Jake Allyn brings his southern charm to BET’s new hit series, The Quad. His new series is set at a historically black college, and deals with real life issues like sex, drugs, and racial tensions. Jake’s character, BoJohn Folsom, is a struggling athlete with some emotional issues that tend to get in the way of his potentially successful future. Stay tuned for season two of The Quad as BET just renewed the series after a groundbreaking first season.
Jake Allyn, Power Play
Justin Howard : Let’s chat about your new series, The Quad on BET. You play a struggling college football player. This role isn’t too much of a stretch for you as you actually played football while at university.
Jake Allyn : Yes, I played football for four years at Cornell University in New York. It is funny, one of my roommates from my time at Cornell just got signed to the Cleveland Browns as their starter. I joked with him that we are the only two from our team that went on to play professional football. He plays for the NFL and I get paid to play a football on The Quad. So technically I am a ‘paid’ professional football player.
Justin Howard : What are some life lessons you learned from your time on Cornell University’s football team that prepared you for the rest of your life?
Jake Allyn : One of the most important things I learned that translated directly into acting was that just because you work hard or because you believe you ‘earned’ something doesn’t always mean you will get it. You really have to take things as they come in life. We weren’t the greatest team, we didn’t have the best track record on the field. Yet we were always in play, the games were always very tight. But in the end we always lost them in the fourth quarter. I always remember thinking, we have lost four games in a row but we have worked our asses off, we have to win this one. Fate, luck and the Gods of Football had to smile us, we were such a hard working team. But no, you can still lose. In acting, I can turn up for an audition and so can 30 other guys. They will look like me and have great credits. I would find myself thinking “I worked really hard on this and I deserve it.” Sometimes some guy would just come in, and do his thing and get it.
Another lesson I learned is ‘never to take anything for granted.’ After college most players never play it again. I mean throwing a ball with a couple of friends in the park, isn’t ‘playing’ football. It isn’t playing football on Saturday to a stadium of 30,000 people. Just the team alone, there are usually 80 people working together to win a game. After college, it was instantly just gone for me. In college I had the feeling I worked ‘pretty hard.’ Like I worked 90% and it has always itched at me, that I didn’t give 100%.
Justin Howard : Why do you think you didn’t give 100%?
Jake Allyn : I think you just know in your heart, if you gave something your all. From projects to life to relationships. Looking back I remember all the parties I have attended. My coaches would say “The parties will always be there, but the game on Saturday. You will only get so many of those.”
Justin Howard : I take it, you partied a lot at college?
Jake Allyn : Yes, I partied a lot at college. I partied too much. Then football was over and I discovered acting. I think my success comes from the fact that I know it could all just go away. Ever job I get could be the last one… Literally I worked my way onto the starting line up my last year at college and a month before our last game I got a concussion, so I couldn’t play. I got knocked out and was unconscious for a bit. Because of that, no matter what I do now I try to play all in, because I know it could all vanish in a second. It just goes back to the fact that you might not have a tomorrow, so get it done today.
Justin Howard : How did your path lead you from Cornell’s starting line up to BET’s The Quad?
Jake Allyn : While I was at Cornell, my older brother moved to LA and was working his way up in the industry as a director and writer. Over my summer breaks I would come to LA and shadow him. I did some pre-production work on some of his films. I would fill in the role of the director’s assistant. I found myself in a lot his castings as the reader and really fell in love with actors by being the reader. I would see these people come in and totally transform themselves in that room. I realized then they laid their hearts out as we laid ours out in football. So when I went back to college in my junior year, I started taking drama classes. I started to realize then that football was coming to an end. I wasn’t going to play professionally. Being from Dallas, football is in my heart and soul. Pretty soon I wasn’t going to be able to play and that was going to leave a nasty hole in my soul, if I didn’t find something to fill it. I found the only thing that fulfilled me in a similar way as football did was acting.
Justin Howard : Let’s talk about the character you play on BET’s The Quad, Bojohn Folsom. What is one thing that is true about him that isn’t true about you?
Jake Allyn : When I get into a situation that makes me nervous, I tend to talk more and I will let ease me in. BoJohn tends to get quite. He shuts down. He is hindered by his parents, by the way he was raised. I am the opposite, I am propelled by how great my parents raised me. Those are some major differences.
Justin Howard : Let’s talk about The Quad, and it’s storyline. This season has been so transformative. There are so many elements in this series, so much action in every episode. I want to talk about the real world tie in. In the last two years, we have seen a rise in awareness of the darker side of college football; i.e. the parties, to racial tension where African American players weren’t standing for the national anthem as a ploy to bring awareness to the BLM campaign. A large percentage of college football players are African American, and they were raising the valid point that we were benefitting off a racial inequality.
Jake Allyn : It is true that if you watch a college football game, all the people on the field will be African American but in the stadium it will be full of white people. That is definitely true.
Justin Howard : Right now you are experiencing the reverse of that. You are the white boy on a BET series. How does feel?
Jake Allyn : It feels good. You know someone said the other day in an article that “Jake Allyn likes being the odd man out.” It was interesting because when we shoot the pilot, I was the only white male character on the show. BET does a great job of putting out black content, they hire amazing black actors, and the executives at BET are mainly African American, as are the crew. That shows real dedication on their part. So when I got to set, I was really that ‘white dude.’ It was great for the show and for me as an actor, to be portraying a white guy from Texas to play at this historical Black University. My character needed to fit in and find his way on the field.
This white quarter back is meant to find his way at this university and he has arrived late. He comes in being the ‘odd man out’ and clearly not welcomed by his team mates. There is already a starting quarter back, so literally the whole team doesn’t want to deal with him. So my character has to get these people to like and respect him. On the other side of the coin, here is Jake Allyn actor who hasn’t done shit, coming out of an Ivy League school, trying to get the respect from the series director, and the executives at BET. It was a good double whammy for me to experience. I found myself being able to draw from the experience of what was going on set and translate that into my acting. That is a very unique thing. But as much as I was ‘the white guy on set’ I learned very quickly we are all just human.
Justin Howard : What were some of your favorite moments this season for your character?
Jake Allyn : I think once the writers started having fun with the fact that I was the white guy on the show, my character really came alive. There was a moment on the show, where we are playing dominoes. Instead of having my character act like he knows how to play dominoes and be cool, they portrayed him as being utterly clueless. He is trying to fix out the math behind it on screen and acting like ‘a winner has to win’ because that is Bojohn. Once his fellow teammates realized that, it is ok that he is the ‘white dude’ they accepted him. That same thing applied to my character, he had to accept that fact before he could move forward. It was a truly transformative moment.
Justin Howard : What was your peak moment as an actor this season?
Jake Allyn : In BoJohn’s story he has a father who raised him to be the football star he is. His father did this because he loves him, and he knows that BoJohn loves football. He always knows that football can help him become financially stable. If BoJohn gets a full scholarship to a huge school, he will get medical benefits. He will get set up with a house by the school. If BoJohn make it to the pros, he will make millions dollars. That is his angle. For me, bringing this character to life was making that relationship more human. Where it is more complicated, but that it is based in love. I think on TV a lot of those types of relationships can go straight to anger or hate. Just look at the film, Varsity Blues, it has a similar storyline but I think it could have so much more powerful. The main character could have just loved his dad and wanted to make him proud. In this season, my character’s dad keeps trying to get him to leave this school that doesn’t fit his needs. Yet BoJohn clearly is resisting this message as this is his school, his friends and his team. I think because we love each other, and this conflict arises from the fact that we are each trying to do our best and still be ourselves, that creates such great drama on screen. It is the writers who let us have this, who developed this story arch over the whole season.
Justin Howard : This show is full of social commentaries that are delivered with seriousness and a touch of humor. What is one lesson you wish the audience would learn from the show?
Jake Allyn : To work through the grey areas in life. Especially when it comes to dealing with family. The show deals with students going to college and leaving home for the first time. It charts how the relationships with their parents change and how they relate to the admin. There are so many grey areas, like the sexual assault issue on campus. How do you work through that? Did he or didn’t he? Also how do parents relate to their kids once that happens? How do victims handle these things in such a public environment? I think one way of handling it is to recognize that these things are grey areas and then to try to work through it rather then making solid statements about how to ‘fix it.’ Because maybe you can’t fit it right away. Maybe the only way to fix it in the long run is to recognize that It is going to be hard and it will take time.
Justin Howard : You just touched on the topic of sexual assaults on college campuses. In college football, for a long time there has been the sense of entitlement, that as a football player you can get away with anything. A fostered sense of invincibility, if you will. We know that colleges sweep under the rug things like date rape. Having gone to an ivy league school, having played college football there, what was the reality you witnessed?
Jake Allyn : What I think makes it so tough, and I am trying to stay objective. Because I was a college football player and I love football. That’s what makes it so hard, and this doesn’t make anything excusable. But you are told relentlessly by your coaches to be an animal, to be a savage, to kill them on the field. Then on Saturday you have won the big game because you have done what your coaches told you. You were a savage, an animal, a beast, you throw fear to the side. You landed it all out. You won the game at 8PM. By 9PM you are at a party drinking, and suddenly you have to turn it all off. You have to be civilized. You have to be a good role model for society. These are all really things and you should behave. You are given a great platform as a college football player, and it come with responsibilities.
Justin Howard : You can’t just tell these lads to turn everything off. It is too emotional.
Jake Allyn : People don’t realize how emotional these things are. If your team is winning you are loved. If you are losing, you are hated. If you have a bunch of people telling you, that “You are the man!” It is easy to think you can fly and make a mistake. But then there are guys who abuse this, and that is what you are talking about. Guys who are told they are amazing and believe it. That nobody can touch them. They believe that they should get away with anything because of their athlete skills. That is what our society needs to work on – separating the myths from the reality.
Justin Howard : I think you are saying that you as a player aren’t given the tools to tell the difference. As an actor you are trained to know the difference between the role you play and the ‘real’ you. Yet in this world, there is no separation. If you are treated as a young godly, you can start to believe it. If there isn’t a clear separation, then it can be hard to handle it. It isn’t an excuse, it is just the reality.
Jake Allyn : And if they do mess up, then they are literally thrown to the wolves. In college, one time I was drinking and in an act of stupidity I punched out a window. I was emotionally charged up from the game and feeling invincible. But a window is a window and glass is glass. I got a big cut on my hand and had to get stitches. When my coaches found out I had been drinking, the very next day they suspended me. Because they said they couldn’t have that behavior around the rest of the team. I was suspended for two months, yet suddenly I was cut off from my family, my support network. I wasn’t allowed in the locker room, or around my team. Obviously I was having problems. Yet no one wanted to help me. Once again it goes back to what the coaches were telling me. That we were family and I didn’t need to join a fraternity on campus, because the team is a fraternity, a brotherhood. That they would always have my back. The second mistake I made, I was banished – kinda hilariously. The amount of time I was suspended was the time it was going to take to heal my injury. Again this isn’t to gain sympathy for football players, it is just the reality of the extremes. Ultimately it comes down to knowing the difference from on-the-field and off-the-field.