Some of the U.S. government’s most closely guarded secrets will never be known by civilians. Others end up on network TV. On NBC’s new series State of Affairs, a cast lead by Katherine Heigl portrays a crack group of CIA analysts whose job is to brief the president on the world’s most pressing news—and, more often than not, get involved with it themselves.
For Tommy Savas, who plays agency operative Dashiell Greer, working on the series isn’t just a job, it’s a learning experience. Here, he tells DuJour about landing the role, his one-man crash course in current affairs and just how he feels about government conspiracy theories.
The last series you were on had you playing a Navy SEAL, and on State of Affairs you’re a CIA agent. Why all the special-ops roles?
I was filming a TV show called The Last Ship, and in between episodes I had an opportunity to come in and audition for State of Affairs. Usually you go from reading for a casting director to doing a network or studio test at your next audition, but since I was in the middle of making a show, I wasn’t able to come to L.A. for that process. Luckily they had enough faith in me that they saw a tape from my previous audition and offered me the role.
And you were ready to jump into more cloak and dagger action?
I’d previously played a Navy SEAL, and I really got to dive into the role and get to understand the armed forces and that kind of life. When I read the script for this, what appealed to me was that it was about the unsung heroes on the other side of what I had just played. This show is about CIA analysts, the people who do so much that nobody ever hears about. This is the first time America is being introduced to these people and that really drew me in.
What kind of research do you do for a role when nobody’s supposed to know anything about the guy you’re playing?
Two of our executive producers were in the CIA and one of them actually did the job I’m pretending to do. I had the opportunity to go with him to CIA headquarters at Langley to see the environment and talk to the men and women who do the job my character does.
And are you cramming with issues of Foreign Policy?
Absolutely! This role has had the most homework I’ve ever had. It’s like a college course in political science. A lot of the dialogue is intricate, with lots of words you might not use in everyday conversation. I like to know what I’m saying and what it means.
Of the group of analysts he’s part of, your character seems to really stand apart.
Dashiell is the youngest member of the president’s briefing team. With him, you get to see how the job and the environment affect him and how he grows up around these unusual high stakes. Every decision he makes impacts other people’s lives.
With any D.C.-based show, you’re going to get some diplomatic skullduggery. What’s your personal favorite political conspiracy theory?
In my younger days, I was really into conspiracy theories. I’ve mellowed with age and now to me a lot of that stuff is a waste of time. I err on the side of thinking most people are good and aren’t trying to bamboozle me.