MANILA – Broadway may have been closed for months now due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that did not stop Ryan Murphy from bringing the musical experience to the screen for everyone around the world to enjoy.
He made this possible by creating a movie adaptation of the Tony-nominated musical “The Prom” featuring an all-star cast led by Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, Kerry Washington, Andrew Rannels, Keegan-Michael Key and more.
In “The Prom,” Dee Dee Allen (Streep) and Barry Glickman (Corden) are New York City stage stars with a crisis on their hands: their expensive new Broadway show is a major flop that has suddenly flatlined their careers.
Meanwhile, in small-town Indiana, high school student Emma Nolan (newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman) is experiencing a very different kind of heartbreak: despite the support of the high school principal (Key), the head of the PTA (Washington) has banned her from attending the prom with her girlfriend, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose).
When Dee Dee and Barry decide that Emma’s predicament is the perfect cause to help resurrect their public images, they hit the road with Angie (Kidman) and Trent (Rannells), another pair of cynical actors looking for a professional lift. But when their self-absorbed celebrity activism unexpectedly backfires, the foursome find their own lives upended as they rally to give Emma a night where she can truly celebrate who she is.
In a roundtable interview with reporters from the Philippines, the cast gamely discussed their experience filming, how they relate to their characters as well as to their co-stars, and also the movie’s timely theme of representation and fighting intolerance.
“We started filming in December 2019 and we shot through to March. Andrew and I, we’ve finished our main thing and Jo Ellen was basically there on the day they got shut down and had to come back,” Corden said.
“I will always remember that,” added Pellman. “We were one of the first productions to start back up in LA and so the safety protocols that we had were so strict. It was a little scary because no one had ever worked like this before. We were all learning the ropes. It starts from Ryan Murphy at the top who made sure that we had every single safety protocol in place so that everyone on the crew felt safe doing their job.”
But prior to the lockdown, Corden said everyone had fun working with each other, especially with Streep around setting the tone for the entire environment of the set.
“I’ve never really been on a film of this sort of scale before. But what I imagined, what I heard is during breaks, the big stars they go back to their trailers and surround themselves with their teams and all those things,” Corden said.
“Meryl just wants a chair in the corner of the room, which means that all the other chairs get put in that corner of the room, which means all the actors just sit and chat and hangout all day. She’s an example of how everybody should be. She’s takes the work unbelievably seriously but doesn’t take herself seriously for a second. That means she is the greatest fun you could ever wish to be around on a set for sure,” he recalled.
Meanwhile, Washington talked more about her character as Mrs. Greene and how she worked hard so people may relate to her.
“I know there are gonna be people who watch this film who identify with Mrs. Greene, who might have a hard time dealing with the realities of the LGBTQ community, who might feel a resistance to being able to accept that their child is being gay or lesbian or transgender, gender fluid,” she said.
Saying she didn’t want her character to be just a stereotypical villain, Washington said she wanted Mrs. Greene “to feel real, to be rich.”
“I wanted people to feel like if they identify with her, although she’s the bad guy, that we give you a blueprint for how to walk toward acceptance. So that if you are a parent who’s struggling to wrap your head around this, it’s okay. You don’t have to be totally comfortable. You don’t have to be expert on the issue. You really don’t have to understand it even. What you have to do is to show up and love your child unconditionally because everybody deserves that,” she said.
As for DeBose, she related to Alyssa most especially when it comes to achieving the image of perfection.
Recalling how she got voted off “So You Think You Can Dance” when she was just staring out, she said: “That was my first big brush with rejection. Honestly, I am still recovering from it. But it was a great lesson in realizing that you cannot sit into the boxes other people want you to be put in. It is not their job to define you. It is your job to define yourself.”
DeBose also shared how she feels the opportunities have changed for actors as representation becomes more important.
“I think the entertainment industry at large is learning what representation actually is. We’ve had an interesting definition of representation for a while that has not been actually accurate. But you see films like ‘The Prom’ that take representation to a new level because it’s very rare that young, woman of color, who identifies with the LGBTQ get the opportunity to tell our stories,” she said.
“The fact that this movie got made and Ryan Murphy championed it and Netflix greenlit it and we are actually going to be able to share it with millions of people around the globe, that is the win. That’s taking representation to the next level,” she added.
DeBose also thinks having two young women like herself and Pellman who actually identify as LGBTQ in their personal lives brings another element of authenticity to this project.
“It did give us the power to bring our lived experiences to it. While I don’t necessarily believe that queer characters should be exclusively played by queer people, I think in this instance, it did bring a certain sparkle to the film. It just helped you fall in love with these characters immediately because you can feel how real they are. There was not a single word that came out of my mouth, or Jo Ellen that was not true or authentic. We meant every word. I think that you can feel that and I think young people everywhere will hopefully feel that and be empowered by it,” she said.
And since the movie is ultimately about finding hope and joy even though circumstances are bleak, the cast shared how the they have been coping during this challenging time.
“I feel like I’ve been reaching out to a lot of folks that I haven’t normally spoken to which I think a lot of people are doing. I strangely talk to my family much more than I used to. I’ve reached out to friends that I haven’t talked to in a long time,” Rannel said.
“The Prom” premieres on Netflix on December 11.
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