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Ohio University Alum Piper Perabo
Leads Spy Fantasy ‘Covert Affairs’

Ohio University is quickly becoming the new mecca for television secret agents.

With the debut of Covert Affairs, USA Network’s new weekly spy thriller, 1998 OU graduate Piper Perabo succeeds Richard Dean Anderson (the immortal MacGyver and OU attendee – he never completed his degree) as TV’s coolest spy with Midwest roots.

I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a teleconference with Perabo and fellow online journalists. Dumb luck would see her called to the set when it was my turn to ask a question (seriously, my name was called, I swallowed my gum and cleared my throat, and they cut the call short). So aspiring actors and actresses will have to wait until I can score an exclusive interview to find out what she did to break out of Athens and into Hollywood.

Here’s what I did grab from others' questions:
  • Perabo considers Covert Affairs more “real life” than recent hit Alias, starring Jennifer Garner. Affairs follows the every day life and super secret missions of rookie CIA agent Annie Walker. Much of the show’s drama lies in how Walker balances stops at the grocery store with stopping bad guys. “In other words, what you do at night when you get home after you’ve been chasing an assassin all day long,” Perabo says.
  • She conducted research at the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Va. “Funny story,” Perabo says. “I brought a notebook along, but when I got there, my guide told me I couldn’t bring the notebook into Langley. So I asked, ‘When I get inside, can I have paper and pen?’ My guide said, ‘Yes, but you can’t take your notes out of headquarters.’ And it’s these little things that make Covert Affairs more realistic than other shows. You can’t bring anything into headquarters. Annie can’t take a purse into headquarters. Nothing.”
  • Perabo’s fight training was designed specifically for her and her size – and to emulate the fast pace found in the Bourne films. Perabo is a bit petite. Petite fighters – those often smaller than their opponents – focus on a lot of close quarter, hand-to-hand fighting. Perabo’s fighting combines martial arts with Israeli army street fighting techniques. (It’s probably worth mentioning here that the show’s executive producer, Doug Liman, directed The Bourne Identity and the upcoming Fair Game, about ousted CIA agent Valerie Plame.)
  • Speaking of Valerie Plame, the former agent is a consultant on the series. She worked closely with Perabo to explain what an agent’s life is like outside the agency, including relationships with friends and family members, and how to keep your secret agent life a secret and the burden of doing so.
  • “This role is more like two roles,” Perabo says. “Being the family person who keeps part of their life a secret, even from their closest loved ones. And the action-oriented CIA agent.”
And, finally, no word on whether Perabo will star as Catwoman in Christopher Nolan’s next Batman movie. Perabo worked with Nolan on The Prestige. “But if he calls, I’d play whatever he wanted me to play.”

Covert Affairs airs on the USA Network Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST. You can catch the premiere episode this week (the week of July 12, 2009) Saturday at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 11 p.m., and Sunday at 10 a.m.
More about Covert Affairs:
  • Covert Affairs Official Site
  • L.A. Times review: Perabo “appealing”, show “fast-paced, fun and every bit as charming.”
  • New York Times review:Covert Affairs is fun and clever and Ms. Perabo has panache in the role. The show has a bad habit of blasting maudlin pop ballads to signal Annie’s moodier moments, but the action scenes — particularly a hotel room barrage of sniper fire in the pilot episode — are first rate.
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