Graceland Q&A: Daniel Sunjata Talks Twists Turns Of Jeff Eastin’s Undercover Agents Drama

“Rescue Me’s” Daniel Sunjata goes undercover for his role as Senior FBI Agent Paul Briggs in USA’s brand new series, “Graceland,” premiering tonight on USA.

The show stars a cast of easy-on-the-eyes actors as members of different law enforcement agencies (FBI, DEA, and Customs), who work together, and apart, solving crimes, dealing with gangs and busting up drug rings.

Inspired by true events, the agents all live together in a mansion, nicknamed “Graceland,” which was seized from a criminal, and happens to be located smack dab on a Southern California Beach.

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Things kick off when new FBI graduate Mike Warren (played by “Les Miserables” actor Aaron Tveit) moves in and has a little trouble adjusting to some big personalities in the house, most especially Briggs, who like Warren graduated at the top of his class.

As a team, they quickly head out on cases and there are some suspenseful turns ahead. Daniel spoke to about some of the drama to come.

WATCH IT NOW: Daniel Sunjata Dishes On USA Network’s ‘Graceland’ This is inspired by some true stories. What did you all find out about the real house, the real Graceland?

Daniel Sunjata: There was really a beach house that was seized from a drug lord. I don’t think it was called Graceland because he was a big Elvis fanatic, which that’s the storyline of [our] show. We call it Graceland because it’s a place where the characters find a little sanctuary from leading their double lives

Access: A sanctuary that happens to have a chore chart for the secret agents.

Daniel: Yeah, with a chore chart… But you gotta take out the trash. Even in [a] sanctuary, you’ve gotta take out the trash, otherwise it’s not a sanctuary any more, it’s a dump truck. But, we did get a chance to talk to a real FBI insider who gave us a lot of excellent information. The storylines are all dramatized, obviously, for entertainment value, but a lot of it is loosely based in reality. These kinds of things do actually happen.

Access: Is your character based on anyone?

Daniel: He’s not based on any one person in particular, but there’s elements of Paul Briggs, who I play, that are ripped from the headlines of various other intelligence agency storylines.

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Access: What’s it like to play this kind of alpha male? Your character is a real, confident, man.

Daniel: I love it. I think one of the things that makes a real man is all the things that we would traditionally associate with manhood, but the curveball with Briggs’ character is his spiritual sensitivity. … A real man is not in denial of the issues that he has and just trying to live his life in spite of them… Briggs’ authenticity comes from the fact that he is actively striving and seeking to deal with his demons from a spiritual perspective. That’s, to me, the thing that is most exciting about him to play. Still, there’s the question of is he anti-hero, is he good, is he bad, and that is teased out through Jeff Eastin’s brilliance over the course of this first season. But, it’s the opportunity to play a character that’s got so much depth, when most of what’s out there is just one note opportunities that no actor, who really wants to challenge themselves is gonna be excited to play. There was no way I was saying no to this.

Access: Your character has some demons. When will we start to find out what his demons are? He was on the fast track at the FBI, and something happened.

Daniel: That starts to come out relatively early in the season. So I’d say by episode 3 [or] 4, the intimations of ‘There’s something else going on with Brigg, besides what’s on the surface,’ start to become very clear, I think, to the audience. I can’t even give a hint of what those things might be because that would be way too early. But with Briggs, as well as within ‘Graceland,’ there’s a saying that we have – ‘Your lies are your life,’ and it’s because, knowing your lie backwards and forwards is what can keep you alive in the field. But then you go home and you live with people who do that same thing for a living and you know these people, but do you really? Everybody’s got a little secret, it makes the show fun.

Access: This looks like a pretty physically demanding job playing an FBI agent. There’s surfing, running around chasing bad guys. What do you do to physically prepare for all this?

Daniel: The most physically demanding job I’ve ever had was ‘Rescue Me,’ because you had to wear the equipment, you had to carry around the stuff. This job isn’t as physically demanding as that, but yeah, we’re running down the alley chasing bad guys, we’re punching people out, we’re doing all that stuff that you would associate with undercover narcotics work, so you can’t be sucking wind while you’re doing it. You’ve gotta be in a little bit of shape!

“Graceland” premieres at 10/9c Thursday night on USA.

-- Jolie Lash

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