After a year of playing a blind man on Covert Affairs, Christopher Gorham had to set his sights on a new challenge: playing the same man sighted.
"It was so strange. It didn't feel like Auggie!" Gorham tells TVGuide.com. "I had to remind myself that I could make eye contact with my co-stars. It was re-training myself briefly. But it was fun."
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Fans will finally get to, well, see sighted Auggie on Tuesday (10/9c, USA) when the spy drama flashes back to reveal how the CIA agent got blinded while serving in Iraq. It starts with a trip to Istanbul, where Auggie attends a jazz festival and records the music. One microphone picks up something he thought he'd never hear again: the voice of the man who blinded him. With help from Franka (Rebecca Mader), a flight attendant with whom he "befriends intimately," and Annie (Piper Perabo) at the headquarters, Auggie tries to track him down.
"It goes back and forth between past and present," Gorham says. "We see the person [who blinded him] in both. We see Auggie with his unit. There are football games going on at the base and then you seen them on a mission, which gets dangerous quickly. The episode is huge."
For Gorham, preparing for the episode — which was shot in Istanbul — was vital. First, there was the physical part. That football scene? The guys are shirtless in all their sweat-drenched, six-pack glory. Gorham, who has been working with a trainer since the pilot, beefed up his regimen. "I took it very seriously. I didn't enjoy any of it," he says. "It's a seven-day routine with cardio and weights and biometrics. It's rather unpleasant. But there's plenty of shirtless Auggie! Plenty of shirtlessness!" Then it was preparing to play Auggie sighted. Instead of researching the blind aspect like he usually does, the actor shifted his focus to Auggie's military background. He met with a military adviser and also had a consultant on the set.
"I wanted to portray him as accurately as I could. It's tough in one week," he says. "But it was liberating to be able to change it up. ... You'll see the differences [between sighted and blind Auggie]. He's in charge [on the mission], but it's a different way from how he is in the CIA. And he's playing football and he's free and invincible. It's that young mindset. Then it changes."
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The scene in which Auggie loses his sight is intense, Gorham says. But also short-lived — his reaction to learning he's blind and his recovery are not explored, though the actor hopes the show will do so eventually, perhaps in a longer format.
"I pitched it as a prequel movie!" he says. (Hey, Burn Notice got one!) "It could potentially be a really good way to dig in and explore what that was in between sighted, kick-ass Auggie and non-sighted, kick-ass Auggie. What really weighs on him is not that he lost his sight, but what happened to the other guys in his unit. Based on the people I've talked to and the books I've read, it's true for most veterans. ... It's like survivor's guilt. I think people may be surprised to see that his feelings don't have a lot to do with his injury."
Auggie's feelings about the accident are touched upon slightly, namely with Annie. Because of her involvement, she eventually learns the true story from Auggie, who has long offered vague, conflicting explanations about how he got blinded. "It's a turning point," Gorham says. "Knowing the truth now, I think she sees him differently" — especially since she questions early in the episode his capability of getting around by himself in Istanbul.
"One of the things I'm proudest of is that this character is such a positive portrayal of a disabled veteran on television," Gorham says. "In Istanbul ... I saw a blind man walking with a cane at full pace by himself down this [crowded] boulevard carrying a violin case. I thought, 'That's a perfect example. If anyone had any doubt someone like Auggie can go to a city like Istanbul by himself and get around, look at this guy.' There are people like Auggie all over the world. We've got thousands of disabled vets coming home ... and they are largely ignored, and USA Network is not ignoring them. I'm just honored to be part of it."
Watch our interview with Gorham: