Television was a relatively new world for Piper Perabo when she signed on to star in the USA Network series "Covert Affairs" back in 2010. Except for a few TV guest spots, most of the Dallas native's work had been in movies, ranging from the forgettable "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" to the unforgettable "Coyote Ugly."
Her inexperience in TV worked in her favor when she was cast as Annie Walker, a raw CIA recruit. Just like Walker depended heavily on veteran CIA agents Arthur Campbell and Auggie Anderson to learn the ropes, Perabo turned to the actors behind those roles — Peter Gallagher and Fresno's Christopher Gorham — for guidance.
"Both of them would whisper in my ear what was going to happen. Just like Annie, I was in way over my head. It works much faster than film. So I spent a lot of the first season just getting my footing," Perabo says during a break from filming.
She not only found her footing, but she became a marathon runner as the show has now reached its fifth season. After the fourth season, where Walker faked her death to go on a rogue mission to bring down a major threat, the new episodes will look at Walker trying to return to the life she had before.
It won't come easy.
"Annie thinks that she can reboot her life — that things with Auggie and her can go back and she can go back to a more familiar style of operating. The problem is she can't rewrap that Christmas present once it's open," Perabo says. "But I think that's one of the reasons this show has stayed this interesting. The writers have let Annie evolve each season.
"We went from a mission of the week in the first season to an agent with five years of experience who is always evolving. Now, Annie has a superhero quality that at times borders on fantasy because she's so good."
One of the big evolutions has been Walker's relationship with Gorham's character. From the first day, Walker and Anderson showed the kind of chemistry that let viewers know they would one day go beyond just being co-workers. When their relationship finally blossomed, major hurdles — like the return of Anderson's wife — got in the way.
Perabo enjoys working on the show because the cast is a supportive family where no big egos get in the way. She particularly enjoys working with Gorham because he's not only a talented actor and director, but he's "one of the nicest guys on the planet."
Nice guys and a family atmosphere is vital in a show like "Covert Affairs," especially when the show films in locations such as Sri Lanka, Istanbul, Paris, London, Berlin and Caracas. The location shoots often end up like guerrilla filming with a small crew, using only natural light and on a very tight budget.
One of Perabo's favorite scenes in the show's four-season run was shot in Santa Domingo — as a fill in for Cuba — where there was only minutes left of daylight to set up and shoot the scene. She says she feels like the expedience of shooting helped get across the pressure and emptiness of what was going on with her character.
With four seasons of the show behind her, Perabo's a TV veteran now. She laughs and says that it's weird now to work on a feature film because they seem to shoot so slowly.
"You go on a movie set and it takes two and a half hours to get the lights set. I can shoot three scenes of the show in that amount of time," Perabo says with a laugh.
She's taken the opportunity between seasons to work on movies, such as "Looper" and the upcoming "Endangered."
Perabo also keeps busy with the two restaurants she owns in New York. Her cooking skills — or lack of them — wasn't the reason Perabo got into the food business. Because apartments in New York are so small, big events like birthdays are celebrated in restaurants and this gives her two options for hosting large groups.
"Covert Affairs," 10 p.m. Tuesday, USA Network