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Tate Ellington is covered in bruises. As one of the stars of ABC's new drama Quantico (Sept. 27), the Mississippi-born actor has just undergone combat training for his part as Simon Asher, a gay, Jewish FBI recruit from Brooklyn. "You learn to flip over people's backs and take punches," he says. "I got to feel like a tough guy for a little while."
As someone who admits to bawling his eyes out during the Lost finale and relishing his nerdier sitcom roles (such as his recent turn as a nebbish doctor on The Mindy Project), Ellington isn't accustomed to portraying the buff, aggressive type. "I'm used to 'It's comedy--you don't have to be fit,' " he says. "But on Quantico they're like, 'Shirts might be off!' "
Simon's is the latest in the network's recent crop of refreshingly forthcoming queer storylines (see Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder). "He's just like, 'This is who I am,' " says Ellington. But in a thriller named after the highly secretive training academy, can Simon really be trusted? In the pilot alone, one deceitful budding agent is revealed to be a twin; another is a mole who will engineer the largest terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11.
Ellington confesses that even he doesn't know if Simon's identity is a ruse, but he's hoping Quantico's writers will take their cues from edgier fare like Transparent, a series he praises for the realistic way it sexualizes its queer characters. "I don't want to sound like I'm quoting Top Gun," Ellington says, "but I want them to push the envelope."
Quantico premieres Sunday, Sept. 27 at 10 p.m. ET. Watch a clip below: