The globe-trotting adventures of married caterers/spies Steven and Samantha Bloom (Boris Kodjoe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw) on NBC’s Wednesday-night espionage drama “Undercovers” may be largely done with green screen, but at least the actors get to travel around the greater Los Angeles area.
Not so with Gerald McRaney, who plays the Blooms’ boss, CIA liaison Carlton Shaw.
“My guy basically does everything out of his hotel room,” McRaney tells Zap2it over lunch at a West Los Angeles deli.
Asked if Shaw has a gun, McRaney says, “No, nothing. I’ve got a laptop. That’s as much as they’ll issue me.”
Does he have a spy camera, a phone in his shoe or vanishing ink?
“Nothing,” says McRaney. “I’m telling you, it’s awful.”
While Shaw doesn’t run and gun, McRaney says, “I tell them how they’re doing it wrong. I have shown a couple of people on the show how to properly use their sidearms. I’m also a reserve cop down in Louisiana. I’ve been handling guns my entire life.”
With mock exasperation, McRaney jokes about his co-stars’ “revolting” combination of good looks, talent and brains.
“Both of them, for openers,” he says, “are incredibly intelligent, which doesn’t hurt. In spite of some people’s opinions of actors in Hollywood, that’s actually a help. That’s what I’ve said about these two I’m working with, they’re everything.
“It used to be that you could either be pretty or smart. This business of being both … I don’t know.”
But that doesn’t mean McRaney doesn’t have a little wisdom to impart to his younger cohorts from his long career, which began in theater and has stretched through multiple TV stints, from guest shots in such series as “The Rockford Files,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Deadwood” (as brutal mining magnate George Hearst) to starring roles, including “Simon & Simon,” “Major Dad” and “Jericho.”
For example, in one scene, he saw Mbatha-Raw actually reading down through a document.
“Of course,” McRaney says, “the camera’s not seeing any of her eyes at that point. I said, ‘Do your eyes back and forth as though you’re reading it, but always read the top line over and over. Then, when the camera is looking in your eyes, it can see both of them. If you read down the page, the camera can’t see your eyes. All it’s seeing is your eyelids.'”
While moving your eyes back and forth may be good to simulate reading, it can be a killer when an actor does it during an on-camera exchange with another actor.
“They’re doing what we do in conversation,” says McRaney. “They look in one eye and then the other eye, and that’s fine for you and me in conversation. But when the camera’s holding here, and you’re there, and I’m going from one side of the frame to the other with my eyes, all I’m doing is looking at you like a normal person.
“But I’m not a normal person, I’m an actor. Pick an eye and stay with it. Pick the eye closest to the camera, and then the camera sees more of your eyes.”
Along with no gun, vanishing ink, etc., Shaw doesn’t have a boss that the audience has seen, at least not yet.
“I think they’ve actually cast a guy to do this,” McRaney says, “but
we’ve got this part now … my character was always answering to a
superior. There’s something else going on behind the scenes that the
audience wasn’t familiar with yet, and they’ve had Shaw answering to a
higher-up in the CIA, maybe even the director. We don’t know.”
Whatever the producers eventually decide, McRaney knows the actor he’d like to see in the part.
“I had the idea of making Delta [Burke, McRaney’s wife] the boss,” McRaney says. “She is at home, why not in this?”
Photo credit: NBC