Aaron Tveit, Manny Montana, Daniel Sunjata
When Aaron Tveit first signed on for USA's crime drama Graceland, he thought he was going to play the hero. He was in for a big surprise.
"On paper, I thought Mike would be the good guy and Briggs would be the bad guy," Tveit tells TVGuide.com. "But ... a lot of people root for Briggs. Even though he was the one really going outside of the lines of the law, he was the one people were rooting for, and I was the guy that people said, 'Why are you acting like an a--hole?'"
Now going into the show's second season, premiering Wednesday at 10/9c on USA, Tveit has begun to fully embrace his inner bad boy. "Something that [creator Jeff Eastin] and I talked a lot about this year is I said to him, 'I just want Mike to be a fantastic, brilliant FBI agent. I don't care at all if he's likable,'" he says.
Scoop on more returning summer shows
Done and done? Not quite. After saving the day — not to mention Briggs (Daniel Sunjata) and Charlie (Vanessa Ferlito) — from the wanted mass murderer Jangles, Mike moved out of the Graceland house in the Season 1 finale to start his dream job at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. However, things aren't going so smoothly at his cushy desk job when Mike's passion project is shut down. "It's what he always wanted to do, but he realizes that he won't get to affect that kind of change on the ground that you actually do as an agent in the field," Tveit says. "Mike is starting to think, 'Man, this is not the place for me,' and then Briggs calls with the opportunity to go out there."
Although Eastin says the writers debated whether to keep Mike in D.C. longer this season, his time pushing papers will still greatly impact Mike after he heads back west to Graceland. "It was this idea that the thing that he's wanted most in his life turns out to be the thing that he really can't stand," Eastin says. "He sort of pieces together what he really wants and what he wants his life to be."
That includes taking control of his first mission. Not long after landing back in Southern California, Mike discovers new intel linking his previous pursuit of buses being used to smuggle drugs to a cartel Briggs has been following. The FBI backs Mike up by giving him the resources, and the residents, of Graceland to use at his disposal. "I'm in charge of the house this year, so it's a very different dynamic between me and all the different people in the house," Tveit says. "The relationships are flipped a little."
Summer TV eye candy
While last year it was Briggs who put himself and his roommates' lives at stake to catch Jangles, the man who killed his housemates and girlfriend, this season Mike will be the one pushing the limits. "Briggs, coming off of last year, is really trying to keep on the straight and narrow and play by the rules and here I am coming in and I just want to get the job done at whatever cost," Tveit says. "I'm the one who is bending the rules and putting people in terrible situations."
This new dynamic between the two former enemies-turned-friends (sort of) will continue to evolve throughout the season. "For Mike, it's this slow, slow fade as he starts to realize that reality is ripping events out of his control. People get hurt. People get killed and Mike takes it very, very personally," Eastin says. "And as we move forward, he starts to realize what he really needs is that Paul Briggs that he had last year — the guy that he hunted. Really that's the guy that he needs to really save himself and to save everything. ... Circumstances really force Briggs to go back to the guy that he was in a very major way."
Although Eastin won't spill just what will bring the old Briggs back, one strong possibility is the audio tape of Briggs murdering FBI agent Juan Padillo (Pedro Pascal) — whom Briggs thought was Jangles and whose death Briggs pinned on the real Jangles in the season finale. "As the season moves forward, it becomes a major player," Eastin says of the tape. "The nice thing is I don't think anybody will predict how it comes into play. It's not the traditional 'the bad guy gets a hold of the tape and blackmails Briggs.' I think its' a pretty unique way that it ends up sucking in all the characters and really blows up everything."
Beard or no beard: Which is hotter?
Unlike many of the other story lines that were tied up in the Season 1 finale, Eastin says the tape was always designed to carry through to Season 2 as the show dives into even more serialized storytelling — something that Eastin said proved particularly challenging for the writers. "This year we don't have a case of the week at all. It's really about the roommates, the relationships. Yeah, there's a much bigger case that drives everything, but where we spend our time within the show is story," he says. "The first time we'll literally go and start watching Episode 1 and we'll do a marathon all the way to [Episode] 6 to make sure that everything adds up and that those little details don't get lost. There are so many things in a serialized story that you have to carry forward. It was a real serious challenge for us and hopefully we pulled it off."
Eastin, so far, is confident about the show's continued departure into darker, more serialized storytelling — two things that have already set Graceland apart from the rest of USA's lineup. "Easily two of the best episodes I've ever worked on professionally are in Season 2 and they are the darkest episodes that I've ever been involved in," he says. "I was waiting for [USA] to say, 'No way in hell,' but they said, 'We love it.'"
Graceland returns on Wednesday at 10/9c on USA. Check out this sneak peek at the new season: