Caitlin Bassett is not only an ex-Army intelligence officer, but plays one on TV, too.
Bassett, 34, spent seven years with the Army and National Security Agency before transitioning to civilian life and landing a lead role on NBC’s “Quantum Leap” reboot as Addison Augustine.
“When I first read the audition, I remember thinking two distinct thoughts,” Bassett told AmeriForce Media during a recent press junket. “One was, ‘I’m really good for this role.’ The second one was, ‘I’m never going to get this role. They are never going to hire a new actor to play the lead in a network series.’ But you can’t reject yourself, right?”
Part of what drew Bassett to Addison – an ex-Army intelligence officer who serves as a guide to Dr. Sam Beckett as he “leaps” through time (and bodies) to right wrongs as part of confidential operation – was that she related to her.
“I had never really seen a character so weirdly similar,” Bassett said. “I used to joke that the showrunner called my mom. There’s just so many similarities, but I’ve seen that before. I’ve seen roles where you’re like, ‘Oh, I think I’m really right for this.’ But they just had a different vision. So luckily their vision was me.”
And her past military experience, which includes two tours in Afghanistan, has been “much more of a benefit” than a challenge in regard to her “Quantum Leap” role.
“I might have done something in the military on the show that I didn’t do in my real life. Or something I did do in my real life, an experience I did have that I didn’t have in the character,” Bassett said. “So sometimes I gotta remember, ‘Oh my experience wasn’t Addison’s experience.’ There’s lots of crossover, but we were different.”
Bassett grew up in Maryland – “not far from the NSAs, not far from all the alphabet soups.”
“[Army intelligence] had always been something I’d been aware of, my world included it,” Bassett said. “And so when I was joining, I actually thought I was going to be a medic there for a while, just because it’s something I saw on ‘M*A*S*H,’ I understood that.”
But she tested well and her recruiter, who was in Army intelligence, talked to her about the opportunities it entailed.
“I was like, ‘Oh, well that actually sounds quite interesting,’” Bassett said. “And truthfully it was. And I got stationed at NSA both times … I had a great experience because of it.”
One of her biggest takeaways was getting that “peek behind the curtain” and realizing “it’s just people.”
“Because when you’re standing far away from it, it can seem like this machine – and it is to a certain extent – but it can seem like there’s this grand design to do good or bad or something and then you just realize it’s just people kind of doing the best that they can,” Bassett said. “And there’s a lot of really good people doing a lot of really good things.”
‘Quantum Leap’ star says military transition challenges identity
Bassett received acceptance letters for two law schools – one in D.C. and another in New York – while she was still in the Army, but opted for New York to get out of what she deemed the federal machine.
“I knew if I went to law school in D.C. I’d just stay in it. It was all I’d be around. But the transition was hard,” Bassett said. “Like, everyone I know that has transitioned out has had a difficult year or so. And it had its challenges, and it has its challenges in your identity and how you work. But eventually I was lucky because I found something that I really loved. And that I think helped because that became kind of my guiding star.”
That guiding star was acting, which Bassett said she came to through a series of moments that led to her acceptance into the Stella Adler Conservatory and, in 2020, the Disney Discovers Talent Showcase.
She loved law school – it’s “one of the best educations I think you can get” – but said she quickly realized it wasn’t what she wanted to do.
“I gave it a second year because I was like, ‘This is my first year out of the military. This was going to be a hard year anyway. I can’t judge it,’” Bassett said. “But even in the second, I was like, ‘This is just not what I want to do. And what I felt is what I had felt in the military.
“You get on these trains sometimes, and the train starts to move. And it had happened in the military, and it’s hard to get off it once you’re on it. And in law school I felt like that train was happening again, but in a direction I didn’t want to go.”
Bassett said she remembers thinking there’s no harm in “stepping off and exploring what you want to explore.” And what she wanted to explore was acting.
“I can do this right now and I’m going to regret it if I don’t,” the “Quantum Leap” star said.
And for other service members and veterans transitioning, Bassett said not to reject themselves.
“There’s a lot of opportunities out there and your experience will be an asset even if you start late,” Bassett said. “Because eventually you’ll catch up skills wise, but all of a sudden you’re going to be the candidate that not only has the skills but has a completely different perspective and that will be an asset.”