‘How to Get Away with Murder’ exclusive: Behzad Dabu on Simon Drake’s strategy with the Keating 5

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It’s always good for any character (or group of characters, for that matter) to have an adversary, and that is precisely what Simon Drake is providing on the third season of “How to Get Away with Murder” for the Keating 5. He’s a part of the classroom setting, and seems to relish in taking advantage of whatever opportunity he can to needle some of the familiar faces. He’s already tried to get in Connor’s head about Oliver, so who knows what else this guy has planned down the line?

Behzad Dabu is the man behind the role, and we had a chance to chat with him Tuesday afternoon about playing the part, what motivates Simon, and also how much he’s been told about the role in advance. Thursday night’s new episode is set to be a big one for the character, so you’ve got reason to look out for him even more moving forward!

CarterMatt – I know Shondaland can be a very secretive world to work in. How much were you told about Simon in advance?

Behzad Dabu – They really do write week to week. I mean, they have a plotline set out for a few episodes, but they do still write week to week. A producer saw me in a play out here in Los Angeles, and I ended up getting my audition based on that. I knew it was going to be a character that was going to be around for a little while, but I don’t think they knew how much they were going to write until we met each other.

So I suppose you had a small idea of what’s coming, but then as [the season] goes along they come to you and say ‘oh, you’re doing this now.’

Exactly. Every episode we get the script, and I get to learn a little bit more about Simon Drake.

There is an interesting duality between being the ‘new guy’ in the classroom, at least for viewers to see, and then also being the new guy on set. What’s it like being a part of this group?

Oh, they’re great. Karla [Souza], who plays Laurel Castillo — I met her in the first week, and she came to see the play I was doing, Matt McGorry, Alfred Enoch. They’re been really, really nice. Viola Davis has been really welcoming. The writers have been really nice, the directors have been lovely, and they’ve helped with the vocabulary. I’ve been a stage actor for 11 years, and there’s some vocabulary differences that you have to learn going from stage to screen. They’ve been helpful with that, and it’s been a blast. I’ve been learning a lot.

Simon in his appearances so far has been depicted as an adversary, or a thorn in the side of the Keating 5. Do you think there is a motive for his actions, and why he acts towards them in that way?

I do. I think that Simon Drake is kind of a representative of the other students, who are wondering ‘why do these five get special treatment? These five are always first chair or second chair, when we’re working just as hard if not harder. What’s so special about these five?’

It started at the end of last season, where it was mentioned that a lot of [the Keating 5] aren’t doing that well with their grades. They’ve been caught up in the other plots. So the other students are like ‘they’re not even top of the class, and they’re getting all of these special cases with Annalise Keating. What’s that about?’ I think Simon Drake is like ‘come on, guys. I’m working hard, too!’ So I think he is trying to be a thorn in their side, and we’re going to find out more about him.

What’s so interesting is that in any ordinary situation, we would probably relate to Simon, who is working hard and trying to be involved. Yet, we’ve come to know and root for the Keating 5, and I’m sure you’ve seen this on social media, but the perception of Simon is as a result the villain.

Oh absolutely. It’s really funny with social media — even my own brother was like ‘oh man, you’re such a jerk! You’re the biggest jerk on the show!’ So I then turned to my brother and I was like ‘they kill people. At least Simon Drake isn’t a murderer.’

Yet — you never know with this show!

Yeah, as far as I know! Things change.

We saw Simon in this past episode him attempt to push a further wedge between Connor and Oliver, and in some ways, that may have been successful since it led to Connor really diving into the dating pool. What do you think was behind that? Is there a specific bitterness he has towards Connor?

I don’t know if it’s Connor in particular, but I think he is definitely trying to be on the minds of the Keating 5. [It doesn’t matter] if he’s on their minds in a positive or a negative way; he just wants to be on their minds.

I think what really started it was in episode 1 when he had first chair, and he was able to say ‘now I’m really in this world. Now I’m in a world where there are other first chairs, and now I have adversaries — the Keating 5.’ I think he does that to Connor to be like ‘I’m here too. You guys are all snippy and snarky, but I’m here, too. I can [do that].’

I know this is all speculative, but is there something that a guy like Simon could do to integrate himself within the group? Is there a user manual for getting along with these people?

I don’t know. These are people [who may think in terms of] how somebody could help them. So if ever the Keating 5 was in a bind, and Simon Drake could help them get out of that bind, that might acclimate himself to them and that might make them open up to him.

Let’s jump into Thursday’s episode. I know you can’t say much, but since this is a big episode for you, I’m curious: What was your reaction when you first saw the script?

It was exciting. I’ve been a stage actor for a long time, so doing work on television is new to me, and by the time episode 4 was over I just really wanted more material. As I saw that Simon Drake was going to be staying around and staying longer, that really excited me. I like the work; I get excited about the actual work of it, the craft of it. Having more time on set. That’s what is exciting me.

Is there any specific mindset that you want people to approach this episode with? Do you want them to approach Simon with an open mind?

Having an open mind is great, because I think you hit the nail on the head — in any normal circumstance Simon Drake is how any audience member would feel if they were in that classroom.

This is a show that has really huge cliffhangers, and I know we’ve had one this season with the whole ‘who’s under the sheet?’ mystery. Is it weird for some of you in the cast to play these sort of mysteries, especially when not all of you may know the answers?

It is weird, because there are those of us who know and those who don’t know. I mean nobody’s asking because of protocol and every script is watermarked, and every time there’s a script change there’s a new one that comes to you with a new watermark — people have to watch you shred that [old] script. You can’t take your scripts home.

I’ve been on some sets where everybody can bring their friends, their girlfriends, their parents. This set isn’t really like that because of secrets and all that. It’s kind of fun because there are people on this show are doing their part, but have no clue what’s happening in the end.

As we start to wind down, would you be interested in having a larger role on the show, and to potentially play this part for a season or two?

That’s the goal. That’s my ultimate goal. We’ve been working to try to make that happen.

And the last thing: This show’s obviously got a great cast. It’s so easy to talk about Viola, but there are a lot of really fantastic people working on the show. Is there anyone in particular you’re hoping to have more time with?

Viola’s amazing, and you learn so much just by watching her on set. Karla is really fantastic, and all of the Keating 5 are great. I would love to have a scene with Bonnie Winterbottom played by Liza Weil. I don’t know how Simon and Bonnie’s paths would cross, but I’d love to have a scene with Bonnie because she’s such a fantastic actress.


For more news regarding the future of “How to Get Away with Murder” this season, just be sure to head over to this link. (Photo: ABC.)

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