Interview Date: 07/29/2010
Run Date: 08/18/2010
Everyone knows by now that the USA Network is a place where characters are welcome, and in the case of their newest series, “Covert Affairs,” it’s clear that character actors are greeted with open arms as well. You’ll get dizzy trying to play the “They Used To Be On…” game with the cast, which features alumni of “24” and “Invasion” (Kari Matchett), “Harper’s Island” and “Ugly Betty” (Christopher Gorham), and even “The O.C.” (Peter Gallagher).
But that’s not all!
During the TCA tour, I had a chance to chat with a few other folks from the show’s ensemble: Sendhil Ramamurthy, best known for playing Mohinder on NBC’s “Heroes,” and Anne Dudek, whose highest-profile role to date was arguably that of Dr. Amber Volakis (deceased) on Fox’s “House.” Both actors filled me in on how they came to “Covert Affairs,” how they’re enjoying the experience thus far, and how they look back on the roles they’re best remembered for…well, at the moment, anyway.
Bullz-Eye: Let me first start by saying that I’m a “Slammin’ Salmon” fan.
Sendhil Ramamurthy: (Clearly surprised, but pleasantly so) Oh, really?
BE: (Laughs) Yeah, man!
SR: I’ll let Jay (Chandrasekhar) know! You know, I’m trying to get him up to direct “Covert Affairs.”
BE: Really? That’d be awesome! Well, I’ll jump back to “Covert Affairs” in a second, but since I’ve already brought up “Slammin’ Salmon,” let’s go ahead and talk about that really quickly.
SR: Sure! Yeah, I shot it during the Writer’s Strike in one day. I came in, did my thing and had a blast, and I was out.
BE: When I talked to Kevin (Heffernan), he said that he’d gone into Jay after “Heroes” premiered and said, “Hey, man, there’s a hot new Indian on the scene. You’re out!” And Jay said, ‘Oh, you mean Sendhil? Dude, you know Sendil! Remember my cousin who stayed with us when we shared an apartment in New York? That was Sendhil!”
SR: Yeah, I was a sophomore in college, and I slept on their couch for two months. Good times. (Laughs)
BE: So how much comedy had you done before “Slammin’ Salmon”?
SR: Very little. That’s why I jumped at the chance. I did that, and I did an episode of “Psych.” Which Jay directed. (Laughs) He asked me to do it. And that’s it for comedy for me, but I want to do more. I actually just had an audition today for an ensemble comedy, so we’ll see. Fingers crossed. I’d love to do more comedy. I really would. It’s something that I haven’t had a lot of experience with, so I don’t know if I’m any good at it… (Laughs) …but I’d love to try it. “Slammin’ Salmon” was certainly fun!
BE: So tell me about the timeline between when you found out that “Heroes” wasn’t coming back and when you picked up the “Covert Affairs” gig.
SR: Total overlap, actually. We all knew that there was a chance that “Heroes” wouldn’t come back, and then the “Covert Affairs” guys called me up and said, “We shot the pilot, but we’re kind of going to bring in another character. We don’t think the character from the pilot is working, so we’re bringing a new one in the second episode, and we’d love to consider you. How would you feel about it?” And I said, “Yeah, I’d be up for it!” Because I’d read the script, I knew that Doug Liman was behind it…I mean, it’s a no-brainer! And they’re, like, “Okay, well, it’s a USA Network show. Even though you’re under contract to NBC still, if you were to be into that, we would work it out.” So I found out that “Heroes” was canceled while I was shooting the third episode of “Covert Affairs.” (Laughs) And as an actor, that’s kind of the dream, you know? That doesn’t really happen. So I got really, really fortunate, and very lucky.
BE: How developed was the character of Jai Wilcox when you first signed on?
SR: He was a total sketch. They kind of built him around me, which was cool, because usually you have to go and slot yourself in. But they brought me in, and then they kind of tailored the character to me, which was great. They’d actually already written the first four episodes before I was cast, so for those they did have to just kind of slot me in wherever they could find things for me. But that fifth episode…? That’s kind of my episode, where you learn everything about the character, his background, what makes him tick, why he’s doing what he’s doing. You also learn the big arc that the character will go through. So I’m excited.
BE: You’ve obviously proven that you’re comfortable working in sci-fi drama. How is it working in the real world, so to speak?
SR: You know, it’s kind of cool. (Laughs) I like it. But I like both, so if I can keep my feet in the genre department and do this and do some comedy, I’ll be a happy man. It’s all about doing different things and new things, and I’ve been fortunate enough in my career so far to really get the chance to do the entire gamut of things so far. I feel very fortunate. I just don’t want to blow it. (Laughs)
BE: So looking back on “Heroes,” were you happy with the overall experience of working on that show?
SR: Oh, how could I not be? I mean, listen, it launched all of us in a huge, huge way, and it was one of those things where…well, you know, people can talk about how, ‘Oh, well, this happened to the show, and then the show started doing this, that, and the other,’ but the fact is that I take away nothing but great memories from the show. So to me, that means it was an amazing experience. I’m just grateful for the opportunity that it afforded me. It gave me the chance to be on “Covert Affairs”! I would never have been on “Covert Affairs” if it hadn’t been for “Heroes.” So I’m thankful, I’m grateful, I’m still in touch with all my cast members. I was texting with four of them, like, 20 minutes ago.
BE: Yeah, but be honest: Greg Grunberg was just trying to sell you on his iPhone app, wasn’t he?
SR: Grunny was trying to get me to be on Yowza, yes. (Laughs) But, you know, we’re all doing our thing, and we’re all happy. Everyone’s really grateful for what happened on that show. And I do hope…against all hope, really, to be honest…that there is a way to tie up the story, because that was a season finale, not a series finale. I hope that that’s possible, but, realistically, I know it’s going to be tough to wrangle everybody. But we’ll see.
BE: Do you have a favorite and least-favorite Mohinder storyline?
SR: I think the whole Mohinder-turning-into-the-fly...the thing that I hated the most about that was that, like, I would have 3 AM call times to get all that prosthetic stuff put on. I hated that! (Laughs) But the actual stunt stuff that I got to do, that was pretty cool! And I think my all-time favorite storyline was in the first season , when Sylar and Mohinder go on that little road trip. (Laughs) That psychotic, messed-up road trip. That was a blast, working with Zach. That’s where we became really tight friends, during that whole first season, and that was a huge plus of that storyline. It was fulfilling as an actor, of course, but having that friendship with Zach was really great as well.
BE: And to bring it back to “Covert Affairs” to wrap up, can you kind of give a nutshell synopsis of your character for those who haven’t caught the show yet?
SR: Sure! I play a character named Jai Wilcox, and…he’s kind of CIA royalty. His father was actually the head of the CIA, and his father was, uh, not always the most liked person. (Laughs) And that image has kind of been pushed onto Jai, rightfully or wrongfully, and it’s one of those things where he’s kind of got daddy issues, and he’s trying to escape from his father’s shadow. Hmmm, where have seen that before? It seems vaguely familiar. (Laughs) So I’m treading over that right now, we’re working through it, and…Greg Itzen is playing my dad, and he’s just phenomenal. I’ve had a blast working with him, and I’m getting to do stuff that I’ve never done before. It’s USA, so it’s about the characters and really character-based, and I’m really enjoying that aspect of it, but I’m enjoying the action portion of it, too, because Doug Liman is a master of that stuff. He literally hops on his plane, flies up once a week, goes through the action sequences with us, then he hops back on his plane and flies back to New York. But thanks to that, we’ve got these amazing feature-film-quality action sequences. I did this whole car chase scene where they brought in a Cirque du Soleil performer to train me to do this. Who gets to do that on TV?
BE: Precious few, I’d guess.
SR: Very few people. In movies? Absolutely. But on TV? Almost never. And I’m really happy that they’re really pushing the boat out on that. It’s cool.
BE: Have you got any other irons in the fire? I know you said you auditioned for the ensemble comedy.
SR: I’m auditioning. I’ve got a movie coming out in September called “Shor.” It’s an independent film that I shot, actually, in the slums of Mumbai, which was an experience. I shot it for five and a half weeks, in January and February, and I’m really looking forward to that. It’s kind of a gritty crime drama. And beyond that…? We’ll see what happens!
Bullz-Eye: I’ll go with the most obvious question first: how did you find your way onto “Covert Affairs”?
Anne Dudek: Well, it was a time when I’d just had a baby, I’d left “House”…and then this script showed up! And it was really wonderful because…I don’t know, I just really like USA’s shows because they advertise this whole “Characters Welcome” idea. The shows are really about real people, and they’re invested in writing good characters for the actors. So this script came about, and I thought it was really exciting and fun. So I auditioned…and then I didn’t hear from them for, like, a month, and I thought, “Oh, well, it went away.” But then they called and said, “Oh, no, they really liked you, and we’re going to do a network test.” And I got the part!
BE: Excellent. Had you actively had an interest in doing an action show before this?
AD: Well, for me, I’d never thought of myself as an action person. And I’m not really involved in the action on the show, anyway, but…normally, the female action heroes are, like, super-sexy and are known for all of their graduate roles. Me, I’m known for playing the crazy person on all of these weird TV shows. (Laughs) So it didn’t really seem like I was going to be involved in anything involving action, least of all doing the action. But here I am, I’m on a show that has incredible action sequences, and my character does have a few close calls and come close to that. We’ll see. I’m hoping that maybe in the second season my character can start doing some karate or something. (Laughs)
BE: So what was the “House” experience like? Did you expect to continue on the show after your character had died? (Laughs)
AD: Not at all! You know, after the first three episodes, I was, like, “Oh, God, they’re going to do something to me.” I mean, I was so hateful on that show. The whole premise was that there was this competition to find out who was actually going to be part of House’s team for real, and I went into it really thinking, “Oh, I have a real shot!” But then I’d get these scripts where my character was just over-the-top evil, and I was, like, “There’s no way they can have this person as part of House’s team!” So, yeah, I didn’t really expect that character to go on. I thought, “They’re going to write a really great fiery ending for her. She’s going to go down in flames, but at least it’s going to be fun.” But I think there weren’t a lot of characters like that on prime-time television shows. Whether you want to say she’s a strong woman or an evil character or whatever, Amber was pretty unique, and I felt really blessed to have had that role and to have played that character. And I think people really responded to her, so the writers thought, “How can we keep her as a small part of this world if she’s not going to be a part of the team?” And I just feel so blessed that I got to play a character like that. I mean, how fun! (Laughs)
BE: How was Hugh Laurie to work with?
BE: Had you been aware of him prior to “House”?
BE: A non-“House” question: what’s your favorite project you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
AD: Hmmm. Well, I’ve been blessed, because lately the things I’ve been involved with have been successes in terms of both critics and audiences. But, you know, I did this small movie that Brad Silberling directed called “Ten Items or Less,” with Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega, and…there was something about the technology at that point where they were releasing it on the internet. So it was this internet-released movie, and I don’t think it really had a huge box office release, so it didn’t have a really big life except as an experiment as an internet project. But I had read that script several years before it actually got made. I originally read that Paz Vega part with Brad Silberling, and it was supposed to be a project with Dustin Hoffman at that point, but then it went away. And then it came back, and he found me. I was actually shooting a pilot in Vancouver, and Brad Silberling called me and said, “I want you to be part of this movie again. I’ve cast Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega.” And it’s such a wonderful movie. It’s a very small film, but it’s very powerful and very sweet.
BE: I remember reading about it, but I never actually saw it.
AD: Yeah, like I said, I don’t think a lot of people saw it. It should’ve gotten more love. I really love Brad Silberling. He’s amazing to work with. So, yeah, that’s my project that got less love than it deserved!
BE: Okay, I realize this is an absolutely ridiculous question to close on, but I have to ask: are people ever surprised at how tall you are? (Writer’s note: I’m 5’11”, and I had to look up at Anne to make eye contact with her.)
AD: (Laughs) You know, it’s so funny, because you’re, like, the tenth person who’s brought it up today…and it’s really never been an issue before!
BE: Oh, it’s not an issue. I just didn’t expect it!
AD: Oh, I know, I didn’t mean a bad issue. I just mean that people are talking about it! Maybe it’s because I’m standing more today than usual or something…? (Laughs)
BE: I guess I just never noticed it on “House” because Hugh Laurie’s tall, too.
AD: He’s very tall, and Robert Sean Leonard is very tall. And, you know, nobody has a good idea of how tall actors are when they’re on television shows or in movies. I remember when I was a really young girl, I had a huge crush on Michael J. Fox, and then when I grew up and I got to be really tall and I realized that he was very short, I was, like, “Argh! Now it’s never going to happen!” (Laughs) So it’s hard to judge that kind of thing. If people are really that surprised…I mean, like I said, today’s really been the first time that people have talked about it. Also, I have to say that these platform heels are really en vogue right now, so…I’ll show you. I realize your tape recorder can’t capture this, but look at the size of these! (Lifts up the hem of her dress enough to show me her heels) So I’m excessively tall right now!
BE: How tall are you without them?
BE: Okay, so we’re actually pretty close to the same height.AD: Yep. Right now, I’m looking down on you, but I promise: if we were standing on the beach, we’d be eye to eye. (Laughs)