By Chaz Lipp  

As season three of the USA Network’s Covert Affairs approaches its conclusion, no one is more excited about the show’s success than Kari Matchett. Although the Canadian-born actress has many credits to her name, Affairs is the first series (in which she’s been a cast member since inception) to make it beyond a second season. USA recently announced a fourth season of the addictively exciting spy drama.

Matchett plays Joan Campbell, a high-ranking CIA official who supervises field operative Annie Walker (Piper Perabo). Joan must carefully balance her personal and professional life, as her husband Arthur (Peter Gallagher) also holds a prominent position at the agency as Director of the National Clandestine Service.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Kari Matchett about the challenges and joys of her role on Covert Affairs.
CINEMA LOWDOWN: What kind of impact has the on-going success of Covert Affairs had on your career so far?
KARI MATCHETT: I’d say the bigger impact it’s had has been on my life. It’s almost like having a regular job. It’s such a pleasure to have a steady gig, I can’t tell you. In terms of professionally, I actually feel like when I didn’t have a regular gig—in terms of going into a fourth season—I was a little more visible. The people who watch Covert Affairs are the people who watch Covert Affairs.
CL: Well, with the addition of people like me, who become new fans well into the show’s run.
KM: Yeah, I mean, you just tuned into season three and you’re certainly not alone. But I actually feel like I was little more visible when I was doing 24 and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and maybe doing some guest spots in movies and things like that. So I’m not sure professionally if it’s actually done my career a tremendous amount of good, but personally I feel it’s done me a lot of good. 

CL: Going back to the very beginning, what were your initial feelings about Covert Affairs’ long-term prospects?

KM: Oh God, I had no idea. To be honest with you, I signed up to do a pilot. And one never knows what a series will do. You talk to any actor when they sign up to do a series, it’s just a crapshoot. It truly is. It might go, it might not go. You might get killed off after the first season. You don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of the evolution of the writing. The pilot is a blueprint for possibilities and that’s it. So for me, I was signing up to do a pilot. I had never done a series that lasted for more than two seasons, so that wasn’t really in my wheelhouse of possibilities. So it’s come a long way now, it feels right, and we’re going into the fourth season. It’s a bit of a shocker, but this is the way it is right now.

CL: Did you do a lot of research in order to prepare yourself for portraying a CIA official?
KM: I did some reading. Valerie Plame was around for us to talk to so I got some firsthand information from her. And I just watched her as well. I think the fascinating thing about somebody who works in the CIA is they’re just a normal person. They’re a human and they’ve got human feelings. And there’s so much to overcome and convince yourself of, in my opinion, when you’re in the CIA.
CL: Convince yourself of, in terms of doing the job?
KM: I mean, there’s stuff that one would have to do—that [the show’s characters] Joan, Arthur, Annie, Auggie [Christopher Gorham] have to do—because they believe it’s true. And there’s no way in the world that I, as in Kari, would personally believe that was the right thing to do. So the challenge is wrapping my mind around somebody who just knows they’re doing the right thing, even if it feels like the opposite of what I would personally choose.
CL: Can you describe your working relationship with Piper Perabo? I can almost imagine you taking a method approach, and maintaining Joan’s authoritative attitude towards her even off camera.
KM: Noooo! No, no, God no! [laughs] Oh no, we get along really well. It’s a really easy, fun relationship. Just like buddies.
CL: Was it an honor for everyone involved in the show when Piper Perabo was nominated for a Golden Globe last year?
KM: Yeah, of course. Any level of recognition in that way is a good thing for the show. And then there’s a trickle-down effect that’s a good thing for everyone in the show. Those things always help put shows on the map and help with longevity, as well as network support. It was an overall good thing for everyone, for sure.
Matchett with co-stars Christopher Gorham and Piper Perabo

CL: Tell me a little about your training in Krav Maga and how it has helped with your portrayal of Joan.

KM: Yeah, it’s considered a martial art. It was created in Israel by Imi Lichtenfeld. It’s basically like hardcore street fighting. I coincidentally got involved with it just as we were starting to shoot the first season of Covert Affairs and it’s really been perfect. I started working out with a friend of mine who was into it. We started with boxing and that extended into doing Krav Maga. And you do lots of striking and kicking and you just learn how to take down your foe. And I found it was the perfect thing to have in my back pocket for Joan. You have this exterior of being a woman, a feminine woman, which is one of the things I really love about playing Joan. She is a feminine woman, but she is really strong and you don’t want to mess with her. It’s really fun. I’ve gotten to do a few fight scenes in the second and third seasons and it has helped tremendously with that, having that vocabulary in that world.
CL: Is it too soon at this point to know anything of what’s in store for season four?
KM: Well, at the end of the final episode of season three, there’s something that sets up season four in a very interesting way. I’m not sure how it’s all going to shake down, but it’s certainly set up to be an interesting season. I think that the writers are maybe having a few weeks off and will be getting together soon to start planning season four. I’m not sure of the intricacies, because they’re not sure of the intricacies yet. One never is until you get into it. But it’s already set up to be something really, really interesting.
Be sure to read part two of our interview with Kari Matchett, in which she discusses what she has learned from working with Covert Affairsco-star Peter Gallagher. We also delve into some of her previous roles, with Kari reminiscing about 24 and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
Covert Affairs airs Tuesday nights on the USA Network, check the official website for more information.

Chaz Lipp

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