'Covert Affairs': Inside the CIA's Canadian headquarters

covert-affairs-set-chris-gorham.jpgWe're standing in a hallway adjacent to the Oval Office. Except we're not in the White House. Or the United States, for that matter.

More on that in a minute. It's better to start at the beginning in telling you about a visit Zap2it paid to the set of USA's new show "Covert Affairs" in mid-June.

The beginning is in a huge -- like, drive-a-tank-through-it huge -- former Canadian military facility in Toronto that houses most of the show's standing sets, from the CIA bullpen where we hung with star Christopher Gorham (yours truly is next to Gorham in the photo above) to the apartment where new agent Annie Walker ( Piper Perabo) lives across the patio from her sister's ( Anne Dudek) house.

Annie's bedroom and sister Danielle's kitchen (pictured below) are warm and homey -- at least half of the dozen or so reporters on the set made comments like, "I could live here" -- and stand pretty much directly opposite to the cool, mostly unadorned CIA offices where Annie works.

"Danielle is this very motherly figure," Dudek (familiar to many from her un-motherly role of Amber -- akak "Cutthroat Bitch" on "House") says, a point driven home by all the pictures of the kids and toys strewn around the kitchen and the porch. "She has a motherly kind of thing that does anchor Annie into real life and the real world. ... There's like a maternal-sisterly sort of blur."

covert-affairs-annies-room.jpg   covert-affairs-kitchen.jpg

The difference in set design is pretty much the show in a nutshell: "Covert Affairs" is nearly as interested in Annie's life outside the agency as inside it -- or, more accurately, how the two worlds intersect ( "where the rubber touches the ground," as executive producer Doug Liman puts it).

So while the CIA offices where Annie works are all sharp angles and fluorescent lights, the attention to detail is impressive. Taking us through the set, exec producer Gene Klein notes that just as with the real agency, you won't find any trash cans. Instead, there's a heavy-duty shredder along one wall and "burn bags" -- literally, bags for collecting documents to be burned at the end of the day -- here and there.

Adjacent to the open area where Annie works is the office of Gorham's character, Auggie Anderson, works. Auggie is blind, and his office is outfitted with a Braille keyboard for his computer and stacks of sophisticated audio equipment (he also has a very cool, not-quite-true-to-life laser-pointer cane). The offices where higher-ups Kari Matchett and Peter Gallagher work are bigger and a little bit more welcoming, but they're still not places you'd really want to linger.

Of course, a show about the CIA isn't going to have its lead character just sit at a desk. "Covert Affairs" is doing a fair amount of location shooting, using the Toronto area to double for Washington and, with the help of green screens, locations around the world (Liman notes that the shores of Lake Ontario even served as a Sri Lankan beach for the pilot). 

Which brings us back to the White House, where Perabo meets us for an interview. There's a large standing set in Toronto that has served as 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in numerous productions (including the History Channel's upcoming Kennedys miniseries). On the day we visited, "Covert Affairs" was using the corridors outside the Oval Office as congressional offices for an episode where Annie goes after a shady senator (guest star D.W. Moffett). 

Perabo greets us in costume -- her everyday CIA attire -- and a pair of sneakers. But before she poses with us for a group photo, she insists on donning a pair of Christian Louboutin heels that figure into the plot of Tuesday's premiere and in future episodes as well: "I did a scene, I think it's in [episode five], where I rappel down an elevator shaft with this really hot guy, [and I'm] in the Louboutins. And I was like, 'This is my favorite job ever.'"

Alas, her feet are cut off in the photo below. But we're guessing at least part of her smile is about the shoes.

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"Covert Affairs" premieres at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday (July 13) on USA.

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Photo credits: USA Network

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