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On the Job Training

Every detour paved the way for Lenny Platt of ABC's Quantico.

Karen DeLong
  • Kourosh Keshiri
  • Courtesy ABC
  • Kourosh Keshiri
  • Courtesy ABC
  • Courtesy ABC
  • Kourosh Keshiri
  • Courtesy ABC
  • Kourosh Keshiri

For an actor, no experience or education is ever wasted. Just ask Quantico’s Lenny Platt

Platt, who stars as Drew Perales in the TV thriller series Quantico (ABC), brings more than an acting background to his role as a retired NFL player turned New Agent Trainee (NAT) in the FBI. Perales is tough, ambitious and charismatic, played with authenticity thanks to Platt’s unique background.

Platt joined the cast midway through season 1. He played high school and college football and holds a degree in criminology from the University of Florida as well as a law degree from Benjamin Cardozo Law School, making him ideally educated for his role as a NAT.

“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do in college, but criminology interested me,” he says. “Film did too. I didn’t know what path to take, so I just took classes that I liked.”

Having studied forensics, police psychology and more, he says, “It’s been a fortunate turn of events. It’s been pretty surreal actually. I get to use my degree, 10 years later.”

Platt took classes in production, writing and directing short films, and came into acting by accident. “I didn’t know I had any acting ability until college. I stepped into a [student] film when an actor dropped out. I wasn’t any good, but I liked it. I thought that if I took classes, I could get better. That shifted the second half of my college career,” he said.

With the acting seed permanently planted, Platt pursued a dual career path: He applied to law schools in New York and Los Angeles with the hope of landing acting parts while studying law. After passing the bar, he did legal work to pay the bills while looking for acting jobs. “It was schizophrenic at times, but it was fun. I don’t regret anything but my student loans!” he said.

From there, he landed a role as high school star quarterback Nate Sallinger in One Life to Live and later regularly appeared as college jock Griffin O’Reilly in How to Get Away with Murder.

“It’s fun to incorporate the athletic background in my roles,” says Platt. “My character in Quantico was originally written as a boxer. We changed his background from boxer to NFL football player because that’s something I can relate to.

"Drew is part of the NFL class action lawsuit regarding head injuries,” Platt explains. “He feels betrayed by the sport he loves, so [being an FBI agent] is his chance to take on ‘The Man,’ protect the innocent and do the right thing. He’s a crusader with a bit of a hero complex. It’s what makes him great but can also be his downfall.”

In addition to changing Platt’s character from boxer to football player, Quantico’s writers approached Platt about incorporating his ethnicity into the character, originally named Drew Walker. “My mother is Puerto Rican and my father is half Dominican, so I’m ¾ Hispanic,” Platt says, adding that “ABC is committed to diversity.”

Quantico features a diverse group of recruits who have arrived at the FBI base in Quantico, Virginia for training. They are the best and most vetted, but one is suspected of being an undercover terrorist who masterminded a bombing at Grand Central Terminal.

The mystery surrounding the act and which recruit may have been involved is a central theme woven throughout the action-packed story line. Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) is initially the prime suspect, but suspicions swirl around other recruits as well.

Preparation for the role also included watching FBI training videos, where he learned about TEVOC instruction (Tactical and Emergency Vehicle Operations Center). “I really wanted to do this after seeing it on the FBI web site, and I finally got to do it. We drove around in Dodge Chargers inside a wet warehouse. Oh, that was fun,” he says of the experience.

Just like any TV show of this genre, Quantico is based in reality but enhanced with fantasy. While the show does employ an FBI consultant, some aspects of of it are intentionally different.

“Sure, I looked at the FBI videos and saw their baggy polos and cargo pants,” Platt says, “but television is escapism rather than realism. You have to make some concessions based on what your audience wants to see,” he says of the more body-conscious NAT attire on the show.

Platt remembers discussions his parents used to have while watching Grey’s Anatomy. Both went to medical school, and while his mom loved the show, his dad hated it because it wasn’t realistic enough for him. “Mom pointed out that no one would watch a medical show based entirely on reality,” he chuckled.

Quantico fans all have their theories about which NAT was behind the bombing. Bits of evidence are sprinkled into many of the characters, adding to the suspense of solving the mystery of the mastermind.

“No one is safe,” Platt replies when asked who is guilty, “but let me say this: The web the writers are weaving all comes together and makes sense. You will find out. The clues are definitely there, and the time and effort the audience has put into watching and looking for those clues will be rewarded. It’s clear from day one that the writers knew where they were going to be on the last day.”

Platt maintains his love for directing through his work with BBQ Films, an event production company that creates immersive cinematic experiences based on favorite films such as Back to the Future, Beetlejuice and more.

“We were the first and are the largest immersive theater company,” he says. “We put you inside your favorite move with actors in costume, a set created to look like the movie, and the audience comes in costume. It’s a transformative experience,” he says.   

“Having this creative outlet with super dedicated people is where I found my stride. It’s been life-changing. Film is a populist art form and it should be accessible to everyone,” he says of the modest $42 ticket price.  BBQ’s next event, 18 months in the making, will be its biggest ever, he promises.

Quantico airs on Sundays at 10 pm.