Covert Affairs Exec Producer Doug Liman Shares Inside Scoop! Part 1

Covert Affairs Executive Producer Doug Liman (Bourne Triology) spent some time talking to a group of journos last week about Covert Affairs and there was a ton of great questions. Because the podcast and the transcript is so long, it’s been split into 2 parts.

New jobs are tough–especially when your new employer is the CIA. Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) is fluent in six languages, has traveled the world and is besting her fellow CIA trainees in every test. But that doesn’t explain why she’s suddenly summoned by CIA headquarters to report for active duty as a field operative one month before her training is over. She doesn’t know there may be something–or someone–from her past that her CIA bosses are really after.

Annie’s unofficial guide to the CIA is Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham), a tech ops expert who was blinded while on assignment. As Annie navigates this new world of intrigue, danger and bureaucratic red tape, Auggie is there to make sure this quick study won’t be kept in the dark for long. Also starring Peter Gallagher, Kari Matchett, Sendhil Ramamurthy and Anne Dudek..

Moderator Our first question comes from John Larocque from Media Boulevard.

J. Larocque I’m just kind of following up on a comment you made on the last phone call. One thing that interested me in the relationship between Fair Game and Covert Affairs, it said that the CIA was not going to be supportive of Fair Game and yet they were very supportive of CA. What interested me is that you’re able to get all that research and be able to use it both ways and open doors. Can you talk a little bit about that?

D. Liman Yes. I think the key was that once–I had a brief window before Fair Game was announced to personally have access to the CIA. Even though both Fair Game and Covert Affairs are supportive, they’re both very pro-CIA. In fact, I just learned last week that Tennant himself, while complaining that The Bourne Identity movies are not realistic, that they are good recruitment tools for the CIA.
In my particular case, I like to see things firsthand. So I personally wanted to go to Baghdad and see with my own eyes before talking about an operation that took place in Iraq in Fair Game. I wanted to see it with my own eyes. I had never been to the CIA, I wanted to go inside and see with my own eyes. Once I was associated with Valerie Plame, my access to the CIA in terms of my being able to go inside that building was going to probably never happen again, at least under that administration. In fact, we are in conversation with the CIA right now about filming inside the CIA for Covert Affairs.
So I think in general, my relationship with them is very positive. Fair Game was a touchy subject. There is still litigation going on associated with it. It’s the kind of subject that people don’t really want to touch.

Moderator Our next question comes from the line of Pattye Grippo with

P. Grippo The question I have is a lot of people have been asking the relationship between Arthur and Joan Campbell. In the pilot, at least, it’s kind of strained, which is interesting because they work so closely together. What they’ve been wanting to know is are these two going to be a factor throughout the season in the show or is this something that is limited just to the pilot?

D. Liman No, it is definitely a running through line. We cast amazing actors. Peter Gallagher and I go back to our days on The O.C. and even on that show, one of the breakthrough things for The O.C. was that normally a show like that the parents would just be the foil. They’d be like those characters in Charlie Brown that are just like, “Waah, waah, waah, waah.” We actually said no, just because they’re parents doesn’t mean they don’t have their own loves and desires. That doesn’t go away just because you grow up and have kids. That sort of parallel universe brought the same thing to Covert Affairs that you don’t have to be in your 20’s to have interesting, romantic challenges.
Obviously, anyone who has seen Mr. and Mrs. Smith knows that husband and wife married spies is something that I find particularly interesting. We were talking about Fair Game, there are some similarities to Fair Game, too, because only one of them is a spy but it’s still sort of husband and wife maintaining a marriage against the backdrop of all the lies that come with that kind of job.

Moderator Our next question comes from the line of Sheldon Wiebe with Eclipse Magazine.

S. Wiebe There are elements of Covert Affairs that obviously remind us of earlier things you’ve done like in the shows kinetic energy and the, as you referred to moments ago, the Arthur and Joan Campbell thing. They could be Mr. and Mrs. Smith 15 years later. You also have to figure in USA has a certain model. They have a thing with the fish out of water lead character and the kind of easy, breezy surface style with the dark edge underneath to make the stakes feel real. What I’m wondering is how did you develop Covert Affairs for USA?

D. Liman I have a partner Dave Bartis and together we have a TV deal at NBC Universal and so our sort of horizon tends to be within the Universal family. The tone of show that we were looking to do with Covert Affairs really fit perfectly within the brand of USA. It was kind of like we found each other as opposed to us modifying something for them. We went to them first and we went to them with a specific tone, knowing that it was going to be a good fit. That’s an important thing as a filmmaker is making sure–It’s not just getting your thing made, it’s getting it made in the right way. Part of making it the right way is making sure that you’re at the right home and that you’re not constantly going to be fighting because they like oranges and you like making apples.
In fact, one of the huge upsides of being at USA is because I had a tone in mind that is consistent with other things I saw on USA, once you go to a place like that as your home, suddenly the feedback you get from the executives at USA is awesome because you’re not fighting each other. You both have the same end goal, and they have years of experience in this tone. I get to bring my years of experience, and it’s been an amazing collaboration with them. Sometimes you might hear filmmakers complaining about executives. But in this particular case, every time we’ve had a note session with them, the show has gotten consistently better.

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