2011 Interview – AccidentalSexiness.com
Original Link: http://www.accidentalsexiness.com/2010/08/10/sendhil-ramamurthy-talks-covert-affairs/
As a longtime Heroes fan, I was elated at the prospect of meeting original cast member Sendhill Ramamurthy who played geneticist Mohinder Suresh during all four seasons.
We were ecstatic to hear the announcement when he landed the gig with USA in the role of CIA operative Jai Wilcox, whose family has a long history with the CIA.
I had the opportunity to participate in a special media call with Sendhil on Friday and I’d love to share his words with you. Quickly though, I will preface this article by letting you all know the details I know you are dying to hear!! He IS every bit as charming as you would imagine, his voice is even dreamier than you could hope, and he is just so darn funny, you don’t ever want to hang up!
Now without further ado, our chat with Sendhil:
Question: What exactly made you want to be a part of this show?
S. Ramamurthy: It was kind of a roundabout thing, actually. While I was still shooting here, they were shooting this pilot and I put a friend of mine on tape for the role of Auggie, for Chris Gorham’s part. While I was doing that, I ended up reading the script and I really liked it, but I was already on a show and that was that. I kind of read it and filed it away.
Then, I guess when the show’s creators and USA decided to make a little change from the pilot and bring in the Jai Wilcox character they kind of approached me about it and I went in and I talked to the creators and I did a chemistry read with Piper Perabo and I got the job the next day. It was a script that I really liked. It was a very different character for me to play from what I had been doing before.
It was also one of those things where I was under contract to NBC and it was a way to do more work without having to try and get out of a contract and all of that and all the legalities involved with that and it was a chance to work with Doug Liman, so it was all kind of win-win.
Question: Will your character get to get out in the field at all?
S. Ramamurthy: My character does go out into the field, starting in Tuesday’s episode actually. I think originally as conceived the character wasn’t going to be going out into the field and once they cast me they saw some merit, some advantage to bringing me into the field. And it’s been a lot of fun.
Most of the stuff I do has been with Piper and a little bit of stuff with Chris. It’s a lot of fun and it’s also a great way to see Toronto because we shoot everywhere around Toronto, so I’ve gotten to kind to see Toronto just by virtue of shooting all around the place.
Question: How would you describe your character and, most specifically, his relationship with Arthur because there’s some kind of hidden motive going on there? At least there appears to be so.
S. Ramamurthy: Well, my character, Jai Wilcox is a second generation CIA man. His father, Henry Wilcox, was the Head of Clandestine Services, so he’s CIA royalty, basically. And, as we’ll find out in Tuesday’s episode, I don’t want to give too much away, there’s some baggage that comes with being Henry Wilcox—my character’s father’s name is Henry Wilcox—there’s some baggage that comes with being his son and it kind of permeates through the CIA.
So, you see how Jai kind of has to deal with that.
He kind of has two father figures in his life. He’s got his real father, Henry Wilcox, and then he’s got Arthur Campbell, played by Peter Gallagher, who is somebody who, obviously, he looks up to and respects and he wants to impress the both of them and impress everybody else in his own right. I think it’s very important for Jai to feel that he is there at the CIA doing a good job on his own merit, not just because he’s Henry Wilcox’s son or because Arthur Campbell trusts him with specific clandestine operations that not a lot of people know about.
So, the relationship with Arthur is definitely, you know, he’s my boss and I look to impress him at every turn that I can.
Question: You’ve been doing a lot of research about the CIA and about some if the inner workings for the show. Was there anything that you found out that kind of surprised you?
S. Ramamurthy: There was a lot that we found out through doing all the research, from the fact that the CIA encourages dating within the agency, which I thought would not be the case to kind of the way that things operate there.
I didn’t know even the basic things, like you can’t have your cell phone with you inside the CIA. I didn’t know that the CIA didn’t carry weapons on U.S. soil. So it’s interesting, we actually just shot a scene where I’m chasing somebody and they’re shooting at me and I have no gun, but I keep chasing them, like I keep going after them, even though I have no weapon.
So, for me, I found it really kind of courageous and heroic that these CIA operatives are going about doing their thing without a weapon. It could also be looked at as, God, how dumb. But I think it’s pretty heroic. It’s kind of like, well, I guess it’s like with anything like this, like firefighters if you want to look at it like that. While everybody is running out of the fire, they’re the ones running towards it and I think it kind of speaks volumes for the CIA and the people kind of protecting our country.
Question: The interesting part about your character is that you are the assistant to the director and you have access to him that other people don’t, and how does that work in terms when dealing with Kari Matchett’s character as, you know, she’s his wife, but she’s also got a job on the team, but she can’t always get to him the way you can.
S. Ramamurthy: Yeah, and that makes for a pretty interesting dynamic between Jai and Joan, Kari’s character, Joan. It’s pretty antagonistic. She’s not very fond of Jay and their interaction kind of shows that. But what I love that the writers have done with the character is they put in moments where Jai, he does his job well.
Jai is really good at what he does. That’s not to say that he makes mistakes. Everybody will make mistakes throughout any kind of mission, but he’s so good at his job that Joan at certain points in certain episodes can’t help but say, “All right, well done. You did it right.”
Actually, one of the instances happens in Tuesday night’s episode, which I wasn’t expecting because you kind of think in TV they’ll set up this one dynamic and just kind of go in that direction full tilt and that will be that. But it’s really nuanced, all the relationships between the characters are really nuanced and I’ve been really impressed with how they balance everything, from my relationship with Joan to Jai’s relationship with Annie to Auggie’s relationship with Annie; it’s a delicate balance and I think the writers are really doing it well.
Question: I agree, because the relationships seem real and it’s interesting because I would think that your character and Auggie’s character might be—and it seems to be that there’s a little bit, I don’t want to say friction, but the dynamics.
S. Ramamurthy: Oh, there’s friction. We’re having a lot of fun with that actually.
Question: Well, it’s interesting because he has a fondness for Annie, but he can’t go out in the field like you can.
S. Ramamurthy: No, no he can’t and that’s probably part of the friction. And then I think, well, without want to give too much away I think that Jai, as the season goes on, kind of becomes a little bit jealous of the friendship between Auggie and Annie. They are best friends. They really are. There’s a trust between them that Annie’s character doesn’t have with any other character.
She can be completely who she is with Auggie. She can’t do that with Danielle, her sister; she can’t do it with me because, well, there are various reasons that will come out, but it’s a relationship not entirely based on truth and so that kind of makes that impossible. Having said that, I think there’s an attraction. There’s definitely an attraction between Jai and Annie and Annie and Jai and I’m having fun seeing how it’s all playing out.
Question: Gregory Itzin plays your father, how do you like working with him?
S. Ramamurthy: He’s kind of just amazing. I knew him from 24, obviously I’d seen is work on 24 and thought he was just amazing in it and when I heard that they were bringing him on to play my father I thought, okay, interesting choice. I didn’t see that coming at all.
But I was into it, I was really kind of impressed with it, that the writer’s and USA and the studio, everybody, kind of really got behind it. And the scenes that we did, especially in Tuesday night’s episode, which is Greg’s first episode with us, there’s kind of one of my favorites scenes that I’ve done all season, is a scene where he kind of drives it where it’s Jai, and Annie and him, just sitting at a table, having a drink and talking.
And it was an amazing experience to kind of just watch Greg work, because he’s so good and he’s so specific. I’ve really enjoyed all my scenes with him. Again, it’s a very complicated relationship, the relationship that Jai has with Henry, with his father. And we’re kind of getting more into it actually right now.
There’s a great scene in the finale, which we just got, which I’m really looking forward to doing. I think we’re going to shoot it next week. Greg will be back up with us, so, yeah, it’s been a real treat working with him.
Question: So, is this sort of the start of us seeing a lot more of you and Jai?
S. Ramamurthy: Yes, like I said, I kind of came to the party later. I was cast after they had shot the pilot and the show had been picked up for 13 episodes and I was cast after they had kind of broken the first four stories. They had already written the first four episodes or done very specific broad strokes of the first four episodes. So when I met with them they said, listen, we’re going to slot you in where we can in the first four episodes because we’ve put out the structure already, we already know what we’re going to do in those episodes.
For instance, in last week’s episode I wasn’t even in it because that was actually the first episode that we shot after the pilot, even though it aired fourth we shot it first, so there was just no way for me to be in it. And so, I kind of like am peppered through the first four episodes and then on Tuesday’s episode it’s kind of like the real introduction to my character where you find out what Jai is all about, where he comes from, what makes him tick and, more importantly, what he’s doing there and what his kind of general arc and mission will be throughout the season.
Question: Is Jai’s relationship with Annie is going to be strictly professional or does he have an interest aside from what we’ve been shown so far?
S. Ramamurthy: Again, it’s very complicated. I think one of the best things about this show is that all the relationships are really complicated. It’s kind of the best thing that was written in the pilot is the note that the Ben Mercer character leaves for Annie’s character. It says, “The truth is complicated.” And that doesn’t just apply to Annie and Ben. That certainly applies to Annie and Jai as well.
Like I said, everything is not what it seems when you meet Jai and Annie and the audience knows that Arthur has told him to get close to Annie in any way possible. And you kind of see a few different tacks that Jai takes to kind of accomplish his mission and then he can try and go the romantic way, he can try and go the professional way; there are a few different avenues and Jai is pretty crafty and he kind of tries whatever works in certain situations.
And I think that’s all well and good, but in the end Jai and Annie, they’re not robots. There are emotions, there are feelings and when you get close to somebody it can complicate something that you want to just be a mission. So, we’ll see. I have to be honest, I’m curious to see where it goes because I don’t know yet.
Question: You were talking a little bit about Jai’s being a second generation CIA agent. Are we going to see kind of a back story for him?
S. Ramamurthy: Yes, you do. You get a little bit actually in Tuesday night’s episode; you just kind of hear what he’s about, what he’s been up to, actually, just prior to coming to the CIA. You get a little hint as to where he was and what it was that he was doing and a cool scene that we shot, it was me and Piper and Eriq La Salle, actually, which was a lot of fun. He guest stars in Tuesday’s episode and he’s terrific in it. And he’s such a nice guy.
I mean, I was a little in awe. I was acting with Dr. Benton, like what do you do? But he was really great. And you do, you do find out kind of where he’s from and as the season goes on you actually find out a little bit more about where he was and what it was that he was doing where he was, which is kind of important to the overall end game of the season.
Question: What do you find to be the biggest challenge in playing this particular character?
S. Ramamurthy: For me, it’s been a huge challenge just because it’s a very different character than what I’ve been playing on TV before, which I’m excited about. But it’s an incredibly layered character and you’re always kind of second guessing because you don’t want to give too much away in each scene and so that’s something that I’ve really worked hard at and you don’t want to tip your hand too quickly.
Jai is a charmer, or he thinks he’s a charmer anyway, and everybody around him reacts that way so I guess he is and you don’t what that to just be it, so there has to be something bubbling underneath it and the challenge was to not let kind of the end game, which, obviously, I know where it is, but you don’t want the audience to know if the fifth episode of the series what’s going to happen, so it was a really tricky balance for me and, again, I hope I got it because we haven’t seen a lot of it, we haven’t seen a lot of the episodes, so it’s going to be interesting. So, for me, that’s been the most challenging thing.
The other challenging thing has been it’s a very physical role for me. In Tuesday’s episode I was doing parkour. Who gets to do parkour on TV? They brought in a guy from Cirque du Soleil to work with me to kind of work the moves out and stuff. And I saw the chase scene actually that’s going to air on Tuesday and it’s really cool. I was really excited when I saw it. It’s a very fun thing and it’s what you would expect from Doug Liman, from a show executive produced by Doug Liman. It’s certainly worthy of kind of his previous spy stuff.
Question: What are your thoughts on the tension that Jai has added to the show, especially between Arthur and Joan?
S. Ramamurthy: I think it’s kind of interesting because he’s become an unknowing pawn in the marital strife between Arthur and Joan and I don’t think it’s something that he particularly wants to be involved in. But I also don’t think, because these guys are CIA operatives as well, Joan and Arthur—this is what they do, too. They don’t really tip their hand too much, certainly to Jai and not to the rest of the people either as to what’s going on between them.
Yeah, obviously, everybody knows they’re married and there can be a little bit of frostiness between the two of them, but when they interact in front of the rest of us, in front of Annie, in front of Jai, in front of Auggie, we can’t see that. And that’s another instance where these guys, they’re able to compartmentalize in a way the me, personally, Sendhil, I’m incapable of doing that.
I can’t kind of like say, okay, well, I’m doing this, but I’m going to shut this out. I’m not very good at that, but all of these guys are very good at that because it’s their job. They wouldn’t be doing what they were doing if they were bad at it. So, as far as the tension, yeah, he’s there and Arthur has put him into the DPD, a place where he’s never been and didn’t even clear it. I mean, Jai, as we saw in the first episode I appeared in, Jai is the one who informs Joan that Arthur put him in.
And we actually did a different take of it where I was actually kind of ribbing her a little bit about it, but looking back on it, I’m glad that they didn’t use that take because I don’t think it was right at that time. That’s another thing, they were developing the character kind of after they cast me, so the first few episodes I was kind of like, okay, which direction am I going here? I don’t want to make him too arch.
And they were very helpful, Matt and Chris the creators of our show, were very helpful in holding my hand and kind of guiding me in the right directly while they figured it all out and they have, luckily.
Question: How do you feel Jai will develop as the series continues?
S. Ramamurthy: I think for the first time Jai starts to have second thoughts; not second thoughts, but he starts to realize that okay, maybe this deception thing is a lot more tricky and a lot more difficult and affects people in a different, sometimes adverse way than he thought and I don’t think he actually really thought about it that much and there are certain things, the relationship with Annie; there is one thing, in particular, that happens in I think it’s the eighth or the ninth episode where I kind of made a choice.
There’s a conversation between Jai and Annie where they kind of mention past relationships and I think that there’s a past relationship in Jai’s life that deeply affected him and I don’t think it ended up the way that he wanted it to end up and I think that I’d like to see that explored a little bit more as to why he’s able to connect with Annie in the way that he does. I don’t know if that will be this season or not. I don’t know if there will be the time to do that, but I hope in subsequent seasons, should we be lucky to get one, or two or three or four or five, I hope that’s something that we can look into.
Question: We’ve already seen Piper with a lot of accent and language work. Are you looking for that with Covert Affairs? Have you actually already done some languages and some accents that we get to hear?
S. Ramamurthy: Boy, that’s a tough one to answer. There might be some accent stuff coming up. I’m not sure, to be honest, because there are some rewrites going on right now, but it’s a possibility.
As far as languages go, I haven’t had to explore my unfortunately incredibly limited language skills. Piper has a really great facility for languages. She’s great with it. But me, I’m not so great with it, so if they happen to be reading this, the writers, and read this, they should feel free not to give me any language stuff. Accents I’m good with; languages not so much.
Question: I’m wondering why Arthur chose you to get close to Annie. Does Jai have some sort of history with the mysterious Ben Mercer that makes him a good choice? Or is it just that he is so good at getting under other people’s skin and is such a good operative in his own right?
S. Ramamurthy: Aren’t you a clever girl! I’m not going to answer that question in any way that you’re going to find satisfying. I’m going to just say that upfront right now, but yes. That’s my answer. There’s a lot, like I said, there’s a lot there, which is why I’m so excited to play the character. My parents, actually, were talking to me the other day and they were like, “What the hell is your guy doing? I don’t understand. What’s happening? He’s like kind of there, but not there?”
And I was just like, “Just relax. It’ll come out.” And, again, that’s probably one of the frustrating things for viewers of series television is you want all the answers right away, but then you don’t. You want something more and from a writer’s point of view, they don’t want to burn through too much story. They’ve got to crank out 13 episodes.
So, the one thing I would say is it’s a very slow burn for the Jai Wilcox character and as far as, you can probably tell how much I’m trying not to answer your question, there are definitely things in Jai’s background and what he was doing prior to arriving at Langley that make him a really, well, the only choice to be dealing with Annie and the Ben Mercer situation.
Question: Is the spying leak story line going to be wrapped up soon, or is that going throughout the entire season?
S. Ramamurthy: That is something that I think definitely kind of goes through and it grows in importance throughout the entire season. And I don’t even know whether it will be resolved or not resolved by the end of the season. Again, should we be lucky enough to go more seasons, it could be something that is further explored.
If you could read the 12th episode, which is sitting on my kitchen table right here and I’m looking at it, you would know that there’s an opening there for it to continue should the writers decide to go in that direction.
Question: What other upcoming projects do you have, besides more Covert Affairs?
S. Ramamurthy: I did a movie called It’s a Wonderful Afterlife. It was written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, who did Bend It Like Beckham. And it’s released in the U.K. already and I believe a U.S. release is happening towards the end of this year.
And then I did another film called Shor, which I actually shot in Mumbai in January and February. It’s like a really gritty crime drama. It kind of follows my character’s descent into a kind of hell, if you like. And that was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, just shooting, the physical toll of it was enormous.
The heat, I was shooting in the largest slum in Mumbai for a lot of it and it was, again, just a very different experience for me and working with a whole different crew and a whole different culture of filmmaking and I’m really excited for that. I think that’s going to be released in October.
Question: If you were to put your iPod on shuffle right now and press play, what’s the most embarrassing song that would come up?
S. Ramamurthy: Wow, that’s a great question because I have a shared iPod with my wife. I actually had it on shuffle just now in the gym and I’m trying to think what came on. Oh, what’s that guy, it was an Enrique Iglesias song, which I would usually probably never listen to, but it popped on. And I am not ashamed to admit that I listened to it all the way through. I did not fast forward it.
Question: We’re really enjoying seeing Chris and your co-star Ann Dudek and Peter Gallagher on Twitter. We only hear about you through Wendi Lynn. So, when are you going to make the move to Twitter? We want to hear from you.
S. Ramamurthy: You can hear from me by talking to me right now. The Internet scares me. I’m not very Internet savvy, to be honest. I’m not very computer savvy. I’m not a big Web surfer. It’s just not something I do. I can’t see why anybody would be interested in what I’m doing during my day. Like I’m having a coffee at the coffee shop; like, who cares?
Question: Well, we care, like when you’re listening to Enrique Iglesias at the gym.
S. Ramamurthy: After I said that, I just realized what a giant mistake that was because I shall never hear the end of that.
Question: And I sent it out to Twitterverse, so I’m sorry.
S. Ramamurthy: Of course you would. I would be disappointed if you didn’t, quite frankly. Because that’s a nice embarrassing bit of detail. But no, I wouldn’t count on seeing me on Twitter any time soon. But what I do do, if I have something that I, on the rare occasions when I do have something that I want tweetered, how do you say it?
S. Ramamurthy: Tweeted. On the rare occasion when I want something tweeted out I pop Wendi a text and she tweets it out for me.
Question: Okay, well, maybe you’ll change your mind in the future, but we’re loving you on the show.
S. Ramamurthy: Well, thank you very much and maybe I will change my mind. You never know; you can sometimes teach an old dog new tricks.
Question: Yes, I’m going to have a chat with Chris. (Gorham) I’m sure he can get you going.
S. Ramamurthy: Oh, he’s been working on me and Piper already, don’t you worry about that.
Make sure you tune in to see Sendhil and his fabulous cast mates on Covert Affairs, which airs on Tuesdays at 10/9 Central on USA Network.