Inspired by the true-life stories of longtime CNN news producer Wendy Walker and criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos who both serve as executive producers on the project, Perabo says she studied Walker’s professional life in preparation of the part.
“Wendy wrote a book about her life at CNN, so I read the book and then I did a series of interviews with her kind of digging into the meat and the sort of emotional underpinnings of those experiences. And also trying to find out more about her as a person and sort of why she made the decisions that she did when she was working with Larry King,” Perabo told PEOPLE.
According to Perabo, the pilot was shot at CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta, which allowed her to shadow and observe journalists working in a real-life newsroom.
“I went there and was in the control rooms, the meetings, the stages, just watching how this gets done. Then I did that again when we finished the pilot in the newsrooms in New York,” Perabo said. “So I was just trying to absorb the day to day reality of doing this job. Luckily when I’ve been there, a couple of times big news has broken so I could see what it was like when they really have to switch it into high gear.”
Perabo, 39, said that she chooses roles based off of “gut, emotional reactions to scenes in the script” – and signing on to play a role based off of Walker’s professional life was no different. “I read the script and then I read Wendy Walker’s book and I got really excited about trying to play a woman like Wendy Walker,” she said.
“Not only could I get her take on everything but she was the consultant on the pilot and she’s been on set a lot. So when we laid out how the control room set would be and how’d you deal with certain kinds of guests and certain problems and judgment calls, ethical standards within the news, she’s there for all of that,” the Notorious actress complimented Walker of her guidance. “Even when she’s not there I can text her in the middle of the night when I have questions and say ‘Hey, I have to do this scene and I need to handle this situation. Has this ever gone down for you and how did you handle it?’ It’s really helpful.”
Asked if she was intimated to play a character based off of Walker’s life, Perabo – who has nearly two decades of professional acting experience on her resume – said of the longtime news producer, “I made it very clear to her at the beginning, ‘I’m not telling anybody that I’m playing you so that I can do some morally ambiguous things and no one assumes that you ever did that.’ ”
“She’s so supportive of the project and she really wants it to be good so she’s always been so supportive and so open with me about how she would have done it and then we look at the fictional scenario and see how to address it with the writers,” said Perabo of Walker.
Notorious has its season premiere Sept. 22 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.