On the USA drama series Covert Affairs, actress Kari Matchett plays Joan Campbell, a woman who has managed to ascend higher in the CIA than almost any other woman in the male-dominated agency. Joan is hard on her newest employee, Annie Walker (Piper Perabo), because she sees herself in her, not that she would ever actually admit that. In the difficult position of being married to her boss, Arthur, Joan finds that maintaining the balance between home and work is a constant challenge for them.
During a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Kari Matchett talked about the how she enjoys playing a character with such strength, what she did to prepare for taking on the role of a woman of power in the CIA, that she’d love to find a way for Joan to do a scene with Annie’s sister, Danielle (Anne Dudek), and how excited she is to not only get to show Joan’s humor this season, but to also get out into the field and kick some butt. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you originally get involved with Covert Affairs? Did you audition for it, or did they come to you because of your previous work?
KARI MATCHETT: I was asked to audition for it.
What was it about this character that appealed to you and made her someone that you’d want to play for what could be a number of seasons?
MATCHETT: Well, it’s strange because I’ve done a number of television series, but they’ve never gone for more than two seasons. So, to be honest, I didn’t think long term at all. I just went, “Oh, that looks like fun for a pilot, or maybe one season.” I really didn’t think beyond that. But, what did attract me was the strength of the character, and being a woman of that caliber and level of power in the CIA. That was interesting to me.
Did you do any research to understand what it’s like for women in jobs like she has?
MATCHETT: I spoke with Valerie Plame. She was around for a few days while we were shooting the pilot, and it was really informative just to look at her and be with her. We have all these ideas of who CIA people are, but when it comes down to it, they’re just a human being with their own specific ideas of why they wanted to do what they’re doing. That informed me with Joan. I just created a whole list of reasons why she’s there and what her set of beliefs are, to make her feel like what she’s doing is the right thing.
Was there anything that you found surprising about women in the CIA?
MATCHETT: At this point of time in history, I don’t think that women in any work force that’s a male-dominated work force have the same rules to play or live by as men do. I think there’s all kinds of social politics that happen. As women, you have to negotiate your way through a man’s world. I think Joan is smart and naturally strong and is an achiever by nature, but I think she’s also savvy. My fantasy of what Joan’s history is, is that she just knows when to act and when not to act, and found her way to the position she’s in, which is a greater position of power, where she can use her ever-increasing force and intelligence.
In what ways would you say she’s changing and growing this season, that viewers haven’t gotten to see before?
MATCHETT: We get to see some more humor, which is exciting. And, we see Joan out of the D.P.D., a number of times this season. She even gets to go into the field and do some ass-kicking, so that we get to see why she’s in the position she’s in.
Were you happy to learn she’d get out into the field this season?
MATCHETT: Yeah, of course. I don’t want to be stuck in the D.P.D. for the whole show. I never did. I never imagined it would be that way, so I’m thrilled.
Do you enjoy getting to do more physical work like that? Does that come easy for you?
MATCHETT: I’ve always been into sports and yoga and running. I actually study a martial arts self-defense program called Krav Maga. I can’t quite say it’s easy, but it’s fun for me and I love to do it. They’re actually letting me do some of that this year. It’s cool.
On the surface, Joan seems like a very strong woman, but she also clearly hides some insecurities and vulnerabilities. As an actress, is it fun to get to play both of those sides to the character?
MATCHETT: Of course. We’re not one thing, as human beings, so any character that is written uni-dimensional, that’s just a shallow character with shallow writing and shallow acting. I think the writers are doing an ever-increasingly great job in writing complexities to Joan. To me, as an actor, that’s what makes it interesting. You want to play different levels. If there are insecurities happening with Joan, she’s in a position, being the boss, that she can’t show them. You can see glimpses where maybe that might be a vulnerability, but you don’t know for sure. What’s exciting about this season’s writing is that they’re putting Joan in situations where you actually do see her vulnerability there and you do see her openness, in a bigger way.
Do you think that Joan sees herself in Annie (Piper Perabo), or do you think she’s a little envious of her?
MATCHETT: I think that Joan sees herself in Annie, for sure. I think she was almost in exactly that position, at that point in her CIA career. I don’t think Joan’s longing to go out into the field has ended, even though she’s in the office. I think that’s a real conflict for her. I have my own ideas, as to why she made the decision to go out of the field, but I think she does have this thing that she’ll never stop desiring that and, on that level, is envious that Annie is doing that. But, I think it’s not only Annie she’s envious of. It’s anybody who’s going out in the field and doing it ‘cause I think that’s her true love.
What has it been like to work with Piper Perabo? What do you enjoy about the dynamic between you, both as characters and as actors?
MATCHETT: I think Piper and I are very different actors. I think that works really well in people, so I think it works really well in Joan and Annie’s dynamic. It’s two people coming from two different perspectives on things and worlds, and that dynamic works really well for the show. She’s really fun and she’s perfect for Annie. I really enjoy working with her.
Now that you’ve gotten to play this character for two seasons, what do you like most about her, and is there anything about her or her personality that you wish you could change?
MATCHETT: I love Joan’s strength, and her ability to get it done and hold about a million things in her head and make clear decisions in that. That’s an admiral quality in any human being. I actually just look forward to there being more and more opportunities to put Joan in situations so that we can see other aspects of her personality that are there, that we just haven’t had the opportunity to see. I’d love to see more humor, more vulnerability, and maybe a little more lust and sexiness. I’d love to see the full range of her humanity and womanhood.
How do you see the relationship between Joan and Arthur (Peter Gallagher)? Do you think that they’re successful in separating love and career, or do you think that they’re still searching for that balance?
MATCHETT: I think they’re chronically searching for the balance in that, and that’s what makes them interesting characters to watch. Once they find a balance, forget it. That’s boring. You don’t want to see that. You want to see them struggle because people struggle in life with those things. If those two human beings were real, and I think those people do exist in the CIA, there’s going to be chronic issues between them and they would have the worst fights in the world. They’re passionate people, about each other and their work. You can try to keep them separate, but they can’t stay separate. That’s life.
What has Peter Gallagher been like to work with? Has it been fun to explore your relationship?
MATCHETT: Peter is awesome. He’s hilarious and he’s a joy to work with. He’s just absolutely lovely.
What do you enjoy most about getting to do this show, and what are the biggest challenges of it?
MATCHETT: It’s a nice cast to work with and the crew are lovely. I really like the writers. It’s a good team and a good feel. There’s a nice dynamic happening, and that doesn’t always happen. It’s not always a nice place to work. Having the opportunity to play a strong woman is a good one.
My frustrations are that I just feel like I’m ready and wanting to do more. They’re writing more for me this year, which is great. I really want that continue because I just feel like there’s a lot of stuff in me that needs oxygen, on a creative level. I did feel frustrated in the first season because I didn’t feel like that was happening as much as it could be, but those are the frustrations in playing one character on a television show. But, the writers have a great imagination and they are wonderful. With the second season, I feel like I’m able to spread my wings with Joan a little bit more, and I imagine that’s just going to continue to happen.
Is there anyone in this ensemble that you haven’t gotten to work with much, that you’d like to do more scenes with?
MATCHETT: I have not had one scene with Anne Dudek, and I love her as a human being. I don’t know what that scene would be, but it would be funny to somehow have Joan and Danielle hook up. I would love to work with her.
Do you have any favorite episodes for Season 2?
MATCHETT: Well, I’m very excited that Joan is going out into the field, and we’re just about to start shooting that episode. I’m not sure when it’s going to air, but that’s the most exciting one for me, so far.
Having done so much work on television, do you enjoy getting to work with such a variety of different directors, who all come to the projects with their own take on the characters, or is it more of a challenge to adjust to knowing the character better than they do?
MATCHETT: It just depends on the director. I’ve worked with some absolutely wonderful directors who bring out the best in me and I know I can trust, and then I’ve had the opposite experience, too. I’ve had both experiences, and obviously one is good and one is not good. When they’re great, it’s good. When they’re not great, it’s not so great.
Along with this role, you’ve played a number of doctors and women in authority. Has it been intentional for you to play such strong women, or do you think that’s just how people see you?
MATCHETT: It’s how people see me. I would love to do some more comedy. I would love to do some silliness. I would love to do some characters that have greater vulnerability. I don’t know why. I know I can play these roles, but they’re certainly not the only roles I can play. And, I haven’t only played those roles. I’m looking forward to a future where there are roles of greater vulnerability and humor involved. I couldn’t have been more envious of all the women in Bridesmaids. If something like that was in my future, I would be thrilled, and I certainly hope it is.
What was it that initially drew you to acting? Was it something that you just always knew you wanted to do?
MATCHETT: I always did plays. When I was in kindergarten, I got chosen to be Alvin, in The Chipmunks. We did a Chipmunks song. I was always a natural performer. It was easy for me. I danced and I sang, and all that stuff. I felt like I’d be something in the arts, but it vacillated between being a dancer and a singer, or whatever. But, when I was 12, I was obsessed with The Outsiders – the book by S.E. Hinton. I read it over and over and over again, and was completely addicted to the way it made me feel. I cried. I was just right there in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with all those boys, doing all those things. Around the time of my obsession, I read in a Teen Beat magazine that they were making a movie of it, and something absolutely just clicked in my brain. I knew I wasn’t the person to play Ponyboy because I’m a girl, but without knowing it, I understand that was a place I could put all the stuff that I was feeling, and that there was a form that could hold the level of emotion and expression that I experienced by reading that book, and that was to be an actor.