Quantico’s Tate Ellington on the Enigmatic Simon Asher and That Nationwide Giant-Baby Commercial

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Photo: Faye Sadou/UPA/Corbis

Quantico’s Simon Asher wears fake eyeglasses, poses for fake romantic pictures, and now seems to be fake-working for the FBI.  Four episodes in, do we actually know anything about the nerdy, gay FBI-agent-in-training? Is he really gay? Was he kicked out of the FBI? Is he helping Alex (Priyanka Chopra) or not?

“My answers are I don’t know, and maybe,” actor Tate Ellington, who plays Simon, giggled in a phone interview with Vulture. 

Viewers may recognize Ellington from Straight Outta Compton or his brief stints on The Mindy Project and The Walking Dead. But there’s one other role he will undoubtedly be remembered for — the Nationwide giant baby commercial. Ellington was more than happy to dish about that, along with his tendency to cry over fictional characters, and his take on the enigmatic Simon Asher. Some Quantico spoilers ahead.

I have to talk to you about the Nationwide giant baby commercial.
Aw, thank you! [Laughs.] For the longest time, I’ve been telling my friends, “Yeah, that’s me.” And they’re like, “No it’s not.” Yeah it’s me! I’m the guy standing next to the giant baby!

That job was hilarious. I’m very happy they aired it because I think it will pay for a lot of diapers for my daughter. The whole time, I was basically staring at a tennis ball. They also had a giant baby cutout. So I was staring at that. At one point, when I’m washing the baby, hosing it down, they just had two giant physio balls taped up to a light span, and I was just hosing them down.

I totally bought it.
[Laughs.] It felt crazy but it was so fun. It was a blast.

Quantico has a lot of twists and turns. As a viewer, does that kind of show appeal to you?
Totally! I love the show. My wife and I love watching it on Sundays. It’s the first time in a while we have to wait ‘til the next week to watch something. I do love good dramas, mysteries, anything like that. I was a huge Lost fan. In that show they jumped back and forth, so when I found out that we’re doing that in this show, I got psyched about that because it gives you so much to play. You get to see how someone got to be where they are. It’s funny, too, because I get the scripts and I find out something new, but I don’t know how it happened.

You’re talking to another big Lost fan.
Oh nice! That was part of me meeting my wife. I think it was gonna be our third date — the finale party. Thank God, I didn’t go because I didn’t know her that well or her friends and I ended up bawling like an idiot. Like I had lost a relative or something. I don’t know why I’m so upset! And then it bothered me for the next few days. It was the same thing with one of those Harry Potter books when I read Dumbledore died. Man, I lost it. And then again in the last book, when Dobby dies, I completely lost my mind crying. I don’t know why I’m so emotional.

What was it like when Mark Pellegrino (who played Jacob on Lost) showed up on Quantico?
Oh my God, I don’t think I’ve told him yet about loving Lost so much. I finally worked up the courage to tell him that I was a huge fan of this movie Drowning Mona. He’s hilarious in it. He’s a side character and it’s one of my favorite moments in any movie where he just falls asleep while somebody’s talking to him. I told him that the other day.

What have you gathered about who Simon is, and what are we supposed to really believe?
Good questions! I just wish I had answers. For me, it’s like, I’m doing what now? Okay, cool. As we progress, more is revealed. I love Simon. You do start to find out a lot more about him. Everybody has skeletons in their closet. With him, I do know some backstory that Josh had told me. There are some dark things in his past, some really dark things he’s encountered or potentially helped with. It’s been a lot of fun to allow myself to go there in different scenes.

I think Simon has a really dark side, and he really cares a lot. That’s part of his problem — he really does care. And he has a lot of guilt and shame about things and that’s flavored into his relationships. He’s trying to put on certain airs to hide that. It’s so fun to see these characters in the past and future because you get to see what life can do to people and how it can change them.

Last week, that episode revealed I was kicked out of the FBI at some point. I think I know why, but I’m not positive.

Maybe you can answer one simple question: Is he really helping Alex or not?
Right now, he is helping Alex. You can see that he does care — at least as far as I know. He believes her. In episode three, he was helping the FBI and going along, but in episode four, he starts to trust her and sees there is more to it than it seemed. That’s what I like. In the next few episodes, he becomes her guardian angel.

I do what Simon does a lot. I have these battles where you wear your heart on your sleeve and you’re always trying not to get hurt so you stay as guarded as much as you can. And then sometimes you open up and you get slammed up and it devastates you, so you try to find the balance of not letting yourself go down dark places.

Does the small amount of backstory that you do know help your performance, or would you rather stay in the dark like the rest of us?
I like to know a minimal amount. I like to know as much as they want to give me, but it’s nice to also take a guess at it. In episode three, I did ask for some bare bones about what’s happened in my past so that I can start building the character, because you want some depth to come out in the performance. But it’s also nice not knowing because it frees you up in a lot of ways.

Okay, one Walking Dead question. Did you learn anything from being a cannibal?
Just that people taste great! That was a dream come true for me because I’ve been a fan of the show since it started. I love the comics. When I got that job, I flipped. Also [Andrew J. West] is a friend of mine. We got to work together and be brothers and it was such a blast. That cast was so nice and welcoming. It was the coolest day ever! And then when I got to go back, when the cast saw me again, I was lying there half naked and they were like, “Looking good Tate!”