Marisa Davila

Marisa Davila is our modern-day Olivia Newton-John. Reminiscent of Newton-John’s role as Sandy in the renowned musical film Grease, Davila takes on the lead role of Jane [Frenchy’s older sister], the bright eyed new girl in school in the Pink Lady origin story Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies, streaming now on Paramount+. The series takes place in 1954, four years before the events in the original Grease, and follows four outcasts who start a revolution and set out to change Rydell High forever. 

The Pink Ladies, though a fictional “girl gang,” are iconic. Since the film’s release in 1978, the songs, the fashion and the characters have been emulated throughout generations in the form of school adaptation and halloween costumes. Davila recalls her first time trying on her iconic Pink Lady jacket during filming– “it really did fit just right.” The perfect fit. Much like she is the perfect cast for the franchise. Davila has actually always wanted to be a part of a musical series or film. She, along with her team, in a way have manifested this role into existence. Sharing the sprightly, peppy, yet bold spirit of her character Jane, Davila has quite literally worked her entire life for this, and she had big shoes to fill stepping into this role. And she’s done so triumphantly– by episode 2 (and after her extraordinary performance of the show’s original song “I Want More,”) she proves to viewers that she’s not just a copycat of a character from the original film, but something brand new. 

1883 Magazine catches up with Davila to chat about her experience preparing to fill the shoes of the OG Pink Ladies, the many versions of the iconic pink jacket that she now owns, and what it was like working on the music for the series with the legendary Justin Tranter. 


Hi Marisa! Congratulations on the release of Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies! How does it feel to be a part of this series?

I cannot put it into words. There are no words in the English language, at least, that can describe the feeling. I actually was texting Shanel Bailey (who plays Hazel in our show) last night, about how lucky we are to work on something this special and with some amazing people, and also for it to be a show that we love. You know, those are all qualities that aren’t always promised when you’re jumping onto a project. But I’ve watched our show an embarrassing number of times just because I’m a fan and I love watching all the other actors and the scenes that I wasn’t there in person to see and just see all the work. So it’s amazing.


You recently had a chance to watch the first episode with fans in the audience at the premiere in LA. How was it seeing fans react to the show?

It was phenomenal. I mean, you’ve got a whole audience of people whom I assume, because they’re attending, are fans of musical theater, and it was great to hear their reactions! Even just after each musical number, there was applause almost like if it was live theater, you know? And it just was this amazing energy. I love getting to meet everybody that was so excited to see it. I loved getting to reconnect with everybody that made the show– the actors, the creators, everybody that had a hand in the project. And just meeting everybody’s families too, that had supported them through this journey, was really special. It was amazing! 



I can only imagine! How did it feel to put on that iconic Pink Ladies jacket for the first time? 

It felt right. No, it was just unbelievable and of course, obviously the jackets are tailored to us, so it’s going to fit perfectly, but in a very poetic way. It really did feel like it fit just right. And it was also a symbolic way of securing the fact that we are the new generation’s Pink Ladies and kind of bestowing that title onto us, which can be intimidating at times. But if our show has taught us anything, it’s just that the best way to be a Pink Lady is just to be yourselves. I think that’s something that we carried through with us throughout the process that helped me on and off screen.


I have to ask, did they let you keep the jacket? 

Not our specific on camera jacket. I was told we had like six duplicates of those for each of us, just because in TV and film you must have a couple in case it rips or in case something gets spilled on it, or if you need a more durable one for a scene. So I’m hoping at some point, maybe down the line after a few seasons, one will go missing and they won’t suspect or maybe they will suspect that it’s me. But they gifted all of us cast members zip up hoodie versions of them with our character names on them, which was so sweet. So I have that. And then we were given some on the Drew Barrymore Show, which I cherish. Recently they sent out one as the show premiered, so I have a few. They’re not the original, but I have a few different versions and I’m happy. That’s plenty.


One for every occasion!

Right, exactly. It’s hard though because I was trying to wear them out as much as I could just to like, I don’t know if I own it, I don’t want it sitting in a closet, but now I think it’ll be more difficult to just wear them out and about, but in the comfort of my own home.


What originally drew you to the role of Jane?

Wow. Well, a project like this, Jane aside, was something that I had been talking to my team and my reps, my agents, my managers to keep an eye out for, for years. I mean, now we’re going on me working with some of my team members for about 10 years. 10 years of me going “okay, you know, a musical would be ideal!”  But of course, I know you can’t just be picky like that. I knew that from the start in this industry. I was always the one that would take on any role that anyone would offer, or that I would land. But they knew that that was my cup of tea– my bread and butter, and so I think when this came through the pipeline, they sent it straight through to me. 

But with Jane, she was the one I fit the character description the most, I believe. And when I read it, I was like, “has somebody kept a camera in my house and has watched me?” Like, I have never felt more understood just based on a character description and more confident that I could portray somebody like this, especially just because I feel like I was her going through high school too. I’ve even had friends after the fact now, one of them told me in person this weekend, she “that is you, that’s who I grew up with! That was you in high school.” It’s very validating also just for me to be represented by a character on television, and for me to get to play that character is a really special, full circle moment. 


That actually brings me to my next question. Jane is very bold and fearless. Do you think you share those qualities with her? How much did you have a say in developing your character, if at all?

Oh, wow. What a great question! I do think she’s quite bold. I think at times she can be hesitant about certain decisions. She weighs all of the possible outcomes. She’s very logical but she’s also glass half full, so it’s like what I say when I’m eating food. It’s like, I’ll always try it once, I’ll always do something once and then learn from it. But I think, something that I equate to her that I feel like is something she would do. I mean, I moved out to LA when I was 17. I was very young and I think that was a really scary, hard thing to do, and look where it got me. And I think those qualities are very similar, just like taking risks and dreaming big, and we’re very similar in that way.

In terms of developing her as a character, Anabel had done so much work ahead of time of flushing out these roles and how she wanted them to be portrayed. And I think once we had many conversations of who Jane was, then she gave us a lot of freedom to just sprinkle on our personality right on top of everything that had already been planned, if that makes sense. And then a lot of times in scenes, I’d ask a question and she would just be like, “what would you do?” She goes, “I hired you because you are Jane, so what would Marissa do?” And I feel like it’s a very similar thing that Jane might do. So that was helpful and a lot of that was basically just going back to trusting my instincts and my intuition, which was helpful.


Yeah, I can imagine. I mean, it must have given you some confidence going into the role too, knowing that they trusted you to take on the role and make it your own as well.

Yes. I felt that they had a lot of trust in me. There are moments when this project feels too big to comprehend and therefore I think my coping mechanism was just taking every day as like a small little bite instead of one whole piece of the puzzle, which was easier to digest and just to break things down step by step and be more attentive to detail because the big picture can sometimes be overwhelming. And so I was just grateful that they really put Jane into my hands. And obviously, I had to trust that if they thought I was doing anything wrong that they would tell me and they did. You know, that’s what the directing is for. But it was very much a collaborative environment and a team.


I feel that there are a lot of similarities in the storylines and character traits for both Jane and Sandy from the original Grease film. Did you sense that at all while reading the script? 

I did! I don’t think on the writer’s part that that was intentional. I’m almost quite certain that they didn’t want to replicate any of the stereotypes from the first film. However, there’s something that really pulls you in about a character that is just like bright-eyed and bushy tails, and an optimist and there’s an innocence to both Sandy and Jane, and they both have an inner monologue of like, “why are people making fun of me?” And it’s relatable. And studying the two films going into this role, I very much took a lot of Sandy’s spunk and charisma and kindness, but I made sure that the rest of her role, Olivia Newton-John, the work that she did went untouched, because it’s not something that I would want to try to take over or claim as my own. And I’m grateful that we have the space to create our own two separate characters because she absolutely slayed that role. And I think that’s for her to keep and I’m just really honored to follow in her footsteps and not fill those shoes. 


Were you a big fan of the original Grease before taking on this role? I’m assuming the answer is an astounding “yes!” haha. 

Oh, yes. I’m a lover of all movie musicals. I would have them on 24/7 in my house and my family and I would sing them randomly. They’re my go-to in-the-shower songs. So when I got this role, I’ve told the story before, but this audition came in on a day where I was jam-packed. And it’s very rare in the industry to have a day with so many auditions, but I kid you not, I think I had like five self-tapes, three voiceover auditions and a callback that day and so I was stressed! And I got this audition and I was kind of upset because I’m like, I wish I didn’t get this on a day where I didn’t have enough time to give it all the attention I wanted, you know”

But I was like, I’m going to do my best, so I read the breakdown. I was like, “wow, I can totally do Jane.” And then I saw the words Grease and Pink Ladies, and I understood the tone in the genre immediately. A lot of times when I get auditions, I’ll throw on an episode of the show that I’m auditioning for so that I understand what kind of world we’re living in because every genre, every show, every film feels a little different and acting shifts to tad just to be able to fit into the pacing of what’s going on. But when I saw Grease, I was like– assignment understood. Funny enough, actually it said in Jane’s description that she’s a new girl from New York. And I had just thought about the kind of vocal tams that the characters use in the original film. So I initially auditioned with the New York accent, very much to the style of Frenchy, weirdly enough.

I believe the fact that Jane is Frenchy’s older sister was not in the breakdown, so it’s funny that I even went that way with my initial audition. And then they had called back and they were like, “we love it, can we see the scene again without the accent?” But I did hear back from Anabel and Olivia months later, once we were on set, that they were like, we love the accent. Paramount was the one that said it might be a little distracting long term. And I was like, I totally understand. But I do think it got their attention and I was just trying to pay attention to what the breakdown said. So, all of that to say, normally, I have to spend a lot more time doing my homework on shows that I might not be familiar with. But because I was already such a big fan of Grease, it took very little time to fall into the material.



This show tackles sexism a little more head on than the original film. How did you approach that when taking on this role, while still keeping in mind that the show was set in 1954?

I think that our show tackles themes of sexism more than a lot of shows right now. Not even like comparing it to the original films. I would read our scripts every time they’d come in and I’d go, “whoa, ballsy” But it’s still refreshing and it’s such a breath of fresh air to have a creator and writers of our show really take those risks, because why haven’t we before? And why haven’t we had these conversations? I felt really honored to even be talking about this stuff and to have characters so self-aware, such young characters that are so intelligent that might be seeing the world more clearly than the adults on the show, which I think is very reflective of what happens even in our modern day. The thing about it being a period piece is you don’t want to get caught in the trap of it being too – “how do I say this?” Like caricature because we’re trying to replicate an era that we were not born in and that we didn’t live through. It can always come across like forced or almost too over the top.


Right, almost a little too campy.

Yeah, a little campy. I mean, Grease in itself has elements of campy. But this is more artificial, you know what I mean? What was most important to me was remembering that these are themes that we’re dealing with today– these are themes that we dealt with growing up as women already, like these aren’t new issues. And so I’m just proud to know that there were people back in the fifties that were like, “wake up, what are we doing?” I feel like all of our media from the fifties show that nobody was really aware of what was going on and I find that really hard to believe because I think that people naturally don’t let things fly by that smoothly. But I guess what I’m trying to say is we were taking modern day issues that unfortunately have been happening for decades and just kind of placing them in this colorful world and not trying to pretend like these didn’t happen. Because I think the conversation that comes up a lot is like, “nobody would’ve said that.” It’s like, no, there were people that did.


Right, it just wasn’t brought to the forefront back then.



In episode 2, you have that absolutely iconic performance scene with the original song “I Want More” — wow. Can you take me through what it was like to prepare for that scene? How long did you have to learn the choreography before filming the performance? 

Thank you! 100%. So we started filming the show on January 31st, and we shot for seven months. We shot a lot out of order so because of just locations and stuff, it took like five months to shoot the first episode and probably the same for episode two. But we did finish episode two a lot earlier and that episode originally did not have that number in it– it did not have, “I Want More,” it only had “Girl Gang” with the moms, and “World Without Boys.” And then Paramount went back and watched, and those two songs happen at kind of the bookends of that episode, and there isn’t a song in the middle.Paramount realized we might need to add another song because there’s just a lot of downtime between the two musical numbers. So it wasn’t until June, when I had experienced everything that Jane had gone through in season one, almost every single thing I’d already experienced with her and filmed. It wasn’t until after that that they said, “we’re going to give you one more solo. We’re going to give Jane a number in episode two.” I know I’ve heard stories from Justin Tranter, our amazing songwriter, and Anabel, that they had a little more difficult of a time to meet and communicate about what the song was going to be. So, they were texting about it and they wrote the entire song over text. All of it! I was on set, they’re writing the song over text Jamal and his team is already in there choreographing.

And, to be honest, because it was the end of our shoot, we didn’t have a lot of budget leftover for anything creative. Like, all of our numbers involve all these props and the sets and these outside spectacular moments. And we’re like, “what can we do in the hallway?” And so they came up with just an amazing spectacle of a visual, and we just really went all out. I think I probably had two rehearsals. One in our dance space, and then I had a rehearsal blocking it in the hallway with a camera. I gotta say I actually had injured my back like two days before this number. Not the best timing, but unfortunately we didn’t have a lot of time to waste. And so, I use one of those, you know, in life, we all have those feelings of like, okay, I gotta suck it up and do my best. And I understood how I just wanted it to look amazing. And so I put all of my energy, all of my effort into it, and I’m really, really, really proud of how it came out and I feel so lucky that they even gave me and Jane such a powerful number, and I really can’t imagine the show without this song.


I mean, that number blew me away. I feel like that song is going to be the song that the show is known for! 

Oh, I love that. I feel it was quite the monster of a song to even record. I remember they sent it to me– it was actually a half step higher and I felt bad. I was like, “can we lower it just a tad?” Also, because I know at some point I heard we might be performing these live, and if I want to do it justice live, I want to make sure it sits right in my voice. And so that was something that they adjusted for me and even though it was so such random of a timeline, I’m really glad that I got to film it at the end of my filming journey because I don’t think I could have understood Jane more than I did in that moment– I would’ve done my best, but I’m not sure if I would’ve been able to portray the same emotions had it been earlier on in the process. I lived so much life with her already, and I understood her anger and her passion to the max and I think that it was just perfect timing; weirdly enough.


I agree! You crushed it. 

Thank you!


“I Want More,” along with a lot of the other songs in the show, are unique to the world of Grease while also containing mainstream pop elements. What was it like working with the pop music icon Justin Tranter on the music for this show?

Oh my God, a dream.When I heard Justin Traner was writing for the show, I looked up their discography online and I was like, hit after hit after hit. They couldn’t have found a more perfect person to take on this assignment. And also, Justin comes from a theater background, like even though now they’re writing pop and genres in the music industry, they started in musical theater just like all of us did. So I think they really understand the meld of the two, like you said, the modern day with the fifties, and they had done a lot of their own research about what kind of elements from the fifties they wanted to bring back that weren’t completely overpowering for the new generation, but that could create some nostalgia for the older generation as well and not be too daunting, but it was phenomenal.

I think the first four episodes worth of songs were already written before we got the roles and as the season went on, they just started to get to know our voices even more and were able to write towards our strengths and our ranges. It was amazing to know that they really wanted the songs to be their best and it was fun for them to get to know the characters along with us as well. I know for Justin, they’ve told me before that, like with pop music, it’s less storytelling than musical theater and so there’s a lot more of the story to get across, like I was saying, through the songs that they wrote for our show.I was just so inspired by watching their process and then I would just get a new song in my email and I’d listen to it and say, “where did this come from?” Like at one point this didn’t exist, and now it does and it’s just bop after bop after bop. And it’s funny because I’m so overjoyed to hear that people are already loving the show after two episodes and I’m like, “you’ve only had two episodes! You don’t even know what the rest of the story is and the rest of the music that’s coming your way.” It just makes me so excited because I think the world deserves this music.


That actually brings me to my last question. As a huge Grease fan myself, I’m very excited to continue watching the rest of this series! What do you hope people will take away from this show?

I hope that people can feel entertained, have a great time, but also really not watch it passively. And the only reason why I say that is because there’s so much richness and love that went into this project of just trying to raise a new generation with the qualities of a person; like not forgetting the golden rule; treat people the way you would like to be treated, and remember that you have so much to offer and loving yourself for who you are and respecting others. There is a lot to take away. I’d be surprised if somebody watches our show and doesn’t have anything to learn from it. And there’s going to be something that stands out for each person so I’m excited to hear what that is for everybody.


Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is streaming now on Paramount+.


Interview Rachel Martin

Photography Sarah Krick

Styling Natalie Hoselton

Hair Alyx Liu

Make-up Allan Avendano

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