Perabo first truly captured the eyes of Hollywood nearly a decade
ago when she was hired as the lead character in the surprise smash
hit Coyote Ugly. Since then she has showed an intriguing
range of projects, from comedies like Cheaper by the Dozen,
Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Because I Said So, dramas
like The Prestige and horrors like The Cave.
is making her television series debut in Covert Affairs, a
new action/adventure show which is joining the USA Networkís popular
slate of comedy dramas. Perabo plays Annie Walker, a recent student
who is recruited into the CIA and quickly finds her life often on
the line as she learns to be an agent.
days before Covert Affairs was set to debut, Perabo sat down
to speak with us and several other websites about her new series.
buzz on the show thatís a little good, a little bad. But is there
going to be a link to viewership based on that buzz?
I donít know. I hope so, but I donít know. This is my
first television show. Iíve never done press at the same time as
weíre shooting, and in a way I think itís really exciting because
hopefully fans of the show can give us input and tell us how theyíre
feeling about the story and it can affect how we continue.
Obviously, youíve been doing a lot of interviews lately and
it seems that everyoneís favorite question to ask you is about
Iím sure youíre kind of tired of talking about Alias at this
point. Iím just wondering, personally I see a lot of differences
between the two shows and Iím wondering, being lumped together with
that show so frequently do you think that thatís something thatís
going to help or hinder the show?
When I first got working on the show and I was speaking to
actor friends of mine about what the show was about and how I was
going to create the character, people said, ďYou should watch
Alias.Ē I had never watched the show, donít ask me how I missed
it, so I got the pilot and I watched the pilot and I thought it was
genius. I didnít really want to watch anymore because I donít want
to in any way imitate what Jennifer was doing and I want to make
sure that Annie is her own woman and dealing with her own world.
But I thought that what I saw of the work on that pilot was really
exciting and the fight sequences were really dynamic and she was
just a really powerful, smart, intuitive woman who can make
decisions on the fly, sheís brave, and sheís still a real person. I
think those parallels can be drawn to Annie. I think in our show,
though, you see a lot more of the real life of a spy, what kind of
car you drive and what itís like when you get home at night after
youíve just been chasing an assassin all day. So in that way I
think we are really different. I think that if people come and
watch our show because they like Alias, then thatís great,
but I think theyíre going to get to see a much bigger world than
they saw and so hopefully theyíll keep watching.
You said that
this is your first foray into series television. If it was a movie
Iím sure there would be a premiere, but with this being a television
show what sort of exciting plans do you have for the premiere night?
The premiere night, Iím going to be shooting actually.
Weíre trying to work out thisóI donít know if Iím telling you
secrets that I shouldnít be telling you. Thatís another thing I
donít know about television, I donít know how to keep a secret. But
thereís a really intense action chase that weíre going to be
shooting on Tuesday night in Canada, so I wonít be watching it. But
I have two brothers, and they are having a party for the premiere
where everyone has to come as spies in trench coats and sunglasses.
So, theyíre representing the premiere party aspect for me.
How important are social networking and online sites for
the show promotion?
Well, that may be a better question for the studio. Chris
Gorham is Twittering from set and while weíre working and we also
have pages on Facebook and our Web page. Doug Liman, our executive
producer, has been up and visiting so he writes about coming to the
set and the action sequences that heís been doing with us. So weíre
pretty active on the Internet.
My question, I actually posed it to the people on Twitter and the
person who responded was your lovely co-star, Chris Gorham. He
suggested that I ask you to tell us about your day at the CIA and
how you took notes.
interesting. Yes, Doug Liman, our executive producer, was in the
middle of editing Fair Game when I got cast in the pilot,
which is the story of Valerie Plame Wilson, so I knew he had
contacts down at Langley. I asked him if he could get me an
introduction so that I could go there and see what itís really like
and talk to real people who do this for a living. So he did, and
this sort of shows my naivetť, but I brought a notebook with me so I
could take notes. I had a lot of questions that I wanted to ask.
When I got there they told me, of course, you canít bring a notebook
into the CIA. Item number one is donít take notes in the secret
agency. I said, ďOh, okay when we get inside could I have some
paper and a pen?Ē And the agent who was taking me around said,
ďSure, but you have to leave it inside when you leave.Ē Of course
you canít take notes out of the CIA either. I said, ďWell, how am I
supposed to keep all this information?Ē He said, ďYou have to be
like a spy and remember it.Ē It was interesting that before I even
got inside you can feel how tight and secret the whole world is. It
was an amazing day. It started there and it was incredible.
I want to know if you ever got your bedroom closet all fixed up,
because they had those ugly slippers in there.
Oh my gosh!
Thatís so funny, because thereís a scene thatís coming up where
someone ransacks my room. I had a long meeting with wardrobe and
set dec to make sure that all Annieís fancy shoes and pinstripe
suits and all that, I said, bloggers came in and looked at Annieís
closet and thereís a pair of ugly slippers and there was an exercise
ball and a tablecloth in there. It didnít make any sense. Set dec
had just done something colorful in the background so we took it all
out and now itís very Sex and the City, her closet.
How did the role of Annie Walker
come to you? Doug Liman, when we were talking with him, mentioned
that he likes to tailor characters to the actors who play them, so I
was wondering how Annie was tailored for you and what part you
played in that process.
The way that the
role came to me was I was doing a Broadway play, I was doing Neil
Labuteís new play, Reasons to be Pretty, and we were almost
done with our run and I was reading movie scripts and I wasnít
finding anything that was really speaking to me and my agent
suggested that I read this. I hadnít thought about doing
television, but when I read it, it kind of changed everything for
me. Sheís such a powerful character, sheís so smart, the action is
so intense, and I really thought it would be fun to do. Then I met
Doug and I went to the CIA and I started creating the character, and
I met the creators, Matt Corman and Chris Ord, and we did a lot of
talking about how Ė because the pilot is Annieís first day at the
CIA. And so as the show continues Annieís really a rookie, and so
what she excels at and what she isnít very good at, I think is in
some ways tailored to me. I really like driving. I really like
action. I really like stunts. And those are things that I havenít
gotten to do in the past and so when I told them that all of a
sudden that stuff started getting more and more intense and more
creative. And Doug has been very active in ramping up the action
sequences for each episode we do, so I think in a lot of ways the
action was even kicked up a higher notch because I was so excited to
Whatís it like on the set? Youíve got a pretty high-powered
Itís going really
well on the set. Sendhil Ramamurthy joined us for the season, and
Sendhil, Chris Gorham and I really get on like a house on fire,
which is good because a lot of times when we leave the CIA those are
the people Iím leaving the CIA with to go abroad. Itís really long
days because the action sequences, if youíve ever been on a set
where theyíre shooting action, it takes a long time. It goes in
really long pieces so that you can get the angles you want and that
everything is safe, and so Iím really lucky that I really love the
people that I work with, and itís not bad doing a seventeen hour day
with these guys.
You mentioned that you were at the CIA, Iím assuming
Langley. What sort of special training did you get while you were
there or did you have to undergo to play this character?
training that I went through to play this character wasnít at
Langley. They go to the farm to do their fight training and I
wasnít able to go there. The fight training that I did was with our
head of stunts, and they hired different martial arts and
hand-to-hand combat teachers. So, first, the creators and Doug sat
down about what kind of style of fighting Annie would have. Doug is
a real fan of close hand-to-hand combat that you shoot on a
steadicam, the way that Jason Bourne fights. But you have to tailor
that to a woman because obviously when Iím fighting a man, if weíre
going to keep it real Ė which is what weíre going for, Annie Walker
isnít a super hero Ė then you have to find styles of fighting that
could give her an advantage. Make it plausible that she can win or
at least hold out in some of these fights. So we ended up with Krav
Maga, which is Israeli army style of street fighting, and Wing Chun,
which is a martial art that was developed for women. So we were
working for weeks and weeks on that and training on that, I was
training on that before we started the pilot. When I went to
Langley a lot of it was really I couldnít train there and they canít
really show me the technology they have. So a lot of that day was
about asking the agents about their personal lives, because that
they can sort of share, theyíre not telling me their real names
anyway. So, does your boyfriend know what you do, and what kind of
car do you drive, and how much do you make; those kinds of questions
are really important when youíre creating a character, and they were
really forthcoming with that kind of information.
Weíve heard mention of a lot of different guest stars that
youíre going to have this season and I was wondering, is there
anyone in particular that youíve especially enjoyed working with?
Eriq La Salle did
an episode a few back and I really liked working with him. I
watched ER a lot, especially when I was in college studying
acting was when ER, Iím sure you remember, they did that
episode once that was live and they did it live on the East Coast
and live on the West Coast. As a theater student we all sat down as
actors together and watched it together, the East Coast one and the
West Coast one, and it was so cool and it was so brave and it was so
exciting. So I wanted to really pick his brain about that and about
how you shoot for such a dynamic emotional one-hour drama. He was
so patient and generous and also just a really good actor.
Could you talk a little
bit more about the time you spent with Valerie Plame and what
insights she gave you that you took to Annie?
Valerie Plame was
our consultant on the pilot, which was incredible to have her
insight, because since sheís no longer in the CIA and because of the
way she left it, she is more willing to share things than someone
whoís from the agency canít really talk about it. Also, just being
on the ground, she can walk through the set of the CIA. We were
shooting a scene that had extras, thereís an induction ceremony
situation, and there were extras that came in to the CIA and in
their wardrobe they had purses, but thatís impossible because you
canít carry anything in or out of the CIA, so having Valerie around
to continually say well, these are the kinds of ID cards. And
another thing was the CIA is a giant office, like any other office,
and so there are reams and reams of paper. Theyíre canít be regular
trash in the CIA because obviously that paper is carrying all kinds
of top secret documents, and itís not just shredded at the CIA, itís
all burn bagged. So then all the trash cans were taken out and all
the burn bags were brought in so everyone has burn bags under their
desk. It was just again and again her attention to detail that was
really, really helpful.
Yes, I remember those burn bags on set.
In the pilot we saw a lot of different sides to Annie, the
vulnerable side, the tough side, and is there a lot about her that
we donít even know yet?
Thereís a lot
about her that you donít even know yet. Annieís whole family life
and also what happened in her relationship is still to unfold. And
actually going back to talking about Valerie for a second, Valerie
was also really generous with me about emotionally the toll that it
takes keeping all those secrets from your family and your friends.
And I think that her personal story that she told me was also very
helpful in kind of folding into Annieís secret and how that plays
out in her relationship with her sister and her family. So as Annie
weaves the lie that she has to tell so many people, the secrets
start overlapping and overlapping, and it just gets very
What film or TV characters were an influence for you, or did you
influence you as a reference point for Annie?
There were two.
One is the original La Femme Nikita that Luc Besson did. I
thought that film was a great balance of the pressure of the job and
the real emotional pull that it takes. Also, I loved how he handled
action with a woman and I just think that movie is so beautiful and
sheís so strong, and it just was a big influence on me for Annie.
Then Lee Miller, who was an artist and a war photographer, she was a
beautiful journalist who put herself in the middle of these battles
in order to take photographs. So I had read a lot about her and how
she maintained her integrity and still was a beautiful woman amid
the battlefield, and I thought that was really inspiring thinking
Can you talk a
little bit about working with Christopher Nolan in
The Prestige, and if he called would you want to play
Nolan called I would play anything he wanted me to play. It was
amazing working with him. I had been such a fan of all his films
and I didnít know how he worked until I got on the set with him the
first day and how closely he works with Wally Pfister, his DP, and
how fluid and alive his sets are. Also having Christian Bale, who
has worked obviously multiple times with Nolan and Hugh Jackman, it
was kind of a dream experience. I would do anything to work with
I read that you consider yourself more of a tomboy than
anything. What puts you in that category and have you ever
considered yourself the girl-next-door type?
I donít know if
anybody considers themselves the girl-next-door, because youíre the
girl. Do you know what I mean? I grew up in a neighborhood of all
boys, so I was the only girl in the neighborhood so I guess thatís
makes me the girl-next-door. But running around with a bunch of
boys on the coast in New Jersey it just makes for a certain summer
lifestyle, your BMX bike and the beach and everythingís in your
backpack, and youíre sunburned. I guess however you grow up creates
in a way who you are, and living in a shore town with a bunch of
boys makes you a tomboy.
Why do you think weíre seeing more and more film stars making a
transition to TV? This isnít really something that we would have
seen fifteen, twenty years ago.
Yes, thatís an
interesting question. Iíve been thinking about that a lot too. One
of the things is I think thereís a lot of great writing happening in
television, not that there hasnít been great writing in television
before, but there seems to be a burst of new writers, young writers
writing for television and writing really dynamic, complex
characters, so that will always draw actors is good writing. I also
think there seems to be a surge of dramas helmed by women, which
wasnít the case before, so that draws great actresses to the
screen. Damages is one of my favorite shows, and to watch
Glenn Close and Rose Byrne do those scenes, itís great writing. I
think maybe thatís what got them there in the first place. I donít
know, but I would assume so. Then when you add that talent to it,
it just makes for great television. So I think creating these
powerful female characters is changing television.
What is it like to be the original character in the
premiere of a show, as opposed to appearing in an established show?
Certainly itís a
lot more work on the show because of the action component and
whether itís fights or car chases or explosions, and also Annie
Walker is a language expert, so right now weíre up to nine different
languages that Annie can speak. So between lessons and stunt
choreography and training, Iím there all the time setting the tone
and creating the character. I think creating a new character always
takes a lot, because you want to make sure that youíre making
someone whoís full and dynamic. You donít want to give everything
away at the top. You need to have a layered performance filled with
history. So itís a lot of work but itís also really fun because new
things come up in each episode, weíll come to a crossroads of a
decision about what would Annie do, and then thereís this big
conversation with the creators and the writers and the actors about
well, what has she done in the past and where do we want her to go
and what would she base her decision on? And so it makes for a
really dynamic and artistic set.
I know itís
really early, but what would you say are Annieís strong points and
language is a strong point for Annie. Then she has things that can
be both a strong point and a shortcoming. Annieís a little bit of
an adrenaline junkie, and so that can help sometimes but it also can
take her off track. Sheís also quite a flirt, and so although that
can get her in the door at some of these embassy parties, I think
she can be a little distracted by all the beautiful men and sheís
not always paying attention to the mission at hand, depending on how
handsome the guy in the tuxedo is. Hopefully that wonít get her
into too much trouble. I have that problem as well, so I can really
Annie is very
stylish, which I love and respect. I think itís great. You
mentioned your closet as being very
Sex and the City.
So Iím wondering, are you interested in fashion and what do you
think of Annieís clothing so far?
I am interested
in fashion. I really like it. I live in New York City and I think
the women here are dressed so beautifully. I think the glamour of
fictional characters and of the spy world have always interested
me. Iíve never played a character who wore suits before, so thatís
really an interesting thing diving into that whole line of fashion.
But itís really fun because thereís a certain fantasy element.
Obviously on a government salary you canít have this many Louis
Vuitton shoes, but it is really fun to pick the ones that go best
with your pinstripe suit in the morning.
To reference Annieís softer side, they mentioned a perfume
that she wears, the Grapefruit perfume. Do you ever wear the actual
perfume to get more in character or anything?
I think Jo Malone
makes the Grapefruit perfume, donít they?
Yes, thatís the one that they say that she wears.
Yes, Jo Malone
Grapefruit, right. God, I forgot about that. I never wear perfume
on set because I never know if itís going to bother the other
actor. Iíve seen it happen on other scenes where some actors will
come in doused in perfume and you can see the leading manís eyes
start watering, so Iíve always been nervous about it since Iíve seen
that. But I should do that to Chris Gorham one day when we have a
racier moment. Thatís a good idea. There should definitely be a
bottle of it in Annieís room. Iím going to make sure there is one.
I really enjoyed a lot of the scenes with Annieís sister
and her family. Have you ever had a
really disastrous fix up like the one that her sister tried to do
and what happened?
Oh my gosh, yes.
I have had some disastrous fix ups. (laughs) Oh my God.
Once I was set up, it was actually here in New York, a friend of
mine set me up on a date with someone and we met at a movie
theater. It was a first date and it was a French movie at one of
the art house cinemas downtown and he fell asleep. About five
minutes into the movie my date fell all the way asleep. Not just a
little bit asleep, canít keep your eyes open asleep, but like
snoring so that other people in the movie theater had to say ďBe
quiet.Ē It was so humiliating and disheartening. Yes, Iím not
really into fix ups anymore after the sleeping fix up.
Also, I read that youíre an action movie fan. I know this
is probably your first really action based role. How crazy was it
acting through that whole sniper scene in the pilot, which was so
intense? Was that hard to do?
It was really
hard and it was really crazy. They buried the squibs in the wall so
that when you built the set there are little, for cameras when
youíre doing marks they have all these rolls of tape and theyíll use
the tape where all the squibs are, so that in the rehearsal you know
what parts of the wall are going to blow up. But when we shoot it,
everybody else on the crew puts on face shields and packing blankets
over their bodies, and they take away all the marks where the
explosions are going to happen, and the only person whoís not
protected is me. Then they say, ďGo,Ē and the room explodes. So it
took a little getting used to.
Annie is a member of the CIA and she canít tell her friends
and family. In that respect you kind of have two roles on the show,
the CIA operative and a regular person who has to keep that other
side of her secret. Is it fun to play two different personalities
on the same show?
It is. The
actress who plays my sister who doesnít know what I do for a living
is Anne Dudek, who is on so many television shows I canít keep
track. But sheís a really great actress and sheís very aware of the
kind of balance that Iím trying to strike between my relationship at
home with her and then my relationship with work. She and I have
worked a lot on that and what our family is like and who our parents
were and how we deal with each other, and as the season goes on we
spend more and more time together. You get a glimpse of her in the
pilot, but you see a lot more of her as the season goes on. She and
I have worked a lot on that, about what itís like at home for the
This is your first starring role in a TV show. Were you nervous
when you started, and did either Chris or Peter or anyone else
really give you any advice since theyíve starred on shows before?
Yes, both of them
did, actually. Both of them are so talented and successful and
confident with their work on television and they understand the
speed of it. You shoot television much faster than you shoot a
film, and so you have to have a certain fluid quality to the scenes
and be able to change them really fast and be really confident about
your choices, because thereís not always time to try it ten
different ways. I think our director took a real cue from that in
how confidently they approached a scene and they really know how
they want to do it. Iím really lucky to have both of them on the
Youíve touched a little bit on how physical your role is
and weíre wondering, do you have a stunt double or do you do all the
No, I have a
stunt double. I have different doubles because not everybody can do
all the things that Annie has to do at this point. (laughs)
As the season continues Annie is getting wilder and wilder and the
stunts are just getting more and more intense. I think each
director is trying to top the last one, so we keep having to find
some girls who can do things that I donít think most people could
do. So there are definitely multiple pinstripe suits for certain
days on set.
We were also just wondering if youíd heard of the Canadian
band named after you and what you think of them.
I have heard that
thereís a band, but I havenít heard their music. Is it good?
Do they have a
MySpace page or something? I should listen to them.
They do. If
you took Piper Perabo MySpace then youíll find them and not you.
Oh, cool. All
right, Iíll have a listen.
On the show I know it just started and youíre probably getting into
the swing of things, but how much creative freedom do you have in
regards to adlibbing or maybe if you see a scene, thereís a
direction that you give your input into, like maybe if you see how
you might want to change it.
I actually have
input, although itís not necessarily always on the day. Because of
the action we get our scripts fairly early, and so there is a lot of
time to have a dialogue with the writers and the directors while
theyíre in prep about ideas that come up in scenes and maybe is it
possible if we do it this way. We even have a chance as actors to
rehearse our scenes on our own before the day. So there is a big
dialogue going on about it, but itís not just me changing it on the
day because we have our scripts so much in advance that itís a
dialogue that goes on with the creators and the stunt coordinators
and the director and everybody.
Going back to
what you were describing like the stunts and the arm-to-arm combat
that you mentioned before. My family, weíre a big fan of the movie
Oh my gosh,
Yes, we loved
your part of Charlie. Does that at all help you with the stunts you
have to do today?
is one of those things that I did that has come in useful, is doing
these falls. Before that movie I had never done really big stunt
falls before and so I learned how to do it for Charlie. Itís come
up already in the show, I go jumping into an elevator shaft, I donít
know how many episodes back, but I take a running leap into an
elevator shaft from pretty high up, and knowing how to do that gives
you a lot more confidence. If youíve never done a big fall by
running and jumping into an elevator shaft, it takes a lot of guts.
In the series beyond the first couple of seasons how will your
character adjust to essentially being a much more experienced agent
at that point, since a lot of the show seems to be based on your
inexperience right now?
Thatís a really
interesting question and thatís come up with me and the creators
already. Itís funny that you noticed that. Because one of the
things that I really like about Annie is how inexperienced she is,
and obviously the longer we stay with her, the more sheíll gain.
Whatís fun about being an inexperienced CIA agent is that you donít
follow protocol because you donít know it. So that comes up again
and again with Annie, is that itís not that sheís particularly
flouting authority, she just hasnít had the training to know how
sheís supposed to do it. So she has to come up with her own ideas.
I hope that Annie will be successful enough that eventually sheíll
be allowed to give it a little bit looser range, because the
creativity that the writing department continually comes up with as
to how Annie solves a problem is really fun to watch her do. So
hopefully even with her experience sheíll just get better at
creative solutions, but not necessarily become an expert. Do you
know what I mean?
How do you feel about it being on the USA Network where most shows do
become a big hit? Is there any pressure for you with that?
combination. Because theyíve had so many successful shows, they
have a great idea about how to create successful shows, because itís
their original programming thatís so successful. So I put a lot of
faith in network notes and ideas they have about character and also
about how weíre bringing the show out, like doing calls like this
and talking to you guys. They have such a great track record with
introducing new shows that it makes me really excited, that the show
that I think is really good and going really well is going to get
Did you actually do the skydiving scene in the pilot?
No. I wish I
had. I wish that the first reporter that asked me, I wish I had
told them yes and Iíve just been lying all the time. But once I
told one of you ďno,Ē then I know that I canít tell another one of
you ďyes,Ē because itís like you guys all know each other. Itís not
me. Itís just my ponytail and my jumpsuit. The network would never
have let me jump out of a plane, especially when weíre only on
I have a strange question. You work with Chris Gorham on the show who
is playing a blind character. Is it harder as an actress to work
against somebody who is normally sighted but has to not make any eye
motions and make eye contact with you?
No, itís not hard
because Chris Gorham is such a good actor and heís so emotionally
available, that itís really not hard at all, because the character
of Auggie is really Annieís foundation in the CIA, I trust him and I
have my most intimate discussions with him. No, itís actually not
difficult at all.
Do you find yourself tempted to try to make him break character because
you know he can see what youíre doing?
I started saying
to him that if we are so lucky to get to another season I think that
the reveal should be that heís not blind and we should do a
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon moment where I throw something at
him and he catches it. But I donít think anybodyís listening to
I wanted to talk to you about the love affair that Annie has thatís
kind of becoming the central secret of her character. What was it
like playing that? Did you draw on any inspiration for that?
The love affair?
Yes, the guy and the island and you know whoís becoming the character
as part of her back story.
Iíve never been to Southeast Asia so I have yet to fall in love with
a man running down a beach. So Iím living a little bit through
Annieís fantasy life at this point. Also seeing Ian Dailey run down
the beach, I havenít seen anything quite that good in my time.
What about your own love life? There were some pictures a couple of
months ago of you and Chris Pine. Is there anything going on there?
I donít really
ever discuss my personal life. I like to just keep it for myself.
I donít think Iíll comment on that.
Well, you know I have to ask.
understand. I did an interview once where an interviewer said to
me, so tell me who youíre dating. I was like ďYes, I never say
anything about that.Ē She said, ďOkay, well just telling me if
youíre dating somebody mega famous like Prince William, so I donít
look stupid when I go back to my editor.Ē And I was like, ďI
promise you, Iím not dating Prince William.Ē
us Let us know what you