5 Questions with 'Graceland's' Manny Montana

By JARETT WIESELMAN

July 11, 2013

Back in February I had the opportunity to visit the Graceland set with a handful of other reporters. While on the ground in Miami, we observed shooting, rummaged around the impressive sets and spoke with all the stars. Each of whom kept returning to a similar sentiment: that the show truly hits its stride with episode five, which happens to air tonight!

Titled O-Mouth, the episode features Mike getting deeper into Bello's organization, while Briggs and Charlie resume their former identities as a sexually-charged couple to get intel on a mysterious drug supplier called Odin. A situation that star Manny Montana says will help clearly define the next stretch of episodes!

ETonline: In the last episode Johnny made a big, almost lethal, mistake. How does he grow from that?
Manny Montana: Johnny was the newest person in the house before Mike moved in, so he still makes dumbass mistakes. He thinks it's a game, but as the season progresses, he'll come to realize how real this job is and how he needs to start being a little more like Jakes. Even though he thinks Jakes is too serious, Johnny will start to figure out that he needs to be a little more like that, otherwise he’ll keep getting into stupid situations like this. And I'm glad he starts to learn because I was worried Johnny would just always be the sidekick comedy relief -- as the season goes on, he'll still be humorous, but he really grows up.

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ETonline: We also learned a lot about Johnny's past and family. How helpful is that information to you as an actor?
Montana: What's cool is the script originally said something about 18th Street -- the most notorious gang in LA. But Dan Shattuck, one of the best writers I've ever met, and I got to talking about my upbringing and he was asking about Long Beach. I was telling him about these gangs and he put everything I told him in the script. A lot of what I said was true to my own life experience.

ETonline: Is that happening across the board with the writers and actors?
Montana: Yes. For everybody. None of the writers have egos, everyone is just trying to make the best show possible. As long as it’s good for the show, we'll do it. Once the writers started knowing us, we all noticed that our characters started saying things we say in real life. I really like and respect that about our writers. In episode 9 or 10, there's a scene where Johnny reveals everything he is in one paragraph -- his heart, his sensitivity, his humor. I left work that day saying it was the best work I'd ever done in my life. And I don't ever say that about my acting, I always feel like I could do better. But this was the first time I ever felt positive about my work and so much of that has to do with the writers we have.

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ETonline: What's the fan reaction to the show been like for you?
Montana: It's a treat. As an actor you're always worried about getting stuck on a show that's not good because working actors need the paycheck. So being cast on a regular procedural, where everything gets wrapped up by the end of the episode was always a fear of mine because that doesn't really test you as an actor. On this show, every week we're playing somebody different, there's great dialogue, I love my co-stars, it's fun to be at work and I think the fans are seeing that. Regardless of whether they like the show or not, I think they like the cast and the dynamic we have together.

ETonline: Looking at tonight's episode and beyond, what are you excited for fans to see?
Montana: Oh man, you have no idea. Charlie is my favorite character and she gets into some serious sh*t tonight. You remember Donnie Brasco? It's the most notorious undercover movie ever; it's so street and so real. If you ever imagined yourself doing cop work, you imagined yourself getting pushed to that limit -- seeing the furthest you can push yourself while still upholding the law. Well, Charlie is going to tread that line and people are going to love and hate her choice at the same time. In the end, she makes a choice that will force the audience to question what they would do in that situation and it's going to be incredible.

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

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