Serinda Swan, Aaron Tveit
Welcome home, Mike!
One week after returning to the house on Graceland (Wednesdays, 10/9c, USA), the FBI agent received one heck of a welcome wagon from housemate Paige when she caught him peeking into her bedroom and dropped her towel.
"[That's] one of the most interesting invitations I've ever seen. And he took it!" Serinda Swan tells TVGuide.com with a laugh. "She just kind of put him on the spot: 'You're going to flirt with me? You're going to be like this? Come and get it,' so to speak. I'm putting it all out on the line, or on the floor."
The bold move comes several months after the duo first shared a kiss late last season. However, things never progressed further because Mike (Aaron Tveit) soon got a promotion and returned to Washington, D.C. "In the second season, I think she's just kind of like, 'All right, let's see what happens. Let's have some fun,'" she says. "It wasn't the tenderness that there was last year, and Paige is strong and she's independent. She's not pining for him, but she really likes him."
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While Paige has been straightforward with Mike, he has been less so, particularly since he has thus far failed to mention that he has a woman waiting for him back in D.C.: Jessica (Emily Rose). "I get a little protective of Paige sometimes and I was like, 'Nuh-uh, excuse me, who is this lady?'" Swan says.
But Mike won't be able to juggle both ladies forever, especially when they come face-to-face later this season. "You can only imagine when two girls sharing the same guy happen to be in the same house. There's two ways that it can go, and the beautiful thing is that we have such amazing writers that it walks a very fine line between them both. They're two very powerful women," she says. "It will be interesting to see where his feelings lie and which side he falls on."
Thankfully, Paige will have much bigger problems to worry about than just whether Mike is #TeamPaige or #TeamJessica. "Paige's story really ramps up. Last year, she came into the show slightly later and we hadn't given her as much and this year, we really embraced her," creator and executive producer Jeff Eastin says. "Her character really does embrace that [question of] how far will you go? She goes into a much deeper, darker place than we've ever taken anyone before."
It's in large part because of Swan that her on-screen alter-ego will have such a rough go of it this season. When Eastin and the writers called her up at the end of last season to talk about Paige's direction in Season 2, she knew immediately what she wanted to explore. "[They said,] 'One of our top priorities is figuring out how to dive into Paige more next season and really reveal her skill set and learn a bit more about her," she says. "I thought that would be a really interesting plotline for this season for Paige to show her heart, to show her skill, and to put her in a situation where both really come into compromising situations so I pitched the idea of Paige coming into a contact with a human-trafficking ring."
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Particularly, Paige will meet one victim whom she vows to help no matter what the cost. "That promise is something that, because of Paige's Achilles Heel, which is her heart, in doing so, she's basically tied herself to this issue and this cause, and you can only imagine what happens to these women," Swan says. "By tying herself [to this], she actually ends up going through emotionally and physically what happens."
It's in this way that art imitates life for Swan, who is involved with several organizations that fight human trafficking and sex trafficking, including the Somaly Mam Foundation and Friends to Mankind. "One of the things that is very parallel between my life and Paige's is there was a promise I made to a girl in Cambodia that my voice would now be her voice for the rest of my life until she was able to say whatever she wanted," she says. "[Jeff is] allowing my promise to come to fruition because he's giving me a platform in which to tell our fans and then some about this issue and be a voice for her."
In addition to her close personal ties, the story line also made sense for Paige because human trafficking is the second-largest criminal enterprise worldwide and an area other DEA agents like Paige encounter frequently. "I prepared myself for maybe one episode, if not zero episodes or maybe a promise of doing it in the next season. So when I heard that it was going to be on the show and to what capacity it was going to be on the show, I full-blown cried," she says of her pitch, which has led to a seven-episode arc. "It's something that I'm so passionate about, and it takes up so much of my time, so for my two worlds to collide it's just an amazing osmosis."
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After the story line got the go-ahead from Eastin and USA, Swan put the writers in contact with her resources at the United Nations and several other organizations. The actress herself also went to great lengths to accurately portray the damage suffered at the hands of human trafficking, which coincided with her other major Season 2 request: more stunts. "They're selling meat and so you're treated like meat," she says of her numerous fake black eyes and the very real injuries she endured over the course of the season. "I had grab marks and bruises on my arms and I kept getting sympathetic looks from people at the supermarket, like, 'Leave him, sweetie. It's not worth it.'"
Because of Swan's past interactions with victims in countries like Cambodia and Malaysia, the emotional toll these crimes take was easier for her to portray. "I've seen faces to this issue," she says. "It's not about building a story or making sure that I'm emotionally prepared. All I do is I tap into the girls I've met and it's done."
And just like in her own life, Swan says her Graceland character will be deeply affected by the encounter. "This is something that will change Paige for the rest of her life, so it will be really interesting to see how they write that all in for following seasons," she says.
Graceland airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on USA. Catch up on episodes here.