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Ariana DeBose and Jo Ellen Pellman on acting alongside superstars in ‘The Prom’

December 7, 2020 by Suzy Evans
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Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose in ‘The Prom’ on Netflix. (Photo by Melissa Gordon/Netflix)

Jo Ellen Pellman was shopping in a thrift store when she got the call that she’d be making her feature film debut alongside the likes of Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman in Netflix’s The Prom, which premieres on Netflix on December 11. The University of Michigan musical theatre graduate stars as Emma, a high school lesbian who is forbidden from bringing her girlfriend to prom.

“I remember feeling equal parts nervous and excited because these are people who I’ve looked up to for so long. Actually getting to know them as humans was probably the best part of this journey for me,” Pellman said during a virtual press conference. 

“I saw the show on Broadway with my mom, and it is so personal to me because I’m queer and I came out in high school, also in the Midwest and it’s a wild experience. And so being able to tell this story with this cast is quite literally my dream come true,” she added. 

Ariana DeBose stars as Emma’s closeted girlfriend Alyssa, and even though DeBose has an impressive list of stage credits, including being part of the original cast of Hamilton and earning a Tony nomination for her performance in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, The Prom marks her movie musical debut. (She will follow it up shortly with Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story adaptation.)

“We’ve looked up to every single one of them for such a long time, and to have the experience of making work with them and laughing with them and realizing that they’re human just like us and they’re kind, and they’re normal and emotional and funny,” DeBose said. “It was so heartening to have this be the first one of hopefully many experiences for me. So I treasure it very much.”

Pellman credits director Ryan Murphy’s musical series Glee as “one of the reasons I fell in love with acting and wanted to become an actor,” and acting in one of his films was a dream come true.

“Truly every day on set was the best day of my life,” Pellman said. “Every single person in this cast is so kind and generous with their time. And I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as hard as I did when we all filmed together. They are wonderful people.”