Actor is challenged and humbled playing a character who cannot see
July 10, 2013 4:00 AM
David Giesbrecht/USA Network
Christopher Gorham, left, portrays a blind CIA agent in "Covert Affairs." Also pictured: Peter Gallagher.
By Claire Aronson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Christopher Gorham landed the part of blind CIA agent Auggie Anderson on "Covert Affairs" in summer 2010, it was a coincidence -- as a boy, he helped to raise money with his family to fund eye surgeries and provide glasses for the Lion's Club White Cane Safety Day.
However, when he was cast as Auggie, he knew he had his work cut out for him.
To prepare for the role, he worked with the Canadian Institute of the Blind's Lesley MacDonald.
"When I got the part, it was very important to me to get it right not just as a physicality of my performance but the emotional part and re-create it as close to real life if I lost sight," Mr. Gorham said.
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday on USA.
Starring: Piper Perabo, Christopher Gorham and Peter Gallagher.
As "Covert Affairs" starts its fourth season Tuesday at 9 p.m. on USA Network, Mr. Gorham is still researching and learning how best to act his part.
"I feel like I get better at it every year," he said. "It is just a different kind of focus to ignore visual stimulants. It is exciting as an actor and allows me to see things in different ways."
One of the challenges came in season one when Auggie's ex-girlfriend from before he lost his eyesight came back into his life.
"I wanted to have that visual communication with her, and it was frustrating not being able to do that," he said.
In the audition, the actors were not allowed to wear sunglasses, which was a challenge for a lot of them, said Chris Ord, co-writer of the show.
Mr. Gorham has learned how to portray a blind person.
"I don't think I deserve any additional credit for doing this additional work," he said. "When you incorporate something like this disability, it is important to get it right."
This dedication to the part has made him the authority in some ways in deciding what he is capable of doing on screen, said Matt Corman, the show's co-writer.
Since Mr. Gorham took the role, he has become friends with more people who are visually impaired.
"They live their life like that, and I want them to turn on the TV and relate to this character," he said.
TV characters with disabilities are still uncommon and that is a shame, Mr. Gorham said.
"It is fascinating -- what we can do with Auggie is so different and unique because Auggie is not just a cute guy that Annie [Piper Perabo] works with," he said. "He's really been through something incredibly challenging that few people have gone through. It is a missed opportunity that we don't see it more."
Mr. Corman and Mr. Ord based Auggie on a friend who was paralyzed in an accident, and they decided to script the character as blind.
"We took the challenge seriously," Mr. Corman said. "If we are going to authentically portray [blindness], we have to embrace all of the positives and negatives."
Mr. Gorham brings credibility and dedication to his craft, resulting in authenticity, Mr. Corman added.
"Our goal is creating a full life character with one dimension as the disability," Mr. Corman said. "Actual people who are not sighted are challenged by their blindness but not defined by it, and that is what we wanted to create with the character."
This season, Auggie's relationship with Annie will intensify, part of a "season of secrets," which the opening episode sets up, Mr. Gorham said.
"Then, there are the consequences of those secrets coming out," he added. "We are continuing in the vein of what we started last year. There is a high intensity storyline with interesting character stuff, more action and international locations."
Hill Harper joins the series as a regular, playing Calder Michaels, a CIA station chief based in Latin America. Manolo Cardona ("Beverly Hills Chihuahua") and Michelle Ryan ("Bionic Woman") join the show in recurring roles.
"It is a very exciting season," Mr. Ord said. "The best we've done so far. I am thrilled for the episodes to air."