The USA Network drama series Covert Affairs follows CIA operative Annie Walker (Piper Perabo), a skilled linguist and spy whose work takes her on top-secret missions around the globe. In Season 5, after resurfacing from having mysteriously gone off the grid for months, Annie has harbored a secret about the condition of her heart that could jeopardize everything. With her future at the CIA in question, the summer finale will send Annie on a mission so big that she’ll have to rely on everyone from her team to pull it off.
During this recent interview to promote the summer finale, actress Piper Perabo talked about where things are at between Annie and her handler/ex-boyfriend Auggie (Christopher Gorham), just how big the mission in this episode is, how the relationship between Annie and Ryan McQuaid (Nic Bishop) has evolved, why Annie has such a hard time finding love, that Annie’s heart condition goes back to something that happened in Season 3, what she thinks of the creative direction the show has taken over five seasons, and how her character has evolved as a person and as an agent. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
PIPER PERABO: In the previous season, when Annie when dark, she was having to work all on her own, and she also found out about this heart condition, which she was so worried would take her off the board for working for the CIA, so it’s been a process of her coming back into the fold and learning to work as a team. And so, in a big-picture sense, that’s what’s going on with Annie and Auggie. But also, it’s hard to go to work with your ex-boyfriend, even if what you’re doing is a less stressful job than the CIA. The friction of what they’ve gone through, as a couple, and then coming out the other side, can’t help but be underneath all the conversations they have. Especially at work, they can’t really speak about their personal relationship, but it’s always there.
Do you think that Auggie should still trust Annie, at this point?
PERABO: I do. Chris [Gorham] and I have been doing these scenes where Annie and Auggie are fighting and I hate it. I’m always telling him, “You could be nicer to Annie, right now.” And he’s always saying, “But, she’s not telling the truth.” I wish that Auggie would be more understanding, but that’s the Annie side of things. I know that he has to represent the Auggie side of the things. But in real life, we still have our chairs next to each other and we drink our coffee together.
PERABO: When we rehearsed that scene, we talked for a long time about why Annie lets him go. If you look at in seconds, she pulls the gun on him and doesn’t put the gun down, but she doesn’t shoot and she lets him leave. If she really trusted him, she’d put the gun down and help him with whatever he needed. So, how do you work in that gray area and not cross the line with somebody, so that she can never go back? How you act in that scene and how you treat each other starts to set up their whole relationship, for the last seven episodes. There were a lot of versions of that scene, in the rehearsal room.
What can you say about their mission in the finale?
PERABO: The finale is so big that we had to shut down a part of Toronto for it, and we had to shoot on weekends. It was so huge. And one of the things that I liked about McQuaid and the mission, in the end, is that it comes all the way back around. The mission and what McQuaid’s being folded into is so big that it’s not just Annie that can handle it. That’s one of the things that got me really excited about the mission for Episode 10. They need everybody. The band is back together. It was really fun for everybody to do these giant scenes together.
PERABO: It’s the same structure that they intended, but the style of McQuaid has evolved because of how Nic and I do the scenes. Nic has this real bravado about the way that he plays McQuaid, the writers love that kind of quick-witted, throw caution to the wind guy. So, once they saw how Nic embraced it, in those opening Columbia episodes, they got really excited. That devil-may-care attitude has really begun to define McQuaid because of the way Nic plays it.
Why do you think Annie has such a hard time finding love?
PERABO: When you’re a very career-oriented woman, sometimes you don’t have as much time to go meet all kinds of guys. You’re a little bit limited to the guys that work in your office. I think a lot of girls can relate to that problem. Annie is really lucky that really good-looking guys work in her office, so she doesn’t have to look too far. She’s lucky and not lucky, in that there are incredible people that work in the CIA, or work in connection with the CIA like McQuaid, because they’re all under such incredible pressure and strain and they’re overworked, which is not really good for dating. And you can’t tell the truth to everybody, which is not a great basis for a relationship.
PERABO: Yes, you will see some development. What the finale sets in motion is too big for Annie to handle on her own, and she needs all of the different pieces of her spy network to be able to go forward. And so, that means that whatever problems she’s had with Joan, in the past, she has to at least come face to face with so that they can work together to complete this thing that’s happening.
Will viewers learn the cause of Annie’s heart problem, at all?
PERABO: It’s so funny, I follow the hashtags for each episode and the Covert Affairs Twitter feed while the episode is playing on the East Coast. One of the kids said, “We need to find out more about the cause of Annie’s heart condition,” and I called the writers the next day. I said, “The viewers don’t understand that it’s all connected.” Annie was shot in the heart in Season 3, when she was with Simon in her kitchen and she was going to run away. Simon was fatally shot and Annie was shot in the heart, and the scar tissue from that gunshot wound is what’s causing the heart condition that she has now. We said it, but we must have said it in an important scene where something else was going on, or Chris took his shirt off because they didn’t hear us. So, we’re going to try to lay it in somewhere, in the coming episodes because a lot of viewers did not understand that it’s connected all the way back to that Simon shooting. The scar tissue from that is what’s messing with her heart. The way the writers wrote it, there’s a larger metaphor at play there, but that’s the cause of her heart condition.
PERABO: That’s a great question. Initially, in the beginning, we were doing more serialized storytelling, that was mission-of-the-week stuff. And we’ve evolved, especially in Season 5, into longer arcs. And I think Henry Wilcox is this uber villain, especially throughout Season 4, that was a real attempt to try to do a really long arc. When we finished Season 4 and Annie was on a boat, at sunset, riding out in the South China Sea, she could have gone anywhere. She could have never returned to the spy life. She could have gone to live with Danielle in California. And the fact that she decided that she needs this work, and that this work is part of who she is, that really honored the fans who’ve watched the show from the beginning. Instead of going off on some crazy new idea, we stayed with the world that the viewers had initially let us pursue. So, I’m glad that we’ve evolved, but that we’ve also stayed in a world that was working from the beginning.
Why does the mission continue to be so important for Annie, and how is it so easy for her still to put the mission ahead of everything else?
PERABO: When Annie went dark and she cut ties with her whole family, they thought she died, and we’ve never gone back to that. Annie has never told her family that she’s even alive. So, all she really has in her life are the people that she knows at work, which makes the mission everything. If they take her work away, where is she? She’s alienated herself from her family, so she just made the mission a high priority. She’s at a tricky place. I think that’s why having a relationship with somebody like McQuaid or Auggie is a grounding that Annie needs. She needs real life moments because she’s working all the time.
PERABO: The experience that she’s collected from the last five years has made her an even better spy. There is a big scene coming up between Auggie and Annie. When Annie and Auggie first met, she was the rookie and he was the one with all the experience. Now, it’s not that it’s a more even playing field, because what Auggie does and what Annie does are two separate things, but she has a lot more experience, so her instincts on how to do things aren’t just based on a gut instinct, they’re also based on years of experience now. It causes some strife between them that she’s a better operative, but I think she’s really evolved in her work.
How had this entire experience, over five seasons, been for you? Did the journey exceed your expectations?
PERABO: When we started, it was a show about a rookie. I’d never done TV before, so I didn’t have the faith that we would even get past one season, so I never considered how a rookie evolves. I’d been really happy with the writers, in that they let her experience level and the people she meets dictate how she behaves and evolves, like a real person. And so, even though I wasn’t worried about that initially, because I never thought we’d get this far, the fact that they continue to let her grow and she doesn’t just stay naïve, has been really satisfying.
What’s it like to work with Chris Gorham, as a director?
PERABO: He’s easy to trust. He knows the story as well as we do, and he knows all of the conventions of how the CIA works. All the things that the actors almost take for granted, and that maybe a new director wouldn’t know, Chris knows them without even thinking about it. It’s funny, when he’s directing, to also be in a scene with him. He and I were doing scenes in his apartment, and then there will be this pause and Chris is like, “Cut!” And it’s so weird that Auggie says, “Cut!” It’s a weird line to deal with in the scene itself, but that’s the only weird part.
The Season 5 summer finale of Covert Affairs airs on the USA Network on Tuesday, August 26th.