By Chaz Lipp

As USA Network’s hit spy series Covert Affairs nears the end of its third season—with a fourth season due next year—I had the chance to talk to one of its stars, Kari Matchett. The first part of my interview can be seen here, focusing primarily on Matchett’s portrayal of Joan Campbell. A high-ranking CIA official, Joan is the tough-as-nails boss of Annie Walker, the field operative played by Piper Perabo.

Based on the many varied roles in her filmography, our discussion branched out into her past work. But first, I had one more question about her experiences on Covert Affairs.
CINEMA LOWDOWN: Peter Gallagher, of course, plays your husband, Arthur Campbell, on Covert Affairs. What’s it like working with him?
KARI MATCHETT: I thank God for Peter Gallagher. He’s a joy to work with. He’s one of the kindest people I know. He lights up the set. I know the crew are just completely in love with him, because he’s hilarious. It’s just who he is. He’s a natural born entertainer and a lovely person. He makes everybody feel good. He makes everybody laugh, including me. I just love working with him and I think he’s a wonderful person.
Peter Gallagher and Kari Matchett (Photo: USA Network)

CL: Is working with him a learning experience?

KM: Yeah, of course it is. I learn from everyone I work with. In the first series I did, which was in Canada, I worked with a wonderful actor named Gordon Pinsent. He actually said to me, “You never stop learning. And the moment you stop learning is the moment that your craft becomes stale.” I believe that. And Peter embodies that. He doesn’t walk on set as a person who “knows everything” because he’s been everywhere, done everything, and worked with the amazing people he’s worked with. He doesn’t walk onto the set with any sense of knowing more than anyone else. And that, to me, is a beautiful thing. I hope I can continue throughout my career with that same energy, because there’s always something to learn. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned. And Peter has said this many times, “Nobody really knows what they’re doing and there’s nobody at the top.”
CL: Stepping back few years, what was it like being part of the 24phenomenon when you played Lisa Miller on season six?
KM: It was very, very exciting. That was a dream come true. I honestly visualized that for two or three years before it happened.
CL: Oh really?
KM: Yes, because I loved that show. I think it’s one of the greatest shows ever created. I was thrilled to be part of it. It was really one of the best shows I’ve ever been on, in terms of kindness of the people, the way the writers were, and just the level in which everybody worked. It was really, truly a highlight.
Kari Matchett as Lisa Miller on 24 (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

CL: Did you just take a chance and audition for the role, or did the producers reach out to you?

KM: I’d done the television show Invasion, which put me on the radar. And then I got lucky with a whole bunch of offers, and one of the offers was 24. But I had also worked with [24producer] Jon Cassar in Canada. There were a lot of Canadians on that show. Kiefer Sutherland is Canadian. And Jon Cassar worked for years as a director in Canada and he gave me my first film job. So he knew who I was.
CL: On Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, you played lawyer Mary Tate. That show got stuck with the unfair tag of being “the other 30 Rock,” despite being significantly different shows. How was that experience?
KM: I shot that around the same time I was shooting 24, so I was going back and forth between the two sets. It was truly blissful. I loved working with Matthew Perry. And I loved working with [director] Thomas Schlamme. Speaking Aaron Sorkin’s words is blissful as an actor. He’s such a great writer. All the other actors were truly wonderful to work with. It was an incredible experience.
CL: Any thoughts on its failure to catch on?
KM: I think that it didn’t go, maybe because it was compared to 30 Rock. Which I agree was just an absurd comparison. They’re completely different shows. But I think it’s because it was a similar backdrop. Studio 60was the first show Aaron Sorkin did after The West Wing and it didn’t do as well as they hoped. It was also at that funny point in television in history when the ratings started to look different than they’d ever looked before because of the internet, DVRs, and TIVO. People didn’t know how to measure popularity properly.
CL: A lot of shows were basically killed when they really shouldn’t have been.
KM: And I think Studio 60 was one of them. A lot of people mourned the end of Studio 60. It was one of those unfortunate things. It didn’t do as well as The West Wing and, because of the ratings shift, they thought it wasn’t doing well when it was actually doing quite well.
(Photo: NBC)

CL: Your first episode on Studio 60 was directed by Laura Innes, right?

KM: Yeah!
CL: You were also on ER briefly as Dr. Skye Wexler, but that was after she was finished as Dr. Kerry Weaver. How was it getting to work with Laura Innes on Studio 60?
KM: She was great to work with. I like Laura very much. I’d work with her any day. She’s a real hero because she’s a woman who has transitioned from being an actor to being both a director and an actor. And I think that’s a wonderful transition as an actress, certainly not an easy one at all. She’s a powerhouse and I love that about her.
CL: What is your perception of the differences, or similarities, between the Canadian television industry and the U.S. television industry.
KM: Ultimately when it comes down to doing the work, the work is the same. There are so many tremendously talented actors in Canada that don’t necessarily make their way down here because they don’t want to live here. But the work is all the same. The difference is the confidence in the work and the confidence in the product. And Los Angeles is the center of this film world, and it knows it. It lives it, walks it, and breathes it. And there’s a confidence and a kind of an openness that comes with that confidence. In my experience, that breeds success and great work. And I feel like L.A. wants people to succeed and expand and fly. I feel like the Canadian industry still suffers from being slightly hampered by a sense of “not enough-ness,” because we’re always in the shadow of American television. So even though there are great Canadian television shows and great Canadian actors, writers, directors, and producers, ultimately the difference is: confidence versus just not having confidence.
CL: With extensive experience on both sides of the border, you have an interesting perspective.
KM: It’s nice to have both, to be honest with you. I’m really grateful to be from Canada, to have grown up in the industry in a slightly gentler world. And then, coming here at the point that I did, I feel I was lucky without knowing I was lucky. It’s nice to have both worlds.
CL: Taking Covert Affairs out of the equation, what do you feel is currently the best show on television today?
KM: I’m painfully obsessed with Game of Thrones. I’m almost at the end of the second season and I’m just completely obsessed—and mortified, because it’s so violent. [laughs] I’m having terrible dreams, but I can’t stop watching it. The myth, the lore, the dramatic nature of it is all so enticing. I mean, there’s a lot of fantasy to it, but it’s based in a medieval time and has that feel to it. There’s something that’s fascinating to all of us about that time, when people got killed and beheaded. It was just a wild point in everybody’s far off, distant, cellular memory. I get why it’s hooked people. I would love, love to be on Game of Thrones, it would be so much fun.
(Photo: USA Network)

CL: What else have you had time for lately, besides Covert Affairs?

KM: I did a movie called The Riverbank last year at this time. And afterwards I did another movie, with Aidan Quinn, it was a Canadian movie called The Horses of McBride. Then, while I was shooting Covert Affairs this season, I did a guest spot on a television show called Saving Hope. That was on NBC here, but it was a Canadian show and that was really fun. And now we wrapped [Covert Affairs season three], I’ve just had my first week off. I’m going to go to Europe for a little while. But I would love to do something if something came up that was really of interest to me.
We thank Kari Matchett for her time. Follow her on Twitter, @TheKariMatchett. Covert Affairsairs on USA Network Tuesday nights, for more information visit the official website.
Chaz Lipp

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