If you’re a fan of The Killing, Falling Skies or USA Network’s latest hit show Graceland, you’ll easily recognize the face of Brandon Jay McLaren. He was put into a coma on The Killing after being wrongly suspected of murder, killed off by aliens on Falling Skies, but it looks like he’ll be sticking around much longer on this show. So don’t be afraid to start investing in his character fearing he’ll be taken away just as you really start liking him.
Graceland is USA Networks smart replacement for Burn Notice which ends after this current season. Based on a true story, the FBI has seized the mansion of a drug lord and planted six of their undercover agents from different bureaus inside. They’re able to run their undercover ops while also helping each other as a means of support system. Being created by Jeff Eastin, who’s also created USA’s other hit White Collar doesn’t hurt and obviously why it’s been picked up for another season after only two episodes.
The house get its name from the drug lord who was obsessed with Elvis Presley. You’ll notice that there’s some of the King’s paraphernalia in there too.
McLaren plays Dale Jakes, who’s quite a different type of character for him. He plays it very close to the vest and has some secrets that he’d rather keep that way. McLaren’s journey to this show was a stroke of luck along with going with his gut on white road to follow in his career.
He was shooting TNT’s hit series Falling Skies as Jamil who was just beginning to get sparks going with medic Lourdes when he was cast as one of the leads on Graceland. This is something most actors dream about but rarely see happen. As McLaren said, he went with his gut and told the producers of the Steven Spielberg-produced series that he was taking the role. He said the producers took it very well and did what any producer would do in the situation. His character Jamil was promptly killed off in an explosion that left him badly wounded and twitching with creepy alien insects coming out of his mouth.
For those of you that saw the pilot of Graceland, you’ll notice that McLaren didn’t get a lot of screen time. As he said it, the writers are developing his character slowly and letting the audience get to know him as his housemates do. As with anyone who’s got a ton of secrets they want kept hidden, Dales is that onion that will slowly be peeled away little by little with a great payoff by the end of the season. “They’ll really go into his personal life outside of Graceland and it gets really, really interesting. There are some surprises that get revealed throughout the season.”
Usually when you’re in a living situation with six other personalities you might wind up sharing some of your things, but not so much with Jake. As McLaren put, he’s not sharing his juice with “Nobody. Nobody. No, that’s a no-no.”
Many of you might think that a Customs agent doesn’t see a lot of action, but that was quickly cleared up for me. “There’s a lot of action. I deal with all the big shipments of illegal things in and out of the country. When I got the job, I started keeping track of what ICE (Immigration and Custom) Agents do. And there was a huge 80 billion dollar cocaine bust that the Custom Agents had done. They were trying to get in the U.S. So they deal with a lot of action, especially with stuff going in and out of the Mexican border, for instance, where there’s a lot of drug trafficking contraband.”
McLaren surprised many fans this week when he tweeted out a music video for Alma Mater that he had directed. When I asked him what got him to direct The Valedictory Address video, it was pretty simple. His younger brother kept after him for some time and after enough wearing down he relented. Like anyone who’s thought about directing, the idea can be terrifying, and it was no different for McLaren who created the concept and jumped in headlong with some pretty great results. You can check out the video below and judge for yourself.
McLaren’s concept was to shoot it more as an indie style film in black and white rather than just crank out a fast hip hop video that you can see anywhere. As the actor said, the experience was very freeing and not as intimidating as he first thought it would be. Now he’s ready to take on another music video and possible short film project.
As this is our second interview with him, I noticed that his career has gone pretty smoothly without any downtime between projects. I asked him what advice he had to give other struggling actors. “You just have to be open to playing all kinds of characters no matter how different they may be from you. If you stick to one type of character, you’re gonna get typecast really fast, and once that happens, it’s nearly impossible to get out of it. I’ve been very fortunate that producers have taken a chance on letting me play such a wide range of characters.”
When you look at his range, it’s been pretty vast. At one time a Power Ranger to teacher Bennet Ahmed in The Killing to Dazzle Darlington in Dead Before Dawn, McLaren is showing that keeping your options open can really pay off in a field that keeps getting tougher every year.
McLaren was quick to point out to me how proud he is of Dead Before Dawn which has won 5 Canadian Comedy Awards. This is a pretty over the top comedy that introduces the Zemon (half zombie, half demon). If you loved Shaun Of the Dead, this one’s right up your alley as it’s a mix between that and The Goonies.
As Michael Bay is rebooting the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles franchise, fans have been wondering if he might also turn his eye to bringing the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to the big screen too. I asked McLaren if this happens, would he be ready to jump into Jack Landors Red SPD Power Ranger suit. “If Michael Bay seriously considered this, I would definitely consider it.”
You can catch Graceland Thursday nights at 10 PM (9 Central) on USA Networks. It’s a definite summer watch and congrats on getting a Season 2 pickup!
Shanka Cheryl also contributed to this interview.
Alma Mater The Valedictory Address Dir: Brandon Jay McLaren