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Broadway Favorite Aaron Tveit Tackles the Small Screen With ‘Graceland’

Aaron Tveit is not one for making mistakes.

The impossibly handsome actor has carefully navigated his skyrocketing career from tour understudy in “Rent” to Broadway leading man in “Catch Me If You Can,” from television guest star on “Gossip Girl” to movie star with “Les Misérables” to series regular on USA’s “Graceland.” But on an evening in early May, Tveit’s worst nightmare came true.

Making his cabaret debut in front of a sold-out crowd at Manhattan’s 54 Below, Tveit messed up. He didn’t just fumble a line. He stopped mid-song—seemingly stunning himself at his error—and walked over to the piano to check the lyrics. When he emerged from the shock, he exclaimed, with a clap of his hands, “That was awesome!”

It was. Because since the dawn of “Les Miz,” the world has been asking the question, Who is Aaron Tveit? The mishap shines a moment behind the mask of the man who can set an Internet wildfire with one Tumblr tag and has an entire BuzzFeed article detailing his “most seductively charming moments.”

But on a drizzly day in late April, Tveit—in a white T-shirt, jeans, and a baseball cap (y u no get pics, Suzy Evans?)—seems like just another guy. In March he returned to his native New York from Florida, where “Graceland” shoots. The USA Network series, which is inspired by real events, follows a group of government agents from the DEA, the FBI, and customs living together in a house in Los Angeles called Graceland as they navigate the city’s crime and their own lives.

“I didn’t really have a plan to jump into television,” says Tveit, relaxing on a couch in a photographer’s loft in Chelsea. “I really wanted to let whatever I was drawn to lead me that way. I got sent this script by [NBC Senior Vice President of Casting] Steven O’Neill, and I absolutely loved it.” SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF NBC CASTING? Dude Aaron, fuck off. I hate you.

While Tveit seems to have nailed his first pilot season, O’Neill says he’s been trailing him for years and admits to being a tad obsessive. “I could have been labeled a stalker,” he jokes. “Now I’m an employer. I used to be a stalker.” Note to self: finish screenplay. Offer it to Aaron. Clearly this is a stalking method with real results.

O’Neill first saw Tveit in “Hairspray” on Broadway, and “the light bulb went off over my head, like, ‘Who’re you? I want you to be doing whatever I’m working on,’ ” he remembers. Because Tveit had been attached to “Catch Me If You Can” he hadn’t been able to commit to a television series, but the stars aligned for “Graceland.” “He got himself on tape, sent the audition off, and right from that first start, it was just like, ‘I think we have our guy!’ ”

Tveit plays recent FBI Academy graduate Mike Warren, and he says he was attracted to Mike’s single-mindedness in his work, which he likens to his own dedication to his job. “Once I came to acting, it was almost a thing where there weren’t enough hours in the day to work on stuff because I was so passionate about it,” he says.

But he never planned to be an actor. He grew up in upstate New York and found his way into performing through the pressure in high school to “do everything to make it look good on a college application.” His stage debut came freshman year when he played Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors.” But isn’t Seymour supposed to be awkward?

“Uh-huh,” he replies with a laugh. “I was a very awkward high schooler, especially in early high school. I had the middle part with a swoop, all that. It was the late ’90s!” LOL, stop lying Aaron. You're still awkward as fuck.

He almost went to college for business because he received a scholarship, but his supportive parents encouraged him to do what he wanted, and he ended up at Ithaca College as a music major. Sensing that something was missing, he auditioned for the theater program and a year later left school to tour with “Rent.” (He has since completed his degree.)

“I’ve fallen in love with the craft and the work of being an actor,” he says. “You need to go to school to get the basic knowledge, to get your first job, but once you get your first job, you learn everything you need to know. Working made me fall in love with acting even more.”

He hasn’t stopped since. He calls himself a “heady actor,” as he likes to do a lot of preparation beforehand and really delve into the psychology of his characters. Working on “Graceland,” he met the controlling officer of the real-life undercover agents at Graceland, worked with a Florida sheriff on gun handling, and practiced clearing a house with a SWAT team, some of whose members are extras in the series.

He learned how to prepare as an actor from being in the ensemble in “Rent,” when he “would create five-act plays” for himself to keep invested in the story eight shows a week. “I thought everyone was like this!” he says.

Now he’s been able to use his preparation to shape his character arc and the story line of “Graceland,” adding that the writers are open to suggestions and that shooting the show has been a collaborative process. “To feel like I’m having an impact on what’s being told was a very rewarding experience,” he says.

His stage experience also helped, though Tveit says screen acting was initially hard for him. “It feels like it’s the opposite of working onstage,” he says. “I had a hard time connecting the two. I feel like now it’s all the same work.” But the stamina of performing eight shows a week prepped him for the television hours. His “Catch Me” partner in crime Norbert Leo Butz, whom Tveit calls one of his acting role models, refers to him as a “Grecian athlete.”

“He’s indefatigable, incredibly disciplined,” Butz says via email. “He was a soldier in that play, just gave his whole heart and soul and body away for that performance. And those are really the only people I want to work with…. But what I most love about Aaron, and I do love that guy, like a brother, is his sheer giddiness and joy and delight in his life. He’s a big kid.”

Ask Tveit what roles he wants to play next, and his giddiness erupts. He speaks with an impassioned fervor and is particularly grateful that his “Graceland” gig only takes six months a year so he’ll be able to also do film and theater work.

“There’s a lot more theater work that I want to do,” he says, adding that Billy in “Carousel” is one of his big dream roles. “I’m at an interesting age, especially for musicals. There are a lot of roles for 18, 19, 20-year-old characters. From there, it jumps to older, kind of leading-man roles. So that hopefully will be the next group of parts that I get to play in musicals on the stage. I also want to do plays. I want to do everything.”

Watch My Show: Graceland's Jeff Eastin Answers Our Showrunner Survey

Jeff Eastin, who created the Matt Bomer comedic crime drama White Collar, goes a bit darker and edgier with his latest USA series, Graceland (Thursdays, 10/9c). Based on a true premise, the show stars Aaron Tveit as an FBI rookie who moves into a beach house secretly populated by DEA, FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Eastin explains why we should love Graceland tender.

TV Guide Magazine: I have time to watch one more show. Why should it be yours?
Jeff Eastin: Graceland is a thrill ride with a lot of heart. I wanted to show what life is like for someone who is working undercover. Here, we have a family of sorts, a group of undercover agents from all different agencies living together. They share their work, their pain and their love. Of course, there are thrills to be had and bad guys to be caught — but at its core this show is about the lives of the people trying to keep us safe and the gray zone in which they are forced to reside.

TV Guide Magazine: Who should be watching?
Eastin: Anyone who wants to watch an honest portrayal of what it's like to work undercover. I wrote Graceland to tell the truth about the undercover experience. If you're seeking honest and heartfelt storytelling, this is your show.

TV Guide Magazine: Give us the recipe for Graceland.
Eastin: Equal parts Miami Vice (remove pastels and set aside), The Wire, and American Beauty. Add a liberal splash of Lord of the Flies. Shake unexpectedly and serve with a comedic wedge. Best enjoyed on a beach during a summer sunset, preferably with a few tacos.

TV Guide Magazine: What's the best thing anyone has said or written about your show?
Eastin: "Do I really have to wait another month for Episode 2?" The best comments come from the fans. Anytime I have an audience who can't wait for the next episode, I know I've done my job well.

TV Guide Magazine: What's the worst thing?
Eastin: "I hope that wasn't supposed to be a twist at the end."

TV Guide Magazine: Who was right?
Eastin: Obviously the fan who can't wait for the next episode, because yes, that was a twist.

TV Guide Magazine: What's an alternate title?
Eastin: Safe House.

TV Guide Magazine: Come up with a premise for the spin-off.
Eastin: The New York-based spinoff, Sublet, features 17 brooding agents crammed into a 1,100-square-foot SoHo loft. Stories will focus on making rent and eating vegan.

TV Guide Magazine: What credit of yours would you prefer we forget?
Eastin: Shasta McNasty. But if you're going to crash and burn, it's best to do it in obscurity. In truth I am proud of all my credits because they tell the story of how I got to where I am today.

TV Guide Magazine: What happens if we don't watch Graceland?
Eastin: You'll waste your time watching something [Burn Notice executive producer] Matt Nix created.

TV Guide Magazine: Tell us something about your amazing cast.
Eastin: Through the shoot, life came to imitate art as our cast became very close, just like the characters on the show.

TV Guide Magazine: If you weren't producing this show, what series would you most like to be an executive producer on?
Eastin: I am a huge fan of The Shield. Maybe I can talk Shawn Ryan into letting me produce the seventh season.

TV Guide Magazine: Let's scare the network. Tell us an idea that didn't make it to the screen.
Eastin: The really scary part is, all of those ideas that did scare the network made it to the screen.

TV Guide Magazine: Finish this sentence: If you like _______, you'll love our show.
Eastin: A little humor with your heroin.

TV Guide Magazine: Pick a show with which to start a fake feud.
Eastin: I would love to pick a feud with Archer because their staff would find the best ways to mess with us. Perhaps they would let an ocelot loose in our writers room while we're not looking.

TV Guide Magazine: With what show would you like to do a crossover episode?
Eastin: We actually did a shout-out to Breaking Bad. One of our guys tests meth and says, "It isn't as good as the blue stuff." I would love to do an entire episode where our team is on the hunt for a certain Mr. Heisenberg.

TV Guide Magazine: How will your show change the face of TV as we know it?
Eastin: Graceland shows that USA isn't afraid to dirty up its blue skies, and that it's OK for networks to push beyond their comfort zones and find new story possibilities because of it.

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