‘Graceland’ Star Daniel Sunjata: ‘I Didn’t Really Want to Do TV’ After ‘Rescue Me’

The actor explains how the new USA series lured him back to a series regular role

Daniel Sunjata portrayed the playboy firefighter on FX's "Rescue Me" for seven seasons. And although he had done recurring stints on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and NBC's "Smash," the actor says starring on a series wasn't his plan.

"I loved my time on 'Rescue Me,' but I didn't really want to do TV when it was over," the actor said during TheWrap's visit to the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. set of his new USA series "Graceland."

Sunjata said that being a series regular on the show began to feel monotonous to him, leaving him with a craving for something more dynamic.

Also read: 'Graceland's' Aaron Tveit Talks Transitioning From Broadway to TV

Jeff Daly/USA Network

"At a certain point in time, I felt like [my character] Franco was kind of like doing the same thing," he explained. "Every time he spoke, he was like being a little arrogant or talking about women or what have you. Clearly, from ['Graceland's' pilot episode, I could see that the intention was to dimensionalize and texture Briggs over the course of time."

Sunjata plays FBI agent Paul Briggs, the most senior officer living in a beachfront safe house shared with members from different law enforcement agencies. On the pilot, he was placed in charge of new roommate and young agent, Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit).

What drew you to this role?
Daniel Sunjata: I haven't had a ton of opportunities in my career so far on camera to play characters that have multiple levels going on at the same time, uh, characters with this type of complexity and texture to them. And so as soon as I saw the writing, and of course, it's Jeff Eastin, so I knew the history of White Collar. I knew he was a great storyteller. And it was, uh… it was kind of a no-brainer. There was no reason not to take the job, definitely a great character.

Also read: Ratings: 'Burn Notice' Heats Up With Final Season Premiere; 'Graceland' Off to Good Start

Briggs is placed in charge of Mike. Were there chemistry tests between you and Aaron?
Aaron had gotten cast before I did, and he was there at my test. So, I actually auditioned with Aaron in the room. I'm sure they wanted to make sure that the chemistry between whomever they cast as Briggs, thank God it was me, and Aaron was going to be on point. And I think they saw that in the audition.

USA Network

We hear that surfing was very new to you. In fact, you once got sick during a scene?
So, yeah, for all of your readers out there, never go surfing after eating shrimp scampi. That's what I would say. We were doing this scene where we're out on our surfboards at the end of Santa Monica pier, and it was right after lunch. And what can I say? I mean the swells were pretty intense, and we were out there for about 45 minutes, and I'm not really a surfer, and you know before I knew it I was chumming the water with my lunch, so.

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Are there internal demons for Briggs that he'll struggle with?
Absolutely. You'll see not only Briggs' demons, but some demons from other people in the show. Nothing is as it seems in 'Graceland.' We set the tone with the pilot and with the first episode, and then from there threads start to unravel, and you start to see the underbelly of the ship. And yeah, everybody's got secrets.

"Graceland" airs Thursdays at 10/9c on USA.