It’s been 45 years since the original release of the movie Grease, and its impact today is still felt in our modern interests for both fashion and dancing, (particularly with the rise of TikTok). Those who grew up watching the movie, or discovered it along with their love for musicals, should look out for the continuation of the story with Paramount+’s new series Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies. If you’re familiar with the original story, you can probably guess from the title that the show follows the movie’s prequel. Marisa Davila, stars as the lead in the 10-episode musical series that was released recently on April 6th.
Her character Jane, is the new girl at Rydell High, along with four other fed-up outcasts who aren’t afraid to live life on their terms. Evolving the moral compass of all those surrounding them, Rydell High is set on the path to change. The series takes place in 1954, four years before the original Grease before rock ‘n’ roll and the T-Birds ruled. The Grammy-nominated songwriter Justin Tranter, best known for his work on albums by Dua Lipa, Lady Gaga, and The Chicks; Also wrote new original music exclusively produced for Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies. Growing up in Nashville, raised by two professional musician parents, it’s easy to see how much Marisa’s trajectory in the arts prepared her for this role. IRK was curious to learn more about her experience starting in the industry at such a young age as a voice actress, to her roles in Netflix’s series including I Am Not Okay With This, Atypical, and now Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies with Paramount+.
IRK: You’re playing Jane in the new Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies prequel show, set before the original movie. How do you find you relate to this character and in what ways may you not at all?
Marisa: Jane and I are one and the same. I’ve never felt more represented by a character. She is an ambitious girl, overachiever, glass-half-full fighter, and friend. She embodies female desire. She values doing what’s right and should never be underestimated. Jane consistently gets thrown rough hands and never ceases to be brave. She also never stops trying to see the best in
people. The love for her friends is the driving force of her intentions. I, however, consider myself
to have been much more of a rule follower in high school. You would’ve never caught me
stealing a car or sneaking out at night. The consequences always felt too scary to even think
about doing anything like that.
She’s inspired me to be more spontaneous. I look up to her so much in that way, especially since most of the time what she’s doing is for the greater good. Builds character *wink*. There was one time in school that someone had said something that really hurt my feelings, some of my upperclassmen friends found out and offered to help me roll said person’s house with toilet paper. What’s even better is after I told my mom about the idea, she happily took me herself to go buy the toilet paper. I’ve since told the person it was me because I have a guilty conscience, but it still made for a great memory with my friends.
IRK: For a lot of people, watching shows we love becomes part of our new everyday personality. Does this happen to you too as a viewer and actress? How do you separate yourself from the character once off-set?
Marisa: I think it’s really important to leave the character at work and be able to find yourself off the clock. This job can be so consuming and, in order to understand my characters more, I have to understand myself first and how I process various life events and emotions. By stepping back, I also find that I have more revelations because I’m almost able to dissect the material as a reader/viewer first. It’s a mental, emotional, and physical workout so decompressing at the end of the day and including self-care, only further benefits me and the show as a whole. In terms of Jane subconsciously becoming a part of me, I think she always has been. I’ve spent my life unknowingly being formed into the right person to play this role. She’s always been a part of my timeline. As a viewer of other shows, I make it a point to not watch tv or film passively and I learn so much from others’ performances.
IRK: You’ve been acting since you were a young child, how has your relationship with acting grown along with you?
Marisa: I grew up doing any production I could get my hands on; community theater, school musicals... I was also always assigned the acting part in my competition dances. It’s not the biggest surprise that I pursued this field. I started out doing mostly stage productions then shifted to the on-camera side of things. I’ve only fallen further and further in love with acting as the years have gone by. How could you not? Once you’ve figured out how to not judge your instincts, apply notes, trust yourself, and completely let go, you almost black out and dive entirely into the scene. What I find the most beautiful is that you can never master it, truly, even if that’s what we strive for. Just like a doctor or lawyer has a practice, so do actors. Every day is a new discovery. Acting has been my life, studying for years and it was only in the last few years that I’ve found balance in living. You have to experience life in order to portray it accurately. Life provides the best lessons to learn from.
IRK: Are there any roles you could never see yourself doing?
Marisa: No. I want to try everything. There are certain roles that scare me but I LOVE a good challenge. I got a scene in class the other day that I really contemplated not doing, but I decided to perform it anyway and got THE best feedback. No notes. I was surprised considering I was initially intimidated by the material. I don’t want to ever put myself in a cage when I’ve found I’m capable of anything as long as I try.
IRK: Your parents are both professional musicians, how did this have an effect on you growing up, and on who you are now?
Marisa: The house was never quiet. Instruments resided in every corner, in every room. I’d fall asleep listening to one of them practicing marimba on the other side of the wall. I’m pretty sure I can attribute my good rhythm to being in my mom’s tummy while she stood running drills with the drum line. As a kid, I would be the first on the dance floor at my father’s salsa band gigs. Music is one of the biggest influences in my life. My parents set such a great example of making a living pursuing a very unconventional occupation; proving that it was even possible. They would bring me to rehearsals, recording sessions, and concerts from a young age. I was surrounded by my parents' peers, and fellow musicians, which placed me in creative environments and also taught me how to converse with adults early on. I learned how to carry myself in a professional setting and go above in beyond what I can provide.
Marisa: They also wear multiple hats along with performing: writing, teaching, and judging marching band competitions... they’ve never stopped dipping into every pool of their industry and stretching their abilities. My parents knew a whole lot about the music industry but not much about acting. However, that did not stop them from helping me find all the right outlets and resources. I can confidently say they never forced me to perform or join the arts but definitely supported it once it was my and my sister’s choice. I am where I am in my career because my parents instilled in me the mindset that a dream is worth chasing.
IRK: You’re an actress, singer, dancer, and songwriter, if you could only pick one to do for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?
Marisa: How dare you ask such an impossible question!! It really isn’t that simple, because one influences the other and so on and so forth; all falling under the same umbrella of performing and artistry. I’m beyond lucky that I have Pink Ladies where I get to use all skills at once. That was always the dream.
IRK: You moved from Nashville to LA at the age of 17, that’s a very young age for such a big jump. We can totally see why now, but back then, how did you know that was the right choice at that moment and not later on once you got older?
Marisa: It just felt right. It was strangely such an easy decision. You’re talking to a kid that didn’t go to parties on the weekend but instead went to dance competitions. I would miss football games for acting classes or voice lessons. I had my friends and my social opportunities within my chosen after-school activities, so I didn’t feel like I was lacking or missing out. My school schedule unfolded like so: 5 am wake up to finish homework from the night before, school at 8 am, 3:30 pm after school musical practice, 5 pm drive an hour to dance class, 9 pm drive an hour back home, 10 pm dinner, shower, a little homework, then do it all over again. Probably where my work ethic comes from. I had exhausted all of the opportunities available to me in Nashville so it only made sense to expand the journey to the West and I didn’t want to waste any more time. My mom moved out with me since I was still young and my dad held down the fort for a bit until I got my footing. My family has sacrificed so much for me, investing in my goals from the beginning. They are my number one supporter. I never gave up on myself because they never gave up on me. This journey is a long walk and if you don’t have a support system, thick skin, and a bounce-back-up mentality it can ruin you. Each little win along the way has made it all worthwhile. I speak to a lot of actors that yearn for the end goal, which I completely understand, but the journey is the best part! Obviously, it’s much easier to say that in retrospect, but I’ve always believed it. Cue The Climb by Miley Cyrus.
IRK: Reboots and prequels get a lot of heat from viewers who are emotionally attached to the original versions of the storyline, how does Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies honor the original Grease movie without tarnishing its legacy?
Marisa: We as a cast and crew are fully aware of how precious the Grease world is to its fans, being fans ourselves. Rest assured that every decision for the project was meticulously made with that in mind, while also doing our own thing. This is an original story with brand-new characters. A modern lens for the 50s, just like the original movie was through the lens of the 70s. Our prequel stands alone, while also providing a closer, more intimate peek into the universe we know and love. I watched the film the other day and even recently found parallels that we incorporated without even knowing it! Viewers will spot careful little nods to the 2 original films through things like camera angles and dance moves! Our show will be lovingly familiar to those who have seen the movies, nostalgic for our audience that grew up in the 50s, and a great gateway for the new generation. This is the first musical to ever get expanded into a full universe and there’s so much fun to be had with the possibilities. The legacy is safe in the hands of whom we refer to as our 4 pillars: Annabel Oakes, Alethea Jones, Justin Tranter, and Jamal Sims. And we’ve done our very best to honor those who came before us.
IRK: What’s your favorite scene from the original Grease?
Marisa: That’s so hard to choose! The slumber party with the Sandra Dee number might be my ultimate favorite. The carnival also looked like a blast! I’ve always wanted to join in on the fun!
IRK: Olivia Newton-John played an important role in making Grease such an iconic film, how did she inspire you and what influences did you take from her, in working on this role?
Marisa: Olivia, may she rest in peace, was truly the heart of the film. She brought a thorough line of innocence, honesty, adolescence, and kindness which I was inspired to apply to my performance as well. Her passion, power, and spunk really reached through the screen. I’m grateful that I’m playing Jane and not Sandy. Those shoes are impossible to fill and give her and me the space to have completely original performances.
IRK: What are some of your favorite songs, movies, and books? Feel free to share their Instagram accounts and hashtags.
Marisa: One of my favorite books in the last few years is The Power by Naomi Alderman; very excited to see the new show they’ve developed. It’s hard to pick a favorite movie; I have so many from various genres. But the ones that I always put on when I’m sick or need my spirits lifted are The Princess Diaries or 13 Going On 13. Others include Tenet, Sing Street, I Am Sam.. the list is quite an assortment and very long. My favorite songs come from my favorite artists who have been the soundtrack of my life for a while now: Sara Bareilles, Brandi Carlile, and Lizzy McAlpine.
IRK: What is your favorite charity? Why?
Marisa: I am coming across new charities every day! I’ve recently learned a lot about what the Trevor Project is doing through their partnership with Dylan Mulvaney and I think they are doing
incredible things for the LGBTQ+ community.
IRK: What do you enjoy most about your career?
Marisa: Collaborating with other artists and creatives. There’s nothing more satisfying than being able to accomplish a shared vision or even communicate to each other our different perspectives. Specifically with actors, scenes are the biggest trust exercise. It’s quite the rush to go into what I consider a very spiritual experience together and come out the other side going “We did that!” You never know what’s going to happen. It’s a pleasure to have someone’s focus and trust in me as well as to know that I am right there with them. I am grateful for any opportunity where I get to play. The travel is fun too!
IRK: Do you have any big plans within the next year that you’re looking forward to?
Marisa: My schedule is packed with all things Pink Ladies and I’m hoping it stays that way. Season 2 anyone?
IRK: What’s one thing people don’t know about you?
Marisa: I’ve been an Etch-A-Sketch artist for 13 years. It’s a super fun challenge and a great way to turn off my brain. Hmmm, what else. I’ve seen Gilmore Girls probably at least 15 times front to back. My favorite color recently changed to green. If it were socially acceptable to eat fried rice every day, I would. I can fall asleep anywhere, even sitting up. That’s helped me a lot on set when I need to fit in a siesta.
IRK: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Marisa: Tits up!
IRK: How do you stay inspired? What do you do when you feel uninspired?
Marisa: Trying new things. I love learning and even just sitting with someone who specializes in something I’m not familiar with gets me so inspired. I’ve had so many writing ideas the past few years and didn’t know where to start, so I joined a writer’s group after we wrapped season 1. It is incredibly fulfilling to hear everyone’s concepts; I’m always blown away.
IRK: What women inspire you the most?
Marisa: My go-to answers are my mom and my sister for obvious reasons. My mom was the first woman to get inducted into the WGI Percussion Hall of Fame recently and I don’t know what is more badass than that. My sister kicks butt in her field daily and has always fought for being accurately valued for what she brings to the table, never afraid to advocate for herself. Also, having shot my first series now as a lead of a show, I feel like I understand other’s in my position more than ever before. Rachel Brosnahan, Zendaya, Jenna Ortega, Bella Ramsey... I hope to meet them one day so that I can express my admiration and we can all gab about our shared experiences of the daily grind. Also I stan Florence Pugh, but who doesn’t. That girl puts in the work.
IRK: What’s your dream acting role?
Marisa: What’s so funny is that this was my ultimate dream role. A project where I could act, sing and dance? Manifesting is real, folks. Now I get the chance to shoot even further. The sky is the limit. There is so much I want to do and so many people that I want to work with. So let’s get into it. Putting it out into the universe. Disney princess has been a long dream of mine, whether animated or live-action. I’d love to sink my teeth into darker, heavier material at some point. A Rom-Com or Rom-Dram like Bridget Jones's Diary or The Notebook would be such a fun tone change for me. An A24 project, a trilogy film, limited series... are just a few on my list. I’m obsessed with claymation/stop-motion projects and would love to be a part of one. I would really like to do a run on Broadway someday. My dream collaborators include but are not limited to Reed Morano, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Stephen Spielberg, Donald Glover, Ron Howard, and the Daniels to name a few. Ultimately, I just want to continue doing what I love to do.
In celebration of Earth Day, we also wanted to ask a few more questions in relation to social progress and sustainability efforts.
IRK: What are some conscious actions you implement in your daily life?
Marisa: There’s always more to be done but I recycle when I can. Growing up, my dad would always yell at my sister and me to turn off the lights. So, I still hear his voice in my head every time I leave the house. I’d much rather thrift shop than buy new any day. I’ve also been a pescatarian for 5 years straight so something that I naturally tend to avoid in my daily diet is animal products, which helps with sustainability and contributes to less animal agriculture.
IRK: What’s your hope for the future of the planet?
Marisa: I feel like there are a lot of people who adopt better habits in order to leave the planet better than how we found it, but I hope big corporations can follow suit. There’s only so much us little guys can do until giant companies that use the most energy wake up and find better solutions that don’t result in irreversible damage. I don’t want to have to worry about air quality or drastic climate change. I want to see the planet heal.
IRK: What are you most passionate about?
Marisa: I’m most passionate about how we treat one another, which includes gender equality, reproductive rights, and fighting for people who just want to exist in peace. A lot of confusion on these topics comes from a lack of education. So, you can say I’m passionate about quality education as well. That’s where it all starts. Access to health care is a biggie for me too, especially after all of us went through these scary last few years together. Which then leads to appropriate pay for our teachers and health care providers. It’s all of our first times on this earth; we got to take it easier on each other.
Director of Photography Morgan Susser @MorganPierreSusser. Editor Stephen Concepción.
Talent: Marisa Davila @itsmarisadavila PR Agency: Imprint PR @imprintpr Editor at large: Stevo Concepcion & Cannon @thecannonmediagroup Photographer: Elisabeth Caren @elisabeth.caren
Stills: Christian Raices @beardedimmaculateconception Digital Tech: John Shin @spicykoreann
DP/Cinematographer: Morgan Susser @morganpierrephotography Post: Nadia Selander @nadiaselander Stylist: Branden Ruiz @branden.ruiz Hair: Judd Minter / Aim Artists @juddminter
Makeup: Elizabeth Follert / Rex Agency @bethfollertmakeup