Covert Affairs’ Christopher Gorham on Acting, Directing, and Getting Ripped

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Having just finished shooting the fifth season of USA’s Covert Affairs, star Christopher Gorham chats about constantly whipping himself into shape to stay in the character of a (blind) CIA special operative, his protein preferences, and his thoughts on directing episodes while acting. Gorham will return to his role as Auggie Anderson in the fifth season premiere on Nov. 6 at 10 p.m./9 Central on USA.

So how have you been keeping busy lately?

Well, we just finished shooting so I’m trying to kind of get back into my real life. I’ve been nesting like a pregnant lady at home trying to resume my routine. So that’s what I’ve been doing lately. We were just in Buenos Aires for two weeks finishing off the season.

The show shoots on location a lot, right?

Yeah, we travel quite a bit. Out of the six episodes that start Nov. 6, three of them take place in an international location. The first one we shot a lot of in Istanbul, and then the last two in Buenos Aires.

You directed one of the new episodes. What’s it like to have to manage a show while you act in it?

Well, directing is a lot more work. And, frankly, if I had my choice, I’d rather direct things that I’m not in, because having to go and look at playback is tough. And also, playing a blind character makes it harder because I can’t really watch what everybody’s doing in the scene while I’m in the scene! [Laughs] So I really do have to rely on going and looking at playback, which slows down the day and drives me crazy as a director.

So when you’re in character, you make sure not to focus on anything?

Exactly. I can’t really focus on anything. And then plus, you know, as an actor, you have to be present in the scene. I can’t really be thinking about what the camera’s doing. So, it’s really difficult, directing scenes that you’re in. I’d prefer not doing it, but I love directing, and we have such a fantastic cast on Covert Affairs and it’s just a real pleasure being able to direct my castmates.

What have you liked about playing Auggie Anderson for the past five years?

Well, there are a lot of things. One, I didn’t realize it was gonna be so rewarding portraying a wounded warrior on TV. You know, the feedback that I’ve gotten from wounded warriors whom I’ve run into on the street or at events, men and women who have gone to war and have come back injured like Auggie did, the response from them has been overwhelmingly positive, and it just warms my heart that our show is portraying them in such a positive light and really educating a lot of people as to how wounded warriors and how people with vision loss can be a regular part of the workplace and are just like everyone else. That’s been a great gift that keeps on giving about this role.

So the evolving complexity of the character continues to interest you.

It does, absolutely. And we flashback episodes every season where we go back and see him during his military service. We do another one this season when he’s sighted. It’s great. It keeps getting deeper every year. The military aspect of the role is what has arched my new commitment to physical fitness ‘cause the guy is Special Forces, and those guys are in phenomenal shape, and so every season, I’m constantly playing catchup to look the way that he should look.

Right, so you’ve been playing this character since the show started in 2010, and you’ve had to basically whip yourself into shape for every new season.

Yeah, exactly. And, you know, I like to mix it up. For instance, this year, I started mixing Pilates with weight training for the first time, and I really, really like it. The body awareness and core strength that I get from Pilates, I then roll right into weight training. I do them back to back. I’ve got a trainer named Aaron Porter who has me do Pilates for an hour, and then Josh Landis is my weight guy who comes right after and we do an hour of weights and it’s really transformative. I really enjoy it.

How many days a week do you work out?

As much as I can. It’s schedule dependent, but I try to get at least five days a week.

What were some of the workouts you did to prepare yourself for past seasons?

Yeah, I try to change it up. When it started, I was doing the 300 workout, because one of the guys who was doing stunts on the pilot was in 300 and worked out with those guys, so he was giving us a lot of those exercises, which are kind of similar to CrossFit I guess. And CrossFit’s kind of something I jumped into last year and was doing. I kind of started in like, a hybrid form of that, where you would do chest and biceps one day and then shoulders and back the next day and then legs the third day, then on Day 4, you’d start again with chest and biceps, and you can just keep going. You never have to take a rest day, unless of course, you get too exhausted. So that’s kind of where I started, and then it merged into that. I worked with different trainers over the years. One season, I was just doing it all on my own. Recently, I’ve gotten back into swimming for cardio. Usually, I’d run, but I played water polo in high school and it’s just been so long since I swam. I forgot what great exercise it is.

Initially, was the transition difficult when you started getting into shape to play this character?

It was tough because I was coming off a movie where, for the first and probably the last time in my life, a director told me that I was too buff. [Laughs] And so, for a solid two months, I couldn’t work out at all and I was just eating junk and getting soft. And so, then, trying to turn that around in six weeks to go and work on this pilot was just a horrible, horrible experience. I mean, anyone who exercises knows it’s getting started, getting the routine going is always the hardest part. You know, once you’re six weeks into an exercise routine, it’s easy to keep going, but it’s so, so difficult to start. You know, after the season’s over, I’ll give myself a couple of weeks and sometimes it stretches into a month, and even after a short layoff like that, starting up again just sucks! It’s always shocking to me, because your body doesn’t look much different after a few weeks, even after a month. But your endurance just goes to hell and you get so sore, so I try not to take too much time off if I can help it.

Do you remember any specific numbers about the quick transformation you had to undergo for the start of the show in 2010? Muscle gains, weight loss…?

It’s really hard for me to put on muscle. I mean, I probably put on only like five to seven pounds of muscle, but I could be being generous there. Over time, I may be adding a few pounds of muscle in my memory. But I was working hard, I was pounding protein and eating lots of chicken every day, doing what I can. And I’m not one of those guys—I’m not a Christian Bale who in two months can turn around and put on 15 pounds of muscle and be this huge dude and then whittle down to nothing. My body just doesn’t work like that. And it’s been trial and error, too, finding protein powders that work for me. I’m using Vega Sport Performance protein powder. I’m a big fan because it doesn’t have any soy in it. Soy protein doesn’t do well for me, I’ve found over the years.

Are there any exercises you’ve done lately that you find particularly effective?

I would definitely say Pilates, even without the equipment, like the mat exercises for Pilates are great, really, really great core exercises and are so good for body awareness, which really helps for weightlifting. Like, I take that core strength and body awareness and I’m able to lift more in my deadlifts, and it just helps with everything. The form of my bench press has improved a lot this last year, and it’s just been getting better.

Should we look for you in any other upcoming movies or shows, aside from Covert Affairs, obviously?

I play the voice of the Flash in the animated Justice League movie (out in January 2015). It never looks better than when it’s done in an animated movie. 

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