Sendhil Ramamurthy Talks Season 2 of "Covert Affairs"

By Jamie Ruby

Covert AffairsSendhil Ramamurthy is probably best known for his role of Dr. Mohinder Suresh on NBC's Heroes. More recently he also starred in the Funny or Die short by Christopher Farah, "Egypt's Facebook Revolution" as well as the Indian release Shor in the City.

Ramamurthy currently stars as Jai Wilcox in USA Network's Covert Affairs, which is currently in its second season. The actors talked to the digital media about his role.

USA Network Conference Call
Covert Affairs
Sendhil Ramamurthy

November 17, 2011

Covert AffairsQUESTION: So you got a promotion this season.

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: I did get a promotion. I weaseled my way into a promotion.

QUESTION: You have your own office and everything.

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: Yes, a nice office. Let me tell you - it's a very nice office. It's nice to be in it. It's the hottest set that we have. I don't know if the air conditioning just doesn't work there or I don't know about that. I'm writing letters to people about the air conditioning situation in my office.

QUESTION: They couldn't make you too comfortable.

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: Exactly. Right. Heaven forbid.

QUESTION: How are you going to fit back into the storyline? Because you kind of just randomly appeared so far in episodes. And you have moments where you're arguing with Jill but other than that, we don't see you.

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: Yes. It's interesting. Trust me, I had that question too. There's basically the office of special projects that Jai is now heading up has different tasks that it has to perform and he answers to everybody's boss, even to Arthur's boss. He answers to the DCI.

And as we'll see in coming episodes, what the job entails, what that office, what the specifics of that office are, they're not that specific and Jai finds that out very quickly.

He's not quite sure what he's supposed to be doing and then Henry Wilcox actually will figure into informing him about what this is and point him in a direction or put him on a path that he goes on, which all comes to a head in the finale; actually in the final episode. [This] season you'll see what the office of special projects is and then what Jai is going to do about that without, wanting to give too much away. I know that was pretty broad.

QUESTION: It was very broad. Does Henry volunteer this information or does Jai have to go and question him about it? Henry seems to give information when he feels like it.

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: You know what their relationship is like. You know Henry - I mean they don't have the greatest relationship so it comes out in a typical typical Henry, Jai Wilcox fashion, you know. There's usually moments of contention between these two and that's where a lot of the information that Jai gets from Henry come out of the situations and we have plenty of them coming up.

QUESTION: Sounds good because I've been missing you on the show. You appear for a moment and then you go away.

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: Yes, I know. It's coming. It's coming. I think that next season what they have planned is to bring Jai more into the fold with Annie because this season Jai was very much on his own show a little bit.

You know, exploring other avenues and I think that the plan for next season - the writers went back last Monday. They went back into the writer's room last Monday. I think that's what the plan is for the next season, is to bring him more into Annie's world now. So and again the finale, especially Jai's final scene, really sets the tone for where he's going to be headed for season three.

QUESTION: Sounds good. I hope you get air conditioning soon. That does not sound enjoyable.

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: No. I tell you, it's not. I'm sweating under those suits so we're going to sort that out real quick, let me tell you.

QUESTION: So do you find that you're pretty in sync with Jai? That you can tell where his head's at or what's going to happen with him? Because there are some definitely major things going on, and do they come as a surprise to you or do you find them in correlation with your mindset for Jai?

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: No. They're not in correlation. I'm completely surprised by everything, really. I didn't see anything that has come so far or that is coming up in future episodes. I couldn't have thought of them, which I suppose is why I'm not a writer. I always think "Okay, so now he's going to do this," and then it goes the opposite way of what I'm thinking.

It keeps me on my toes, really. And I put the work in to try and make it all make sense to me. You kind of have to go back and I find it helpful to go back and watch previous episodes to help me and to plot his journey, because it is quite extreme at certain points.

He does extreme things; like what happened in the premiere of this little - I don't even know what we're calling it. Is it the fall season? The season 2.5 as we call it on set. I don't know what everybody else is calling it but we call it season 2.5.

And I didn't see that coming at all. That was the last thing, him using very Henry Wilcox-like methods to get what he wants, but he was pushed up against a corner.

So I think that that's where Jai operates out of a lot of the time is he - or so far anyway, is he exhausts avenues that are the right way to go about things. He goes through the proper channels and if all of that fails, then he has to go to his plan B or his plan C and what I'm curious to see is does that keep up?

Because the CIA, it's all about hierarchy and following the rules a lot or at least the way Jai sees it or saw it. Is he going to continue on like that or is he just going to be a rogue guy like a Ben Mercer-type guy. I don't know. I don't know the answer to that.

QUESTION: Going into the third season and knowing what you know and what we'll know soon enough, if you could give Jai a piece of advice, what would it be?

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: If I could give Jai a piece of advice it would be - wow. That's actually a really great question. If I could give Jai a piece of advice it would be to maybe trust people a little bit more.

I think that because of the way that he has been treated within the CIA and because of whose son he is and the reputation of his father, I think he at first came in really game and he got - I think over the course of these two seasons, he's become slightly jaded and I'd like to see him back to being able to trust certain people.

I think that he does still intrinsically trust Annie. I think that there's a possibility and I'm watching to see some more interactions between Jai and Auggie in the next episode.

But I think that not everybody - the sentiment that everybody is against Jai, while a lot of the time that seems to be true, I'd like to see if that's something that he can work around and be able to trust people and to have people trust him because it's not really - you can't do things on your own in an organization as big as the CIA. And, at some point, Jai is going to have to learn that. He's going to have to know that he can't just use people to get what he wants all the time.

And that's where I'd like him to go. That's what I'd like him to learn and we'll see if that happens.

QUESTION: [There was] a lot of hoopla over in the Twitter world when you went shirtless and Gorham was going in on it too and I was just wondering, do you like to do those kind of scenes and do you go to the gym and work out or do you just prepare yourself when that scene's going to be coming around?

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: Do I like doing those scenes? First of all, to the first part of your question is no. I don't. I don't think any of us like doing those scenes because it's hard work but, having said that, I've always been a really athletic guy. I was competitive tennis player and I don't lift weights. I don't go in and do weights in the gym but I do a lot of Pilates and stuff like that and yoga and I play a lot of tennis.

I travel everywhere with my tennis rackets and any chance I ge,t I get onto the tennis court. So I've always been a very active person but I certainly - put it this way, I wasn't there requesting to have a scene where I take my shirt off, that's for sure.

QUESTION: Now that you'll be on a hiatus from the show will you be working on any other projects?

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: I'm helping to produce a movie that we're hoping to shoot in February. I'm actually in Los Angeles right now working on it. I'm working on the script with the writer/director and we are hoping to start shooting right before we go back to work on Covert Affairs, to shoot the movie for a month in Los Angeles in February, so we'll see.

We still need a little bit more money. We still need to raise a little bit more money. That's what I'm spending my hiatus on, begging venture capitalists for money and trying to get this thing done. So that's pretty much what I'm doing over this hiatus. .

QUESTION: Since Jai has now shown himself to be at least as capable as his dad at the sneaking and conniving, I'm just wondering if that's going to be something that he uses more frequently or will his use of subterfuge be a last resort in situations where he just doesn't have any other option?

Covert AffairsSENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: That's a good question. It's a question that I don't know the answer to but I can tell you what I'd like to see. What I would like to see is that he varies it up, otherwise he just becomes the sneaky subterfuge guy. And he just becomes his father.

And I'd like to see Jai be more evolved. It's the CIA at the end of the day. You are going to have to use subterfuge at some point. I'm talking even within the walls of the CIA, politically in any organization whether it's the CIA or anywhere else.

You will have to use that a little bit. I like it when Jai is forced to use those kinds of things but I don't want it to be his go-to, his first port of call to be sneaky and devious and underhanded. I don't want him to be that because then he just becomes Henry. Then he becomes his father.

And I don't think that will happen because I think that that's actually Jai's greatest fear - his greatest fears are failure and becoming his father. Those are two things that drive him to excel and to try and be the best he can be and get to the strongest position that he can be within the CIA.

Jai's not the kind of person who's - he's never going to go against the CIA or his colleagues or anything like that. I think that he honestly feels that his talents aren't being utilized at the CIA and he feels honestly that he can do these jobs better than some people and that's why he goes after it.

That's always the approach and the position that I've seen him in. I don't look at him as this bad person, as this evil person. I see that everything that he does he will actually - there's a great scene that's coming up where explains what he wants this new position to be. What his goals and aspiration for the office of special projects is and what his role as the director is. And it's actually quite an unlikely person and it was a lot of fun shooting that scene. It's in the next episode.

And he explains it and you see that he actually does have a passion for what he's doing and he has definite goals and ideas of what his position and what this office should be within the CIA and what he's capable of. But there are obstacles. There are roadblocks and he has to try and figure them all out.

QUESTION: Now that he has, through his use of subterfuge, gotten some respect from Henry, how will that effect his mostly adversarial relationship with his father?

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: That's a great question and it is explored thoroughly in these next three episodes. Greg Itzin and I had a really great time when he came up. He's so much fun to work with and he's so detailed.

I learn a lot when I work with him. And we go through all the scenes beforehand. We always meet for dinner when he comes into town. When he flies up to Toronto, we meet up usually the night before - maybe two nights before we shoot our scenes and we go through them all and we just talk through them all.

And the relationship is an adversarial relationship. They don't have this lovey-dovey father-son relationship and I would be surprised if it ever becomes like that. You never know but I would be surprised if – I think that so much damage has been done during his childhood and I'm still very curious to see what happened with Jai's mom and how that all played out between Henry and the mom and Jai. And I think there's a lot of baggage there and I think there's a lot of hurt there on Jai's part.

And I don't know that it's ever going to be a lovey-dovey relationship but they have a relationship that they need each other certainly at this point in the story that we're telling.

And it comes to a head in the finale and ends again in a place that I never thought that we would go. I didn't really even see that avenue, which is why it's a good thing I'm not a writer.

QUESTION: For the rest of the season, what lengths will Jai go to in order to make his own name?

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: Well, Jai isn't pleased with what's been happening. He's being blatantly overlooked and set aside by Joan and by Arthur and he feels that it's really not for the right reasons because it's not like he's screwed up or it's not like he's doing his job poorly.

A lot of the reason is this ingrained notion that he must be like Henry because he is Henry Wilcox's son. And I think that a lot of what you've seen, how he got his promotion and all that, it's kind of like well, if you keep telling somebody that [they're like this] then eventually they're going to go to that place and show you that they can be that.

Now I think what's going to be interesting is to see the different layers of Jai which we actually saw a little bit of in the last episode.

He took the hit. He took the hit for shooting those people even though it was Eyal who did it. He's not a guy who's strictly out for himself. He's going to take some heat for that, for saying that it was him that shot these people even though it wasn't and it's very clear that's it not. I mean he just blatantly lies to Agent (Rosavi) - to the FBI agent.

So I'd like to see the layers there and not him just not going to devious places all the time. So we'll see. We'll see how it all plays out over the next few episodes and, more importantly, I think in the following season, in the third season.

QUESTION: How did Phoenix change Jai's mindset?

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: Well, it's basically you're in the major leagues and you're being sent down to the farm. You're being sent down to AAA or AA or A or whatever it is, when you're a player. When your last name's Wilcox and you're being demoted to the Phoenix office, that's going to get around really quick. Everybody's going to know and that is ringing through Jai's head when he makes these decisions.

In a sick way you can look at it as family honor, as well as pride. This guy has gone to Yale. He has succeeded at everything that he's ever done and he is getting, for lack of a better word, cock-blocked by people within the CIA, namely the Campbells. Really.

And it's turning into a Campbell-versus-Wilcox type situation. And he's kind of moved out of that realm where he doesn't really see Annie anymore. He doesn't really work with Annie except on vague missions and he's really being sidelined, I think, on the various missions; whether it's taking points on a mission or anything like that.

So he's not happy about it and he's going to do something about it and when Phoenix comes up, that's just the last straw for him. There's always the straw that breaks the camel's back and that's it. When we're sending you to Phoenix, it's his back up against the wall and he has to do whatever it takes even if it's extreme. You know, he screws over his friend. He screws over (Cam), his friend on the hearing committee.

And he does say that he will make it up to him and I'm very curious to see, because I've always seen Jai as a man of his word, I'm curious to see in the third season if he does or not. I pay attention to all of those little things. I always mark them down because I want to see if there is payback for it further on down the line.

But Phoenix was absolutely the impetus for him to go to the extremes that he did. He hasn't done anything wrong and he's being overlooked. That's Jai's point of view.

And when that happens, you can either take it lying down and be a doormat or you can go after it.And he's a Wilcox. He goes after it.

QUESTION: I think Jai will make it up. I'm interested to see how he does it, that's all.

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: Me too. I really am too. No, I'm very curious to see. And Matt and Chris and all the guys and the writers are - they, as much as we the actors, keep track of it, those guys keep track of it even more. They plot this stuff out so intricately and it's - to be able to juggle that many balls, it's not something that I'm capable of. It's hard enough juggling - I was about to say it's hard enough juggling Jai Wilcox's balls but I think I'll put that a different way.

It's hard enough juggling all those balls and I have a hard enough time just juggling my character's stuff. So for those guys to be dealing with all of our characters, it's a monumental feat and I'm in awe of what they do and I have no doubt that they will figure it out and it will be in a way that challenges me as an actor, which is the thing that I appreciate the most. It was a pretty extreme jump for Jai and that Matt and Chris and all the writers trusted me to make it was quite cool.

Covert AffairsQUESTION: Where would you like to see this character go and how far will you push it in terms of your acting in season three?

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: Well, I mean listen. This, as far as I'm concerned, is the right direction, where we're headed with this character because it was tough for the first ten episodes where they were building his dissatisfaction. It's a difficult thing to sustain as an actor for ten episodes when you're more or less kind of dissatisfied and glaring at people.

And then the exciting part for an actor is when you get to take action. It's really hard to play something that's passive and now he's more active and he's more - I don't know if aggressive is the right word but he's working towards something, anyway.

I think we've certainly established that and I think that it's certainly going to be a confrontational relationship with a lot of the characters just because listen, he came in. He was shoehorned in by Arthur. He was brought into the DPT and automatically as an interloper. So he came into in this very difficult situation into the DPT and into Langley and he's come from London.

I'm still very curious as to what happened in London, what he was doing there, but that's a whole separate story. I just want to see more layers to him than - we're exploring them right now and I think it's such a complex character and I just don't want the - my biggest fear is that Jai just becomes the evil guy.

Because I think that again becomes limiting. You can't keep playing that without exhausting the story very quickly. How evil can you get within the walls of the CIA without actually going against the country and going against the CIA? Which I just don't think is something that Jai would ever do.

So I'd like to see variations in what he does and I think that the way that can be explored is through his interactions with the other characters. Because as other people have been saying too, he has been very separate this whole season.

And I'd like to see him brought more into the fold with the others characters and see how those interactions happen and how they affect him and how the antagonism maybe between certain characters and him goes and then how maybe they find common ground - some of them as well.

That's the way things work within the CIA. So I'd like to see that.

QUESTION: Initially you were in the mix with people and then to see that you suddenly were - you get to see you in sporadic pieces and the tension is building. People are wondering how far it's going to go.

When you see that in terms of the character, looking at those two characters and how their relationship is building and how they're getting close, does he - because Jai used to have some relationship with these people much more. In terms of it looked like there was a growing relationship with Annie and now it's - she looks at him with, some kind of like what's going down here and...

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: Yes, you know, that's - those are the swings that television takes and you don't really have any control over them.

It's hard because you don't exactly know what the end game is, but that's where your trust in your writers has to come in and you have to trust that they have taken Jai out of the fold to somehow bring him back in in a new and interesting way because otherwise, what's the point?

Otherwise there's no point to the character so I have to assume that at some point, Jai will be brought back into the fold and more into the mix with Annie.

At the end of the day, the show's about Annie Walker. It's not about Jai Wilcox or Auggie Anderson or Arthur Campbell, Joan Campbell. It's about Annie Walker.

So at some point, Jai will have to be brought back into the fold with Annie and I'm very curious to see how that's done because I think that the one constant has been that there's clearly an affection for Annie with Jai.

Even in the last episode we saw it. It was one of the few times actually that Piper and I had worked together up until that point this season. You know, Jai really has been off on his own.

And I think that's something that's important to him. I think it's important to Jai and I think that when he was told to get close to Annie during the first season, he did because he was supposed to because that was his job but he actually developed a, you know, an affection for Annie and is certainly there for her if and when she needs it and I'd love to see more of that and see, you know, whether that's done by Jai going on missions with Annie or if it's done, you know, some other way. I don't really know what is planned. I just know what I hope.

QUESTION: Your character is borderline villainous we can say. How do you like playing a character that is gray area of both friend and foe?

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: Gray area is the way I look at it. I don't actually see any villainous because it's, you know, villainous is really from what perspective you're looking at it. If you look at him as a villain that means that you think that Arthur and Joan and what they're doing is right and Jay certainly doesn't see it that way.

And so but the gray area is something that I'm very interested in for Jai and just as an actor. Those are the things that I find really interesting to play.

What - where it becomes hard is that if the gray area becomes all black or all white because then there's nothing to play. So I really want Jai to balance it and that's hard. That's hard to write and it's hard to maintain as an actor.

It's, you know, it's a very difficult thing and there are actually very few shows that are able to do it properly and I think that ours is going to be one of those that's able to do it because of the, you know, just because of the strength of our writing team.

But, you know, I'd love for it to, you know, when you think Jai is doing something wrong and you think he's going down the wrong path, for him to prove you right and then when you think he's doing, you know, great and he's going to be the good guy, then he's just kind of - he can't help himself and his ambitions get in the way.

You know, that's really what I would like to see, you know, more of because just being a good guy and being the good guy, I just find that really boring to play. I don't - it's not something that appeals to me.

So I want to see him teetering on the edge and to be kind of pulled in different directions and for his emotions to be pulled on as well. You know, and we get a little bit of that actually towards the end of the season involving Jai and Henry. You know, I think it's certainly an avenue that the writers are open to exploring and I think that we'll see more of that in the third season as well.

QUESTION: What do you think the audience and the fans think of your character?

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: I have no idea. The comment that I get most of the time, just by people walking up to me is, you know, what is he up to because I think it was very difficult for the audience because in the first ten episodes he was, you know, really - he was there but not there. And then all of a sudden he kind of jumped, you know, jumped into the story in the premier of season 2.5 and I think that it was - it was kind of like oh, okay. So he's coming into the story now.

So I'd like to see Jai be a bit more of a constant presence in the story. How that's done, I don't know but you know it's - I think it's difficult now to connect with him simply because his appearance is so sporadic but that changes so you know we'll see how it goes.

Right now I'm not sure that the audience knows what to think of Jai and I actually don't - I don't see that as a bad thing as long as that's kind of resolved.

Covert AffairsQUESTION: How about guest stars? Who would you like to have coming by to Covert Affairs?

SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: Who would I like to have - I'd love to see Santi come back - to see Santiago Cabrera come back. He's a very good buddy of mine. I was actually at dinner with him last night and I'd love to see him come back. It's always fun when (Odette) comes back. You know, he's certainly one of our favorites.

You know, he and Bailey is really great to work with and, you know, for me personally, you know, my stuff with Greg Itzin is some of - it's Jai's juiciest stuff is with, you know, with Henry and I'd love for him to come back.

Who else was cool? Jaimie Alexander who played Reva. That was a fun character. Yes. We've had - we've actually been really lucky with a lot of our guest stars. We've had some really good people and you know I have a feeling that you'll be seeing more of your favorites hopefully in the third season.

Again, you know, with guest stars it's tough because it depends if they're available so, you know, they're - I know for sure that last season there were people that we wanted to have back but we weren't able to because, you know, guest stars aren't under contract. They're just under contract for the one episode so you have to, you know, you have to make sure that the actor is available. So that's, you know, that's - it's dependent on that a lot.

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