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Tate Ellington, Softy Turned Spy in Quantico

Tate Ellington, Softy Turned Spy in Quantico

Tate Ellington
Photography by Christopher McMahon

The actor plays gay, Jewish FBI recruit Simon Asher in ABC's new drama about terrorism.

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:

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