In February, Aaron Tveit found himself on stage at the Academy Awards — alongside Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe — basking in the acclaim for “Les Miserables.” Tveit played the young revolutionary Enjolras.
This week Tveit, 29, debuts in his first regular series role as a fresh-faced federal agent tackling his first undercover assignment in the USA Network drama “Graceland.”
“You know, I booked ‘Les Mis’ and ‘Graceland’ a couple days apart, and that was insane,” says Tveit, with an aw-shucks affability. “Life is very, very great. I have no complaints.”
On “Graceland,” Tveit stars as Mike Warren, an FBI special agent assigned to live and work with other federal agents in a Southern California beachfront mansion nicknamed Graceland that was seized by the government. The series is
based on a real-life undercover communal residence that operated from 1992-2001; its nickname was given by a former owner, a drug lord who was obsessed with Elvis Presley.
The show depicts six agents from the FBI, DEA and US Customs living under the
same roof, where they work both individually and collaboratively on cases, then
decompress by surfing or hanging out by a fire pit on the beach.
Their caseload is invented, but other details — such as the “house rules” stipulating no guns on the first floor or visitors on the second floor, where they sleep and have a communications center — are based on guidelines in place for the real house, says creator and executive producer Jeff Eastin.
The easy-on-the-eyes ensemble cast also includes Daniel Sunjata (“Rescue Me”) as Warren’s mentor, FBI Special Agent Paul Briggs.
Casting the role of Warren was a matter of finding an actor with the right mix of strength and innocence.
“Somebody who has the confidence of a kid who just wandered out of Quantico at the top of his class, but has this kind of charming boyish quality that I wanted — that was tough to find in a really attractive package, which obviously Aaron is,” Eastin says. “He really was so, so what I’d written.”
Born in Middletown, NY, Tveit’s talent became evident at an early age. He learned to play the violin in kindergarten. He took up the French horn and joined the choir in fourth grade. By high school, he was juggling play rehearsals and practice for soccer, basketball and golf.
“I’d go to school at 7:30 in the morning and wouldn’t get home until 9 or 10 at night,” he says.
Tveit interrupted study for a degree in theater at Ithaca College to join the national tour of “Rent”; he went back for one semester before joining Broadway’s “Hairspray,” as Link Larkin. He never returned to college, but his stage work, including a starring role as jet-setting con man Frank Abagnale Jr. in the 2011 musical “Catch Me If You Can,” earned him academic credit and he finished required course work on line.
“My first graduation date was 2005, and I eventually graduated in 2012. So, yeah, I was on the 11-year plan,” he says, with a laugh.
Cast in the film version of “Les Miserables” in 2011, he says co-star Jackman diminished any butterflies he had about doing the movie.
“I went to see Hugh’s one-man show on Broadway after I’d gotten it. In the middle of the show, in front of the whole audience, he congratulated me,” he says. “That’s the kind of gracious and amazing person he is. Someone like him leading the company really put my nerves at ease.”
Although Tveit doesn’t sing in “Graceland,” he still gives his voice a workout. Between takes on the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., set, Tveit often bursts into song, to the amusement of cast and crew, with samples of R&B tunes (like the racy 2000 hit “Thong Song” by Sisqó) and tween-pop fare like “Give Your Heart a Break” by Demi Lovato.
“I kinda don’t know I’m doing it at times,” he says. “People have said it’s very funny how random it is. Anything could come out of my mouth.”
On hiatus last month, he also performed his first solo cabaret act during a sold-out, six-day run at the New York club 54 Below. A professed Taylor Swift fan, he did a cheeky rendition of her hit “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together” that left fans — female and male, young and much older — swaying, clapping and laughing along.
That kind of reception boosts his popularity, but Tveit, who has a girlfriend and has lived in Astoria for six years, takes this thing called fame in stride.
In March, when web site BuzzFeed posted a swooning photo pictorial of the six-foot actor smiling, dancing and, yes, shirtless — titled “The 42 Most Seductively Charming Aaron Tveit Moments Of All Time” — he wasn’t fazed.
“Yeah, somebody sent me that; I had no idea what it was. I clicked on it, got to about the first two things and immediately closed it,” he says, laughing. “If anybody tells you they wouldn’t be flattered, they’re lying. It only means, on a base level, people are responding positively to the work that I’m doing. So for that, I’m utterly grateful.”