When Piper Perabo was researching her role as a young CIA officer in "Covert Affairs," she was struck by what she didn't come away with after meeting with real-life employees of the agency.
"The people that I met when I was there, they tell a great joke, you know what I mean?" says Perabo ("Coyote Ugly," "The Prestige"), who's doing her first TV series. "... It's like people you would want to sit next to at a bar, but when you get up from the bar they didn't really tell you anything about themselves. ...
"And I found that consistently with the people, they were all sort of pretty -- but not like smashingly good-looking. You were just like, Oh, they seem so -- easy to love but also kind of easy to forget."
That's a great trait for a CIA operative, but less so for the lead of a TV series. Perabo -- who came across as utterly charming when Zap2it visited the "Covert Affairs" set in Toronto in June -- should have the "easy to love" part down. The show also has crafted what seems like a pretty good balance of life inside and outside the agency for Perabo's character, Annie Walker.
Like any good spy, Perabo wouldn't share too much with us about the show, which premieres Tuesday (July 13) on USA. But she did offer up a few pieces of intel:
Getting into character
Perabo slips in and out of different personae during her work, and she says the physical preparation for those changes helps her mindset as well. "A lot of it has to do with the prep with hair, makeup, my dialect coach, wardrobe. ... We just did a scene in Portuguese, and it requires a team of people to keep it all straight ... So as I'm trying to keep everybody separate, the language differences actually help. Because I remember, Well, if I'm speaking Portuguese then I'm definitely this person."
Annie is supposedly recruited to the CIA for her language skills, but the agency also wants to find a guy with whom she was involved a few years earlier. "I'm only one episode ahead of what we're shooting, so I don't know [how that mystery plays out]. He's come back. We see him in the first season kind of a lot, and it's getting more mysterious [rather] than less. But I don't know if we're going to solve it this season or not.
USA's promo images for "Covert Affairs" show Perabo holding a gun -- but Annie doesn't use one, at least not in the first few episodes. "I think it makes for a smarter character," she says. "If you just blow everybody away it makes for a shorter show [laughs]. CIA isn't supposed to carry weapons when they're on U.S. soil, so it's true to life in some ways. The fight style we've been working with mostly is Krav Maga, because it's such a tight hand-to-hand street combat."
For now, Annie is keeping her job secret from her older sister ( Anne Dudek, "House"), but that might not last. "It's going to get way more complicated than her just finding out what I do," Perabo says. "In fact, I know more about what she doesn't know, and then will know. ... It's not just going to be like, 'I work for the CIA,' let's put it that way."
For more on "Covert Affairs," read our interview with executive producer Doug Liman and our report from the set. The show premieres at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday on USA.
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Photo credit: USA Network