NEW YORK — Caitlin Bassett plays a woman who jumps through time and space on NBC's "Quantum Leap," a fitting job for an actor who has lived many lives already.
Bassett, who spent seven years in the U.S. Army then attended law school and later acting school, now finds herself on a hit TV show.
"I think part of growing up is owning what you want to do and trying it and being like, 'If I fail, well, that's on me. But at least I tried,'" says Bassett, 32.
Bassett was an intelligence analyst in the Army, attaining the rank of staff sergeant, and completed three combat deployments — two to Afghanistan and one to Qatar. She is grateful to the military for all that it nurtured in her.
"It gave experiences. It gave abilities. It gave discipline. It gave work ethic. It gave perspective. Like ... if no one's dying, we're having a good day," she says.
The new "Quantum Leap" takes place decades after the sci-fi classic left off. The first version starred Scott Bakula as a scientist who leapt between various bodies to help people solve a dilemma.
In the sequel series, Raymond Lee plays the leaping scientist, and Bassett plays his guide, appearing during every leap as a hologram that only he can see and hear, revisiting the role played by Dean Stockwell.
The first episode is set on the day of Live Aid in 1985, and the time-leaping scientist wakes up as the getaway driver of a bank-robbing crew. Bassett's character gives him historical context and teaches him skills, like how to drive a stick shift.
In later episodes, he leaps into such predicaments as the cockpit of the space shuttle Atlantis in 1998, a boxing ring in Las Vegas in 1977 and into the body of a a female bounty hunter in 1981. Bassett's character has been given the appropriate background of a former military intelligence officer.
Bassett was too young to catch the original series when it aired from 1989-1993 but her parents and older siblings were fans. She admits she was terrified to revisit such a popular show.
"In the age of reboots and sequels, nobody wants to mess up beloved things. At no point did I get into acting to really do a bad job," she says.
The revival has been a hit, and NBC has ordered a second season. Bassett sees it as a sort of empathy machine — a weekly advertisement to try to understand other people.
"You literally are always having to learn what it's like to be someone else in their toughest moments, which often are their most defining and most formative in their lives," she says.
"Quantum Leap" executive producer and showrunner Martin Gero says what you see with Bassett is what you get and calls her a "once-in-a-lifetime discovery."
"There's really very little artifice there. She's an incredible person," he says. "To be catapulted into such a massive part on a massive franchise like this is pretty unbelievable and speaks to her very unique and singular ability."
Bassett was raised in Baltimore and comes from a military family. Her father served in Vietnam, and her grandfather served in World War II. She joined the military shortly after graduating high school at 18.
"I originally wanted to be a medic, actually, but I tested very highly and I actually got kind of talked into intelligence," she says. "I'm so grateful I did because I got to peek behind the curtain of how the world works that I never would have gotten working in a medical field."
After her military service ended, Bassett moved to New York, where she attended Brooklyn Law School for two years before deciding to pursue acting full time and getting accepted to the prestigious Stella Adler Studio of Acting, graduating in 2020.
"Acting was always something that I had wanted to do, but it just felt like life hadn't created that opportunity. And then when I was in law school in New York, I saw my life once again taking a direction," she says. "So I left law school for theater school."
"Quantum Leap" represents Bassett's first big professional job and she hopes the sequel can have the same power as the original in these days of fragmented audiences.
"It can hopefully do what the original did which was bring families together," she says. "It's an opportunity for multiple generations to watch a show and say, 'Oh, I was there when this was happening' or 'I loved in the original when they did this.'"