'Covert Affairs' Q&A: Creators Talk Piper Perabo's Suitors and When Everything Clicked

Covert Affairs (USA)

Where we left off: Where is Ben Mercer (Eion Bailey)? The love of CIA rookie Annie Walker’s (Piper Perabo) life -- who has been MIA for most of the season -- returned to the agency, but didn’t get into the helicopter at the end of the mission. And with Annie’s boss Joan (Kari Matchett) potentially taking over as head of DCS, what does that mean for Arthur (Peter Gallagher)?

Premiere date: Tuesday, June 7 at 10 p.m.

First-time showrunners Matt Corman and Chris Ord hit the jackpot last summer when Covert Affairs was the latest USA Network success, averaging 5.2 million each week. And when the spy drama, led by Piper Perabo and Christopher Gorham, left off with rookie CIA agent Annie Walker losing lost love Ben Mercer (Eion Bailey) – again. (Check out THR's interview with White Collar creator Jeff Eastin.)

Corman and Ord – who were filming the sixth episode and casting the seventh at the time of the interview – spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the series’ international flavor, the show’s romantic origins and why they’re aiming for the Emmys.

The Hollywood Reporter: You’ve shot in Paris and Puerto Rico already for Season 2. How did you make that happen?

Matt Corman: In order to answer that question, you have to go back to last season. We sent some of our actors to Sri Lanka and got some amazing footage and we also sent small units to England and Venezuela and Zurich. I think we were able to do that effectively and on a budget, in such a way that we were able to expand the palette this year. For a spy show, it really adds a veneer of authenticity.
Chris Ord: This year, we were able to send our lead actress Piper to Paris and Puerto Rico so far.
Corman: And we’re sending Chris Gorham to Istanbul, Turkey in a month.
Ord: Auggie [Gorham], the character, is a fan of jazz and they have an unbelievable jazz festival there in Istanbul so we felt that that made sense. 
Corman: We’re going to shoot during the jazz festival and we’ll be able to get him interacting with the audience and performers in the arenas. It should be pretty amazing if it comes out the way we hope it will.

THR: Logistically, are there challenges to filming in international territories?

Corman: It just requires a lot of planning. You have to start sometimes months in advance, but it’s well worth it.
Ord: We were able to have the script for this one well in advance. We were able to contact jazz festival with plenty of time, get them on board. Now we’re working on finer details still, a month before we go.

THR: What was the pivotal episode for the show, when things were starting to click?

Ord: There were a few moments. We were very happy with how the pilot came out and the first episode we shot last year was the Zurich episode with Oded Fehr; [he] and Piper had such great chemistry. It was a very ambitious episode, especially to do right out of the gate, and we were able to pull it off. That really gave us the confidence going forward that we can pull anything off.
Corman: It had such enormous logistical issues. We were shooting at the airport, we did this large car accident and the acting had to be superb, it was almost like we threw down the gauntlet on ourselves and did one of our most challenging episodes that we’ve ever done. The fact that we did it proved to us that we could push the envelope and do bigger and better things every week.

THR: Did you abandon any plot points because they weren’t working early on?

Ord: We brought in Sendhil [Ramamurthy] in Episode 2 and we were very excited to have him on board and explore those story lines. I think for us we were thrilled with the character that did work. We had a great experience with Oded Fehr; we liked him so much and the audience liked him so much that we’re bringing back this season in a guest star capacity.
Corman: It’s more positive experiences like that. We felt good about the first season; we’re looking for ways to expand on it.

THR: With this being your first TV series, how did you guys figure out how to run a show?

Corman: It is an exciting experience and I think Chris and I benefit from the fact that we like to be busy and we work fast. In that sense, it suits us. It is different and you have to be comfortable with multitasking, but I’ve enjoyed it immensely.
Ord: We had done film before this. In TV, you have so much creative control. It’s really what you’re working towards; you finally get to have the opportunity to have input and creative control of everything from casting to directors you hire to the story. It allows you to take what you envision on the page and really see it come to life.

THR: How has the show changed from its first season as the new arc begins?

Corman: I would say that it’s evolved a little bit in the sense that Piper’s character is evolving. The first season very much was about her being new and wondering can I do this job? As we go into the second season, I think it’s been proven she can do the job but the question that we’re asking is what toll does this life take on you? What does being a spy really mean? Can you juggle that lifestyle with a more traditional life [with] home and family?
Ord: It’s always been about the collision between Annie’s spy life and her personal life. That still is the main core; it’s just a question of how we explore that whole idea.

THR: Ben, who had been missing in action for most of Season 1, shook things up in the finale. Will his mystery be solved?

Corman: I would say for audiences that are interested in that, they should tune in to the first episode and they’ll get some answers.
Ord: And some questions, I might add.

THR: Piper Perabo has said that Annie will have multiple love interests. What can you tell us on that front? [Corman and Ord both laugh.]

Corman: I would say that she’ll have multiple suitors. She’s a very pretty lady. [Laughs]
Ord: There’s always been a romantic element to the show and that’s really important. We want to embrace that romance and there are a lot of guys circling around Annie Walker. That gives us a lot of options for romantic story lines.

THR: Have you felt pressure to create interesting arcs to keep that audience base interested?

Ord: We feel people are still coming to the show and we feel that the show is very strong. We’ve had a lot of fun doing it and we want more and more people to discover it.
Corman: We push ourselves creatively and it’s our hope and our trust that if we can deliver compelling stories, the audiences will find it. I think it’s foolhardy to try and look at the landscape and gauge what we’re doing based on what other shows are out there. We’re just trying to write and produce the most compelling stories that we can and trusting that the audiences will continue to enjoy that. That was a recipe that served us well in the first season and I think it will continue to do so.

THR: Would you consider doing any crossovers with other USA properties?

Ord: We would be open to it. Actually this season, we have an adjunct story with a tweetcast. USA’s doing a parallel story – it involves an operative that Auggie is dealing with – and it’ll all be played through Twitter. It’s an amazing bracing of this technology. It ties into the DPD, which is the home of the show, but it also expands the palette.
Corman: It’s both familiar in the sense that the Auggie character is involved in it but it’s introducing new characters. It looks like a TV show except it’s being produced for the Twitter universe. I think our audience will enjoy it and it’ll probably bring in a new audience as well.

THR: What’s the biggest challenge as first-time showrunners?

Ord: The challenges come from trying to put out as good a show as we can put out. We set a very high bar for ourselves in terms of the quality of the episodes and that takes a lot of work, make all the right decisions that will help elevate each episode. Really, it’s just keeping the quality up and consistent over 16 episodes.
Corman: We’re always trying to find ways to incorporate more and more story lines for [the ensemble]. We have this stable of actors, but it’s like, how do you work in everybody in such a limited amount of time? It’s a good problem to have.
Ord: With our acting core is there is no story beat or emotional moment that we feel we can’t do. We know that if we give them a juicy story beat that they’re going to pull it off. The ability and the freedom to do that is helpful when you’re creating and writing the show.

THR: Piper Perabo was nominated for a Golden Globe for the show, so clearly people like her ..

Ord: For your consideration, Emmy. [Laughs]

Covert Affairs returns Tuesday at 10 p.m. on USA.