Covert Affairs Postmortem: Sendhil Ramamurthy on Jai 2.0, Going Shirtless with Chris Gorham
[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from the midseason premiere of Covert Affairs. Read at your own risk.]
Jai packed his bags — but he didn't go to Phoenix.
Instead, he moved down the hall on the Covert Affairs midseason premiere into his new, swanky digs as director of special projects for the director of national intelligence — just like he had planned.
Covert Affairs' Sendhil Ramamurthy: Jai becomes a force to be reckoned with
Taking matters into his own hands for once, after Joan's shoddy reassignment in the summer finale, Jai (Sendhi Ramamurthy) slyly worked everyone like any good CIA officer would. He pestered his old frat brother into having him deposed in the Intelligence Committee's investigation into the CIA leak and made sure his dad Henry (Gregory Itzin) — aka the leak and hardly the apple of the agency's eye — got wind of that. That ultimately forced Henry to pull "all" of his strings to get Jai the new gig.
So what does the director of special projects do? And what does this mean for Joan (Kari Matchett), Arthur (Peter Gallagher), Annie (Piper Perabo), Auggie (Christopher Gorham) and, of course, Henry? Ramamurthy answers our burning questions about the twist and makes a promise for Season 3.
What was your reaction when you found out what Jai's plan was?
Sendhil Ramamurthy: I was so, so excited. I didn't [predict] it at all. ... I thought he was calling Ben Mercer ... so when I found out he was calling to get deposed and how it fell into place, it all made sense. And Jai had to do this. ... In the summer finale, there was scene between Jai and Arthur that was cut where he makes one last-ditch effort to go through the right channels. He goes to Arthur and lays it all out: "I've done everything I'm supposed to do and I'm getting screwed here and I'm not happy about it." Arthur's advice to him is, "You keep turning to other people, who are supposed to make things happen for you, and that's not the way the CIA works. If you want to be successful in the CIA, you need to rely on yourself." And that's why he made that call.
Through the rest of the season, you'll see Jai take advice from people and use it to get ahead. He's smart enough to know he can get far on his own, but no one can get there solely on their own, so he goes to people who know more than he does. There are people who you think are really unlikely that he goes to for advice. He takes it and runs with it on his own. He's never going to be going against the CIA or going against the United States, but you see he's not going to be much of a boy scout.
He spent most of the second season not really doing anything. Are you surprised it took this long for him to take action? Was Phoenix the last straw?
Ramamurthy: I think he kind of expected to skate a little bit even though his father didn't have the greatest reputation. But Henry was feared within the CIA walls. Nobody was going to mess with Henry Wilcox. When Jai got there at first, I think he kind of assumed the same. After Phoenix, he's kind of like, "Enough is enough. I'm clearly not going to get what I want simply because of my last name," so I'm going to have to go out and get it myself. He's more than capable of it.
So what does the director of special projects do?
Ramamurthy: That's the question! What is this? It's a new initiative, so what the hell does that mean? That's what's really explored in these next six episodes. ... I report to the DNI [director of national intelligence], who is Arthur's boss. There's only one person above Arthur Campbell and that's the DNI. Are we going to see this guy? I don't know. We haven't explored him. What is he capable of doing? What can Jai do mission-wise? You're going to see him taking on specific missions and kind of resurrecting a mission or two that's been shelved. He's certainly looking to make his own name.
Check out photos from Covert Affairs
Does he have his own minions?
Ramamurthy: Yeah, he's got minions! He's got his own secretary. He has access. They built a new set [for his office] and when I walked onto the set, I was like, "Yeah! We've arrived now." It's the set right next to the Suits set, which is very cool. I was giving Peter Gallagher a hard time because Jai's office is so much nicer! He's got this huge, 50-inch flat-screen plasma with all these mini-screens underneath. The only thing I don't like about that set is that it's the hottest set on the entire show. ... I'm writing a strongly worded letter to somebody about the heat. Season 3, there'll be air conditioning! But yeah, he's big-time now.
He's obviously in a position of power now, but where on the totem pole does he lie in relation to Joan?
Ramamurthy: I would say they're equals now. You'll see the power struggle between Jai and Joan. They become interdependent. One has to go to the other to ask for things and vice versa. Can these two co-habit? Let's face it: They don't get along. They don't like each other. They're gonna have to find a way to make this work or not as the case may be. Kari and I always mess around on set, like Jai and Joan have hate sex after these scenes. [Laughs] Like they have this whole other life. We keep pitching it to the writers and they look at us like we're insane, but we just keep going for it anyway. We have a whole separate life going on for Jai and Joan that no one else seems to be on board for! It'd be hilarious if the show went that direction!
Are there going to be blowups between them, or will they keep it professional with curt exchanges?
Ramamurthy: They're curt with each other. When two people dislike each other that much, even their curt exchanges are going to be heated. With Jai 2.0, he doesn't take sh-- from anybody and he's going to go out and get what he wants from people. That may rub people the wrong way. The difference now is that Jai doesn't care. I think there was a huge part of Jai that really wanted and needed to be liked simply because Henry is hated by everybody. It's this whole stink of nepotism that's around this guy. He hates it and in his mind, it's blocking his progress. Now he's just going for it.
Joan watched him pack up and leave. Does she know then that he's not going to Phoenix?
Ramamurthy: I thought she didn't know. But the guys said she does know ... and you'll see [her reaction] in the very next episode. She's powerless. The head honcho has made this decision. She knows that he's now in a position of power where she may need to go to him for things. And he may come to her and she has to listen to him as an equal, which does not thrill her!
How does this affect his relationship with Arthur?
Ramamurthy: It has a profound effect. As you'll see in Arthur's story arc, Arthur ain't squeaky clean either. He's not Henry Wilcox, but he's done some shady things. The final scene of the season between Jai and Arthur is huge. When you're on set, usually crew members are like, "Whatever. We're getting along here." When we did the blocking for the camera, the whole crew was silent. As soon as we finished the scene, there was this, "Oooh." That never happens. Everybody took notice of that scene because it really set the stage for next season. ... There's a cliff-hanger certainly for Jai and what he wants to do.
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Henry basically says this isn't over between them. What can we expect?
Ramamurthy: The last episode is awesome. Gregory Itzin and I rehearsed our scenes the night before over dinner and talked about their whole relationship. Jai is going to be faced with decisions that he has to make. They're not easy and he realizes they're going to have effects on his personal life and his professional life. Ultimately he makes the hard choice. I hope that that final scene with Jai and Arthur has ramifications for the relationship with Henry. You see how torn Jai is. As much as he wants to be this emotionless kind of guy, he's very much affected by it. He's been hiding it, but he's not going to let that stop him, and that's kind of the last line of that scene. Like this is Jai 2.0 and this is who he's going to be.
How about Annie and Auggie? Do they figure into his big picture at all?
Ramamurthy: He's been very loyal to Annie and I think he's going to continue to be very loyal to Annie.He certainly has a soft spot for Annie. I don't know, as far as exploring more between them on missions and stuff, what's going to happen, but we do explore the dynamic between Auggie and Jai quite a bit. Chris and I had a great time working together.
Do you guys share any shirtless scenes?
Ramamurthy: [Laughs] Sadly, no. Not yet. But hopefully there are many more seasons to come. Maybe we'll have an ab-off or something. I'm going to e-mail Matt and Chris now. We're going to work that out. It's happening. You can print that. Jai and Auggie will be shirtless at some point in the near future together in a non-homoerotic way. As we speak, I'm writing, "Auggie and Jai must be shirtless together in Season 3."