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Shawn Doyle Talks Covert Affairs and Future Projects [Exclusive] 

Photo Credit: Ian Watson/USA Network
Photo Credit: Ian Watson/USA Network

Covert Affairs usually graces us with one big bad per season, and this year, Shawn Doyle inherited the mantle from Gregory Itzin, with Aleksandre Belenko succeeding Henry Wilcox as the thorn in Annie’s (and Auggie’s) side. Earlier this week, I chatted with Doyle, who’s back at work in Toronto (also the home base for Covert Affairs) on Syfy’s next epic–a 10-episode adaptation of The Expanse–about that project, joining Covert Affairs, and a couple of other favorite projects.

Doyle has had a steady career, vacillating easily between playing good guys, bad guys, and guys you weren’t quite sure about–on TV and in film. In recent years, he’s recurred on Vegas, Lost Girl, Fargo, and Rookie Blue. Before that, he was the lead in Endgame, a series I keep telling y’all to find on Hulu. (Seriously, go now. But come back!).

The Covert Affairs role came up very quickly, concurrent with another project Doyle was working on–a hush-hush role on a series that shoots is the States. “They gave me a general idea of the arc and two days later, I was on set.  I’ve been fortunate to be on a number of fantastic shows over the years. This being one of them,” he says. “[They are] an exceptionally tight-knit group of people. There is a lot of pride and care taken [in putting the show together]. They are really behind the show and work really hard to make it as good as it can be. They’re an incredibly warm, open, and inviting family. I’m the bad guy of the season and I’ve spent a lot of time with them as we traveled around. I feel like I’ve been invited into a family. It’s rare experience to have that sense of community on a set.”

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

Covert Affairs is also unique in the way it travels the world, drops into a country to shoot, and then picks back up–something I’ve called run-and-gun guerilla filmmaking in the past. Doyle enjoyed the speed that came with shooting that way. “It’s really exciting to do that kind of work. It’s fast…the pace is fast and you don’t get bogged down or stuck in your head about acting particular moments,” he explains. “It’s always fresh because it has to be. You just jump off the cliff and perform.”

“When you’re in actual environments, there are so many things informing you being present in the moment–real life is happening around you. Being in Istanbul is a lot different than shooting on a sound stage. There’s an authenticity that’s treasured when you go abroad. Everything is immediate. [Director] Stephen Kay makes a lot of decisions on the fly based on what’s happening and we just go with it.”

The torture scenes from “Transport is Arranged” were some of the most memorable for Doyle, partly because he flew back into town the night before shooting started. “My favorite moment was my scariest moment. I took the redeye back to Toronto. At one point, I had a scene that was ostensibly a monologue [about my motive] and I wasn’t as prepared as I usually am,” he explains. “It was a huge amount of dialogue. I knew it. There’s a difference between knowing and knowing it in your body. [Thankfully, I was] working with [Chris Gorham], he’s such a fantastic actor, and the set was so amazing, and the director [Emile Levisetti] was wonderful. I just had to, again, jump off the cliff, and hopefully find a way to be supported and catch myself and trust that it would happen. And it was exhilarating when it started to happen.”

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

He points out the interrogation took two days to film, and there were a lot of necessary mechanics that required them to stop and start throughout the shoot. “It’s interesting [to shoot a scene like that] because it requires a certain intensity. There’s a pitch we have to reach on every take. Between takes, we had to take Chris down and [reset the technical aspects],” he says. “The challenge was to reach the fever pitch [every time] it was needed.”

Doyle’s mixed it up over the years with comedy and drama and he says he wants to keep exploring different types of roles. “I love having the confidence now that I’m older [to move] between genres. Doing comedies is fun, and doing this kind of intense work is fun. I’m enjoying not taking myself so seriously–getting to play these crazy out there characters. Comedy is something I want to explore more,” he says. “In general…I just want to play human beings that are gray. They’re not good, they’re not bad. They have weaknesses the way we all do. They have strengths. They have a unique point of view on the world that makes them do things that are not the most savory, and do things that are noble.”

While he couldn’t share much about his role in The Expanse yet, he did say that it is a Games of Thrones-ish type of show. “It’s epic. It’s about the political interplay between all the different elements in the solar system. In the center of the story is a murder mystery. I play Aaron Wright, who is the Undersecretary of the Secretary of the UN, which is the governing body on Earth. I can’t really say what I am just yet [but I can say that] I’m in it and I look great in my blue suit,” he laughs “The cast is wonderful. Jared Harris just signed on. There are wonderful actors involved.”

Photo Credit: Showcase
Photo Credit: Showcase

Doyle spoke fondly when recalling Endgame, which ran one season on Showcase in Canada before turning up on Hulu, which at one point had committed to a second season before deciding not to proceed. “It was a very unique show that swung between whimsy, drama, and comedy. It had its own thing,” he says. “It would have benefited greatly from having a second season…and found its feet in a solid way. It could have been a wonderful show. I loved doing it for one season. I’ll always have that, anyway.”

In addition to his role on The Expanse, Doyle is also actively developing projects. That’s familiar ground for him–in 2009, he produced Grown-Up Movie Star (available on Amazon) in which he co-starred with Tatiana Maslany. “It’s a beautiful movie,” he says warmly. “I’m developing a number of things. At this point, I’m becoming as interested in the creation and development of projects as much as I am with the acting. I’m writing a thriller with Mark O’Brien (from the Canadian gem Republic of Doyle–which I also highly recommend–on which Doyle had a hilarious recurring role) that I hope to direct him in through a company in Newfoundland. I’m also developing other series with him and others.”

We look forward to seeing what he does next!

The Covert Affairs season finale airs Thursday at 10/9c on USA.

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