Director-producer Doug Liman got involved in USA’s new series “Covert Affairs” about the same time as he was developing “Fair Game,” a movie about real-life CIA officer Valerie Plame. The two projects ended up helping each other.
“Covert” creators Matt Corman and Chris Ord had already made friends at the CIA, and things they learned from their time inside the agency — from how agents interact to the fact that CIA offices don’t have trash cans, only shredders and “burn bags” — come through on screen. Meanwhile, the time Liman — who’s directed the spy films “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” — spent with Plame during “Fair Game” fed the development of “Covert Affairs,” so much so that Plame is credited as a consultant on the show, which premieres Tuesday (July 13).
“Most of the material that we were learning about had no place in the movie, unless I wanted the movie to be 10 hours long,” Liman says. “And so we had this huge treasure trove of just sort of cool factoids. And, you know, that stuff is — it was just like the perfect timing to be developing a TV show in the same arena at the same time.”
“Covert Affairs” stars Piper Perabo (“Coyote Ugly”; pictured above with Liman) as Annie Walker, a CIA trainee who’s called into active duty — ostensibly for her language skills, but also because her new bosses (Kari Matchett and Peter Gallagher) are interested in her past. It also stars Christopher Gorham (“Ugly Betty,” “Harper’s Island”) as a CIA veteran who takes Annie under his wing and Anne Dudek (“House”) as her older sister, who doesn’t know what Annie really does. Sendhil Ramamurthy (“Heroes”) joins the cast later in the season.
Liman says that even more than the missions Annie works and the cool action and stunt pieces in the series — and both are prevalent — he and Corman and Ord were interested in how spies deal with the more everyday aspects of their lives.
“What’s honest about this show is that when she’s in the office, she has to go and get the coffee, because she’s the lowest level employee,” he says. “And there’s an honesty to being in your 20s and in your first job — just because it’s the CIA, it’s still a business. And it’s still a bureaucracy. And there’s still all of the stuff that the rest of us have.”
Plame also helped Liman and the writers with that aspect of the series. “The other thing I was very fascinated by was, how do you actually date? And Valerie told us that they were encouraged to date within the agency,” Liman says. “So that’s very much part of our show. It might seem to the outsider, like, well it’s just sort of convenient because you have all these young, beautiful people in the same office. … But it actually happens to be the reality of working at the CIA.”
If that sounds a little (or a lot) like “Alias” to you, you’re not wrong. But “Covert Affairs” doesn’t have the weird mythological trappings of that show, and if anything it’s even more concerned with life away from the mission than “Alias” was.
“By far the most interesting aspect of the spy world that I got exposed to during all the research for ‘Fair Game’ is what happens when spies go home, and where spies intersect our world,” Liman says. “I like to think of it sort of where like the rubber touches the ground … that moment where those two worlds touch. And ‘Covert’ very much exists in that world.”
“Covert Affairs” premieres at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday on USA. A preview is below, and keep coming to Zap2it between now and the premiere for much more on the series.