This week’s episode of ABC’s “Quantico,” which is in its third season, welcomes a new cast member to Alex Parrish and company. As Jagdeep Patel, Indian-American actor Vandit Bhatt collaborates with top FBI agents.
Bhatt was born and raised in India before relocating to Florida, so he has long been a fan of Bollywood films, notably those starring “Quantico” star Priyanka Chopra. His prior TV credits include “Mercy,” “Younger,” and “The Michael J. Fox Show.” It’s also the reason he feels strongly about the show.
We talked to him about working with Chopra and the rest of the cast, the depiction of South Asians in theater as well as on TV, as well as the effect that growing up in both India and the United States had 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?
Bhatt, Vandit I’m grateful. Hearing that I will be appearing on the show was fantastic and exciting. Before I learned that I had been cast, I think it was a few weeks.
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: The black ops team just hired Deep. He is called in to assist the squad with its many assignments because he is exceptionally intelligent and has a level head.
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: It was a lot of fun for me to film “Quantico.” I had the excellent fortune to work with a fantastic cast and team. Everyone has always greeted me with open arms and has taken excellent care of me. I have no doubt that I am a better actor than I was when we started filming because the ensemble is so fantastic and everyone is at the top of their game. I’m thankful to have been a part of the show because it was an absolute honor to go to work every day. I can’t wait for everyone to watch “Quantico”! This season is, in my opinion, quite exciting, and I hope the audience engages with 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: Acting in “Quantico” speaks to me personally on a variety of levels. I got to collaborate with Priyanka Chopra, that’s for sure. I was reared in Hyderabad, India, where I was born and raised, and I have always been surrounded by Bollywood. My family and I have long loved Priyanka’s work and have seen several of her movies. Working closely with Priyanka gave me the opportunity to witness her dedication to the task at hand and her extreme elegance and humility in the process.
That taught me a valuable lesson. My family doesn’t watch much American TV, so when I booked the show, they were ecstatic and thrilled because Priyanka made the gig relevant to them. Second, I was surrounded by an outstanding cast, as I just indicated. Everyone’s friendliness, generosity of spirit, and brilliance left a lasting impression on me. I gained a lot of knowledge from Priyanka Chopra, Blair Underwood, Marlee Matlin, Johanna Brady, Jake McLaughlin, Russell Tovey, and other people while working and observing them. I’ll apply all I’ve learned to my upcoming endeavors.
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 see and experience a large portion of my life through the lens of my work, and I strongly believe in the benefits of learning through experience. Everything I’ve worked on, whether it was a TV show, movie, or play, has led me to this point. Every program you listed gave me a lesson that I still remember today. As my profession has developed, I have learned a lot, and I hope that never ceases.
The fundamentals of acting in theater and film/TV are similar, yet the muscles required for each medium are different. A play’s performance has a lot to do with intimacy and connection. I constantly strive to establish a connection with the audience, my scene partner, and the playwright when performing on stage, all the while making sure the audience in the back row can still hear me. My success in front of the camera has been aided by the intimacy and connection I have with the audience on stage. Working in front of the camera can be so personal, which I adore.
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 think change is happening, slowly but gradually, partly because we, as a group, are openly discussing this vital topic. Social media and the internet undoubtedly have a significant impact on it. I choose to think and hope that everyone engaged will make progress in a positive way, thus I am quite thrilled about the future.
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 believe we should continue having frank and open dialogues about the issue in every profession because I believe change comes as a result of such conversations. Though I am aware that there is still much to be done, I must admit that the projects going on around me are incredibly inspiring. The fact that I see the authors, directors, and performers trying to pay attention and alter the narrative is a big part of what excites me. Today’s stage and screen are so diverse, and I am appreciative of that. It would have been difficult to produce the kind of stuff I am witnessing South Asian performers play. I believe that continuing to create and work is the best approach to effect change.
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: Because I was born and raised in India, I began viewing movies at a very young age, and they had a significant impact on me. I would always return home, where I enjoyed acting out or making up scenes in my spare time or with friends. During those years, movies helped me learn a lot about life.
I had some acting aspirations before I even realized it, but I didn’t get many chances to use my imagination. I was able to choose an elective when I started high school, and I immediately gravitated toward Drama. Fortunately, I had a fantastic teacher who took the subject and acting seriously, and as a result, I developed a deep regard for the art right away. In high school, I participated in many plays, and each one made me fall more in love with acting.
After that, I received a full scholarship to pursue acting at the University of Central Florida. I was fortunate to have been accepted there because it is one of Florida’s top programs and I had outstanding instructors. Once it became apparent that there was nothing else I wanted to accomplish with my life, it was simple to win my family over. Due to the nature of show business, they were naturally a little concerned, but they have always supported me, wished me well, and watched out for me, and for that, I am immensely thankful.
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 am inspired by too many people in the profession to list them all, but I believe that the passion of their work is a trait shared by all of the artists I admire. Actors like Anupam Kher, Paresh Rawal, and Amitabh Bachchan inspire me much in Bollywood. They are acknowledged as legends in the field and have completed hundreds of films while maintaining a very high standard of performance.
That amazes me so much. The new pilot starring Anupam Kher has me very interested. Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino are two American actors who have greatly influenced me. I have been researching them for a while. Philip Seymour Hoffman also holds a very special place in my heart. I’m inspired by a variety of actors, just to name a few: Daniel-Day Lewis, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Krasinski, Aziz Ansari, Kumail Nanjiani, Manish Dayal, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Francis McDormand, Viola Davis, and Jordan Peele.
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: Sarah Ellen Stephens’ “Token: The Webseries” was a project that was motivated by our time at one of the first theatrical groups we worked with when we first moved to New York. We had a very varied cast of performers, but we saw that, particularly on the small screen, the diversity we experienced every day wasn’t reflected on the screen. At that time, the industry had only recently begun to discuss diversity and media representation.
The goal of the project is to contribute to the conversation by showcasing a varied group of friends navigating New York. We aimed to demonstrate how diversity was woven into the fabric of both New York and the nation as a whole. The project wasn’t entirely directed by me. It was co-directed by Jason Bruffy and me. One day, I would love to direct again, but not right now.
TTM: With “Quantico” ready to make its return, what are some of your future projects you are really excited about?
Bhatt: I have been sworn to secrecy on my upcoming projects, but I can reveal that I am collaborating on a few movies with some really talented filmmakers, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about that.