It’s a little more relaxing when you don’t have to kill anyone, Piper Perabo tells us. She’s talking about transitioning after playing CIA agent Annie Walker on Covert Affairs for five seasons, to her newest role as the ratings-driven news producer, Julia George, in ABC’s new glossy drama Notorious (beginning Thursday at 9/8c].
“When I did Covert Affairs, I played a rookie in the CIA,” Perabo adds. “What I like about Julia George, is that she’s the boss. It’s really fun to start at the other end of the spectrum and see what it is like to play a character who’s in charge.”
And you don’t mess with Julia George, as she’s calling the shots — whether the public realizes it or not — with a solid assist from the secret partnership she has with showy Los Angeles lawyer Jake Gregorian, played by the sexy Daniel Sunjata (Graceland). Together they exploit the media and the justice system to benefit their own agendas. Notorious is actually inspired by the real-life relationship between Mark Geragos — the camera-loving, high profile defense attorney in the late ’90s and early 2000s who represented pregnant-wife-killer Scott Peterson, Bill Clinton’s Whitewater business partner Susan McDougal, Winona Ryder, Michael Jackson and a slew of other celebs. Perabo’s character, Julia George, is inspired by longtime Larry King Live executive producer Wendy Walker. Both Geragos and Walker are among the executive producers of the series.
Perabo was on break from filming (at the time she was just two episodes in) when she talked to us about the show and the realities of playing a cutthroat executive news producer who will do anything to break a story.
Since Wendy Walker is an executive producer on the series, what did you learn from her, what tips did she give?
Piper Perabo: It was really fascinating, once I read the script, to go and meet her and talk about her years at CNN. How she came up through the ranks. How she decided what kind of guests they would look for. How she would manage all of these celebrities and the news stories. Keeping it all feeling fresh and important every night. We shot the pilot in Atlanta, which is where CNN headquarters is so I could go to CNN and watch from the control room, while they ran the news and see how the meetings went. Again, in New York, I went and watched a lot of the different news shows and how they were run, behind the scenes and it’s a fascinating world. … [Wendy Walker] had written a memoir about her experience working for Larry. Now she lives in California. We spoke on the phone a lot and she was with us advising during the pilot. I could really get the gory details about how she would get things done and the ways all these news producers are trying to get to these amazing stories. How they’re competing with each other and helping each other. They want to be the one to break the story. How do you get to those people and make them feel comfortable, so that they can tell their story? How far do you push it? It’s really interesting. She was really open with me about how she works.
As a celebrity yourself — and now that you’re so deeply exposed to the entertainment news and the paparazzi side — have any of your feelings or opinions changed toward the media in general?
I have a real healthy respect for journalism. Foreign correspondents and conflict journalists really put their lives on the line to tell their stories. I think news and independent news is a really important thing for people to feel connected and understand their power and what’s going on in the country.
Then it gets real murky when you get into celebrity news and paparazzi, that kind of stuff. That’s where all the lines get really murky and people don’t always have highbrow intentions about what they’re trying to do. I think that’s what makes the show interesting.
So far my understanding of who makes the news has really broadened. When I would watch in the control rooms at CNN, if you were watching Erin Burnett or Anderson Cooper — any of these shows — there’s live news breaking all the time. There are teams of really smart people who, when news breaks during a news hour, they’re throwing out things they’ve prepared, throwing out the rundown and they start producing it live. They work as this incredible team of people who are putting things out, almost by the seat of their pants and they really take it seriously, making sure, obviously that their sources are credible and the information they’re getting is good.
You can also see their joy and excitement, working together as a team, trying to get the real story out there right away. It’s thrilling.
Shifting to your character, Julia definitely is a producer of the news and she decides, really what we should all care about and who the jerks and heroes are. Do you think she has a conscience about that?
I think everybody has a conscience, or, at least almost everybody, but she’s also very ambitious and very driven. She loves her job and loves making Louise [Kate Jennings Grant], who is the star of the news show [the news show that Julia produces], happy, and making their show the best. I think a lot of times; her conscience and her ambition are in conflict.
In the pilot, we learn that Julia thinks if she takes a night off, the show takes a night off. You have this respect for her commitment to her job, but is she ever going to be able to not put the job first?
I think that’s really a modern woman’s question. If you really commit to the job, then what happens at home? I know I struggle with that. I know a lot of women that I’m friends with struggle with that. I think that’s a really modern question and a really modern journey. I like that the show deals with that.
You and Daniel [Daniel Sunjata, Graceland] have great chemistry in this. How would you describe their flirty relationship?
I think they both really need each other in a professional sense. There’s a real nice edge of how far you push attraction with someone when you need their help in your job. I think the two of them are walking that line real carefully. They don’t want to blow their best asset.
Notorious airs on ABC Thursdays at 9/8c beginning Sept. 22