Aaron Tveit and Daniel Sunjata are unflinchingly serious as undercover FBI agents in the new series Graceland (premiering tonight on USA), but the Les Mis breakout and the Smash alum let loose for EW’s Pop Culture Personality Test. Watch below as they discuss life-changing fan letters, Friday Night Lights tearjerkers, and funky smells at a Cypress Hill concert.
Tveit and Sunjata got back to business to discuss Graceland’s freshman season. In the series (which was inspired by a real California beach house shared by the FBI, DEA, and Customs agencies), Tveit plays Mike Warren, a Quantico hotshot assigned to live in a house with five other agents. “Mike has all the knowledge in the world but not tactical or field experience, so he comes in and has to figure out everything really quickly,” says Tveit. “Mike learning how to hang and learning the ropes is a big dynamic this season.”
Among the roommates is Mike’s de facto mentor Paul Briggs (Sunjata), who brings more calm confidence to the table – along with a boatload of secrets. “He’s trying to be zen,” says Sunjata, but “his spirituality is an outgrowth of his inner turmoil. He’s seeking peace through the lens of his chosen spiritual path. He’s a very conflicted, fun character to play.” (For the record, Sunjata promises details about Briggs’ past will start to roll out around episode 4.)
Though it seems like there couldn’t be much deception within such tight quarters, this is a show about professional liars. As such, “There’s this Russian doll effect,” adds Sunjata. “We’re actors who are playing undercover narcs who lie for a living and then actually have to keep secrets with each other as well. The layers and dimensions of the relationship between Briggs and Mike actually make for great TV. It’s very entertaining.”
Between a Point Break-esque mix of sun, sand, and sting ops, Sunjata says the show grapples with plenty of “moral ambiguity – the line between right and wrong and whether or not ends justify means. We go further and further into the exploration of that as the season progresses.” Tveit teases, “We have to not only let some crimes happen, we actually have to participate in them.” Sunjata completes the thought: “Swim with the sharks, you have to be one.”
It’s something Sunjata know about. In addition to learning how to handle weapons, both actors had to shred the surf for the role. “I’d actually never even held a surfboard, let alone try to stand on one, before we shot our surfing scenes for the show,” reveals Sunjata. “I was definitely the worst of the bunch. I literally did chum the water with my lunch, unfortunately. That’s the very embarrassing story of me on the surfboard – especially since I’m supposed to be an expert surfer on the show. Thank God for stuntmen.”
Graceland debuts tonight at 10 p.m. ET on USA.