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Action show Quantico puts its cast to the test with physical training classes, but how does it compare to the real deal?

“Oh we’re sweating alright!” laughs lead star Priyanka Chopra, who plays former FBI agent Alex Parrish in Quantico (2015-current; Season 1 is available on Showmax).

Quantico on Showmax
A diverse group of recruits has arrived at the FBI Quantico Base for training. They are the best and the brightest, so it seems impossible that one of them is suspected of masterminding the biggest attack on New York City since 9/11. Image: ABC

To make sure that there was authenticity both in training and how the show unfolded, the producers brought in specialist consultants and actual FBI agents to keep an eye on things. “We spent weeks training with actual agents who’ve gone through the training and graduated from the academy. They made sure that we didn’t put a foot out of place,” adds Priyanka. But since this is TV, a little creative licence was used to make things entertaining. And there’s the small matter of national security, laughs the lead star.

Quantico on Showmax
Image: ABC

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Physically fit

Field agents need to be in tip-top shape – you can’t be a roly-poly if you’re going to be fitting in with everyday crowds and being able to chase down suspects when they flee. According to the FBI’s official website, “Each special agent must have the knowledge, skills, commitment and fortitude to investigate terrorists, spies and dangerous criminals.”

Quantico on Showmax
Image: ABC

On the show, Alex and her fellow trainees arrive at the FBI’s Quantico training facility and they’re put to work immediately with Academic, Operational, Physical and Tactical training. “There is instruction on how to investigate and interrogate,” Priyanka tells, “but we created a couple of tests ourselves to fit with the theme of the show and the story.” The real-world training ends with an assessment that includes a 300m sprint, untimed push-ups and a 2.5km run.

Luckily for the cast, the PT training scenes are kept to a minimum in each episode and they’re not spending the better part of the season doing push-ups and sit-ups in their sweats. “We were sad to see the henleys (FBI training sweatsuits) go at the end Season 1, but at the same time, we were like, ‘They can wear their own clothes [after their training is complete]’,” laughs series creator Josh Safran. That doesn’t mean the cast didn’t have to be in shape during filming – each actor and actress was given tailor-made training programmes that incorporated standard exercises but also specialised routines to get the best out of their different physiologies.

Book smarts

Being an FBI agent is more than just running after targets and shooting at them. The flashback scenes to the training facility sees the cast sitting in classrooms with textbooks and that’s something that happens in real life, explains Priyanka. “It was so fascinating to sit with FBI consultants and understand what really happens at Quantico. We always see what happens after they’re agents, but you never see what happens when they’re training.”

Quantico on Showmax
Image: ABC

That’s a “full” 20-week course that sees FBI recruits complete 800 hours of web-based courses that include “the fundamentals of law, ethics, behavioural science, interviewing and report writing, basic and advanced investigative and intelligence techniques, interrogation and forensic science,” according to the FBI site.

“The beauty of this show is that it has seriousness [of what the FBI face on a daily basis and how their trainees are put into the mix],” explains Priyanka. The recruits are given lessons on counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence, weapons, cyber and criminal investigations and need to handle any situation without thinking.

Take aim & fire

Quantico on Showmax
Image: ABC

There’s one other aspect to the FBI training that the agents needed to get right – handling firearms. Luckily they not only had FBI agents helping them with techniques, but co-star Jake McLaughlin (as Alex’s love-interest co-trainee Agent Ryan Booth) knows all about guns, aiming and pulling the trigger. “I served in Iraq before getting into acting. Real-world experiences are the best acting classes you can get,” says Jake. “That gives you ‘something’ to draw from – and you also don’t forget training with firearms, even though my army life and this show are worlds apart.”

This isn’t highlighted so much in the show, but FBI agents need to complete 110 hours of firearm training and fire at least 5 000 rounds of ammunition.

Like the real-life FBI agents, Quantico’s trainees are given lessons on shooting ranges and in-case exercises, where they’re expected to complete real-life situations. This includes everything from bank robberies and kidnappings to armed situations and even terrorist threats.

And if you’re wondering why their training seems brief in the show, real-world FBI agents only have 90 hours of Operational Skills sessions for this section of their training. What you won’t see in the show is that the agents return to the FBI’s actual Quantico Military Base facility as often as they want for training, refresher courses and staying up to speed with the newest technologies, procedures and policies.

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