Creator and executive producer Jeff Eastin (White Collar) used the true story of a seized California beach property that was turned into a safe house for undercover federal agents as a jumping point for the new USA Network drama series Graceland, premiering Thursday, June 6, at 10:01pm ET. Young rookie undercover FBI agent Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit) is assigned to the home, and he has to earn the respect of his psychologically complex roommates and a brilliant but mysterious mentor (Daniel Sunjata). Mike also has to learn on the job quickly after his first sting operation turns into a hostage crisis.
In 1992, the U.S. government seized a luxurious Southern California beach property and transformed it into a safe house for undercover agents of the FBI, DEA and U.S. Customs Service. The house served as a residence for federal agents — who worked intensely difficult and dangerous jobs in which deception was a part of everyday life — until it was decommissioned in 2001.
“Some people just can’t hack it because of the psychological toll and the type of person that it takes to be able to do that type of work,” Tveit says of undercover agents’ personalities. “The successful undercover agents have to be kind of amazing at being able to compartmentalize their lives, which a lot of people just can’t do.”
They also have to walk the fine line between cop and criminal by association. “You’re seeing things that are against the law and people are getting hurt, but you’re not acting on that, you’re not stopping these people,” Tveit says. “So what’s really different from the person committing it and you who are letting it happen?”
When several of these people all live together, the drama plays out a little like Reservoir Dogs meets Melrose Place. “Two years is about the max anybody could live in the house because it was so intense,” Eastin says, recalling stories from actual agents who lived there. “The house itself just — it becomes very much like this small cosmos of deceit and intrigue that these guys are forced into, just the pressure that builds up.”
Photo: Credit: James Minchin III/USA Network