Grease: Live! Star Aaron Tveit Says 2016 Election Satire in New Zombie Series BrainDead Hits a Little Too Close to Home
The Good Wife creators' follow-up "could not be more timely," Tveit tells PEOPLE
Art is imitating life for Aaron Tveit – for better or worse.
Starring in Good Wife creators Robert and Michelle King’s new political satire thriller BrainDead, Tveit admits he and many members of the cast have spotted some unnerving similarities between their scripts and today’s headlines.
The D.C.-based CBS series follows Laurel (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a staffer on the Hill who discovers that aliens are eating the brains of the local politicians. Needless to say, the government is not working very well.
Tveit tells PEOPLE: “When anybody asks what the show is about and I say, ‘It’s like West Wing meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers – it’s about aliens eating politicians’ brains.’ Ninety-nine times out of 100, there’s a pause and people say, ‘Oh, like what’s happening right now?’ ”
Amid the ongoing presidential campaigns, Tveit says the show “could not be more timely. All the writers have said they almost can’t satirize what’s going on fast enough, which is scary – and also great for us.”
And it’s the realism of the show that Tveit is enjoying, even though he is a longtime fan of science fiction films.
“Much like The Good Wife set up this realistic world of this law firm, we’re trying to set up this realistic D.C. drama – but with all this stuff on top of it,” he said. “And it’s shot in a very stylized way. It’s not camp. We’re not sending it up. We’re doing a real take on it. It just happens to have all these sci-fi elements that bleed in.”
To prepare for his role as Gareth, the legislative director to a top Republican senator, Tveit has been following current events as closely as possible.
“My senior year of high school was the Bush/Gore election,” he recalled. “I remember taking AP Government, and what a wonderful topic for us. Much like this year, there’s stuff to talk about every day. Being a part of the show, I’m trying to read as much as I can and keep track of all the craziness going on.”
The word “craziness” could be used to describe Tveit’s own life as well. He was three seasons into playing rookie FBI agent Mike Warren on the USA drama Graceland when he read the script for BrainDead, but he was still waiting to hear about the future of Graceland and couldn’t commit to a new project. Then he got word that Graceland wouldn’t be renewed for another season. And, in between all of this, he was starring as Danny Zuko in FOX’s production of Grease: Live!
“It’s a little daunting to think one episode of this show could get the viewership of the entire season of the show I was on before!” he says of scaling up to a network audience. But moving quickly between projects is nothing new for Tveit, who has starred in the musicals Next to Normal and Catch Me If You Can on Broadway, as well as the musical film Les Miséerables. (And many will recognize him from appearances on The Good Wife, Ugly Betty, Gossip Girl and Law & Order, too.)
And that viewership will see a new side of Tveit. Up until now, the majority of his roles have been youthful, and the 32-year-old actor was eager to take on the role of Gareth, saying he relishes the challenge of playing a more mature character.
“Even though my character in Graceland got to do a lot of things, in a way he was still kind of a kid – just out of the academy and they kind of treated him like a kid at times,” he said. “This guy is ready to do his job. He’s definitely a young man. It was a move forward in that respect for me as a character. He’s a really smart guy, and I love playing smart characters. I’m relishing the opportunity to sink into this meaty dialogue.”
Meaty dialogue is something Tveit has never shied away from, and that’s been a deliberate choice in his career, seeking roles that are “emotionally raw and tough and difficult.”
And, with his new-found exposure to politics, does Tveit have any advice for people on Capitol Hill?
“We’re right in the middle of the season, and my character s definitely having a hard time with the extremism coming up. I think my advice to each of them would be: ‘You all need to chill. Chill the F out and play to the middle a little bit. If not, you’re dead in the water.’ ”
BrainDead premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.