‘Graceland’: Manny Montana on Being the Comedic Relief and ‘Rollercoaster’ Season

What awaits the agents living in Graceland?

USA's freshman drama from White Collar's Jeff Eastin, which debuted to a solid 3.32 million viewers last Thursday, revolves around a group of law-enforcement officers from the DEA, FBI and U.S. Customs who live together in an undercover beach house in Southern California. For actor Manny Montana, who plays one of those undercover agents, FBI guy Johnny Tuturro, the most surprising response from viewers has been centered on the series' humor — of which he is at the center.

"They weren't expecting it to be as funny as it was," Montana tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Humor comes out in real-life situations so no matter the drama that they're going through, it's still funny."

In a chat with THR, Montana previews the rest of the season, whether his jokester alter ego will ever get serious and how complicated things get in the house when surprising truths come out about Briggs.

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The Hollywood Reporter: Your character, Johnny, provides a lot of that comedic relief on Graceland.

Manny Montana: Johnny is the heart of the house. He has the middle child syndrome. He's the brother who wants everybody to get along. He's always trying to play pranks on everybody in the house, throwing people parties — and people who don't even want these parties. He keeps it light. We joke about it all season because Johnny doesn't really have his own case, he's always helping other people with theirs — which tells you everything you need to know about him. He's also serious about his job but a lot of people don't see that because he takes everything so lightly. He seems so lackadaisical and he does that because he doesn't want the job to take over him the way it does other people in the house.

THR: How would you describe Johnny? As the season progresses, there's a lot more to him that's revealed.

Montana: Johnny, in a few words, is a contrast to different emotions. He has heart but he's also very tough, he's soft but hard, sensitive but light.

THR: Who does he gravitate toward in the house, in terms of friendships?

Montana: He loves [Paul] Briggs (Daniel Sunjata). Briggs is like his mentor, big brother, someone he aspires to be like but also when Mike (Aaron Tveit) moves in, Johnny wants to be close with him too. He wants everybody to get along; he's close with everybody. But if I had to pick one, it would have to be Briggs.

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THR: How complicated does the Briggs-Johnny friendship get as pieces of information about Briggs start to come out?

Montana: You know when you start growing up as a kid and you think your parents are the best people — they don't do this, they don't do that? And when you grow up, you realize, s--- my dad actually has some issues! He's a normal guy! [Laughs] That's exactly how it is with Briggs. As the season goes along, it's a lot of: "Wait, he did what?!" Johnny completely becomes that child who's seeing his dad as a real man for the first time. It f---s Johnny up. He still wants to believe Briggs is a good guy, and he is, but the s--- he's doing is proven otherwise.

THR: A lot of turmoil in the house, it sounds like.

Montana: And through all the turmoil, there's still love and humor in it.

THR: What was it like filming in Ft. Lauderdale for Southern California?

Montana: For the most part, it's not that different: same weather, same communities. Honestly, with me, as long as I have a park to play basketball in, I'm pretty cool.

THR: Did you have a favorite filming location?

Montana: Whenever we got to shoot our bar scenes, it was right on the beach, so literally after every take I would go to the water. It's a lot different than California in that the water is very blue and clean so I was trying to get in there every time I could.

THR: Do you have a favorite episodes or moment?

Montana: I have three favorite episodes: Episode 103, which — without giving too much away — has Johnny going undercover and he gets into some s---. I get other housemates into some trouble because he just makes these stupid decisions when he thinks he's being [smart]. [Episode] 109 I'm trying to throw a birthday party for a friend and it's not turning out the way I want it to. [Episode] 105 might actually be my favorite because it shows Johnny in every light. It shows Johnny sensitive, conflicted, tough. Even though 103 is the lightest and funnest thing that he does, 105 is Johnny in a nutshell.

THR: Without revealing too much, Johnny has some touching moments with Charlie (Vanessa Ferlito) as the season progresses. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Montana: From 105 and on, that's when things start building for Johnny and he starts to understand who's lying and who's not in the house. It's a rollercoaster.

THR: Will Johnny become more serious by the end of the season?

Montana: Yes and no. He'll have his funny moments and he'll have his serious moments. By the end of the season, yeah he's grown a lot but I think the last thing you see, Johnny is back in the car hanging with Briggs and Mike just joking around.

Graceland airs at 10 p.m. Thursdays on USA.

E-mail: Philiana.Ng@thr.com
Twitter: @insidethetube

Philiana Ng