What was the genesis of COVERT AFFAIRS?
Doug Liman: Like most things in Hollywood, everything just sort of came together at the right moment. (1) My producing partners Dave Bartis and Gene Klein had been trying to develop a spy show for quite some time. (2) Doing a film called Fair Game really immersed us in the spy world and gave us access to a lot of current and former covert officers with the CIA that had no place in the movie — unless I wanted the movie to be 10 hours long — but gave us this huge treasure trove of cool factoids which was perfect to channel into a TV show. And (3) Finding the right writers, Matt [Corman] and Chris [Ord]. I have partners that I really trust, and if they say, “We think we should do a spy show with these guys,” I’m going to usually not going to challenge that. And in this case, once we started talking about the show, and the ideas, it just was a great collaboration.
Since making a name for yourself with Swingers you’ve carved out quite a niche in the spy melue with the Bourne films, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and soon-to-be-released Fair Game What do you find so fascinating about the genre?
I always loved spy books growing up. Be it Robert Ludlum or or Ken Follett there was always a great sense of adventure that came with being a spy. And then on a personal front, because my father ended up working in Washington and I got to sort of see the world up close and personal, I always thought, “Wow, oh my gosh, these people are actually real!” When I was doing research for Fair Game and I was meeting with somebody who ran Europe for the Director of Operations – so very high level spies — he said, “I hope you’re not going to make Valerie Plame into some kind of superhero, because, you know, all she did was X, Y, Z. And we’ve got a million people who do that.” And all I’m thinking is X, Y and Z is more exciting than anything I was ever anticipating Valerie Plame would have done. And for them, it’s just like a day at the office. But it’s a rarefied world that I just never cease to be fascinated by.
Can you talk a bit about the insights Valerie Plame provided about being a woman in the CIA that have made it into the show?
The thing I was most fascinated about discussing with Valerie Plame was that she is a very attractive woman and how was that used in the field, what was she told about how to use it, and what were the rules? We all grew up on James Bond and it’s like, okay, what’s the reality of that? Are you supposed to sleep with the people to get them to do your bidding and at the end of the mission do you disappear the way James Bond does? Because these people do this for a living, the question is, what’s the actual protocol?
I’ve never talked about this, and I don’t think I’m divulging state secret, but what I was told was that women were encouraged not to sleep with assets, and the men were. And not to be sexists, because these aren’t my rules, I’m just a messenger. The feeling in the CIA was that women would get emotionally attached to their assets if they slept with them, and it could possibly compromise the mission. And so what’s made it into COVERT AFFAIRS so far is the sort of logical honesty of this organization dealing with sexuality.
The other thing I was very fascinated by was how do you actually date? And Valerie told us that they were encouraged to date within the agency. And so that’s very much part of our show. And while it might seem to the outsider, like, well it’s just sort of convenient because you have all these young, beautiful people in the same office. But it actually happens to be the reality of working at the CIA. And that the divorce rate for people who marry outside the agency is very high.
What are the challenges of doing what essentially amount to a movie on a TV budget?
USA Network has really given us huge resources so I haven’t really found the limitations. That said, you should know usually I find limitations just you to just be more creative. I feel like the reason Swingers has the charm it has is because I was forced to work within a certain budget and I had to develop a certain style. And you know how the Bourne Identity sparked a whole new way of doing action movies. At the end of the day, it actually came from the fact that I just didn’t have enough money – a relatively low budget movie. And so all that shaky handheld camera work was just out of necessity, not necessarily a creative choice, which becomes style.
And finally, somewhat off topic, but we’re really curious — not being a fan ourselves — as to your take on the industry’s current infatuation with 3D?
I’m developing a movie based on the Attica Prison uprising [Fun Fact: Liman has a personal connection to the uprising because his father ran the investigation] and there’s the usual ton of discussion surrounding 3-D. I’ve been wearing 3-D glasses quite a bit in the last couple of weeks and I’ve been having meetings with studios where basically at this point, studio executives are wearing, like, bifocals where the lower part isn’t for reading. And literally, you know, there’s so much 3-D going on that’s it’s almost silly. It’s one thing to be in a movie theatre with popcorn, it’s another thing to be, like, in the middle of the day with a bunch of business executives putting on your 3-D glasses. Still can’t quite get used to that.
You can catch the series premiere of COVERT AFFAIRS on Tuesday July 13 at 10PM on USA