The Promenade: Ariana DeBose on Hiring Queer Actors to Play Queer Characters

“I don’t know that someone could have played this role on screen without having these very specific experiences or understanding that life experience.”

(Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Prom.)

Meryl Streep, James Corden and Jo Ellen Pellman are the leads of Ryan Murphy’s The Prom. Much of the movie focuses on their journeys. Streep’s Dee Dee Allen is busy reevaluating the meaning of success and coming to learn that it really shouldn’t always be about her. Corden’s Barry is coming to terms with his past while helping Pellman’s Emma get what she should have had from the start, the opportunity to attend her high school prom with her girlfriend. All three get a good deal of screen time and accomplish a lot with it.

While that very much deserves applause, it also further highlights what a particular member of the supporting ensemble achieves with a bit less time in the spotlight, Ariana DeBose as Alyssa Greene. While the plot of The Prom is driven by Emma’s hope and determination to attend the prom despite almost everyone around her trying to stop it, Alyssa is busy experiencing a significant personal journey of her own, something that may seem subdued compared to everything happening around her when, really, it’s one of the most profound internal arcs in the film.


Image via Netflix

While on Collider Ladies Night, I asked DeBose what she thought was the key to nailing such a substantial arc, but with less screen time than some of her co-stars. She began:

“I think it’s how you described it; there are very specific moments and if you don’t land those moments, then you have not done this girl justice. Number one, you have to cultivate that chemistry with Emma. That was important to me, because you don’t see the girls together a lot, right? So I had a short amount of time to try to make the audience believe that this is the girl I wanna be with. That has to do with just natural chemistry and if it wasn’t there, (laughs) shot in the foot! But thankfully, how can you not look at Jo Ellen Pellman and be totally taken by her? She’s incredible.”

From there, DeBose went on to highlight one of the most powerful scenes of the movie:

“And then again, there’s a coming out moment. It’s the coming out moment. You have to land that. And there’s several layers on it – she’s a girl of color coming out to a Black mama and that’s tough. If I didn’t have the life experience I have, I wouldn’t have been able to endow that with half of what it holds.”


Image via Netflix

DeBose continued by further emphasizing the importance of personal experience when telling Alyssa’s story:

“I think ultimately, I don’t know that someone could have played this role on screen without having these very specific experiences or understanding that life experience. I do applaud Ryan for making the choice to hire young women who identity somewhere on the rainbow spectrum, because if you don’t walk that walk, you cannot talk the talk in this case, this particular case. Being a women of color specifically, it’s a complicated order living in 2020 so having the material even though it’s not a huge amount of material, there was enough space to go through that, to go through the emotions of that and if she had less material than what is actually there, I don’t know if we would have been successful.”

This right here is only a small portion of our extended Ladies Night chat with DeBose so be sure to keep an eye on Collider for the full interview to hear more about DeBose’s biggest takeaways from her So You Think You Can Dance experience, what it was like making the journey to Broadway with Bring It On: The Musical, what she loves about making movie musicals and so much more!


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About The Author

Perri Nemiroff
(2448 Articles Published)

Perri Nemiroff has been part of the Collider team since 2012. She co-hosts Collider FYC, The Witching Hour and hosts the interview series, Collider Ladies Night. Perri’s a proud graduate of Columbia University’s Film MFA program and member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Perri splits her time between Los Angeles and New York, but devotes every waking hour to her cat, Deputy Dewey.

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