Piper Perabo fully admits to bending the truth to get a role. It doesn’t always work, but acting is all about pretending, something she’s been doing a pretty great job of ever since she got her big break as a barmaid in Coyote Ugly. Her five-season role as spy Annie Walker in USA’s Covert Affairs often hinged on subterfuge, and her new one, in ABC’s Notorious (Thursdays at 9/8c, premiering tonight) involves plenty of mind games and manipulation.

As news producer Julia George, the Dallas native stars opposite Daniel Sunjata (Rescue Me) in the drama based on Larry King Live producer Wendy Walker and defense attorney Mark Geragos and how they joined forces to game the media, the justice system and each other. Read on for what made the gig irresistible—and the true story of a little white lie that blew up in her pretty face.

“I was meeting a producer about playing a concert pianist, and I had lied up until then, saying, ‘I’m really good at the piano.’ Then I noticed there was a piano behind him, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to ask me to play the piano.’ So I started mercilessly flirting, hoping that would distract him…”

How do you compare this role to Covert Affairs?
Annie was a smart woman who went to work on the fly, so in that way it’s similar, but she was kind of an underdog, whereas Julia is farther along in her career. She’s a boss. And she’s so smart. I was looking for that. I’m interested in seeing what it is to balance a really powerful job and your personal life at the same time.

The relationship between your character and Daniel Sunjata’s is certainly complicated. How do you see it?
They need each other but don’t always have the same end in mind. So I think there’s going to be both partnership and maybe some double crossing. We’ll see how it’s going to evolve.

Could you see yourself doing this kind of job?
Yes. When I went to Langley to study to do Covert Affairs I didn’t want to be a real spy. But when I was in CNN newsrooms in New York and Atlanta, I was like, “I would want to be a journalist or a news producer.” It’s a fast-paced world that’s so dramatic and exciting. There are so few jobs that you can make a difference in the moment.

Do you watch a lot of TV news?
Yeah. I am a news junkie. I really like radio news. I’m a big NPR fan. But this has gotten me into television news.

What are you proudest of so far?
I did Neil LaBute’s play, Reasons to Be Pretty, on Broadway. That was the first time that one of his plays had gone to Broadway.

Do you want to do more theater?
I do. Definitely. Hopefully I’ll be doing Notorious for a big chunk of the year, but we get this hiatus from spring into early summer, and I think it’s also exciting to do something really contrasting. So I look forward to those breaks as well.

Do you have a game plan for five, ten years down the line?
Maybe you can if you’re Leonardo DiCaprio and you can choose any script in town, but I’ve always just tried to go with the strongest writing that I could find, whether it was in the theater or in television or on film. I’m just trying to do the thing that seems the most interesting.

What’s the craziest thing you ever did for a role?
I lie all the time about what I can do. One time I was meeting a producer about playing a concert pianist, and I had lied up until then, saying, “I’m really good at the piano.” I played the piano when I was, like, seven. Then I noticed there was a piano behind him, and I thought, “Oh my God, he’s going to ask me to play the piano.” So I started mercilessly flirting, hoping that would distract him. Then I said, “Oh, I have another audition that I have to be at.” I got out of there as fast as I could before he asked me to play.

You didn’t get the part, did you?
No, thank goodness.

What would you have done?
Taken a lot of piano lessons!

Lead photo: Kevin Foley/ABC