Ah, there’s nothing quite like coming home to relax after a hard day of work in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“I finished work early today,” Katherine Heigl says. “I can sit down and watch TV because my kids are at school and my husband is off working, so I finally have a quiet house.”
Kabul, in this case, is a film set in Santa Clarita, Calif., where Heigl is shooting flashback scenes for her new NBC political thriller State of Affairs (Mondays at 10pm ET/PT beginning Nov. 17) from executive producer/director Joe Carnahan (The Blacklist).
Heigl stars as Charleston “Charlie” Tucker, a top CIA analyst responsible for assembling the President’s Daily Briefing (PDB or “The Book”) informing the president of the day’s highest-priority national security hot spots. But she also has a tragic personal link to POTUS Constance Payton (played with power and pathos by Alfre Woodard): Charlie was engaged to Payton’s son and witnessed his violent death during a terrorist ambush in the Middle East. Foreign policy is a personal matter for Charlie and her commander in chief, and both struggle internally with their trauma. For Charlie, it’s trying to fill in the emptiness with drinking and casual sex.
“I think you need some connection with these people on a personal level to delve into their world and see them as real human beings and not just robots going about the business of analyzing,” Heigl says of Charlie and her cohorts. The realism of the characters and their cloak-and-dagger world is achieved in part due to contributions from real CIA veterans Henry Crumpton and Rodney Faraon, who shared their experiences and let Heigl into the “inner circle” of the intelligence community.
“You’re getting to work at 2 in the morning preparing the brief for the day, and you usually brief the president sometime in the morning,” Heigl says, “and then you’re done until 2 in the morning. So they would go to this bar in Maryland and just get hammered and blow off steam, which is slightly terrifying if you think about it!”
So the CIA briefs POTUS with a hangover? “These guys are serious CIA. They do not come into work hungover,” Heigl reassures us. “Charleston will, on occasion. For dramatic purposes, we have to have her be a little off the rails.”
State of Affairs is a bold venture for Heigl, who is royalty among rom-com movie stars but has not done a TV project since leaving Grey’s Anatomy in 2010. She has grown up personally and professionally in the past four years. “I took a couple of years off to just really be with my family,” she says. “And I needed that time. I needed to be a mom and be a wife and be a friend and really revel in that and remember what it is I feel so passionate about in this industry.”
In addition to starring, Heigl also shares State of Affairs’ executive producer credit. It’s her first TV series experience at this level, and she says it took about a week of filming before she found a nice balance between acting and all the behind-the-scenes duties. “I didn’t realize exactly what I was walking into. But I’ve loved it. It’s really been satisfying and exciting work for me,” she says.
“I’m having the time of my life. I love every bit of this. I feel immensely connected to the show. I feel immensely connected to my character. I feel immensely connected to the success of it or the failings of it. It’s so a part of me because I got to be so a part of it on these levels.”
Photos: 2014 NBCUniversal Media, LLC (top) Credit: Nino Munoz/NBC; (bottom) Credit: Michael Parmelee/NBC