What drew you to the character of Johnny?
Manny Montana: I really like him a lot because, every other character I’ve ever played, guest-starring parts on TV, it’s all serious and dramatic. Johnny’s really light and he gets serious when he gets involved in other people’s issues. Like when somebody’s lying to him, he gets hurt. He’s such a sensitive dude in that way. He wants everybody to love each other, so whenever somebody’s doing something wrong or doing it not the way that he thinks it should be done — the right way — he gets emotionally involved in it. And that’s when he gets upset. He hasn’t had really a dark issue or a dark scene yet, but he gets into it with people, in the house.
When I first read the part, I think me and Johnny have a lot in common. I’m from Long Beach — not the best area in the world — and I had a lot of ghetto friends growing up. And I think Johnny was the same way, you know? Just a lot of hood people around him but he’s the one kid that does right.
I just think he’s a good guy … I always compare him to like … Let’s say everybody in that house got a 1600 on their SATs. Johnny got a 1400. That’s not a bad score, he’s not an idiot. But to them, he’s an idiot sometimes. He’s still smarter than most people, but to them, he’s that guy that they could still make fun of. But it’s just his heart, is what I love playing about his character, and I love the way he’s written.
Does Johnny mostly help the others or does he get his own FBI cases?
Manny Montana: We were just joking about this! He ends up helping everybody on their cases and we just finished what, episode nine? And we were like, “Holy s***, Johnny has not had his own case at all yet!” [laughs] And it wasn’t planned that way and it just happened to go that way, but in my mind that’s just Johnny … He just wants to help everybody. Maybe in Season 2, I’ll have my own.
In the pilot, Johnny projects the image of a real ladies’ man. Is that the way it works out?
Manny Montana: It’s such bull! They try to make him out to be this ladies man, and he’s not, he never finds a love interest. He has his little things here and there, so I’m not giving anything away, but he never really has that. Like freaking Aaron [Tveit] has three hot women, you know, the guest stars that come in and out. But no, I don’t have really a love interest … They make him out to be this ladies man and he’s not. He’s just a little boy.
As the only member of the “Graceland” cast who actually surfs, what is that like?
Manny Montana: I come from an area where it’s mostly like football and basketball, those are the sports. So my brother started surfing … I used to make fun of him for it, and then he challenged me to do it, and I’m a huge competitor and I did it and I got hooked. I got hooked, and when this part came up, I was like, “He’s a surfer, he’s from the streets, he’s a young Latin kid, he wants to be a cop, that’s perfect!”
And it was so funny in the pilot, they had this one scene where me, Daniel [Sunjata] and Aaron are in the water, and they were just kind of floating around acting like they know how to surf. And we had this like 10-minute break in between scenes, and Daniel like paddles away from us, saying that he needs like five minutes. And we’re all talking, hanging out, and I look to my right, and Daniel’s just throwing up, just hurling into the water [laughs]. And I’m telling the camera people to get it because it’s just, it’s a beautiful shot ’cause the sun is going down. The sun is going down and you saw he’s silhouetted, and the throw up is just coming out. It was the best thing.
What is Johnny’s role in the dynamic of the house?
Manny Montana: He just wants everybody to love each other in the house. He’s that one kid in the house that if their parents were arguing, he’s the one that’s going to get in the middle of it, and just try to get everybody to be quiet and just love each other.
What about the rest of the characters? What are their roles?
Manny Montana: Aaron [as Mike], in my opinion, is always like the goodie two-shoes first born, always trying to do the right thing. But he’s thrown into the fire, so sometimes he has to do wrong, and I think the audience is gonna love him for that.
Daniel [as Briggs] is like the father that works a lot, that you don’t see a lot. We know he’s there, we know he loves us, and he takes care of us, but we don’t always know what he’s doing when he’s not home.
Serinda [as Paige] is that fun big sister that just plays around. She comes and goes and she gets into the mix with us too, she’s just light and fun.
Brandon [as Jakes] … I love working with Brandon because we’re the complete opposites in characters. Brandon is like this serious-but-funny, moody kind of guy. He doesn’t want people touching his stuff and his juice.
“Graceland” premieres Thursday, June 6 at 10pm on USA.