Berlin Station: Michelle Forbes (Valerie)

Berlin Station: Interview with Michelle Forbes who plays Valerie

Category: Interview

Who do you play in Berlin Station?

I play Valerie Edwards who is Global Affairs Branch Chief for the Berlin Station, which is a CIA station here in Berlin. Valerie’s main position is to oversee the case officers. Because of a certain leak that has come out and certain outwards circumstances her position keeps changing. As the chessboard changes and the chess pieces change so do everyone’s loyalties and everyone’s positions. While I would normally only oversee the case officers I am also going back to her old job a bit more working with agents on a close level and working out in the field a bit more. I think for Valerie it’s good for her to be out in the field again as she’s been struggling to perhaps have a more stationary life. There’s an addiction for the lifestyle.


Is Valerie a moral character?

Valerie definitely has a moral compass that is constantly on the verge of being compromised by the very nature of what we do. She’s hyper aware of that and is always trying to maintain the steadiness of that. It’s difficult when you live in a world that lives in the shadows and when you’re forced to live in the shadows. When duplicity is a part of your job how do you maintain your moral compass? Because of Valerie’s tenure and experience she is quite aware that it’s very easy for people to lose their moral way, to switch their loyalties. That’s the beauty of this show and the beauty of the writing. As I said, as the chessboard changes everyone’s loyalties switch and sway and ebb and flow. When you live such a duplicitous life your soul is kind of chipped away. When you take on other identities, who are you at the end of the day? It’s very easy to lose your way.


What sets Berlin Station apart from other spy shows?

We take a deeper look into the psychology and inner lives of people who do this very odd job for a living. We have the courage to include the gallows humour which to me was very important. It is a drama based in this workplace where nobody is allowed to tell the truth, so of course things are shifting and walls are coming in and moving out. To maintain your integrity in the midst of that distortion I think is really key for each of these characters and fascinating to watch.


What’s Valerie’s first impression of new guy Daniel (Richard Armitage)? Does it change at all?

Valerie is doing her job. She’s sniffing him out, but he came highly recommended in a way that was unusual. His trajectory is unusual. That puts a question mark on him immediately. But on some level there is a trust. As she sniffs him out a bit she has to make a gut decision to trust someone or not. They’re always on probation certainly, or psychological probation. But certainly as time goes on he proves himself to be quite able, quite capable, highly intelligent and good at his job. Daniel has also taken over from an agent who was exposed during the leak who I was very close to and had been a very close colleague of mine, so there’s another question mark: could he take over from this agent and do as good a job?


What’s it like playing a character in what is probably a very male dominated industry? Is that something you see as part of Valerie’s character?

I’m very proud of our writers and what we’ve accomplished as far as Valerie being one of the sole women in a position of power and equality in this station and how we’ve dealt with it, which is not really dealing with it. There might be some archaic underpinnings from before from people like Robert Kirsch, but you do your job and you get on with it and the knuckle draggers will catch up. We all know how capable women are. I had an interesting conversation with someone in the CIA at the US Embassy in Berlin and I asked him what the ratio was with women and what sexism was like. He said the ratio is pretty good if not completely equal these days. That made me feel pretty good. I hope he’s telling the truth!


What about the show or the role clicked for you?

I was a little burnout and I had taken eight months off. I wasn’t really interested in anything I was reading. This came across my lap and it was a scene with Hector that made me sit up and say “That’s not a twist I saw coming!” I’m like a psychic reading a script, I can see everything that’s coming down the road, and that got me. I got up, I made a pot of coffee, and I sat down and read it and fell in love with it. I don’t know what it is, you just get that feeling in your gut, that this is the one. I loved Olen’s writing and I had a Skype phone call with him, he’s such a lovely guy. So warm, so kind. We just had a good talk and I felt safe immediately. That meant the world to me.


Do you think you or any of your fellow cast members could be good spies?

Do I think actors would make good spies? Absolutely not! We are such chickens in real life. Do we lie for a living? Yes. But we pay somebody else to write those lies and if we don’t get it right, we get a second, third, fourth take if necessary. When we have to do research or ride-alongs, or go into these dangerous situations, we’re always completely protected. Coming down to it, if you had to really throw us into a situation like that, we’d be calling our agents and managers so fast to get out of that situation… we wouldn’t know what to do! I have friends who are activists who do undercover work and I’m constantly picking their brains about it. What’s extraordinary is there are no do-overs. You get caught, you get caught. You go to prison. For people who truly spy, you get caught, you get killed. So no, we’re much too silly. I am, at least!


In the show there are a lot of colourful agent names like ‘Joker’ and ‘Swingset’. If you were an agent, what would your spy name be?

‘Clumsy Man’. But it must be said with a Russian accent!