EXCLUSIVE: ‘Graceland’ Post Mortem With Manny Montana On His Gay Storyline

FBI agent Johnny Tutturo (Manny Montana) is in uncharted territory. (USA)

Undercover work is full of risks and you regularly are putting yourself in situations you might not normally be in.

But, as last night’s episode of USA’s edgy drama “Graceland” showed us, sometimes that means going gay when the job calls for it.

If you’ve been following the story, Johnny Tuturro (Manny Montana) has been working a case involving a crime boss, Carlito Solano (Erik Valdez), who, though closeted, has made his attraction to Johnny clear. In last night’s episode, Johnny took things a step further and locked lips with Carlito to earn his trust and get even deeper on the inside of Carlito’s crimes.

How far will the heterosexual Johnny have to go to get his man as the storyline continues? And how does Johnny feel knowing his co-workers are very much aware of what position he’s putting himself in? What does Montana hear from the multi-cultural high school students he works with in terms of gays, even gays in sport?

In an exclusive interview, Montana talked to me about the new development in the storyline and teased where we’ll see it go in the coming episodes.

Carlito (Erik Valdez) has taken an amorous interest in the str8 (but undercover) Johnny (Montana). (USA)

Tell me when you first heard about the storyline and the conversations about it with Jeff Eastin.

Manny Montana: Funny, this was a long time coming. Jeff [Eastin, executive producer] and I met a week before we even started writing the scripts and he asked me what I wanted to do this season and I blatantly told him “I want to be pushed. I want Johnny to be extremely uncomfortable.” We started throwing ideas around and I think Jeff started listing the qualities that Johnny has like he loves the house, he thinks he’s a ladies man, he thinks he’s cool, all these cool man stuff. I said ‘what if he became involved with some kind of gay thing, something that would make him really uncomfortable?’ We kind of laughed and then we looked at each other and then we were like “Oh s**t, that could be a good idea!”

From there we started throwing around ideas and Jeff’s freakin’ brilliant so he had this idea about a crazy brother and a sister and a father, he has this interesting family and that’s how the story came along. I was all for it because some of my favorite actors have done this in movies and they’ve taken on this particular challenge and I jumped head first.

But I will say this, once it was finally coming around, about a week before the episodes started, I said “Oh, s**t! Did I make the right choice? Am I doing the right thing? What is my family going to think? What are my friends going to think?” I coach a bunch of high schoolers in Long Beach and I wondered “what are my kids are going think?” We’ll see.

Would you say that Johnny will have some of the same fears as you’re having? His friends are aware this is going on since they’re in on the case. Will that come up?

MM: They already know it’s going on. I’m being supported by the house because you have to do what you have to do. I don’t think Johnny’s worried about that. It’s just more him and his ego.

The 'Graceland' cast: (l-r) Brandon Jay Mclaren, Vanessa Ferlito, Daniel Sunjata, Aaron Tveit, Montana & Serinda Swan. (USA)

You’ve been working with Erik Valdez, who plays Carlito, a lot this season. How did you guys talk about the scenes we saw in this week’s episode?

MM: It was interesting. Erik is a good dude and we got along right away and I don’t think they told him he had to do this when he was cast! He was like “I have to do what now?” We had a good laugh about it and then we got serious and we talked about it, each other’s careers and whether this was a good or bad thing and then we were like, “let’s do it and see what happens!”

The day of, everything was serious – the crew, the cast, everyone was professional; nobody that didn’t need to be on set was there. It was only the people who needed to be there. Once we got to it it was like any other scene. When your mind is focused on the scene at hand and the character you just kind of do it and knock it out. Hopefully the audience likes it.

There’s the scene earlier in the episode where Carlito is really confiding in Johnny and it’s quite intimate. At this point, what is going through Johnny’s head? Is he sympathetic to Carlito at this point or is it just all about the case?

MM: Oh, man, that was one of my favorite scenes so I’m glad you brought it up. I think he definitely has sympathy for the guy and I think it shows on my face. I’m just sitting there listening to this guy who I just thought was a crazy rich kid that does whatever he wants and he completely confides in me so you can’t help but feel for him. I love the way the scene was shot and how dark it was and how the light was barely hitting them and the uncomfortableness about him touching my face and putting his head to my forehead and thinking “is this guy gay?” and knowing there’s someone on the other side of the room. There’s just so much going on for Johnny. I hope everyone feels how uncomfortable Johnny was.

Talk to me about the community and the culture you’re a part of and how being gay is seen. In the show, Carlito’s sister says everyone knows he’s gay but it’s a known secret that nobody talks about. How is it from a cultural perspective?

MM: Yeah, that’s a good question. Especially around multi-cultures, it’s such a taboo. I bring up my high school kids and the football players and everyone wants to be so tough. And if you’re gay, it’s such a bad thing. Everything they see, they’re just always making fun of it. I try to coach them and I’m trying to open them up a little bit to it to get them to understand that everyone should be able to do what they want to do and not be judged for it.

What do those high school kids think about all the athletes who are coming out of the closet, like Michael Sam?

MM: I don’t know how to get it into their heads. You know when you’re young it’s all about the society of school and being cool but they don’t understand that somebody can be different and live a different lifestyle and still be a regular person. I was the same way when I was a kid. It wasn’t until I started working in the industry and meeting other people and realized it was just people living their lives. They’re no different than any of us.

Happier times on 'Graceland' with Johnny (Montana) and Mike (Aaron Tveit). (USA)

Getting back to the show, what will we see moving forward with Johnny’s case involving Carlito?

MM: It gets more intense. Carlito thinks his feelings are reciprocated, which they’re not, I’m just playing him for the case. And then Lucia (Jamie Gray Hyder) and I start to get closer and he gets jealous about that. Then, I go into even deeper cover and have to go to Mexico with him and his family and I have no backup and I meet the father (Nestor Serrano) and he’s crazier but he takes a shine to me. It just gets way more intense.

And then Mike is on his own thing and he’s by himself. It’s very different from the first season in that we are all pretty separate. Three or four weeks go by before I get back to the house. I’m hoping the audience understands that and likes that. We’re going to get back to being in the house eventually. We’re just now off doing our own things.

“Graceland” airs Wednesdays at 10pm on the USA Network.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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