One of this summer’s most anticipated new dramas is USA’s Graceland — and no, this isn’t a show about Elvis. Rather, the title refers to a beachfront mansion that houses six agents from the FBI, DEA and Customs. During a set visit earlier this year, Aaron Tveit and Daniel Sunjata talked about what drew them in to want to play these characters, the book smarts vs. street smarts nature of Mike and Briggs and how Graceland compares to other USA shows.
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Mike Warren: A Book Smart Rookie
On what attracted him to the role of Mike Warren, Aaron Tveit said, “When I first read this, I really liked the whole construct of the show, but what really drove me to Mike is that they speak about how he’s kind of the top of his class. He’s a really smart guy, but he’s very much a winning character. He was a person with a good moral structure and good values. … [Mike’s] a brilliant agent, and he kind of has no field experience. So I thought it was very interesting to see how all those things are going to come together.”
As Tveit explained, Mike is very much a book smarts person, but can he handle the pressure of actually being out there in the field and putting into practice what he has learned up until now? “Mike is thrown right into it,” he said. “He’s someone who’s very prepared for this job, but he just kind of doesn’t actually have the sea legs. They drop him right in the water and kind of tell him to figure out how to swim right away. So I have to learn really fast what happens. … He grows up real quick.”
Paul Briggs: The Street Smart Senior Agent
Daniel Sunjata, who plays FBI agent Paul Briggs, was immediately intrigued by the fact that his character (and all the rest, for that matter) was a complex character, that were a sense of depth and intrigue to him. As he said, “I haven’t had a ton of opportunities in my career so far on camera to play characters that have multiple levels going on at the same time, characters with this type of complexity and texture to them. And so as soon as I saw the writing — and of course, it’s Jeff Eastin, so I knew the history of White Collar. I knew he was a great storyteller.”
He went on to say, “Every character has their moment where you get a little bit of their back story and you figure out how they ended up in a place like Graceland, and definitely the same is true of Briggs, for sure.”
Speaking about what Briggs is like: “He’s got kind of a surfer-slacker-Bohemian vibe, and yet when it comes time to take care of business, he’s absolutely all about it, and he always gets his man, so to speak.” That depth to not only his character, but the entire household of agents, will reveal itself over the course of the season: “You’ll see not only Briggs’ demons, but some demons from other people in the show. No, nothing is as it seems in Graceland. We set the tone with the pilot … and then from there, threads start to unravel, and you start to see what’s going on on the underbelly of the ship. Everybody’s got secrets.”
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On how much Briggs gets involved, he said, “He’s the senior agent in the house, and of course in any cases that he’s in charge of, he’s going to be alpha in that situation. But even in situations where it’s somebody else’s case load or somebody else’s confidential informant or what have you, sometimes Briggs comes in and does take a position of mentorship or gives advice, probably because he’s got the most field experience of anybody in the house.”
Agent Briggs seems to have a complete opposite approach and style, being more of a street smart person, when compared to Mike. Since Mike and Briggs have to not only live together in Graceland, but work together on cases as well, that counter-relationship will play into the show and how they get along. “Mike really likes Briggs,” Tveit went on to say. “Briggs is a great agent, and he realizes that he can learn a lot from him. But at the end of the day, they just go about things in very, very different ways. So they’re always going to be at odds.”
Gray Skies Ahead
If it sounds like Graceland is going to be a dark show, Sunjata warns that it is. If you’re a regular viewer of shows on the USA Network, he’s also giving a little warning to expect something different than what the network normally offers: “It’s not going to be the typical blue skies fair of USA. It’s more gray skies, and I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. There’s definitely some levity, there’s some comedy. But I think that [viewers] should brace themselves for a little trip to the dark side, so to speak.”
Graceland premieres Thursday, June 6 at 10pm on USA.
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(Image courtesy of USA)