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Chris Gorham Talks Directing, Acting and What’s Next on Covert Affairs [INTERVIEW] 

Photo Credit: Steve Wilkie/USA Network
Photo Credit: Steve Wilkie/USA Network

[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]

Fan favorite Chris Gorham has breathed life into Auggie Anderson for five seasons on Covert Affairs, and he’s stepped behind the camera as director twice. Tonight marks his third episode, and we had the chance to chat with him last week on a press call about the craft of directing, how he approaches those episodes, and where Auggie is heading for the final five episodes of the season.

Gorham is proud of his work on “Starlings of the Slipstream,” which was swapped in as his episode when the original one planned for him, “Trigger Cut,” which aired last week, coincided with his family’s summer vacation. “I think this may be the best one I’ve done so far…visually and structurally I think it plays really well and has a really nice pace,” he says. “I think this one will be my favorite…’Sights Unseen’ was…the first directing job that they gave me on Covert that one has a special place in my heart.”

He says that getting to direct, and put your arms around the entire story, and not just Auggie’s, is part of the thrill for him. “[The] joy of directing is that you get to… influence the storytelling of the entire episode….not just your individual character and your individual scenes. You really get to be the guide for the audience in this experience. And that’s a real privilege and very rewarding,” he says.

He adds that in episodes like this one where he’s also front and center onscreen throughout, the separation of roles is a little more challenging. “It’s more time-consuming for me to direct scenes that I’m in because after every take I have to…go back and watch playback just to make sure that we’re…getting all of the moments that I want to get,” he explains. “I can get fairly specific with shots that I want to help tell the story the way I want to tell it. [I also want to] make sure that my performance is where I want it to be and that my physicality is where I want it to be. I don’t have to worry so much about my co-stars, you know, they’re pretty great and they know what they’re doing. But…technical things like [does] Auggie look blind in this scene. [Those are things] that I can’t tell from being in the scene. I have to go back and check because sometimes with a camera angle it can play tricks on it.”

Wearing the director hat also comes into play when Gorham reads through the script for the episode, because he’s looking beyond just what Auggie is going to do. He’s also thinking about the visuals. “Does it feel like it needs to be big and open or does it feel…confined and I want the audience to feel confined and claustrophobic?” he points out. “Do I want to isolate people by using long lenses or do I want to open up the world…by keeping things wide. [All] of those visual ideas will play through my head and I’ll make notes as I read through. And then start refining them.”

Gorham had the run-and-gun guerilla filmmaking experiencing on his directorial debut, but he shot this episode in their home base of Toronto (standing in for DC). He’s enjoyed both. “I don’t really have a preference. [The] way that I direct you can do either thing. I tend to plan things out fairly specifically as far as shot selection…even when we’re shooting internationally. [It] really is more of a production question,” he says. “[As] an actor…when you’re in the studio or when we’re shooting in Toronto it’s certainly more comfortable because we have our trailers and we have Craft Services there and we have…all of the creature comforts that we don’t have when we’re shooting internationally. But what you gain shooting internationally is something that you can’t replace. So it’s worth it. So they both have their merits.”

Gorham is no stranger to episodic TV, however Covert Affairs is his longest gig to date. “I’ve never played a character this long. [One] of the unexpectedly rewarding things about it is that we’ve been able to continue to find new facets to his personality and to his life. And it’s fun to keep digging. You know, we have an episode coming up where we get an Auggie flashback where we reveal more about his back story,” he says. “And being able to dig that deep; which you only get by…doing 5 – 6 years of a series, is a real privilege.”

Photo Credit: Christos Kalohoridis/USA Network
Photo Credit: Christos Kalohoridis/USA Network

He points to Annie and Auggie’s arc as his favorite so far of the series’ run. “I think the obvious one is the Annie/Auggie relationship…That’s the heart of the show, right? It’s …been the most consistent. I think it’s the emotional arc that gets the most attention….I feel like [it’s] a fairly realistic portrayal of a relationship between a man and a woman in a workplace. So that would be my favorite,” he says.

“I think he’s found someone in Annie who…is the first person since the guys he served with in the military with whom he’s felt a real kinship [and] he’s felt like he’s found a true peer and a true friend; someone who can really understand what he’s going through…I think their relationship started out very much…a mentor/student relationship,” he explains. “I think part of the reason why their relationship has been so strained lately [is] that transition from student to peer [along with their past romantic feelings] is always a tricky one and can be tough on both people. Auggie’s just been losing a lot of friends and that’s really hard because I think…his friends, especially [his] military brothers are really his family. [I] think there’s a reason why we’ve never met his extended family [because] his brothers in arms are his family.

Another highlight for Gorham was [SPOILER ALERT] getting to shoot the first meeting between Auggie and McQuaid. “[That] was fun. I was really happy that I got to be the director for when Auggie and McQuaid meet. I had a lot of fun teasing Nic [Bishop] about how I was just not going to shoot his coverage,” he laughs. “[It] was nice to see those guys interact because it’s a complicated relationship. You have the two men who at this point in our story care the most about Annie in the world…these are her two rocks…her ex-lover and her love right now and they’re trying to navigate it and they’re trying to be gown-ups. And, you know, they’re trying not to be competitive. But…some of that bleeds through and you just can’t help it. So it’s complicated; which makes it really fun to watch and fun to direct.”

Looking ahead the rest of the season, Gorham says Auggie is going to struggle. “[It’s] tough. He’s got a hard road. [He] just…lost a close old friend again. And that takes its toll mentally,” he says. “And he has a high physical price to pay as well in these remaining episodes; which leaves him in a new place [by] the end of the season.

We don’t know yet whether Covert Affairs will be back next year, but Gorham is hopeful. “I think where we end up at the end of this season, I hope it’s not the end…we don’t end the season on a cliffhanger in the traditional sense. So, you know, it could be the end,” he shares. “But it’s not the end that I think the audience would be happy with. And, you know, it’s certainly not how we would want to wrap up these characters’ stories.”

We certainly hope they’re not done yet. Covert Affairs airs tonight at 10/9c on USA. Our preview of the episode is here.

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