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Daniel Sunjata

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Fractal and the Rabbit Hole

Posted: 06/18/2013 5:42 pm

Agent Briggs: "You are now an undercover agent for the bureau. From this moment on, your lies are your life."

Mike Warren: "How do you do it, sir? All the lying...how do you keep from going crazy?"

Briggs: "Who says I haven't?"

Warren: "No one, sir."

Exactly.

Who knew that actors had anything in common with undercover narcotics agents? Certainly not I. But the parallel between the two fields was not lost on me as I prepared to inhabit the serpentine psychology of FBI Special Agent Paul Briggs within the narrative labyrinth of USA's new hour-long drama, Graceland.

At the heart of both professions the ability to convey lies with utter sincerity figures prominently, although the stakes are admittedly somewhat higher for the field-agent who risks a bullet to the head for a bad performance, versus the artist who risks a bad review in the trades. While both lie vocationally, actors do so in order to entertain and to artfully convey subtle emotional truths and weighty thematic underpinnings, while narco-agents use lies presumably for the greater good, in the cause of justice, and to stay alive whilst swimming with land-sharks.

In both cases, however, (and as stated in the tag line for our show) it can be fairly said that "your lies are your life"; or livelihood, or both. On Graceland, I found that the superimposition of the artful lie upon the art of lying produced a kind of mentative "Russian-Doll effect" that made keeping track of a season's worth of calculated ambiguities and dovetailing plot twists quite a challenge. Within the space of a few lie-laden episodes the telescoping pace of our story's acceleration was such that I found myself in need of regular reorientations from both Jeff Eastin and our talented writing staff in order to maintain my contextual compass as the season evolved in ever-compounding complexity. The actor's imperative of keeping track of what each character does and does not know, the lies they may have told, and the secrets they hold is ironically requisite to a truthful and authentic portrayal of both character and circumstance; especially in a medium like television or film where scenes are shot completely out of order.

Mr. Eastin's aid in this regard was of inestimable value both to myself and the entire cast. Extricating my psyche from Graceland's Briggsian rabbit-hole was relatively easy enough upon completion of our season-long "assignment." Though in retrospect, I find myself echoing the bewildered sentiments expressed above by young Agent Warren; I could never fathom the reality or magnitude of the difficulties faced by those who actually live on the edge, down-range, and in the line of fire... relying so heavily on secrets and veils of deceit to keep them safe and free from harm. In fact if I've learned anything from my experience shooting our show, it is that I much prefer the retouched facsimile to the unvarnished original. I could never do their job in real life; endlessly tight-rope walking the razor's edge of moral ambiguity; tempting the tragic fall into its abyss, where the liar becomes the lie, and the lie becomes truth.

 
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