Jake Allyn – The Quad
By: MaryBeth McMahon
Q) What can you say about the premise for your new show “The Quad?”
A) I can say that it is a show about a historically black college called GAMU, Georgia A&M University. It’s an ensemble cast, but it really follows Anika Noni Rose who plays the new school president and the first female school president that the school’s ever had. And you kind of see the whole school through her eyes and including the big freshman class, which includes myself. I play BoJohn Folsom who is a freshman quarter back on the football team.
Q) What was it that drew you to “The Quad” and the character you portray?
A) It was two things. The first was football. I grew up in Dallas, Texas where football is pretty much everything, as most people kind of know. So, I played football my whole life. I ended up playing in college at Cornell University and it’s just always been a part of my life and even though I’m no longer a player, it still is in me. To reconnect with that was really, really exciting. And then the second part was the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) environment, culture and history. I really didn’t know much about it and to be able to go, kind of discover all of that as a character was a challenge that really excited me. It was kind of like stepping into something I knew really well, while also going into something I knew nothing about.
Q) How was BoJohn Folsom originally described to you and how has he changed since you first auditioned?
A) I think that the first description was, I’m trying to think of the exact wordage they used. I believe it was a “Southern Channing Tatum” was what they said. I don’t know why, but that always kind of stuck with me. So, that was what I was first told: figure out how to be “Southern Channing Tatum.” Definitely a challenge, right? I would say he really changed because as more and more was written about him and as we kind of dove deeper into his character, he had a lot more layers than meets the surface. On the surface he is like, super charismatic. He’s the quarterback, you what I mean? So, he’s very talkative and he can mingle with anybody. He’s a cool cat. Another way to describe him is like he’s a cool cat. He can get along with anybody. Under the surface, under that All-American jock surface, he’s got some demons, some family issues and some personal issues that he’s dealing with.
Q) What type of preparation did you have to do for the show? I imagine your background in football helped you.
A) Yeah, the football stuff wasn’t so much difficult as it was just getting back into the old groove, I would say. It was a little bit like riding a bike. But I will say, I was a receiver growing up and BoJohn is a quarterback. I really wanted to make sure that I was stepping into a quarterback’s role and not just back into my old habits of playing receiver. Learning a new position on the football field is like learning an entirely new sport. That was more of a challenge than I expected. I remember our first day of choreography and doing some training with the football coordinator. I was like, “Oh, don’t worry, I played football in college. I’m from Texas. I got this. No big deal.” And he’s like, “Okay. Hit me with a five-step drop back with a fake hand off and then hit the fifteen yard out.” And I was like, “Yeah, okay.” I just completely threw the ball into the dirt. That’s when I knew I was in for a little more than I bargained for.
Q) Football is very technical, so it must have been a challenge switching gears.
A) Exactly. But again, like you said, it was a really great challenge to be able to take on. I knew all of my boys back home in Texas would be watching, but I can’t go out and embarrass myself on the football field. I had to represent.
Q) What sets this show apart from typical football series?
A) I would say the personal stories behind everyone. And even more than that, more than a football series it’s a college show whereas maybe a TV show like “Friday Night Lights” really just concentrates on the football coach, the football team and how the school interacts with the team. Ours is more the opposite. We show the school, obviously the president, we show the administration, the coaches, the players and a lot of other students that aren’t on the team. And we show the football team through that lens rather than the opposite. So, it’s really a drama first, before than just a football show.
Q) It is interesting that they do start with that dynamic first. It gives it a little bit more substance or meat to it.
A) Absolutely, I think it gives everyone more stakes as well. When you are watching a football game, you know the people in the game. You want BoJohn to succeed on the football field because you know the person that he is underneath and the things that he is dealing with. And similar with Anika and a lot of the other characters. There’s a young rapper on the show, Cedric Hobbs, who’s played by Peyton Alex Smith. It’s different from another hip-hop movie or hip-hop show or something like that where it’s just a bunch of dance choreography or a bunch of rap set-ups to show his songs. You really know who he is as person and you figure out what he’s dealing with and the hardships that he’s going through. So, when you do see him succeed or fail in the music world it hits so much harder because you know who that guy is.
Q) Right, you’re really rooting for him.
A) Exactly, you really relate to him and all of the other characters.
Q) Can you trade how dynamics shift as the season progresses?
A) In terms of shifting, I would say it’s more everything just gets higher stakes. I would go back to continuing to learn about the characters in each episode so that the more you learn about them, the more you realize how high of stakes this all is. For my character, for instance, he’s kind of on his last chance at GAMU. He kind of lost his chance at some bigger schools. Rather than the dynamics shifting throughout the season, he’s still struggling with his last chance. But as you learn more about him, you realize just how desperate he is to succeed there and things like that. And it’s the same for a lot of the other characters.
Q) Where do you connect with your character?
A) I would say with the pressure that he is under. He is under a lot of family pressure from back home in Texas. He is under a lot of pressure with his teammates who don’t necessarily trust him at the beginning and you have to trust your quarterback if you’re going to win ball games. And he’s under a lot of pressure from the administration that kind of gave him a chance that they didn’t have to give him. I think that’s something that we can all relate to, right? It’s certainly something I relate to. I took a chance coming to act in L.A. when I had some other opportunities. When you leave easier opportunities to take the harder chance, the pressure gets amplified to succeed at that.
Q) Is there anyone you wish you had more scenes with?
A) I would love to have had some scenes with Peyton, who plays Cedric Hobbs the rapper. The two characters come from opposite worlds. He is kind of from the hard streets of Chicago, from gun violence and things like that. And I come from a small, really blue-collar town in Texas where my dad’s got his thumb on me 24/7. And live for sports, that’s the only way out of this small town is to get a scholarship. So, I always felt like those two characters would have had a really interesting dynamic. I feel like they either would have really gotten along well or they really would have butted heads.
Q) What are some memorable moments you are looking forward to fans seeing during the freshman season of “The Quad?”
A) I would say big build-ups. They do a good job of dropping hints about maybe a football homecoming game coming up or the Battle of the Bands – the marching bands, a big fraternity party or other events on campus. And there’s always a really good build-up around the episode to it. I’m going to be really happy once fans finally get the pay off and get to see those big moments.
Q) It’s always so rewarding when you do have that build-up because as much as you want it in that moment, people just love to crave it.
A) Exactly. And similar with a lot of the mysteries and secrets that are going to surround the show, every character kind of has their own secrets. And the writers and the producers and the director did a really good job of not bursting anyone’s bubble too soon. They really let it bleed out a little bit, just enough. It’s never boring. That’s what I love about it. Some shows it’s like, “Well, are we ever going to find out this mystery?” And then you change the channel eventually. I feel like we do a great job with timing in terms of right when you’re like, “Oh my God, are we ever going to…” and then bam, you find out. Often times, it’s a big surprise. That will be really cool.
Q) Are you looking forward to the instant feedback on social media?
A) I will be. This will be one of my first times really live tweeting and seeing people’s reactions on Instagram, Snapchat, and all of that great stuff. Again, that goes back to those great moments when obviously I know they are coming. When they hit, I’ll be all over the social media to see how people are reacting.
Q) What have you taken away from working on this series?
A) Just the work ethic that it takes, that you have to put in every single day. When you work on a series, you can’t show up one day and be really great and then kind of burn out and show up the next day and not be really great because every day is so important. The crew alone puts in so much hours and so much work that it’s not fair to them if you’re going to show up some days and not show up the next. In terms of working on a series, that might be different from maybe a small movie that you’re on for a week of or maybe doing a guest appearance on a show. If you’re a series regular, you need to come to work. And bring your lunch pail to work every, single day.
Q) Will you be doing anything special for the season premiere?
A) I’m actually flying to New York City to meet up with some of the other castmates to do our premiere in New York City in Manhattan. That should be very exciting.
Q) What are some recent projects that you are working on, in addition to The Quad?
A) After my trip to New York, I’m actually headed to Oklahoma to do an independent feature film for about a month there. It’s kind of a dark murder mystery that gets darker and darker as the movie goes on.
Q) Is there anything else you want fans to know about The Quad and your character?
A) Tune in on February 1st! Watch and see what happens!
Q) Considering your character is on the football team and The Super Bowl is just a week after “The Quad” debuts on BET, will you be watching the game?
A) I will one hundred percent be watching the game, unless I have a night shoot in Oklahoma. If my producers are listening to this, I will come to work. But if I am free, then I’ll definitely be watching. Sadly, as I said, I’m from Dallas. I wish I was watching the Dallas Cowboys, but nonetheless, as I said, I’ve got football in my heart so I will be watching. I’m not quite sure who I’m rooting for. I kind of just want to root for a good Super Bowl.
Q) I heard that you’re working on projects that you’ve been writing and starring in, as well?
A) Yeah, I just finished a film that I actually co-wrote with my brother that we shot in Bogotá, Colombia last summer. That movie is called Ex Patriot and that’s going to be out in a couple of months. It’s kind of a spy thriller based on a CIA whistle blower that has to flee the country and then gets caught up in a scandal in South America. That was a really exciting one. That was my first screenplay that I was able to write and sell and get green lit, produced and everything. So, that was really exciting. And then I have probably my most personal film that I’ve been working on for about three years now. It’s a movie called Minute Man that takes place along the Texas-Mexico border. It’s a thriller about a teenager in Texas who has to cross the border and become an illegal alien in Mexico. It’s kind of a shoe’s on the other foot movie. I don’t think American audiences have ever seen what life is like for an illegal alien and I would love to do it in reverse and see how an American would live in Mexico without money, without documentation, green card and all of that stuff. Hopefully, it can give people some perspective. I know a lot of people have certain feelings and thoughts about Mexico and so many people have those thoughts, but they’ve never been there. I’ve been privileged to have been able to go to Mexico, I think maybe ten or twelve times and it’s one of the most beautiful countries with the most beautiful people and the most wonderful culture. So the movie, once the kid goes to Mexico, he travels through the country as this illegal alien and kind of slowly comes to realize that Mexico is not what he thought it was. It’s not the dangerous, bad place that so many Americans believe it to be. Yeah, so I work on that film in a lot of my spare time.
Q) I also read that when you were growing up, you and your brother used to act out a lot of movies and use fireworks for stunts. How did that inspire you for acting as you grew up?
A) It almost de-inspired me because I was sick of getting blown up and cut up by my older brother. So, it almost made me not want to be an actor. But once I realized that most real actors have stuntmen I was like, “Oh-kay.” I realized that my whole childhood my brother was telling me that I was an actor, but really I was just his stuntman. So, he kind of had fooled me. We grew up in North Dallas and we were making movies since we were probably, I don’t know, seven or eight years old. My older brother is four years older than me. He always did the camera work and decided what we would do the movie about. He would always direct it and then me and the other neighborhood kids would always play out all the roles.
Q) Have you always wanted to pursue writing, as well? Or did you initially just want to focus on acting?
A) I initially just wanted to focus on acting, but writing has always been a part of my acting. Whenever I am working on a character, an audition or a play or whatever it might be, I love to journal as the character to write their back-story and moments in their lives that are so important and things like that. I’ve found so many times I would end up writing stories that I really got into for my character. I started to think in so many scripts, people write the plot and then hope that good characters come from it. The way that I write scripts is I try to figure out my main characters and then maybe have the initial plot and then just take the movie. If you have interesting characters with interesting relationships and interesting things in their lives, then you’ll probably have an interesting movie.
Q) How does being a part of that show help push boundaries?
A) It does immensely. I’m glad you brought that up because probably one of my biggest loves of “The Quad” is that, like I said we have a big ensemble cast and each character kind of carries the torch of a different greater issue. I don’t want to tell too much about the plot. As an actor to be able to delve into something like that, that you know is so much bigger than yourself, it’s going to come out on screen and it’s going to make for a great show and a popular show, hopefully, and one that people like to watch. But also one that helps people and people can respect and respond to on a greater level than just watching on their TVs at night. Hopefully, it makes them think about things the next day.
Q) I’ve heard how that it’s already getting such fantastic reviews from a lot of other media sources. How does that affect your outlook of it premiering?
A) Oh, I mean it makes me so excited. My dad is an obsessed New York Times reader and he reads it everyday. That’s what he does, everyday. And for him to give me a call a couple of weeks ago and tell me that he saw our show on, I think it was the top fifteen new and returning TV shows list that comes out every year – that warms my heart so much to know that even to be in that paper, anywhere, is an honor. To be so high on a list like that is just so much better.
Q) Do you have any favorite memories on the set, behind the scenes, from the season?
A) I’m trying to think of what I can and can’t say right now. I won’t say who, but one time we were in the middle of a scene and we needed a cue during the scene. It was kind of a chaotic scene with a bunch of people in this one room, so it was kind of hard to hear the director. And we needed a bunch of cops, police officers to run in and arrest some people. It was really loud so the director was trying to yell, “Cop! Cop!” so that the cops would come into the room, right? And one of our other actors thought he heard, “Cut! Cut!” not “Cop! Cop!” So, the room was so chaotic, everyone was still going and yelling. My castmate finally just goes, “Cut! We said ‘cut!’” Everyone thought we cut, everybody stopped and the whole scene dies down. There’s probably fifty to seventy-five people in this scene so the whole room dies down and the director just runs into the room, “Who said ‘cut?’ What? I didn’t say ‘cut!’” And stuff like that, just doing the director’s job. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder than that. It was also the last episode so I think everyone was kind of trying to enjoy the last few moments on set.
Q) What do you hope viewers take away from the series?
A) I think viewers mainly take away, from the series, relatable items about college. I think whether you went to an HBCU or you went to another college…I went to a school in upstate New York that was not an HBCU. Whether you didn’t go to college and you just started working after high school maybe, I think what people will take away from the show is like everyone at that age is going through kind of a similar feeling of being a kid but becoming an adult and starting to have your views on the world change. You’re starting to live away. You’re kind of starting to separate from your parents a little bit, in a good way because you’re maturing and growing into your own. But at the same way, it’s kind of sad and weird because you’re like, “Oh, I don’t agree with my dad about this or that,” or “I don’t think my mom was doing that right the whole time.” And I think a lot of kids are going through that in college, your first time living away from home. If nothing else, I think viewers are going to watch this show and go, “Oh yeah, I feel like that, too.” I remember a couple of years ago, when I was in college, totally going through that experience. So, if we can give viewers that relatability I think we’ll be doing just fine. And I hope for high school kids, it will just get them excited for college because it is pretty fun. We did a couple of party scenes, don’t worry.
Q) What would you like to say to viewers who maybe haven’t heard of the show yet or those who are readily waiting for that premiere to come?
A) I would say that you’re going to get to see a show that has everything while remaining a very small, personal drama. You’re going to see football action. You’re going to see big marching band numbers. You’re going to see rap concerts. You’re going to see administration fights in the faculty meetings. And at the same time, you’re going to see very small, intimate moments between family members, between lovers, between friends, between enemies and all of that. I kind of feel like we’re giving people the best of both worlds. That’s what I would want people to know. We’re not just a flashy gossip show and we’re also not a very small, slow drama. We find a great middle ground.
Follow Jake Allyn on Twitter @jakeallyn85