Chat with Marisa Davila

Actress, singer, dancer and songwriter Marisa Davila stars as the lead in Paramount+ series 'Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies', a prequel series to the beloved movie musical 'Grease', that premiered on 6th April. Prior to that, Marisa was most recently seen in the Netflix hit show 'Atypical', ABC's 'Schooled' and Netflix' holiday rom-com 'Holidate'.

Actress, singer, dancer and songwriter Marisa Davila stars as the lead in Paramount+ series Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies‘, a prequel series to the beloved movie musical ‘Grease’, that premiered on 6th April. Prior to that, Marisa was most recently seen in the Netflix hit show ‘Atypical’, ABC’s ‘Schooled’ and Netflix’ holiday rom-com ‘Holidate’.

Marisa, you are the lead star in Paramount+’ ‘Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies’, a prequel series to the beloved movie musical ‘Grease’. Were you a fan of ‘grease’ before you got cast on this series?

Totally. It’s one of the original modern day movie musicals. It’s so beautifully chaotic and the epitome of camp. It made me excited to go to high school.

The series takes place in 1954, four years before the original Grease, before rocknroll ruled and before the T-Birds were the coolest in the school. How would you sum up the whole season?

If you haven’t watched it yet, all of the episodes have now been released on Paramount +, so you can start binging them. There are so many reasons to tune in. We’ve got love triangles galore, political corruption, gender double standard, slut-shaming, racial discrimination, justified queer representation. Speaking of the 50s, the fashion, nostalgic sound score and the coolest vintage cars. We bring you a brand new 31 song original soundtrack, averaging three songs per episode. They’re show stopping, tear-jerking and might I say electrifying. Fair warning, it is hard not to dance along. With fights, drag racing and all of the ‘Grease-ter’ eggs you could think of referencing the two original movies that came before us, we further tie together the universe and timeline, inviting you into the origin story you never knew you needed. 

In the series, you star as Jane, the new girl at Rydell High, who dares to break the status quo, teaming up with three other fed-up outcasts to live life on their own terms. How would you describe Jane in your own words?

She’s ambitious, driven, goal-oriented, optimistic and an overachiever, which for women in the 50s, and today, is a no-no. Society seems to be threatened by that. Jane is a smart girl through and through, but that doesn’t mean she always makes the best decisions. She thinks with her head and leads with her heart. Doing the right thing is her driving force, even if the world doesn’t agree. In true Libra fashion, she just wants everything to be fair, everyone to get along and to be happy. You and I both know that isn’t realistic. This doesn’t stop her from trying and finding friends along the way that agree.

Are you and Jane in any way similar or are complete opposites?

Boy did I love school. I enjoyed the structure of it all and was actually on track to be valedictorian before I moved to LA for acting. A risk I was willing to take and it turned out okay. I feel like Jane is exactly who I was in high school, but I didn’t care as much, or pretended not to at least. I didn’t always understand why the social hierarchies were the way that they were. I had my fair share of mean girls, boy trouble and finding my place, but instead of doing something about it, I kind of just distracted myself with my interests.

I wish I was as brave as Jane when I was her age. I hid a lot of my struggles by being outgoing, a thespian. So maybe I am like Cynthia in that way. I had decided I had no time for boys if I wanted to chase my dreams, which was the Nancy side of me. And I think I would’ve been a lot more rebellious, in a harmless way, if I had a friend like Olivia pushing me to be less of a goody two shoes, which anyone from my high school could attest to. But I can’t go back, I can only apply what I’ve learned moving forward. I was exactly who I needed to be at the time in order to play Jane now and for that I truly wouldn’t change a thing. 

The series features new original music. How was it recording songs for you? Is music something you are also passionate about?

I grew up in recording sessions, working as a child session singer in Nashville from the age of 6, so it felt like home stepping back into the booth. Recording an original soundtrack for a musical TV show has always been on my vision board, bucket list, ultimate goal. And I get to check that off. Mindblowing.

Music is the heartbeat of my day to day. Songwriting is something I’ve gotten into in the last 5 years and as a perfectionist, it is a challenge. But it’s so rewarding when you’ve finished a song you’re proud of. I’m hoping to continue writing songs for myself and collaborating with other creatives. I’ve learned so much from our fabulous writing team on Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies’ lead by the Justin Tranter, watching them churn out bop after bop.

How has your leading role on ‘Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies’ impacted your career so far?

I feel I’ve evolved and continue to learn so much about myself on this ‘Grease’ journey. The leading role thing, no one teaches you how to do that. It’s a very ‘pick it up as you go’ thing. My position on the show and within the cast presented a huge responsibility that I happily took on. It’s known that, typically, the culture and tone on set is established by the top of the call sheet. No matter how stressed or tired I got, it was so important to me to keep the positive setting intact, especially since I had witnessed in previous experiences how influential a lead’s energy can impact the show as a whole.

This show requiring singing, dancing and acting was kind of perfect. I’ve trained my entire life for something like this. Singing for 20 years, dancing for 16 years and acting for a decade, I was so ready for this opportunity and fortunate that it came my way when it did. I don’t think I would’ve been ready for it any earlier. Moving forward, I know so much more about the whole process, pre-production, production and post-production. Even press, which was a new journey for all of us Pinks. Thankfully I have all of these new experiences to add to my tool belt as my career unfolds. It’ll help me to get back up when I’m down and continue to make it easier in the various film departments I will work with in the future. I must mention I’ve learned a tremendous amount from people like Annabel Oakes and Alethea Jones. They embody the term role models by spearheading this series with ease. Watching them assert their vision, talent, genius and passion into a very male dominant industry was the most inspiring. I hope that with this being my first big role, it’ll help the industry trust me more and more with other demanding roles. 

Marisa, you grew up in Nashville, surrounded by arts as your parents are both professional musicians. How has this impacted your career path in entertainment in general?

When both of your parents are musicians it’s kind of impossible to not go into some kind of performance career. And I don’t mean to say I was pushed in that direction in any way. It’s just for our house, music and arts were the norm. I was so lucky to have parents that were incredibly supportive and understood an unconventional career path. But I think it’s because they too broke norms and pursued untraditional dreams. I learned about professionalism really early on and how hard work gets more work. My parents ingrained principles like how being multifaceted is valuable, how you want to be prepared for anything and give it your all every time as you never know who’s watching. I also learned about rejection at a very young age, which most definitely helped me once I got into the LA audition circuit. My parents know how hard this field is and have always said I can stop at any time. Many late night phone calls to them have led to my mom reminding me of that, in which I say “You don’t understand. It’s because I love it so much that I’m crying”. It’s reassuring to know there’s no pressure though. 

What then made you pursue a career in acting?

I think it was bread crumb after bread crumb that led me to acting. Starting with movie musicals being played in the house 24/7 before I could talk, singing and dancing from a young age and eventually doing school and community theater. I actually got scouted to audition for Jane Banks in ‘Mary Poppins’ on Broadway when I was in 5th grade. I made it all the way to the final round in NYC. Unfortunately, by that point I had hit a growth spurt during the 6-month time period between the first audition and the final callback, making me ineligible for the role due to surpassing the height requirement. Basically, I was too tall. Casting called me and told me they loved me and would’ve cast me if it wasn’t for the height issue, which is so hard to hear at that age, knowing it was completely out of your control. I often wonder what my life would have been like if that had actually happened. One thing’s for sure, it only solidified my love for musical theater, validated my belief in myself and inspired me to keep going, landing me here, in the best job a girl could ever dream of. 

When you are not on set or working, what are you most passionate about in your free time?

I love hanging out with my friends in my free time, especially catching up on all the time I was gone filming. We go see movies, have game nights and take classes together. When I’m not on set or working, I’m always training, back in acting class, dance class, vocal exercises, you name it. Gotta be prepared for that season 2, fingers crossed.

After ‘Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies’ ended earlier this month, where will we be seeing you next?

Nowhere until this WGA writer’s strike is over. This has been a long time coming, but it is imperative and the only way people will get the pay and protection from AI that they deserve. Hopefully SAG and the DGA will follow suit. You can catch me out picketing. Until the industry starts back up, you’ll find me learning new skills, brushing up on my own writing and developing creative ideas.

Photographer: Sarah Krick
Stylist: Natalie Hoselton
Hair: Alyx Liu
Make-up: Allan Avendano

This interview was done for Numéro Netherlands by Jana Letonja.

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