Manny Montana teases what’s coming next on GRACELAND
USA’s latest drama offering, GRACELAND, follows the lives of DEA, FBI, and ICE agents forced to share a house called “Graceland,” maintain undercover lives, all while bringing down some of the biggest bad guys on the west coast. I spent some time chatting with the actor who plays my favorite character, Johnny (Manny Montana), about what drew him to GRACELAND, his favorite character, what’s coming up next, and his love for all things television!
My brother never watches any TV, ever, and he said to me yesterday, “you know that show GRACELAND on USA? I love it.” Speaks to the wide range of audience that the show has been attracting!
I love hearing that! Tell him thank you from me. I think it’s so different from USA shows. I was worried that people were going to think it’s just another USA show, and I think it’s so much more, so tell him thank you, and I appreciate that.
As a part of the show – what was it about Johnny or the show that drew you in?
It was just fun! I know that’s such an easy answer for everything about it, but it was just fun. I got the breakdown, and it said 20-something-year-old Latin kid, surfer, from the streets. That’s just me. That’s me in a nutshell. You always want to choose a role that you can relate to, but when it hits so close to home, it’s just fun. Once I read the script, me and Johnny have a lot of similarities. He was an amazing guy all around. All my auditions went well. It rarely comes together that well as an actor, so when it does, you can tell it’s something special.
Did you know anyone in the cast, did you all come together in the pilot and click?
That’s one of the things that we’re most proud of. We first off, got together at the table reading. I don’t know why, but we all clicked. We all clicked, we all liked what each other was doing, we got each other’s numbers and we would constantly text each other; we have like a text party line thing that we’re always on with each other. Once we started shooting the pilot, it was just fun. It felt like there were moments when we couldn’t get anything done because we were laughing and joking. You remember in high school, when you get that period after lunch, that class, nobody could focus because they’re all talking about what happened at lunch-time? That’s what we are. That’s exactly how we are. Pretty much all day [laughs]. I’m glad that the chemistry shines through.
What can we expect going forward?
The biggest one so far for Johnny was [the most recent episode that aired]. He went undercover as a Mexican gangster and then he gets into some trouble because he tries to take everything lightly the way he always does. He learns a very valuable lesson, and from here on out, Johnny grows. He’s still always going to be that jokester, laughing, humorous guy, but he definitely grows up. The next episode, it’s more Charlie, and people are going to love what she goes through. It’s very unexpected. Charlie, by far, is my favorite character of the show. I love what she goes through and I love how Vanessa plays her. But after that, I think episode 6, is one of my favorite episodes for Johnny because it shows Johnny in a nutshell. It shows his heart, it shows his activity, it shows his humor and that he wants to help everybody. I’m excited for everyone to see that episode.
I read another interview you gave where you realize that Johnny hasn’t had his own case. He wants to do whatever he can to keep Graceland running. Sometimes even moreso than the main “case” at hand, someone needs to be there to help.
I love that about it! There is no ego with anybody on the set. We all know that the show is about the house, about Graceland, and it’s not about any particular character. I love that Johnny has no cases. I didn’t realize that until the last episode, where I was joking around with one of the writers. He was like, Manny, you understand that you haven’t had one case this whole season? And I said, oh shit, you’re right! It just makes so much sense for Johnny to be that guy. I love it that way.
How does the relationship with Johnny and Mike go forward, and what is he feeling about Briggs, or what does he know about Briggs, and how does that play out?
With Johnny and Mike, we started off good. Even though I haze him a little bit, and the house, we start off good and end up good. Of course, we’re going to get into drama, and midway through the season, once people start realizing that he’s investigating him, and she’s investigating him, and blah, blah, blah, of course we get into some drama then, but it always stays pretty tight. Now the relationship with Briggs is interesting. I relate it like this. Know when you’re like 18 or 19, and you’re growing up, and you start seeing your mom and dad as real people, and they have issues of their own? You know, these perfect people we see growing up, that’s how he sees Briggs. His hero, and this guy that he looks up to, has flaws and has issues. First, he thinks Mike is completely idiotic for investigating him, and he starts questioning it, and then he starts seeing it for himself, that Briggs isn’t a perfect person. So it grows, but he’s always going to be his guy. He’s always going to be a hero to him, it’s just going to grow and change, but still say the same if that makes sense?
Oh totally, and the reference about the parents is perfect – there is a moment that you hit where you think “okay, they can do wrong.”
Right! It completely messes you up in the head, and it’s a great learning lesson. That everybody is real people, no matter how you looked at them growing up!
What can you say for people who haven’t’ caught the show yet? What is it about GRACELAND that will draw them in?
GRACELAND is a show they should be watching and what will draw them in right away is the cast itself, regardless if they like what’s going on with the writing, or the show in general, the cast to me, when I’m watching it, I’m still able to watch stuff as a genuine fan. When I watch the show, I’m like, I want to hang out with those guys. I like everybody, and I like how everybody has their own drama. It makes it so you might not see a lot of me in one episode and more of, let’s say, Charlie. I like that. I like being missed. It makes it so it doesn’t get monotonous and boring. That’s what I like about the show the most. Everybody is going through their own drama; we all come together in the house. We have arguments. It what would really happen if 6 people lived in one house.
What I love, too, is that every episode doesn’t “wrap everything up” in a bow. There’s a lingering sense of tension.
And thank god for that! Most actors, have this fear of being on a show, a regular procedural where everything is wrapped up at the end of the show, and you know, you’re not challenged as an actor. It was a fear of mine, as well, so to be on a show like this where it’s more serialized – you know, we’ve got story-lines that go the whole season. So I love that about the show.
You shoot in Florida, right?
We shot the pilot in LA which was a blessing, but Florida is awesome as well. If it’s going to be anywhere else but California, I’m glad it was Florida!
Did you get a chance to do much surfing, or get your cast members out surfing with you on set?
No, not at all! The only person that’s down to do it is Aaron, but in Florida, there’s not much surf, so we’d have to drive like an hour north of where we were, but Daniel has no interest in it, as much as I ask him! During the pilot, I tell this story all the time, and I love it and he doesn’t mind [laughs]. We were shooting that scene where we’re out in the water, we had a little break, and he paddles away, and me and Aaron are talking, and I look over to my right and I see Daniel just hurling, throwing up. It was the most beautiful shot because the sun was going down, and he was silhouetted, and all I saw was chunks coming out of his mouth. [laughs] It was the best! From then on out, Daniel was my boy! I fucking love that guy!
I wanted to ask about relationships for the characters – what’s coming on the love side?
Without giving anything away, Aaron has this little love triangle thing going along. Brandon’s character has something. But I can’t say without giving it away [laughs]. Let’s just say that Johnny gets no love. He’s always talking like he’s a ladies’ man, and he gets nothing all season long. He’s just a softy. He talks a big game, but he’s a softy!
What else besides GRACELAND do we have to look forward to from you?
I was lucky enough to book a small part in this Michael Mann film. Yeah, it’s a small part, but you can’t pass up an opportunity to work with Michael Mann. I’m not sure when that’s going to come out, but it was a lot of fun to be on set with him, and to be on set with somebody who is so meticulous about everything in his movie, and I really respect it and everything he’s involved in. I’ve done mostly TV in my career, so to be on a film set was a treat, because I think they have 3 or 4 scenes at the most, per day. You get a chance to do it over and over, to work with the director, so it was a treat to be on that.
Do you get some downtime to watch TV?
That’s all I do! [laughs] I know a lot of actors say they don’t, but it’s complete bullshit! If you genuinely love this, like growing up, I watched an incredible amount of TV. Like that’s all I would do. And now with DVR, it’s freaking amazing. I get to watch all my shows! Everything on HBO, I’m a fan – GAME OF THRONES, BOARDWALK EMPIRE, I love PARKS AND REC. BREAKING BAD. So much! I was a shit-load of TV.
I swear, I say it all the time, but when people ask me what I watch, I’m like, I’ll give you the 5 I don’t, because it’s shorter and easier!
[laughs] I don’t know why actors get that fucking air of arrogance! One of my favorite shows recently was FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.
Ugh, the best!
The best right? One of the last shows I did was CHICAGO CODE –
I loved that show.
I don’t know if you remember, I died? [laughs]
Matt Lauria, who I was already a fan of, comes in one day, and you never know if you should tell somebody you’re a fan of theirs or if you should wait. It took a couple of day of getting to know him, and he became a really good friend, to be like, hey man, by the way, I’m a really big fan of your show. And he’s the best dude. The best! We’re still really good friends to this day. But it’s a treat to work with somebody that you’re a fan of. Even on our show, one of our big recurring guest stars, Gbenga Akinnagbe (who plays Bello). THE WIRE was one of my favorite shows ever, so to be able to work with him was a treat.
GRACELAND airs Thursday nights on USA at 10/9c. In tonight’s all new episode, called “O-Mouth,” Mike gets deeper into Bello’s organization; Briggs and Charlie resume former identities.