Graceland Q&A: Daniel Sunjata - Briggs Is 'Unhinged!'

Daniel Sunjata as Agent Paul Briggs in 'Graceland' Daniel Sunjata as Agent Paul Briggs in 'Graceland'

Daniel Sunjata started off on “Graceland” as the cool, surfing FBI agent Paul Briggs, a man with great talent in undercover operations and seemingly centered chi. But, heading into the USA Network’s final two episodes of Season 1, Briggs may still surf, but he’s gotten very, very dark.

There was Briggs’ past heroin addiction revelation and his super-secret identity as a drug lord named Odin. And the latest twist? He killed FBI agent Juan Badillo (Pedro Pascal) after Juan approached him on the beach pretending to be Jangles, the Caza cartel assassin who caused the addiction, and who burned down the original “Graceland” prototype.

Briggs just found out he killed the wrong man, and to make matters worse, the incident was recorded on tape. And in tonight’s all new episode of “Graceland” at 10/9c on USA, the cool character is starting to sweat.

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In a new interview with AccessHollywood.com, Daniel revealed how bad things are for Briggs at this point.

AccessHollywood.com: How unhinged is Paul Briggs in the upcoming episode? He knows that there’s a recording out there in Juan’s car.

Daniel Sunjata: I think he’s definitely just barely holding on by a thread. ‘Unhinged’ is a great word to use for Paul at this point in his evolution. He’s so close to tasting a certain type of victory, I guess you could call it, but at the same [time], he’s very close to perhaps getting caught. At this point he has put everything on the line. Not only has he, at times, risked the lives of the other agents in the house, repeatedly, he’s risked his own life repeatedly and now he’s risking his career. He’s risking jail time. It really could all very easily go south, but I think he feels like he has passed the point of no return and he is just going to ride it until the wheels fall off and kind of let the chips fall where they may. He’s almost completely desperate at this point.

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Access: Mike (Aaron Tveit) put his cards on the table and told Briggs he was asked to go to ‘Graceland’ to investigate him. How does Briggs feel about the young recruit now? He seems to like him, but self-preservation has to be running through Briggs’ head.

Daniel: Self-preservation is running through Briggs’ head at this point, but he’s grown to like Mike quite a bit since his arrival at the house. It actually almost makes him more endearing to Briggs — [the] fact that he’s telling him what he’s doing, telling him what’s going down. Clearly Briggs cares about Mike. He had the opportunity to go after Jangles in a previous episode after maybe having shot him, but because Mike was laying there with a stab wound to his stomach, obviously he chose to stay there and be there for his friend. Their relationship has grown over the course of the season and Mike’s revelations to Briggs, actually, solidified their relationship more, but really don’t do much to stop the wheels that have already been set in motion by Briggs in terms of what he’s trying to do.

Access: At this point, is there any reason for ‘Graceland’ fans to have a theory that maybe Briggs isn’t a bad guy, that some of what he’s doing is part of a greater scheme?

Daniel: I would think so. I think at this point Briggs is, should be anyway, a more sympathetic character. I think he starts off being perceived one way, then we start realizing just how complicated he is and questioning what is up with this guy – is he good? Is he bad? Is he pretending to be Buddhist? What’s the real deal with this guy? And now we’re starting to see the reasons why our initial perception of him got so muddy. We’re starting to understand why he’s doing the things he’s doing and I would hope that that ultimately makes him a more sympathetic character. He’s not being shady for shadiness sake. He went through something horrible and he’s trying to exact a certain measure of revenge. We can question his means and his methods, but… by the end of the season I think it’s [easier] to understand where he’s coming from and why he’s doing what he’s doing. I don’t think we should be seeing him at this point as a villain per se, or as a possible true villain. I think he’s definitely not a truly dark character. Definitely not. He’s just dealing with some dark issues and he’s living and moving in a very dark world.

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Access: Did you know at the start who this guy was or was he just kind of the cool, mysterious guy when you first got the pitch for this?

Daniel: When I very first got the pitch for this he was kind of ‘cool, mysterious guy,’ but there were points during the season, early on, very early on as a matter of fact, before the episode where Charlie first shoots up with heroin. … Jeff [Eastin, ‘Graceland’ creator] had… clearly laid out to me what was really going on with Briggs, because I had to know those. As an actor, I had to know certain things then so I could play certain subtleties and know the context in which my story was evolving throughout the course of the season.

Access: What was your reaction when he first told you?

Daniel: I thought it was awesome! When he told me that I was Odin and why I was Odin — I just thought it was a marvelous twist. I actually couldn’t wait for the revelation of that particular plot point during the course of the season. I was like, ‘Wow! I can’t wait ‘til that episode airs. That’s just gonna be such a great kind of like left turn that no one sees coming.’

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Access: Did the cast find out at the same time, or did you get to keep that to yourself for a little while?

Daniel: I got to keep that secret for myself for a little while – not very long. I’d say maybe a week or two before things in the script started really tipping it off.

Access: Was it fun walking around on set, just knowing that secret and keeping it to yourself?

Daniel: I have to admit, I did take a little childlike joy (laughs). There was a little glee to that, yes there was, but for a moment.

Access: It’s kind of funny – you killed Juan Badillo off the show, and now he’s off doing ‘Game of Thrones’ playing the Red Viper!

Daniel: (Laughs) Yeah, he should thank us for that as a matter of fact. I don’t know how he felt when his character got killed off, but yeah, look at him now.

“Graceland” airs at 10/9c on USA.

-- Jolie Lash

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