The USA Network drama series Graceland, currently in its second season, follows the high-stakes investigative lives of six undercover federal agents who live together in a government-seized Southern California beachfront house. That is especially challenging with former FBI rookie Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit) back to run point on a dangerous mission against the cartel, all while Briggs (Daniel Sunjata) is still concerned about the missing recording that implicates him in a murder.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Manny Montana (who plays FBI Agent Joe “Johnny” Tuturro) talked about his most memorable episode from Season 1, what he was most anxious to learn about in Season 2, the journey that Johnny is taking this season, going so deep undercover that the lines start to blur, how long everyone can live in one house together before someone reaches a breaking point, and his favorite episode in Season 2. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
MANNY MONTANA: Yeah, the “King’s Castle” episode where I do the bounce house thing. That was the funnest episode for me, as an actor, and for my character, Johnny. It sums him up, in a nutshell. He’s trying to do something great for the house and get everybody together, and it doesn’t work, so he blows up and lets the whole house have it, which I like. You can’t always be the jokester and the doormat. I like that he said what he had to say. And in Season 2, I like that he’s becoming his own man, but is still keeping his own heart.
After how things were left in the Season 1 finale, what were you most anxious to learn about for Season 2?
MONTANA: I was most anxiously, honestly, about my castmates. I do watch this show, as a fan, and I wanted so much to dive deep into Jakes’ past. I wanted to know more about Jakes’ ex-girl and his baby. And I wanted to know more about Charlie and her character. What I wanted is exactly what’s happening in Season 2. Everybody is the opposite of what they were, in a lot of ways. It’s really fun to watch Mike be damn near completely different from what he was in the first season.
It always takes everyone a bit of time to find their groove in the first season of a show. When you have a longer break for the shorter cable season, do you feel like you need to find your groove again, or did everyone slip back into their characters and the show pretty easily?
MONTANA: It’s something that’s different for everybody. As soon as I get back home to L.A., I jump back into my acting class or I’ll book work during my hiatus, so I never feel rusty. Honestly, it was so much easier this time around, for the second season. We genuinely all like each other as castmates, so when we get back to it, it’s like the first day of school when you just have fun with your friends.
You guys seem to have a really playful dynamic together, especially when you do the group scenes.
MONTANA: You have no idea! Directors will get so mad at us because we’ll just be laughing our asses off.
MONTANA: It’s intense. How he goes undercover is one of the most challenging things I’ve done as an actor, thus far in my career. He has a love interest and her family is extremely insane. He’s playing both sides because he’s trying to get in with this girl’s family, but he also likes her. There’s a lot of Donnie Brasco type stuff going on, where he’s trying to do a job, but he’s falling in love with the world, as well. You can expect Johnny to be going through a whole lot of shit this season.
In the first couple of episodes, Johnny wasn’t as much of the comic relief, as he was in the first season. Is that just a result of what’s happened and what he’s gone through, or will we see some of that again?
MONTANA: I liked that. I like when all of my castmates get to shine. Episode 3 is when my storyline kicks in, and when you have an ensemble cast like we do, I like that. As a fan, I like missing a character. So, when I watch shows like Boardwalk Empire or Game of Thrones, I like being able to say, “Oh, yeah, I forgot about her.” I don’t want somebody to get bored of me. I like where the character is going. There will be a lot of drama in the first half of the season, but later on, Johnny gets back to just being in the house and being a jokester while still going through the drama that he’s going through on the job.
Because Johnny goes undercover this season, did you have to do any special research or training to prep for that?
MONTANA: No more so than I did last year. The kind of undercover that he’s doing, I had to dig deep into my soul. That sounds corny, but having to do some of the things that I had to do was extremely challenging. You grow up a certain way and it’s hard. It’s hard to explain. I can’t really say anything without giving it away. There were just a lot of challenges.
MONTANA: I wouldn’t say worst, but with Mike coming back in, he has so much more on his place and he’s in a different position. Instead of being the new guy, now he’s in charge. His relationship with everybody in the house takes a turn. While there’s still a lot of love there, it’s completely different. From moment to moment, we go from loving each other to hating each other.
How does Johnny really feel about Mike’s return?
MONTANA: The moment Mike came back into the house, Johnny was excited. He’s his boy. But the more he sees him, the more it’s like having a friend in junior high, and then you go to different high schools. When you see each other later on in life, you’re like, “Wait, you’re not the same person I remember.” Our dynamic changes a whole lot, and I start seeing him a little differently than I saw him last season. Johnny was the one showing him around the house and showing him the ropes. Now that Mike is above him, in a lot of ways, it’s different and it’s weird. We all eventually found out that Mike was investigating Briggs, so of course, everyone is going to look over their shoulder at him now.
After everyone was suspicious of Briggs, at some point in Season 1, how is that dynamic now? Is everyone past that, or will that still come up?
MONTANA: I can’t say without giving it away. Everybody has issues with him, too. But he’s the father of the house, so we all still love and respect him.
MONTANA: Season 2 will answer that specific question. It’s gonna be great. Episode 10 has a great scene with all of us at that dinner table. It just became explosive. We all just let each other have it. To be a cop or a fireman, or anyone in this position, you’re an Alpha. When you have all of those Alpha personalities in one house, eventually someone is going to blow up.
How was it to add a new guy to the mix, with Zelanski?
MONTANA: Deniz [Akedeniz] is awesome. As an actor, it must be intimidating, coming into a cast with all of us. There’s so many of us and we’re all pretty different, but he fit completely in. He’s Australian, and Australians have that cool demeanor about them. He just fit right in. The relationship that him and Johnny have is great. His character goes into a different direction. I don’t want to give away what happens, but he and Johnny have a lot of fun.
When I spoke to you about Season 1, you said that your favorite scenes to do are the ones between Johnny and Jakes because you got to improvise and have fun with him, and your characters have already shared some nice moments together in Season 2. How will that relationship evolve, this season?
MONTANA: Jakes is still one of my favorite characters to do scenes with, just because we’re so contrasting. When I saw the scene in the second episode, I thought, “Oh, okay, they’re gonna become closer now.” But, it’s a constant see-saw with those two. A couple of episodes after that, they’re fighting. And then, after that, they’re friends. And then, after that, they’re fighting. It’s a constant battle between them because they’re polar opposites.
Do you have a favorite episodes this season?
MONTANA: One that stands out for me is Episode 9. We had this amazing young director, Larry Teng, who came in and just had a completely different vision for our show. I saw a cut of it and it looks and feels different. I just really like the direction that he took. And there’s a lot of stuff for my character. Johnny is really deep undercover, at that point, and the balancing act that I had to do was really tough, as an actor. Once I got to see it, I was really proud of it, so I can’t wait to hear what the audience thinks of it.
MONTANA: Sometimes it is. We’re lucky enough that we’ve had Russell Fine, who directed the pilot and our finale last year, direct three episodes this year. Sanford Bookstaver, who I love, has directed two episodes. We get that comfortability level, which is great, and then to find these new guys, like Larry Teng, was just a blessing. Of course, some other people come in and they might have a different vision, and you respectfully have to say, “I know my character a little bit better than you might.” But, you also can’t just dismiss them because sometimes they come with a fresh eye. It’s good to try things differently because you don’t want to get stale in your character and what you’re doing. So, I love having the rotating directors, but I would like to keep the ones that are proven and that constantly do good episodes.
Graceland airs on Wednesday nights on USA Network.