A chat with Anne Dudek, Anne Dudek interview, Covert Affairs, House, Mad Men
Anne Dudek

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The last time we talked with Anne Dudek, her new series on the USA Network, “Covert Affairs,” was still far enough out on the horizon that we’d yet to see a single episode, which is why our conversation with her was so short. Now, however, the show is in its second season, giving us at least a little bit more to discuss Danielle, whose sister Annie (Piper Perabo) purports to be working for the Smithsonian Institute when, in fact, she’s actually a CIA operative. In addition, Bullz-Eye also had the opportunity to ask Dudek a bit more about her stint on “House,” her recurring roles on “Mad Men” and “Big Love,” and her repeat performance as a guest star on “How I Met Your Mother.”

Bullz-Eye: You and I have actually met before, at last summer’s TCA tour. In fact, I had had just enough free drinks to ask you if people were ever surprised at how tall you are.

Anne Dudek: (Laughs) Yes, I remember. I wish I’d known I’d looked so tall.

BE: Well, you assured me that, had we both been standing on a beach in bare feet, we would’ve been more or less eye to eye. So that made me feel better.

AD: It was the heels! I’m not that huge, I swear! (Laughs)

BE: So I’ve seen the first few episodes of the new season of “Covert Affairs,” which is to say that I haven’t seen a whole lot of you. But my understanding is that I’ll be seeing more of you soon.

AD: That’s what they tell me, yes. (Laughs)

BE: Certainly at the end of the second episode, it seems like there’s more willingness by Annie to admit what’s going on in her life, even if she’s not being all that specific quite yet.

"You tune in (to ‘Covert Affairs’) every week and expect to see glamorous locations and interesting characters and these beautiful sequences of thrilling people jumping out of burning cars or whatever. And that can sort of seem, like, ‘Oh, this is what’s normal, this is how life it is.’ But I think it’s really cool that our show also has that moment when Annie walks into her sister’s kitchen, where you see what normal really is."

AD: Yeah, I mean, I think the underlying story behind all the action is how difficult it is for Annie to live this life of complete secrecy and isolation from what it is that she’s really doing. Combined with Danielle kind of sensing that something is amiss, things start to develop a little bit in the second season. There’s definitely some development in terms of Danielle’s suspicion that something isn’t kosher.

BE: I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we get to see you utilized a little bit more, because I really enjoyed the first-season episode when you guys got to go on the semi-second honeymoon, as it were.

AD: Oh, thank you so much! Yeah, I enjoyed that episode, too. It was really fun. I keep asking them to have me jump out of a helicopter or…I don’t know, scale some buildings. (Laughs) But they can’t really figure out how that would work with my character.

BE: I remember in our first conversation how I asked you what it was like doing an action show, and you said, “Well, I’m not really getting much action quite yet!”

AD: (Laughs) Yeah, I’m the inaction of the show. The…entropy? Is that it? But, hey, you have to see the normal to really appreciate the abnormal.

BE: True enough. Plus, it’s pretty integral to be able to show the difference between her personal relationships and work relationships.

AD: Yeah, and I think that’s the really interesting part of the show, especially with a show that does action as well as our show does. There are some really amazing sequences. That’s sort of the normal world that the show lives in, and you tune in every week and expect to see glamorous locations and interesting characters and these beautiful sequences of thrilling people jumping out of burning cars or whatever. (Laughs) And that can sort of seem, like, “Oh, this is what’s normal, this is how life it is.” But I think it’s really cool that our show also has that moment when Annie walks into her sister’s kitchen, where you see what normal really is. It’s, like, “Here’s a family, and there’s two girls who need a peanut butter sandwich.” I think it sort of adds to the drama to have the non-drama, and I like that our show has that. But like I said, there are some moments in this season where everything in Danielle’s kitchen starts to get a little bit more chaotic, where she starts to think that there might be something not quite right going on in the guest house.

BE: Which is good, because the potential is opened up for you to be able to work someone besides Piper. I mean, they did find a way for you to work briefly with Christopher Gorham last season.

Anne Dudek

AD: I know! I got a little bit of Augie. Also, when Jai (Sendhil Ramamurthy) came over for dinner. But I never get to work with Peter (Gallagher) or Kari (Matchett), so I’m hoping… (Trails off) Piper and I concoct all these plots, that maybe they throw a cocktail party at their house and I get to come. None of these things have happened, but I think up my own little plots of how I might end up in scenes with them somehow.

BE: Clearly, you need to slip onto the “Covert Affairs” fan-fiction site and throw these ideas out there.

AD: (Excited) Is there one?

BE: (Laughs) I don’t know. But if there isn’t yet, I’m sure there soon will be.

AD: You know, I’ll start it! And every piece is going to be about Danielle. (Laughs) And it’ll be, like, “You know, this fan-fiction site is a little suspicious. Every piece is about Danielle and the crazy adventures she goes on!”

BE: Speaking of websites, I was going to ask you about your blog. I only discovered it recently, and I know you haven’t updated it in awhile…

AD: I know, isn’t that awful?

BE: Is that something you’re still planning to keep going?

AD: Well, you know, it started because I was, like, “Well, I’m not working on ‘Covert Affairs,’ and this would be fun to do,” and then with “Covert Affairs” started to get going again, the blog kind of kicked off. But maybe I should do a little blog entry about that, to explain to people that when I’m working, the blog is kind of on hiatus until I’m on hiatus again. Or, you know, I could turn my blog into fan-fiction about my character. (Laughs)

BE: I think it’s very cool that they’ve continued to bring you back onto “Mad Men.” You’re basically Betty Draper’s one consistent friend in her life.

AD: I know! Even though she’s such a cold, conflicted woman, she does have one friend. Yeah, it’s very nice, and I just owe Matthew Weiner, being such a nice guy, for continuing to throw me in there now and then semi-needlessly. Actually, we filmed an episode that I had to get cut out of, so there’s more Francine in the “Mad Men” universe somewhere that didn’t make it to the final edit. (Laughs) But, yeah, he’s very good about calling me up and throwing me back on the show a little bit, which is so great, because I love that show. And I love Francine and the chance to be her.

BE: So how did you land on the show in the first place?

"I never get to work with Peter (Gallagher) or Kari (Matchett), so…Piper and I concoct all these plots, that maybe they throw a cocktail party at their house and I get to come. None of these things have happened, but I think up my own little plots of how I might end up in scenes with them somehow."

AD: No crazy story: I went in and auditioned. Of course, you know, at that point, nobody had any idea what that show would become. It was very random. I hadn’t seen it yet, of course, because I think they’d only just shot the pilot and nothing more when I auditioned. But, yeah, I auditioned, I got the part, and very quickly realized I was a part of something really special, and I felt very lucky to have that job. And I’ve sort of watched it grow into this huge phenomenon, which has been really exciting. It’s sort of like with “Covert Affairs.” I feel so lucky that I’ve been a part of these projects where…y’know, as an actor, you read a lot of scripts, and some of them are great, but then the pilot gets made and it’s not as great as you thought it was when you read it, or it gets made and it’s amazing but then the audience doesn’t respond. Whatever it is, there’s some weird algorithm that has to happen for a show to really connect with an audience and to find people who want to watch it and who are going to love. And “Mad Men” did that, and “Covert Affairs” is doing that. They’re very different audiences, of course, but I’m very lucky to be involved in shows that have hit the nerve of people who want to see it. I feel so blessed just in that regard, because you can work and work and work as an actor and never be a part of something like that. I’ve been a part of a few things that I think people really respond to. That’s always very rewarding.

BE: On a related note, were you happy with the way your “Big Love” character’s arc ended?

AD: You know, honestly, I read the script and was, like, “Huh? What? She leaves…?” ‘Cause, you know, she really struck me at first as this Lady Macbeth kind of evil figure, so at first I thought, “Oh, this is so weak of her, it’s so unlike her. Why would she do this?” But, you know, yeah, I think it makes total sense, because...those women, it’s a very, very extreme situation, and her way of surviving in that world was sort of to be the favored wife of someone who was going to take over all the power, and in that way she was going to have some power herself. But I think when she realized that she wasn’t in the position that she used to be in, she had to bolt, you know? (Laughs) She had to get out of here! And I think it takes a very strong person to leave a situation like that. I think cults are kind of fascinating, because you really can’t leave a situation like that. It’s incredibly hard. So, yeah, I’m glad she’s out in the world. I don’t know what she would be doing now. Maybe working at a Barnes & Noble…? (Laughs) I don’t know. But, yeah, I’m glad that she broke free.

BE: We talked a fair amount about “House” when I talked to you before, but I don’t think I ever really asked you if you enjoyed the whole “Survivor”-esque experience that your character had to deal with during her first season.

AD: Did I enjoy that? No. (Laughs) No, that was horrific. That was really terrible. I mean, I think that I made some lifelong friends out of that, for sure. Peter Jacobson and Olivia Wilde and Kal (Penn) and Edi Gathegi and I will…well, I mean, we all went through a very traumatic experience together! (Laughs) It was like being in a war. We’ve all, thankfully, remained friends for a long time, because it was very stressful and very weird, very unusual to be on a faux reality show that really seemed to be a reality show. I think in retrospect I sort of became aware that it was less of a real reality show than it appeared to be, which is nice, but it was still stressful.

Anne Dudek

BE: So they played it pretty close to the vest, then, as far as who would end up getting the positions?

AD: Yeah, they didn’t let anything on at all to the actors. I mean, they’d give us scripts where the last few pages were gone, and that sort of thing. So, yeah, we really didn’t know. We were kept in the dark, and we were really led to believe that it was this whole contest. But I think that they had some idea of what they wanted before the show went down. I think Amber wasn’t really supposed to exist, actually, as long as she did in the competition. So I guess that’s kind of nice that they kept her around.

BE: Were you surprised when you got the callback from “How I Met Your Mother”?

AD: Yeah, but it was weird. I…I’m still friends with Josh Radnor, and every now and then, he mentioned ideas that the writers had thrown around for bringing my character back, so I thought it would be fun, but I didn’t think it would happen. So it was sweet to have a little thing where Natalie showed up again. That was fun. I mean, I have to say that it wasn’t completely and totally out of the blue, a “never in a million years would I have expected it” kind of thing, but it’s always very nice to revisit something that you’ve been a part of before, and I’m always happy to come back and work for that show, because it was a very good experience.

BE: I’m curious about “The Book Group.” That’s something on your resume that I don’t think a lot of Americans are necessarily aware of. How did you find your way onto a British program way back when?

On the “Survivor”-esque nature of her first season of “House”: "That was horrific. That was really terrible. it was very stressful and very weird, very unusual to be on a faux reality show that really seemed to be a reality show. They didn’t let anything on at all to the actors. I mean, they’d give us scripts where the last few pages were gone, and that sort of thing. So, yeah, we really didn’t know. We were kept in the dark, and we were really led to believe that it was this whole contest."

AD: Well, that was a Channel 4 program, and they…you know, television in the United States is very different. My understanding of it, at least when we did that program, was that they did these much shorter series. They did an eight-episode television series where all eight episodes are kind of written and are what they are. I think it might be, too, that it’s a smaller country and there’s less at stake for a show when you do it that way. The whole show will be commissioned, there’s no concern that your show will be canceled before it’s finished, and that way people are willing to take bigger risks. You might have a show that’s a total disaster, but you might have a show that has that little bit of magic and alchemy that makes it work, and the creators of the shows have a lot more control over what’s going on, because it’s not like the show has to go on for 24 episodes or three seasons or five years or whatever. So, anyway, with “The Book Group,” they came to the United States to cast the character of this American girl, and they didn’t need a star. They just hired some dorky girl that they found…which was me. (Laughs) I was very lucky. I auditioned in New York, I got the part, and it was such an amazing job. That was really sort of the first thing I had done on television, and I fell in love with it. I really had wanted to be a theater actor, but after that experience of doing that TV show… (Trails off) It was a little bit more like doing a play, because we rehearsed the whole series before we filmed it, and it was an ensemble of actors, so we worked on it together like we would have a play. But it was really amazing, I loved it, and it’s what made me want to do television.

BE: So beyond “Covert Affairs,” it looks like you’ve also got an upcoming film: “Shadow People.”

AD: Oh, is that what they’re calling it now? (Laughs) Okay, yeah, I’ve got “Shadow People,” then! I think they’re hoping to have that in the Toronto Film Festival, but I don’t know if they’re heard back from them. But that should be a great movie. The script was very interesting, so we’ll see. But the director, Matt Arnold, was really wonderful to work with, so I hope it all comes together the way he wants it to. That should be a fun movie.

BE: Lastly, I know I’ve asked you this before, but just in case you have a different answer this time, as many people do, what’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on over the years that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

AD: Oh, gosh. (Considers the question) You know, I did this weird film called “The Coat of Snow” that was written by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brother, Gordy Hoffman. He’s a very, very talented writer, and this was a very weird movie, so I think a lot of people didn’t really understand it. I thought it was really fantastic, and people sort of responded to it, like, “What is this really weird movie? Huh?” (Laughs) But I could tell what he was really after, and I think that movie should have…I think the right person needs to find it and put it in the spotlight for a moment.

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