‘Covert Affairs’ Debriefing, Part 1: Christopher Gorham

During The Flickcast’s set visit to USA Network’s new series Covert Affairs we spoke with Exec. Producer Doug Liman about the origins of the show.  Following that we had the opportunity to speak with three of the show’s regulars, Christopher Gorham (Ugly Betty, Harper’s Island), Anne Dudek (House, Mad Men) and Piper Perabo (The Prestige, Coyote Ugly).  All the interviews took place on the Covert Affairs sets in Toronto, Canada.

Christopher Gorham plays Auggie Anderson on Covert Affairs.  The resident technology expert, the role lends itself to being the bridge between the audience and how the tech on the show works.  Based on this, one would think Gorham was a natural geek, but according to him that’s not the case:

The Flickcast: Being surrounded by that, being that kind of character on the show, how well versed are you in technology?  Like, are you anywhere near what Auggie is, or are you-

Chris Gorham: Nowhere-first of all, nowhere near.

TF: No?

CG: Second of all, nowhere near what I wish I knew.  Thirdly, nowhere near where I need to be, because my kids are getting older quick.

One would think getting your head around hi-tech gadgets would be a challenge but that pales in comparison to one important element of Gorham’s character-the fact that he’s blind.  In preparation for the role Gorham worked extensively with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB):

“I was working on a film in Michigan right before the pilot, and literally came straight here from there. So I hadn’t had any time at home to really do the research that I would normally do. So I called ahead and found the – well, I found the CNIB on the Internet, and called ahead to the production office and asked them if they could hook me up with somebody over there.

And they did – a lovely woman named Leslie McDonald who came out. And we had two sessions during the pilot, where the first one she came out and just went over things like sighted lead, and working with the cane, and a lot of just behavioural things about how to get around.”

Having seen a number of actors take on roles in which they portray blind characters I can tell you Gorham is exceptional.  Be that as it may, Gorham is quick to emphasise that while Auggie is blind that does not diminish him in contrast to other characters:

“So, you know, what we talked about a lot with Auggie is, if he gets his hands on you, then he wins. But obviously, you can stand a few feet away from him and stop breathing, and he won’t know where you are, you know. It’s kind of the cool thing about him where he is very competent, and he’s strong, and he’s tough. But he’s blind. You know, he doesn’t have super hearing. He doesn’t have super smell, you know, none of those things. They’re not superpowers.”

In the Covert Affairs pilot episode Gorham explains how he lost his vision, which lead me to an obvious question for the actor:

TF: Would you ever entertain an episode that actually showed that event?  Would that be a challenge to sort of play that character (Auggie) prior to him becoming blind?  Or do you think it would detract from the character overall in the series if you did a story like that?

CG: I think it would be – I think it would be really interesting to do at some point.  I know they’ve talked about it.  I don’t know if it’s something that would happen in the first season, or what.  But I think it’d be really interesting.  Because, I mean, this character, initially, was based off a friend of Matt and Chris (the creators of Covert Affairs)”.

And you know, and what they’ve said – and I’ve learned this too about other people who’ve – their friend isn’t blind, but he had another disability. Is that oftentimes, having something traumatic like that happen to you can really change who you are. I was just – yesterday I was at the CNIB meeting with a girl who lost her sight from diabetes. And I was telling her about this, and you know, and about Matt and Chris’ friend.

And she said, “You know what yeah, my friends all say that it’s really changed me. And it really has. I was a different person before. I was, you know, multi-tasking to beyond my abilities to multi-task. I was, you know, I was the queen of road rage. I was so stressed. And everything was quick, and da da da, [I can’t find anything], and really stressed out.”

And she says, “Now, like, I’ve been forced to slow down.” And for her, she said, “It’s been really good for me. And it’s like an entirely new life has begun.” So, yeah, I think Auggie, when we see him at the beginning of the show is a different Auggie than he was before his accident. And I do think it would be interesting to go back and see what that was, yeah.

As our panel was moving onto the next interview session I managed to get in one last question regarding Auggie’s hi-tech walking cane.  Instead of the traditional white and red cane used by those without sight, Auggie uses an elaborate silver “wand” with an laser beam that shoots out the end.  What can I say; I’m a geek and wanted to know if this amazing device was real:

“Yeah, it’s- it doesn’t exist.  It’s not far from real, though.  The laser part of it is actually fairly old technology.  They have an actual laser cane.  It looks, you know, kind of like a traditional cane, not like one of the long ones, and it shoots three lasers.”

While the “cane” doesn’t really exist, Gorham went onto explain how he and the creators decided the device would work in the real world:

“But I think what we’ve come up with is, it has the laser grid but also has sonar, because the lasers would go through glass and the sonar could bounce through glass, and it gives me a vibratory feedback.  And then, also, I thought it would be cool if it had a little gyro in it so it could even give me some resistance, depending on how close I am to things.  But, yeah, the advantage is I can kind of whip it around and get the idea of the dimensions of a room and if there are people in here or where the objects are.”

So, while not all the tech in Covert Affairs is real, everyone involved is making great strides to portray every element as something that could very well exist today.  Make no mistake though, this show is definitely character driven.  However, the tech, and Auggie, will certainly appeal to the geek in us all.

Christopher Gorham during our Q/A Session

Christopher Gorham and Company (Bob Starr, second from the right)

Check out The Flickcast as we continue our coverage of Covert Affairs, and be sure to watch Christopher Gorham when the series premiers on USA Network, Tuesday July 13.

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