As the third season of ABC’s “Quantico” rolls out another episode this week, a new cast member joins Alex Parrish and crew. Indian-American actor Vandit Bhatt teams up with FBI’s finest as Jagdeep Patel.
Bhatt, whose previous TV credits include “Mercy,” “Younger,” and “The Michael J. Fox Show,” was born and raised in India before moving to Florida, which means he’s been watching Bollywood movies for a long time, including those featuring “Quantico” star Priyanka Chopra. It’s also why the show holds an important place in his heart.
We spoke to him about working with Chopra and the rest of the cast, South Asian representation not only on TV but also in theater, and how growing up in both India and the U.S. had an impact on his career.
The Teal Mango: Congratulations on scoring the recurring role in “Quantico.” That must have been an exciting call to receive. How long was the wait from when you auditioned to the time you found out you’ve been cast?
Vandit Bhatt: Thank you! It was really great and exciting to hear I was going to be on the show. I believe it was a couple of weeks before I found out I had been cast.
TTM: You play a character named Jagdeep Patel. I know you’re probably sworn to secrecy about this but what can you tell me about Deep and how he sort of mixes with the rest of the group?
Bhatt: Deep is a new recruit of the black ops team. He is very smart, has a good head on his shoulders, and is brought in to help the team with their various missions.
TTM: “Quantico” is a coveted TV show, it’s got a large fan base and its very high-octane, it’s being shot in multiple locations this time like Italy and Ireland, it has a wonderful crew and actors, What was the experience like for you to be amidst all of this? Now that it’s finally time to air, how high are your anticipation levels?
Bhatt: I had a really great time shooting “Quantico.” I was very lucky to be surrounded by a great cast and crew. From day one, everybody welcomed me with open arms and took really good care of me. The cast is so great, everyone is at the top of their game, and I have no doubt I am a better actor than I was when I started shooting. It was a true privilege to go to work every day, and I am very grateful to be a part of the show. I am so excited for everyone to see “Quantico!” I think this season is really exciting and I hope the audience responds and connects to it.
TTM: Obviously, this show is barrier-breaking because of none other than Priyanka Chopra. She was the first Bollywood actress to play a lead on American TV and she’s just so great in it. For you, another Indian, to then join the show and get to act alongside her and the rest of the diverse cast, what does that signify for you personally?
Bhatt: Personally, acting on “Quantico” resonates with me on so many levels. First and foremost, I got to work with Priyanka Chopra. I was born and raised in Hyderabad, India and was immersed in Bollywood as far back as I can remember. My family and I have watched many of Priyanka’s films and have admired her work for many years. Working closely with Priyanka, I got a chance to see just how hard she works, how committed she is to the process, and she does it all with the utmost grace and humility. That was a huge lesson for me. My family doesn’t watch much American TV so when I booked the show, my family was extremely excited and happy because the gig resonated with them because of Priyanka. Secondly, as I mentioned before, I was surrounded by a stellar cast. I was deeply touched by everyone’s warmth, generosity of spirit, and their talent. I learned so much watching and working with Priyanka Chopra, Blair Underwood, Marlee Matlin, Johanna Brady, Jake McLaughlin, Russell Tovey and others. I will take everything I learned with me onto future projects.
TTM: You’ve had roles in different shows like “The Michael J. Fox Show,” “Madam Secretary,” “Mercy.” How do you think these shows have helped you evolve in your craft? How has your heavy work in the theatre and performing in front of a live audience influenced your acting in front of the camera?
Bhatt: I view and live a lot of my life through the prism of my work and I am a big believer in the value of learning by doing. Whether its working on a TV show, a film or a play, everything I have worked on has brought me to this point. Every show you mentioned taught me something I carry with me to this day. I have learned a lot as I have progressed in my career and I hope that never stops. Acting in film/TV and on the stage has the same basic principles, but different muscles are used in each medium. Performing a play has a lot to do with connection and intimacy. As a performer on stage, I am always trying to connect with the audience, my scene partner, and the material while making sure the audience in the last row can still hear me. It is precisely that connection and intimacy on stage that has helped me out in front of the camera. I love how intimate working in front of the camera can be.
TTM: South Asian representation on TV is finally on the rise and in the right direction. What do you think has launched this movement of wanting accurate portrayal and how does it impact you as you branch out more in the industry?
Bhatt: In my opinion, I believe change is happening, slowly but surely, largely because we, as a collective whole, are having important discussions on the issue openly. The internet and social media certainly play a huge role in that. I am very excited about the future because I choose to believe, and hope, that positive strides will be made by everyone involved.
TTM: As someone who is part of both, TV and theatre, what are your thoughts on the state of desi representation in both these fields today? What more can and should we do to ensure South Asian actors, writers, directors are getting a fair and equal chance?
Bhatt: I think we should keep having an open dialogue on the subject, in every field, because I think change is a byproduct of open and frank discussions. I know we have a long way to go but I have to say that I am really excited by the projects around me. Much of my excitements stems from the fact that I see the writers, the directors, the actors striving to pay attention and change the narrative. There is so much diversity on the stage and screen today and I am grateful for it. I am seeing South Asian actors play characters and create content that would have been impossible. I think the best way to bring about change is to keep working and keep creating.
TTM: You were raised in both, India and in the United States. How did those formative years in both places push you into acting? Was it relatively easy or tough to get your family on board?
Bhatt: I was born and raised in India so I started watching films at a very young age, and they affected me very profoundly. I would always come back home and in my free time or with friends I would often re-enact scenes from movies or make up my own. A lot of what I learned about life in those years came from films. In many ways, I wanted to be an actor before I realized it but I didn’t have many opportunities to exercise that creativity. Upon entering high school, I could take an elective to study, and I immediately gravitated towards Drama. Luckily, I had a great teacher who took the subject and acting very seriously so, right away, I learned a profound respect for the craft. I did a lot of plays in high school and I fell more in love with acting with every play I did. I went on to study acting at the University of Central Florida on a full scholarship. I was lucky to have been accepted there as it is one of the best programs in Florida and I had tremendous teachers. As far as my family is concerned, it was easy to get them on board once it was clear that there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do with my life. They were, of course, worried a little because of the nature of show business, but they have always supported me, wished me well, looked out for me and I am incredibly grateful to them.
TTM: Growing up, there weren’t many brown characters on TV in this side of the world. Who are some of your acting inspirations, whether here in the U.S. or even Bollywood?
Bhatt: I have numerous inspirations in the industry, too many to name them all, but I think the common thread amongst the people I admire is the love of the work. In Bollywood, I am incredibly inspired by actors like Anupam Kher, Paresh Rawal and Amitabh Bachchan. They are legends in the industry and have done hundreds of films and continue to deliver on a very high level. That is astounding to me. I am really excited for Anupam Kher’s new pilot. In the U.S., Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino are a huge inspiration for me. I have been studying them for a long time now. I also have a very special place in my heart for Philip Seymour Hoffman. I’m inspired by Daniel-Day Lewis, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Krasinski, Aziz Ansari, Kumail Nanjiani, Manish Dayal, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Francis McDormand, Viola Davis, Jordan Peele, and these are just at the top of my head.
TTM: You acted in and directed the web series “Token” in 2014. Can you tell me a little bit about it, why you made it, and is directing something you want to continue pursuing?
Bhatt: “Token: The Webseries”, created by Sarah Ellen Stephens, was a project inspired by our time at one of the first theater companies we worked with when we arrived in New York. We had an incredibly diverse group of actors but we noticed we weren’t seeing on screen the diversity we encountered daily in our lives, especially the small screen. At the time, the industry had just started having conversations about diversity and representation in the media. The project was born out of a desire to add to the conversation by highlighting a diverse group of friends navigating their way through New York. We wanted to show that diversity was a fabric of New York and the country, for that matter. I didn’t solely direct the project. I co-directed it with Jason Bruffy. I would love to direct something again one day, but not just yet.
TTM: With “Quantico” ready to make its return, what are some of your future projects you are really excited about?
Bhatt: I am pretty much sworn to secrecy on my next few projects but I can say that I am working on a few films with some incredibly gifted artists and I am really excited about that.