The Paramount+ musical series Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is set in 1954, four years before the original Grease, at a time when four outcasts decide to band together and support each other, and even have super cool pink jackets to prove it. Jane (Marisa Davila), Olivia (Cheyenne Isabel Wells), Cynthia (Ari Notartomaso) and Nancy (Tricia Fukuhara) aim to change Rydell High, rule the school, and have a ton of fun along the way, all on their own terms.
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During this interview with Collider, co-stars Davila and Wells talked about why they wanted to be a part of the Grease world, what they like most about their characters, approaching the time period in an authentic way, what their own journey was like when it came to finding their people, the wild way they first met each other, pulling off the performance numbers, the Halloween episode, and what it’s like to get to wear the Pink Ladies jackets.
Collider: When this came your way, what was your initial reaction to this project? Were you immediately intrigued? Did you wonder why anyone would try to recreate this world?
MARISA DAVILA: No, I was immediately intrigued. Any time a musical project comes through my email, that’s the first thing I open. And then, you see the word Grease and it’s like, “Oh, yeah, this is right up my alley.”
CHEYENNE ISABEL WELLS: I was a little nervous, just because Grease is a huge shoe to fill. But once I read the description and read the first episode, I was like, “Oh, yeah, absolutely. This is amazing.”
How familiar were you guys with Grease? Had you seen the movie a bunch of times? Had you ever performed any of it? Was it something that you knew really well?
DAVILA: I knew Grease, just being a theater kid. And I have an older sister that introduced it to me, as well. I knew it as much as the general public would. And then, when I got this job, I studied the films a couple of times, just to get the overall tone of it, not necessarily to match any performance, considering we’re creating our own original characters. But there’s an energy in the film that is very specific to the genre that Grease created for itself, that was important for us to emulate.
WELLS: For me, it was the same thing. I grew up obviously knowing about it because it’s such a widely known movie and the music is so amazing. I’d auditioned for it because every theater company around did it. The first time that I watched it again was actually right before we started shooting in Vancouver because I wanted the vibe of the movie, but not necessarily the characters, since we are our own characters. It was just a little brush up.
Because this is a different time period on the surface, it would seem like who you are in real life and who your characters are would be worlds apart. What do you like most about your characters? What would make you want to be friends with them?
DAVILA: The Pinks are about accepting each other. We’re not the type of gang to leave anybody out, so I wouldn’t be too afraid to approach any of them. They have great friend qualities and they’re also incredibly unique and wacky and crazy, and not afraid to speak their minds. I would just learn so much being their friend. I learned so much just portraying them.
WELLS: Yeah, I feel the same. I think meeting Olivia would be pretty cool. I think she’s super chill and super awesome.
DAVILA: If I met Olivia, as Marisa, I’d be really intimidated.
These characters could have easily turned into caricatures, but they don’t. They somehow feel very authentic, even though you guys didn’t live through this time period. What got you there? Was it something about the research you did? Was it the wardrobe? Was it the dialogue? Was it everything together?
DAVILA: We studied and brushed up on what the’50s were like. The costumes were helpful and the setting was helpful. When navigating the dialogue and some of the words that were popular back then that are no longer around, we found the easiest way to approach it was to just start using it all the time, so that it just became a part of our dialogue. We didn’t want to put any emphasis on it, or it would make it really obvious that these are not words that we use in our day-to-day.
If this show really is about finding yourself and finding your people, how did your own journey with that compare? Was it harder for you? Was it easier for you, personally?
DAVILA: It was so hard. It’s hard to to make friends at any age. I will forever say that. Growing up, I distracted myself enough with my after school activities, so that I didn’t feel as alone. In high school, you might have friends, but you might not have the same classes as them, which is really isolating, as well. I just kept my head down with my goals. That’s how I relate to Jane.
WELLS: For me, in high school, I had my close group of friends. I didn’t have big, giant groups, but I had my close group of friends. And then, outside of school, I did a lot of theater. That was really my community.
DAVILA: Which is one of the most accepting.
WELLS: It’s so accepting, yeah.
When did you guys all meet each other? Did you have time, prior to filming, to hang out and get to know each other?
DAVILA: Cheyenne and I were the last ones to meet. I met all the other cast members when the fire alarm in our hotel went off and we all ran out from the lobby and burst onto the street. We were in our slippers and our PJ.
WELLS: I was literally in the shower when the alarm started going off, and I had to get out of there. We didn’t meet each other. Everything was on Zoom, all the chemistry reads and everything, so we didn’t actually meet each other in person until we started the work, but that moment was pretty cool.
I knew this show was a musical, but I didn’t expect just how full-on the performance numbers would be. What was all of that like to pull off? Do you feel like you knew what to expect, going into it? Was it more challenging than you expected?
WELLS: It’s pretty insane. I had a feeling, just because you watch the movie Grease and every song has this big thing happening, or some choreography. I had a feeling that we were gonna do something big, and then we learned that Jamal Sims was our choreographer, so we knew what was going.
DAVILA: The first number that we put on tape was “Different This Year (Reprise),” with all the dancers that come flooding into the room. That was a big production, and then we just kept topping ourselves, as we went along. They all had that same insane amount of quality and attention to detail. It was just so fun.
Which is your favorite or most memorable performance?
DAVILA: I’m so lucky to be a part of all the numbers. Even just watching, there was a number in episode eight, and I was already wrapped and it was midnight. They were just starting the dance portion of the number, and I was like, “I’m staying.” And they were like, “But you have to go to bed.” And I was like, “No, I have to live this iconic moment in person and watch this being filmed. I don’t wanna miss it.” That’s what they make you feel like. You wanna be a part of something that big. You wanna witness something incredible.
WELLS: Any song that we did with the full cast there or the ensemble there was so much fun to do. “Good Girl Act” has a place in my heart. That was such a good fun time for all of us.
Cheyenne, your character walks with a certain sway to her hips that comes with having a confidence in yourself that not everyone has at that age. How did you develop her physicality in the way that she walks? Did the clothes help a lot?
WELLS: The clothes definitely helped. Putting on that pencil skirt, you feel it. I looked to Marilyn Monroe a lot. I studied the way she was. Whenever she was on, she was on. She had this walk to her and so much beauty that she was amazing. I definitely tried to bring that to Olivia.
I love a good Halloween episode. What was it like to get to have a Halloween party and get to dress up in costumes?
DAVILA: They were so hysterical. Everyone’s costumes were crazy. I was so sad that I wasn’t able to be at the big party.
WELLS: You missed out. You were chasing a man. The costumes were amazing. They just killed it. We heard we were doing a Halloween episode before we heard what costumes we were wearing, so every fitting, we were like, “Are you gonna tell me today? What am I gonna be? What are we gonna be?”
Because the series is Rise of the Pink Ladies and the jackets are so important, what was it like to get your jacket and to put it on for the first time?
DAVILA: It was amazing. We felt like we had earned the jackets, as ourselves and as our characters. It just so happened that we were given the jackets to wear, for the first time, for the scene that the characters were given the jackets to wear, for the first time. The emotion that you see, coming across on screen, was very organic.
WELLS: It was a very special moment for all of us to stand there and try them on. It was so cool.
DAVILA: They were very specific about how much they wanted our characters to be seen in the Pink Ladies jackets. They wanted the amount of time you’d see them to be very strategic. So, every time we’d walk on set and see our Pink Ladies jacket hanging in our little section, we knew it was gonna be a great day. It was so fun.
WELLS: And each of our characters has its own style with the jacket. It’s really cool.
DAVILA: We were encouraged to take that on. We each had different sleeves and different collars. It’s so fun. It feels like we’re in a real gang.
How much fun is it to have these songs, that are great songs that you can just listen to on the surface and enjoy them, but then if you dig deeper, you can find a lot of meaning in them and hear how much they’re really saying? Was it fun to get to play with that?
DAVILA: So fun. We had incredible performers on this show that were just outstanding. I’m blown away by the amount of talent, every day. These songs are gonna because they hold so much meaning.
WELLS: With Justin Tranter, Brittany Campbell, and all the writers that wrote on the songs, there wasn’t a song that disappointed. It was just another good one after another good one. There are 30 amazing songs on this show.
DAVILA: There’s also a reason why every song is placed where it is. We don’t have filler songs.
Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is available to stream at Paramount+.