher Gorham in this special episode of COVERT AFFAIRS, be sure to tune in on Tuesday, July 19th at 10:00 p.m. on USA Network.
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