Sometimes one’s dreams for success come true in completely unexpected ways.
Such was the case for athlete-turned-actor LaMonica Garrett.
The high school quarterback was a standout. He went on to junior college and landed a scholarship to Central State in Ohio. Now, however, Garrett is not gracing a field but the screen as Secret Service agent Mike Ritter on ABC’s political drama Designated Survivor.
The series centers on a lower-level U.S. Cabinet member who is suddenly appointed president of the United States after a catastrophic attack kills everyone above him in the presidential line of succession. Garrett shines as the man charged with protecting the new president in the wake of the unprecedented bombing. To prepare for the role, he spent time choppin’ it up with the Secret Service detail from then-President Barack Obama’s staff.
“I always knew that I wanted to act, but I had an equal passion for football too,” said Garrett. “I grew into middle linebacker, where I got my first looks from team scouts. Central State’s Pro Day the year before had Hugh Douglas [New York Giants defensive end], who became the Defensive Rookie of the Year, so the following year, half the NFL came out to find the next Hugh Douglas. I worked out for a couple of teams and tried out again the next year, but it didn’t work out, so I realized my football career wasn’t going to go any further.”
Garrett’s dream was to play football for six or seven years and move straight into acting.
“I trained with a few NFL teams, but it didn’t work out, so that just moved up my timeline to pursue acting.”
Garrett was named after football legend Daryle LaMonica. His athletic skills would take him to Central State, where he played two seasons as linebacker and left college early to pursue an NFL career. Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, the San Francisco native signed up for acting classes. He worked as a FedEx driver during that time, and coincidentally, his route included the Warner Bros. lot.
He made a detour in his acting career when he fell into the sport of slam ball, where he competed globally. However, coming full circle, he shortly landed a three-episode guest role as a slam ball antagonist on the television show One Tree Hill. And since then, he’s been laser-focused on acting and getting gigs in television and film, including Sons of Anarchy, NCIS, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Daddy’s Home, to name a few.
Ahead of hitting the gym, Garrett caught up with The Undefeated.
What did you learn about yourself playing Mike Ritter in Designated Survivor?
Mike Ritter is disciplined and his fortitude is compassion. I see a lot of that in myself. I’m learning from him as well as finding out different things about myself. When you’re reading and researching your character, you sometimes begin to identify more than you realize. As actors, you can’t really judge the character. You just have to tell the story.
How did you prepare for that role?
We took a trip to the White House last October and I got to meet some of the Secret Service detail that was on President Barack Obama’s staff. It was great picking their brains firsthand. It doesn’t get better than that.
You starred in the short film The Duke, that tells the story of J.P. Duke, who suffered multiple concussions in the NFL. What are your thoughts on concussions and the NFL?
CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] is troubling. Finding out what the NFL knew before they disclosed it … it’s just not good business or good ethics. Give the players the chance to make their own decision with all of the information. I’m sure a lot of them will still play, but you just have to be upfront with people. There shouldn’t be any gray area for health care for former football players, either. They should be taken care of for the rest of their lives no matter what. It should just be automatic. This applies for veterans too that are coming back from the war. There shouldn’t even be a discussion.
Who is your favorite athlete of all time?
What surprised you most about acting that you had to overcome?
I grew up in a strong military house, so we weren’t really taught vulnerability. It was, ‘Are you hurt or injured, suck it up,’ ‘Don’t cry or show pain.’ Because of that, the hardest hurdle for me was to become vulnerable with myself. If you don’t know yourself, how can you jump into someone else’s skin and portray them on camera? It was a deep study of self and that was probably the most challenging for me. But acting classes really helped me with that.
How did you find inspiration as a FedEx driver?
Everyone loves the FedEx guy. Whenever I would come on set for a delivery, the prop guys and set designers would invite me to have lunch. I didn’t really tell any of the folks on set that I wanted to be an actor. In my head, I felt like they might look at me funny. I just kept it to myself, but I was still very inspired by just being in that environment.
Sometimes I’d see some of my buddies from acting class who would have a guest role on shows like The Jamie Foxx Show. It pushed me even harder. You see it and know it’s attainable. It’s so close, yet so far. But I knew if I stuck around long enough and put in the work, I’d get my shot.
How did you like your first acting gig with One Tree Hill as a slam ball athlete?
I fell into slam ball by accident because initially I thought it was an audition for a TV show, but instead it was for a traveling team. Apparently, I still had this inner competitiveness and athleticism that I didn’t have out of my system yet. We played in different cities and overseas, so that put my acting career on hold.
One Tree Hill was doing a three-episode arc with one of their lead characters who joined slam ball, so they needed a slam ball player who would be the antagonist. They were about to audition different actors and I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve taken acting classes. Give me a shot!’ They let me audition and I got it. After shooting, I told slam ball I was done, signed up for another acting class and began booking more and more acting gigs.
How did playing football help you with acting?
Not to take criticism to heart, because it can be constructive if you use it the right way. I always say that it’s OK to have a chip on your shoulder as long as it’s constructive. Tom Brady still finds a way to motivate himself; Michael Jordan did too, even late in his career because of that constructive chip on his shoulder.
How do you make time to work out while filming?
I take advantage of days off. Days that I’m working, I’ll hit the gym for no more than an hour. Days that I’m not too busy, I’ll go to yoga too. It keeps me balanced and anchors me.
Who is your favorite superhero?
John Stewart, the Green Lantern. As a kid, I gravitated toward him because he was a normal guy just like Bruce Wayne as Batman and Peter Parker as Spiderman. I felt like I could be any of those superheroes by either finding a ring that gave me powers, becoming rich and buying cool tech or getting bit by a spider and getting spidey powers. All of that seemed attainable because I wasn’t from Krypton like Superman or Asgard like Thor.
How do you give back to Los Angeles?
My friend and I run a program in L.A. where we act as big brothers to kids who don’t have both parents in their life. We take them out, play ball and just become a familiar male figure in their lives. It’s very fulfilling.