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The stakes are always high on Covert Affairs, but they’re about to get even bigger.
Directed by series star Christopher Gorham (aka Auggie), Tuesday’s episode “Man in the Middle” serves as a catalyst for the USA Network spy drama, as it approaches the final episodes of season three. “It’s a huge episode for the season,” Gorham tells The Hollywood Reporter of his directorial debut. “It kicks off the storyline that drives us through the end of season three.”
When the episode begins, Annie (Piper Perabo) receives intel from Eyal (Oded Fehr) that “starts off quite a firstorm within the CIA,” Gorham says. It certainly doesn’t help that “Annie really vouches for this piece of intelligence and puts her career on the line” after Arthur (Peter Gallagher) ends up ordering a drone strike based on the intel. “The repercussions of that drone strike are felt through the end of the season,” he says.
In a chat with THR, Gorham broke down his approach to directing Tuesday’s action-packed episode, how he dealt with a shorter shooting schedule and reveals his favorite scene.
The Hollywood Reporter: When did you get the directing bug?
Christopher Gorham: It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, actually. I took [executive producers] Matt [Corman] and Chris [Ord] out to dinner when we were shooting the pilot and said, were the show to succeed, that I would love the opportunity to direct an episode when the time came. I asked if there was anything they needed to see from me to prove that I was serious, to let me know. In the first couple of years, I spent my off-time shadowing other directors and during the season, I would go to production meetings, learn as much as I could and directed a few things or Funny or Die just to make sure I showed everyone that I meant what I said. In season three, they gave me the opportunity.
THR: Because you are an actor, were there things that helped you when you went behind the camera?
Gorham: I’ve been on a lot of television shows, I’ve done a lot of episodes as an actor; I feel very confident on set and I’ve worked with a lot of directors. I’ve seen things I consider strengths and things I consider weaknesses. I had, I felt, a decent blueprint to start with. I feel like I have a good visual eye, so I was confident in my visual ideas for the show. Also, I know how to talk to actors because I am one. I took all those lessons and put them here. That being said, it’s a very supportive environment when you’re directing for the first time on a show you’ve been acting in for years. No one wants to see you fail.
THR: Did you find yourself second-guessing decisions when you were getting your sea legs under you?
Gorham: You know what? No. That’s one of those things on my list of “dos and don’ts” for directors. One of the most important things for a director is decisiveness. You lose your cast and crew quickly if they feel like you can’t make up your mind or you don’t know what you want. I had all those conversations with myself before we got on set and once the day starts, you keep moving forward. You make your decisions and you live with it, for better or worse. Nine times out of 10, it was for the better. [Laughs]
THR: Did you dissect the script differently than you usually would when you were prepping for the episode?
Gorham: Usually when I look at the script, I read the whole thing but focus in on Auggie’s storyline, his emotional arc and memorizing his lines. For this, I had to do that for every character, their emotional arcs, the physicality of what everybody’s doing and then think about visually how to do that for each scene and how that plays into how I want to present the episode as a whole. It’s an immense amount of work as a director but also incredibly rewarding — immediately much more rewarding than acting on the show.
THR: Covert Affairs has a lot of moving parts to it, so what was the most challenging scene in the episode that you had to figure out?
Gorham: My first day of shooting was easily the most challenging because it was all of the stuff that happened in the theater at the end of the episosde. The scene was originally written to happen in the lobby and then in the catwalks, but we couldn’t find any beautiful lobbies because we couldn’t shoot in the Kennedy Center which it was initially written for. We found this location that had a beautiful theater and an interesting catwalk right next door to it. The catwalk on the other theater — it’s different than how we showed it in the episode — because it’s a wire grid that covers the entire ceiling so you can walk over the whole theater. We actually built a separate catwalk that we hung over the wire grid; it makes it much more dramatic when one of the characters has to go out on the grid and you’re wondering if it’s safe or not. [Laughs]
We were working with 250 extras who we had to constantly reset, move around and deal with noise issues. We had to shoot all of that in about four hours so we could shoot the end of the chase, a fight scene and a high-fall stunt. On a typical episode, this was something we might’ve stretched over two days or a day and a half. The other challenge I had was we only had seven days to shoot this episode, when normally we have eight.
THR: What should viewers expect from “Man in the Middle”?
Gorham: Aside from the main storyline with Annie, Joan (Kari Matchett) is dealing with her addiction to prescription drugs. She and Arthur have some great stuff [this episode]. This is the episode where the audience can fall in love with Joan and Arthur again and be reminded by why these two people love and support each other. Things come to a head between Annie and Joan, partially because of what’s going on with the mission and partially what’s going on with Joan. It’s a fantastic scene between Piper and Kari.
THR: If you had to pick, what would you say is your favorite scene from this episode?
Gorham: My favorite shot — it actually is a whole scene — is when Joan is calling the pharmacy. The whole scene is played in one shot from outside of her office from the blinds and I think it’s gorgeous. It’s one of those scenes that came together and was even more beautiful than I imagined it would be.
Covert Affairs airs 10 p.m. Tuesdays on USA Network.
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