I had the immeasurable pleasure of chatting with Peter Gallagher last Friday. While Covert Affairs was the main point of discussion, the talk went from topics from The Beelzebubs to former The O.C. cast mate Melinda Clarke.
After the call, I managed to snag a moment of his attention on Twitter to ask about the Center Stage and Eion Bailey – who is also in Covert Affairs.
If you’re read my advance Covert Affairs review then you know that I’m already very much a fan. If there was anything to pump me up more about the show, it was Gallagher’s charming nature (he jokes, he’s casual, he’s not making anything into a boring press conference!) and his ability to vocalize his thoughts in a highly intellectual manner.
There’s a reason he’s attached to so many projects on IMDB, and I’id bet all of my Buffy DVDs that it has as much to do with acting talent as it has to do with him as a living, breathing, way-more-than-just-tolerable, amazing person. Now, I need to stop writing a love letter to this actor so you can read what he had to say. Which, btw, included a lot of praise heaped on other’s he loves (notably, Doug Linman and Dave Bartis. See? Circle of Life. And yet again, everything comes back down to a Lion King reference.
What made you want to be a part of the show?
Very simply, I wanted to work with Doug Liman and Dave Bartis again. Doug Liman directed the pilot episode of The O.C. and he and Dave were producers on the first season of The O.C. and I just love these guys. I love the way they tell stories. I like the people they are. In my experience, when the people at the top of an organization are people you respect and you like then chances are they’re going to surround themselves with other people that you feel the same way about. And you know what? That’s exactly what happened. So I was drawn to working with Dave and Doug again. As I say, I like the way they tell stories, because they’re powerful storytellers and they like to have the story they tell find a place in the world we live in.
Then they sent me the script because we’ve been talking about doing stuff. I said, “Man, this is great.” At that point I don’t know what kind of future Arthur Campbell had or has in the show, but he seems to be perking along and I’m having a great time. Everybody on the show is great, so that’s why I’m there.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging about the role?
Commuting to Toronto, but I love Toronto, so that’s not so bad.
Yes, you are a warm-weather man from The O.C.
Oh, but I’m New York born and raised, but you don’t have to spend much time in the warm weather before your blood gets a little thin. That’s the truth.
How would you describe Arthur’s relationship with Piper Perabo’s character on the show?
Well, I think the cool thing about a series is we basically don’t know anything except what we know, which is just the extent of the episodes we’ve done and the ones we’ve read. So what I would surmise is that Arthur is a busy guy and he is becoming very much aware of this very young and very valuable asset, Piper. So she obviously has his attention and, judging from the last episode I shot, his respect. So I think it’s an open relationship.
In watching the pilot, you had a therapy session scene with Joan. Is that something we can plan on seeing a little bit more of? How is filming those scenes?
I love it. You know what the cool thing, the amazing thing is? It’s true. Think about it. Apparently, in the CIA they encourage their agents to marry each other because you can’t talk to anybody who’s not in the agency about what you do. You can’t even talk about everything that you do with somebody else in the agency. So what they have is when people do get married, they actually have in-house marriage counselors that have been vetted and received security clearance, as well as the Starbucks baristas. They go through a security clearance for a year. So it’s a pretty interesting dynamic in that here are these two CIA agents, who are accustomed to dissembling or trying to find out the truth or whatever and they’re married and their therapist is at work too. It’s a pretty unique situation I think. Yes, I think there will be more of that. I mean I think; I don’t know. I’m still alive. That’s all I can tell you.
I just wanted to follow up on that last question. I really enjoyed the interaction that you had on-screen with Kari. Tell us about your relationship with her on and off-screen.
I’m so glad you enjoyed that because you never know. You know what? I just met Kari on this and she’s really lovely and we have a great time. You know what’s exciting about these scenes is I have to credit Matthew and Chris, Matthew Corman and Chris Ord, and Dougie and Dave for being interested, even just marginally interested in that kind of a story line. I kind of liken it to The Sopranos where you have all of the regular issues of home life and problems and marriage and so on, but what you do for a living is a little different, so when we screw up we not only could get divorced, but people could die or the national security could be compromised, so it adds sort of an additional kind of bit of tension to the relationship.
We’re having fun. I mean the way I see it is they are both effective agents in the field. I was a former Navy pilot and they have a good time. I think it’s kind of a great relationship and so we’ll see if the creators and the audience agree with us; otherwise, who knows what will happen.
Obviously, the show has been compared a lot to Alias. I love Alias, but it seems like Covert Affairs is a little bit more realistic, perhaps gives us a little bit better understanding of the real CIA. Do you think that that’s a fair assessment? Do you find that this is maybe a little bit more true to life?
I will say this: That the reason that working with Doug Liman and Dave Bartis appeals to me so strongly is, obviously, their strong storytelling skills and what I saw Doug bring to The O.C. in the pilot episode was real.
“Well, you know what? I really know nothing about the CIA. I’ve always read about it. I’ve always been fascinated with it. I always think I have a couple of friends that are in it, but of course, they can never tell me.”
So I don’t know, but I will say this: That the reason that working with Doug Liman and Dave Bartis appeals to me so strongly is, obviously, their strong storytelling skills and what I saw Doug bring to The O.C. in the pilot episode was real. He would start. He had the camera operator pointing in another direction entirely from where the scene was going. He’d call, “Action,” and have the operator find the action. So it gave the camera a sense of urgency and a sense of your point of view and made it feel and was interested in making all of the scenes feel real. That’s exactly how I feel about anything we do, even if it’s the CIA or the mob or whatever you’re doing. If it feels real, chances are the story will be better told. If it’s important to you you’ll look for those moments and opportunities to keep things on the planet so the rest of us on the planet can look at it and say, “Oh, I recognize that.”
Do you know what I mean? Am I making any sense? It’s so silent on the other end. You’re probably all over there snickering. I know it. No, but did that make sense to you?
It does. I appreciate your answers. Thank you, Peter.
Sure. Can you tell I like to talk?
I think after watching the first episode a big question is obviously who is Annie’s mysterious ex that you clearly know about, but I think the real question everyone wants answered is how long do we have to wait until you sing on the show.
Well, don’t hold your breath. But you never know. Listen, do you know what’s funny? Nothing would surprise me about what Matthew and Chris and Doug and Dave and their extraordinary writers might come up with. But I know it will be credible. I know they all came to see me do my own live show where I sang and told stories about working with Gagney and all of these people and they all came, so they know that I do that kind of thing, so anything is possible, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Well, maybe you could have the Bubs come in and be like a group of singing assassins and you—
You know what? That’s exactly the story line I pitched, a group of singing assassins.
I watched the pilot yesterday and also the first four episodes of the season’s Rescue Me song. Once again I’m reminded of your remarkable range. What I’d like to know if how do you approach such a multi-layered character as Arthur. What’s the process you go through? I mean, obviously, it’s on the page, but what do you personally bring to it?
Well, you know, I kind of bring 30-plus years of experience and I approach it like I approach every part I play. I mean, fortunately, I still love what I do and I still try to do it pretty well. I read the scripts. I try and understand what the character is really expressing. I mean I created sort of a back story for myself in the character.
It may or may not have any bearing on what’s revealed, but I imagined
Arthur Campbell as having been a Navy pilot, which is a tradition in the CIA. I think the first director was a Navy officer, a Navy Admiral. So, somebody who had experienced all sorts – has experience on the ground in the military and in the Agency and so it might be an interesting foil for maybe future episodes with bureaucrats or politicians, who don’t have that kind of experience, but that’s all happening in my head. But that’s the kind of thing that you layer and you build and you have sort of a specific kind of – because the truth is you don’t really know that much, so you kind of sketch it in and you have good directors to tell you when you’re way off the mark or somewhere in the ballpark.
Also, I was kind of wondering, the way it’s set up you’re mostly an office guy, although the office guy for Clandestine Services and I’m just wondering what is the professional relationship between Arthur and his wife. I mean is he her superior in the chain of command or are they separate.
Yes. No. He’s her superior.
That will probably make for some very interesting episodes.
Exactly. I think in some ways, just like most men, their superior position is mostly illusory.
Over the years you’ve given several fantastic performances throughout your career playing swarmy, unlikable characters and then you went on to play like the quintessential, awesome dad, Sandy Cohen. What kind of character is Arthur Campbell?
Well, we’re going to find out and I’ll be finding out with you. What I think of Arthur Campbell is he has a very strong sense of duty. I think he’s an ex-military, ex-Naval officer, a pilot. In fact, we got clearance to use the shield of the Hornet, which is a great tactical plane and so he has a military background, a great sense of service. I imagine then he was recruited to the CIA and, obviously, has some capacity for administration and communication and is saddled with these changing times and helping to bring the agency into a more modern place and more consistent with where the world is and what it’s becoming. So I imagine all you have to do is watch our own government struggling with all of the challenges day in and day out and how fast the world is changing. It’s just a short hop to imagine people in a position like Arthur’s would be, really scrambling, because when you screw up the costs can be large.
“That’s exactly the story line I pitched, a group of singing assassins.”
At this point is there a particular role that you haven’t played that you’d really like to?
It’s hard for me. The crazy thing; I still feel like my best work is ahead of me. I feel like my break is coming, so that might be a complete delusion. Part of what I love is that part, something that somebody just has written. That’s out there. What I love is the next thing. I can’t think of a specific role.
I keep singing and doing stage and doing all of those other things that I do; live things. But I’ve got to say I’m thrilled because I love working with Doug and I love working with Dave. I’ve been doing some great movies and some good TV and especially in a challenging time to keep it all going I just want to keep moving before somebody can draw a bead on me.
I want to know what was your first impression of the show and the whole blind agent thing.
My first impression of the show was that it was really well written because, as I say, I started talking with Dave Bartis, our Executive Producer, about wanting to just do something together and so we were talking about things that they were looking at. He said, “We have something for you. We’ve got something going on. It’s called Covert Affairs. Do you want to take a look at it?” I read it and I loved it. I thought it had real wit. I thought it fulfilled the obligations of the genre. I just thought it was really well written.
To answer your question about the blind agent, you know what? It didn’t really register a blip. It seemed perfectly – a little fantastical maybe with some of the gadgetry, but not that far off in terms of what – and maybe it is available, but I just thought it was interesting. I think the good news is I didn’t think, “Oh, no. What’s that all about?” He was a soldier. It makes perfect sense. It’s nice to know that his skills are still being valuable.
Okay. Since it’s covert and intelligence based, why does Arthur feel the agency needs more transparency? Wouldn’t it need more secrecy?
You’re so smart. I have the same question myself. Why am I saying that? Is that just to put somebody off? I think transparency, the way I justify it in terms of the use of that word transparency, is not so much transparency with the Agency and the outside world, but within the Agency itself.
And so that the left hand will know what the right hand is doing, because, as we’ve seen with the challenges, as global challenges mount and the areas of conflict or problems are so many and varied that the only really viable approach, as I’ve read, to deal with it is through a coordinated effort not only of the various departments of the CIA, but also coordinated efforts with the various law enforcement and military and even foreign agencies. So obviously, you don’t want to have a completely transparent spy agency, because you obviously wouldn’t last long in the job and the nation wouldn’t benefit. So that’s what I think it must mean.
We actually wanted to touch on something someone mentioned a little bit earlier, which is we know that you sang with The Beezlebubs at Tufts University. We were wondering if you saw them on The Sing Off last year and what you thought.
I was on the show with them. You know what was so funny? A friend of mine producing said, “Do you want to watch the show?” I said, “I’d love to. I want to support the Bubs.” So I was on the last show that they did, the final thing. They were amazing. I mean they’re so much better than we were it’s not even funny.
The Covert Affairs cast
Also, do you have any plans to return to Broadway? We’d love to see you back on the stage.
I would really love to return to Broadway. I’ve actually been talking to a couple of people about something. I’m working on a couple of really cool shows actually. I was just on Broadway with Morgan Freeman and Frances McDormand like two years ago, but I’d love to do another musical. I’ve been working on another version of my own singing show, my sort of one-man show where I talk about working with amazing people and blah, blah, blah. But yes, I’ll be back. I’ll probably breathe my last breath on the boards.
When you realized you were actually going to be playing this character did you do any sort of preparation or research; I mean besides making your back story; of what a character like this would be like or did you just sort of jump in and—?
You mean about the character?
Yes. You know, Arthur Campbell is this important CIA character. Obviously, most of us have no idea what that would be like. Did you do any research or look into it or any—?
I did a little research, but the reality is I had no idea how many episodes I was going to be in this season, so I thought I was just going to be doing the first couple. So at the very beginning, being superstitious; and I don’t like to be superstitious, but I’m superstitious; it’s like you have no idea where anything is going. These TV shows are kind of living creatures and they morph and they change.
Obviously, the main thrust of the show is Piper and Christopher, who are wonderful and so I was happy to be in this company with those people and, as I say, working with Doug and Dave. Yes, I did my usual research, but I didn’t go to Langley. I hung out with Valerie Plame and spoke to her at length about the Agency and about the kind of person that becomes an agent. I did some research about the kinds of people who occupy the office, the similar office that we created for the show, which supported the back story I’m sort of building of he’s a Naval officer, because the first director of the CIA was a Navy Admiral and there were several other rankings of Naval officers that ran the department, the Agency over the years.
Right. That makes sense.
But yes, I didn’t go to Langley. Frankly, the scripts are good and the scenes themselves are fairly well defined. If there was an area that I had no idea what I was talking about I would Google it at least.
Well, let me follow up on that and ask you of the episodes that you’ve done so far for the season do you have a favorite moment?
I had some fun with Emmanuelle Vaugier on a scene. I love Kari and I had a fun little bed scene. Don’t worry. I keep my clothes on. I’m going to be doing three more, so I look forward to seeing what’s in store. All I can tell you; it’s a wonderful set. You might have been up there, but the vibe is very good. Our DP was from The O.C. as well, Jamie Barber, who just is a marvelous cinematographer. He’s a great guy.
“…I don’t like to be superstitious, but I’m superstitious; it’s like you have no idea where anything is going. These TV shows are kind of living creatures and they morph and they change.”
USA has such a strong focus on building character. What do you think is the motivation behind your character of Arthur? What helps him get out of bed every day?
I think it’s a really strong sense of duty. I think he honestly believes that what he does is important. I think he’s very patriotic. I think he cares a lot for the country and I think he cares a lot for the people under him. I think that’s what gets him out of bed. I think he honestly believes that what he does and what the Agency does is important and that, like all large organizations, it’s not perfect and he likes the challenge.
What do you feel it is about a show like Covert Affairs that will help it stand apart from other crime and legal dramas?
You know what I believe? It’s just the kind of magic that when something works it’s very hard to attribute the reasons why it does. The same reason why something doesn’t work; it’s hard to attribute the reasons why it doesn’t, but if it works it will have probably nothing to do with any of the apparent and conscious elements; it will have to do with the fact that there’s something that happens among the group of people in front of the camera. Something happens among the group of people behind the camera. When we’re lucky I call it the beast lumbering to its feet. If the story starts to feel alive, if it embodies the kind of wit and the performances feel real and identifiable then it doesn’t matter whether you’re doing a crime drama or any kind. It doesn’t matter. It’s going to be engaging. It’s going to be compelling. If there’s wit, if there’s a little bit of humor it will even resemble our lives even more.
The worst thing I see in shows, I call it seriosity, where something has the appearance of seriousness, but it’s not really—
Or somebody is being a cop, “Well, I don’t know, Bob. Things look pretty bad.” It’s like I’ve never seen any cop talk like that or a detective or a soldier.
So hopefully we’ll be free to continue behaving as people would in these extraordinary circumstances. I can promise you this; everybody is working their butt off and trying their best. That’s the best you can do. We’re holding our breath.
Now, what was it like working with Tim Matheson? Is it easier working with a director that is also an amazing actor, like yourself?
Well, I loved working with Tim. I had met Tim before, probably 500 years ago. You know what? I love directors. I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of wonderful directors, but it’s nice to work with a director, who’s been an actor, because they get it. I mean at least they get your thing. I loved working with Tim. I thought he did a terrific job.
Now, what do you think the viewers are going to enjoy the most about Arthur and Covert Affairs in general?
I don’t know. I hope they like something. I’m terrible at that. That would be like— I don’t know. I just hope somebody does out there. We’ll see.
Kari Matchell plays Gallagher’s new TV wife
I was just wondering if we’re going to see most of Arthur and Joan’s relationship in the office or if we’re going to get a bit of more of a peek into their private lives throughout the episodes.
Well, we do bring you into the bedroom pretty quickly. It’s our bedroom and nobody dies. I think so. Who knows? I mean I guess I see the story as big enough to accommodate several stories, actually several story lines. Obviously, the main thing is Piper and Chris, as it should be, and it’s great. It’s wonderful. But I have to believe that there’s some value too of seeing a couple, who is actually married, trying to navigate what are potentially treacherous conditions for a marriage, being in the CIA. But you know what? We’ll see. Right? Isn’t that what happens?
People say, “Oh, my God. I love that show. I hate Arthur.” Who knows? It’s like a craps shoot, isn’t it, a little bit? Although USA has got a great track record—
And I think they really do have a vision that is easy to support and they have an organization that really just seems to be completely on the ball. I mean it’s like they’re really pretty amazing to work with. So it feels like you have a good chance, but who knows?
On that note, on USA I was also curious what you think about Covert Affairs will draw in fans of other USA shows, like Psych and Burn Notice and Royal Pains and all of those great shows.
I really don’t know. I think so. I mean I think, look, I think the show is really good and I think it’s also kind of timely. I think it’s sort of strangely and in a way nice to be playing a member of a government agency and really trying your best to do the best for the country. I think there are a lot of people out there. I think it’s kind of exciting parts for us to be playing.
Now I’ve forgotten what your question is. I think I went so far afield, now I’m out somewhere and I have to call Chris back at the headquarters here to talk me back into it. He’s the one who got me into Twitter, Gorham.
“You know what I believe? It’s just the kind of magic that when something works it’s very hard to attribute the reasons why it does.”
Oh, my God. I used to be paralyzed at the thought of telling anybody anything. I said, “Nobody wants to know. Why do they want to know? This is crazy.” And now I’m like digging it. I can’t believe it.
Well, given that you came from doing some work with David Duchovny in Californication, Arthur is obviously a very different kind of character.
And the shows are quite different, obviously, but given that also the guys who are executive producing this that came with the Bourne Series and—
Yes. Doug Liman and Dave Bartis.
Right. How much of that is going to be, do you feel like the series is going to have that kind of intensity?
Oh, completely. Oh, this is the greatest thing about this. Doug and Dave are not full of shit. They’re not just phoning this in. Doug Liman is not like just doing movies and then, “I’ve got this little TV show.” That’s not it at all. He’s involved. No. I mean they’re the real deal. That’s why. The reason I’m in the show is because I wanted to work with them again. We worked on The O.C. together.
I just love them because I like the way they work and I like who they are. They’re honorable and imaginative and they like to make it real. For instance, not long ago there was a scene and somebody was saying there needs to be a little more tension in this one chase scene. Doug’s response was, “Well, we need four frames of her head turning left to right and another four frames of the fender as it comes in from right to left.”
“I used to be paralyzed at the thought of telling anybody anything. I said, ‘Nobody wants to know. Why do they want to know? This is crazy.'”
To answer your question, I think we’re essentially making a movie every week. I mean it’s real. I mean Doug is very involved. Dave is very involved. Nobody is doing this in their spare time. It’s really they’re committed, so I think you’ll see all of that stuff, all of that kind of great action, wisdom and knowledge. You’ll see as much as you can do in eight days any way.
Now, what is it about Arthur that is kind of like that hidden reveal that comes out slowly over time?
When you find out what it is you tell me. I have no idea. I could imagine what. I love it because I think there are a million places Arthur could go. I like the whole work situation. There’s a great relationship with Kari, I think, that develops. I’m hoping I’ll have things to do with Piper and maybe in the tenth season I might actually leave— In the tenth season I might actually leave the office. Wait. No. Actually, I already leave the office. We go to dinner and go in the bedroom.
It’s interesting, because with what you’ve got going on I would like to see Arthur out in the field.
Now you’re talking. I think you’ve got to pick up the phone and call 1-800-Covert-Affairs.
Okay. Good. I’ll do that. Thank you so much for your time today. It’s a real pleasure talking to you.
It’s fun. It’s great to promote something that you’re proud of and that you like the people in and people seem to be responding. It’s one of those. I’m not going to say any more. Let’s not count any chickens. We’re not out of the gate yet. Okay.
I want to talk about the character of Arthur because we still don’t know a lot about him. He seems so mysterious for a show about people who are mysterious. You mentioned the strong sense of duty that Arthur has. Do you think that this sense of duty is stronger than his sense of loyalty to his wife?
Well, that’s such a good question, because that’s essentially the crux, isn’t it?
I guess so.
But what’s interesting, I think also that in that environment it’s an area that I think every agent explores. I don’t think it’s necessarily always exclusive. Again, I’m totally off the track here, but I think that’s exactly what makes it interesting, because I don’t think Arthur is even sure. I think ultimately his responsibility is to the nation, you know? But I don’t think they’re necessarily mutually exclusive. I think he’s got a juggling act, like a lot of people do, keeping all of the people in the Agency alive and well and the nation safe and his marriage intact. That’s a tall order.
Gallagher fessed up to a current favorite TV show: Modern Family
It’s a lot for him to do.
It was tough for Tony Soprano.
You mentioned that you’re fascinated by the CIA. I’m curious. Would you ever consider – maybe not now, earlier or maybe later and you won’t tell us – but would you ever consider joining the CIA?
That’s so bizarre, because they just called this morning.
No. I’m kidding. That’s so crazy because they’re at the door. That was them. I’ve got to go. No. You know what? I can’t even imagine that. I’m just trying to make a living. I’m just trying to get my kids through college.
It’s hard enough pretending to play in the CIA, right?
It’s an interesting notion. Look, the notion of service; if my country needed me I wouldn’t necessarily move to Ireland. No.
“That’s so bizarre, because they (The CIA) just called this morning.”
My father was in the Normandy Invasion. My brother was an Officer, an Army Officer, during Vietnam and so it kind of runs in the family, but I’m no hero.
Well, there are different ways to be a hero.
This is probably just a little bit redundant after all of the questions you’ve answered, but did you have to go to any kind of classes or schooling for either fight training or to learn the lingo you might have to use as the director?
Well, so far all I’ve had to really do is get up and down out of my desk and in and out of bed and up and down from dinner, so that I can do. But beyond that what I love about doing a TV show, which I haven’t done that many, but the great thing about it is there’s always next week. Well, not always. In fact, there is rarely next week, but when there is next week chances are there will be another week after that where these things can develop. So, as I said, I wasn’t exactly sure how many I’d be doing of this show, so I didn’t really know where the character was going or what it was going to be about and so I’ve been free to kind of imagine.
As I said, I haven’t been to Langley, but I’ve been reading and I’ve been asking and I read the script because, frankly, no matter what kind of research you do, if you don’t spend some time on what happens on the page it’s not really going to matter.
You like to follow exactly what they’ve written on the page?
No. That would not be a fair characterization. I’m just saying that I do all of the regular research. I didn’t go to Langley. As I say, if this was a show called Arthur Campbell, CIA you could be sure I’d be living at Langley and I could kill you with a look. I could beat you to death with my eyebrows, but that’s not the show. So I think if there are any special skills required I will acquire them as needed.
Okay. Also, characterizing Arthur a little bit do you think he’s a strictly by the book kind of guy or would he be a bit more rogue if he felt it was necessary to get the job done?
I think he’s definitely not a bureaucrat. I think with his military background I just think the vibe of the guy, because he’s a good leader, he’s not for blindly following rules if the greater goal is going to be compromised. So it’s a juggling act.
Let me preface my question by just letting you know, because I’m not sure if you’re aware, Melinda Clarke, your former O.C. co-star is actually in Toronto shooting a CW Show, Nikita—
Do you think there’s any chance we will ever see any of your former O.C. cast members guest on the show?
On our show?
Anything is possible. I love them all, so I hope so. It’s up to them, I guess, or up to Covert Affairs. I mean I’m just hoping the Covert Affairs cast will continue to be on Covert Affairs. I mean we had a pretty good run with The O.C., so now we’ve got to give birth to Covert Affairs and then we’ll see. I want to see Sandy Cohen from The O.C. be Arthur Campbell for a little while longer too. That would be good.
What would Sandy say about Arthur Campbell? Because Sandy was kind of a hippie—
I don’t know if he’d agree with your new character so much.
No. He’d be protesting him.
Then they’d bump into each other and realize they had a lot more in common than they thought.
Really good looking wives.
And they were played by the same person. “Wait a minute, weren’t you played—?” “Yes.” “Me too. Oh. That’s why.”
Covert Affairs is going to premiere with White Collar and you touched upon this a little bit before, but what has it been like being a part of the USA Network?
“I want to see Sandy Cohen from The O.C. be Arthur Campbell for a little while longer too. That would be good.”
It’s pretty cool. It’s like being part of the future a bit because things just make sense, you know? You can feel it instantly.
It’s kind of like it’s just the experience, as I say, the people at the top of an organization pretty well define the organization, I think, which is why I wanted to be in business with Doug Liman and Dave Bartis—
Because I admire them and I respect them and I trust them and there’s nothing more fun than working with people that you feel that way about. That’s when good work happens too. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Some people think it’s all about control and say this and do that. That’s baloney. It’s a lot about the things that happen that are surprising to everybody.
Working with USA what I found surprising was, for instance, I put on a suit in the pilot. Within a couple of hours Bonnie Hammer, the Head of the network, had seen a picture of me in that suit on her iPhone and approved it.
Gallagher is proud to be on the innovative and fan-friendly USA Network.
Within a few hours. You know what? There’s not a really heavy, heavy bureaucracy there at USA. There are a couple of people that do the job that, in some places, 50 people do, so they’re people who are responsible and you get to know them. So things happen. I haven’t felt there’s been unproductive interference from them; that they’re sort of allowing us to do our jobs. Obviously, we’re not screwing it up too badly, at least in their eyes.
Listen, the best thing in the world is when things happen in a good way and things are really happening in a good way and I have to credit USA for creating that environment. I have to credit Doug and Dave for creating that environment and for USA allowing them to create that environment. So it’s pretty cool. Whatever they’re doing it’s right and there are only 13 episodes, so chances are the writing will stay good.
You talked a little bit about the back story you’ve created for Arthur Campbell. You also talked a lot about a lot of your family being in the military. Did any of that back story come from people you know or any stories you’ve heard?
Just a few things I had read about. I mean, really, basically what I enjoyed, what interests me about a possible Arthur Campbell – as I say, I’m not writing it, so I’m just kind of making this up – but what appeals to me is the notion that he has experience on the ground in the military and as a CIA asset. So when he is in a political position as director of that agency and forced to be either questioned or reprimanded or used in some political fashion by a bureaucrat, by a politician, who has no experience in the military or has no real experience in any of the things that they’re talking about there just should be an interesting conflict. Interesting as this man, Arthur, has a great sense of duty and can’t respond as he might feel like responding. He’s being questioned by a Senator that is trying to score political points and doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, to balance that responsibility.
Am I making any sense? Do you know what I mean?
In other words, the notion of being authentic as opposed to using one’s position for one’s grand …. I like that conflict. I like to be that guy who’s actually been there and is forced to kind of deal with the challenges of the job.
From watching the pilot it really seems like it seemed very natural and there was just great chemistry with the cast. Could you talk a little bit about shooting with that cast?
Yes. Well, you know what? I think that’s so huge. I think that has as much to do with a show being successful as anything because you know what? What you see on the screen, that’s what it’s like. That’s what it’s like on the set.
I’ll be honest with you. In fact, here you go; I guess you can say that because you guys are bloggers, but the first question I asked Dave Bartis when he said, “Hey, Pete, I’ve got this script, Covert Affairs. There might be a little part in here that maybe you’d want to do and blah, blah, blah.” The first thing I asked him, I said, “What’s the a**hole quotient?” He said, “I’ve got to be honest with you. At this point, zero.” I said, “All right. I’m in.” That pretty much is true.
As I say, it’s defined by Doug Liman and Dave Bartis in that they have no interest in working with people that want to suck up all of the attention in the room. They’re interested in telling a story well. So they invited all of these people to help tell this story that feel that same way. As a result, you’ve got all of these people in the cast, Chris and Piper and Anne and Sendhil. Sendhil went to Tufts, by the way, so we’re both Jumbos.
These casts are really bright and really funny and really generous. In my experience the best artists I’ve ever worked with are the best people and the easiest to work with because they know well enough to know that whatever anxiety or fear they’re having nobody else should have to pay for. If you had a shitty high school experience, get over it. That’s what it’s like on the set. I have nothing but respect for Piper and everybody, Chris. As I say, Chris got me into Tweeting. It’s a great set to be on. A great crew too.
What other television shows have you been into lately? What have you been watching?
I don’t really get into television much, but I’m absolutely hooked on Modern Family. I’m looking forward to seeing the season of Rescue Me. My pal, Dennis, this is his last couple of seasons.
My question is I have a nephew, who wants to be an actor, like so many people do and so my question, since you’ve been in the business for such a long time and are so knowledgeable, what kind of advice would you give somebody who wants to get into acting?
If there is any, any, any, any way you can think of doing something else, do it. If you can’t, just try to do it as much as you can and keep showing up. Remember that nobody knows anything and there is nobody at the top. Nobody has figured it out, so you have just as much of a chance— you have as much right to try as anybody.
What I will also say is the acting game has totally changed in the last couple of years and I think it’s going to be harder and harder for actors to make a living at it.
“The first thing I asked him, I said, ‘What’s the a**hole quotient?’ He said, ‘I’ve got to be honest with you. At this point, zero.’ I said, ‘All right. I’m in.’”
I think what you really want to do in order to survive is also to have an eye on somehow creating some content, because I think everything is going to be different. But at the end of the day, put yourself on your death bed and if you think that your life would be absolutely tarnished and poorer if you didn’t follow your dreams then you better follow your dreams; otherwise it will lead you somewhere worthwhile, even if it’s not to where you think you want to go.
I’m going to ask you to elaborate just a little bit. You’re not the first actor, who has said to me that, “Do anything else.” So why is that?
Because as much people who, even you guys that really know more than anybody about TV and that really observe things, you can’t fathom how mind bending and heartbreaking it can be, because things happen that make absolutely no sense. It’s tough. My parents, the first Broadway show my parents saw I was in. They didn’t know. Nobody did. It was ridiculous, so I was making it up. It’s good if you have learned stuff about it before you go in and maybe you have a better chance, but it’s just hard. A lot of things are and if you do manage to pull it off in some way, shape or form you’re one of the lucky, lucky few. I consider myself one of the lucky, lucky few.
My question is because of The O.C. I think you probably have the following of younger fans. I want to know if you kind of have a sense of that or what your relationship is with your fans. Do you get out and talk to them? Do you, now that you’re on Twitter, get to kind of interact with them at all?
I always do. I love the fans. I mean I’d be out of business without them. Look, I’m still crazy enough to think that storytelling is really important. Really, it’s as important now as it’s ever been. There’s nothing more powerful than a story, in my eyes, well told other than contributing to that story being told well. So when a story works it sort of creates a little sense of community.
Chris Gorham got me into the whole Twitter thing, which, as I said, it would
paralyze me. I thought, “Why would you ever want to tell anybody what you’re doing? What is that about? Nobody wants to know what I’m doing. It’s not even interesting.” But then I kind of understood it. I mean it’s a real paradigm shift, because I hide. I like hide behind my characters. I don’t want anybody. It’s embarrassing. I love to talk, but not about myself, believe it or not. So I’m really digging this. Just in the last couple of weeks he got me into this and I’ve been talking to people from all over the world.
It’s true. When you’re lucky enough to play characters that inspire people or help people— I’ve gotten lots of notes from people about Sandy Cohen and fathering and sad stories and things. I’m moved by that. I talked to a guy that became an actor. Yesterday I saw a movie this guy was starring in. He became an actor, an English actor, because of a performance he saw that I was in of Long Day’s Journey Into Night in London 25 years ago. So I love that.
If people were coming up to me on the street and throwing bottles at me and saying, “You suck,” that would be different, but that hasn’t been my experience. I can look forward to that.
Yes. I mean playing someone like Sandy, who was such a good father and such a good husband, now to be in this character and like the tiny bit that we saw of him in the pilot, sort of, he’s being accused of cheating. What is that like for you to play that now?
Well, I don’t really know what that is yet, you know? Because the character is still being developed. I suspect that this character has more in common with Sandy Cohen than at first meets the eye. Maybe not as liberal, but in terms of a belief in the tenants of democracy and a free society and what it takes to keep it that way, a different approach. But I think they both are sort of driven by ideals and some of those ideals coincide and others diverge.
But meanwhile, listen; I don’t know what’s going to happen. It could turn out I could end up strolling into Arby’s with an assault rifle in episode 11 and wiping out the kitchen staff. I don’t know what’s going to happen.
The Covert Affairs premiere is on July 13th, 2010 at 10/9 C on USA Network
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