The Prom fans everywhere lit up the Internet when Netflix announced they had completed principal casting for Ryan Murphy’s upcoming movie adaptation of the Tony-nominated musical, casting Jo Ellen Pellman as lead Emma.
Pellman is the only unknown in a cast of big names, including Meryl Streep as Dee Dee Allen, James Corden as Barry Glickman, Nicole Kidman as Angie, Andrew Rannells as Trent Oliver, Keegan-Michael Key as Principal Hawkins, Awkwafina as Sheldon, Ariana DeBose as Alyssa Green, and Kerry Washington as her mother Mrs. Green. So what do we know about the ingenue poised to take on the central role in the musical about a teen girl banned from the prom for wanting to take her girlfriend and the theatre “celebrity” activists who take up her cause?
The Cincinnati native has been honing her musical theatre chops since she was a kid, and graduated in 2018 from the University of Michigan. When she received the news about her casting in The Prom, she thanked Murphy on her Instagram “for trusting this lil queer actor from Ohio with the role of a lifetime,” as well as “my team in New York cheering me on, and to my mom, for believing in me when I was just learning to believe in myself.”
Here are five other things you need to know about the new Emma:
1. She got her training at top theatre programs.
Pellman graduated from the University of Michigan with a BFA in musical theatre and a minor in creative writing—so she’s not solely an actor. She also studied Shakespeare at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. Before that, growing up in Cincinnati, she studied at Casa: High School Acting Studio in addition to participating in productions at her high school Walnut Hills High, where she graduated in 2014.
2. She’s played some great roles.
While at Michigan, Pellman appeared in productions of Me and My Girl, The Tempest, and Grand Concourse. But she’s also proven her chops for comedy. She played Kitty in the university production of The Drowsy Chaperone and, for her senior showcase at Feinstein's/54 Below, sang Sally Brown’s solo “My New Philosophy” from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
3. She believes in theatre’s power to change the world.
In the summer of 2017, Pellman was selected as one of Michigan’s South Asia Fellows and spent time in Mumbai, India. While there, she worked for a non-profit called Khula Aasman, an organization committed to blending art therapies and social change. She conducted theatre workshops in communities throughout Mumbai, including with incarcerated women and victims of human trafficking. Her final project highlighted the effects of these workshops on the participants and presented a plan for Khula Aasman to continue the practices that seemed to be most effective.
4. She has worked on screen before.
The Netflix film will not mark Pellman’s first time on camera. She made her television debut as a bit part on Comedy Central’s Alternatino, and went on to appear on HBO’s The Deuce in the episode “The Trust Thing,” and will be seen in Episode 5 of the upcoming Season 3 of Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
5. She likes to bake!
By the looks of her Instagram feed, if Pellman isn’t in rehearsal, onstage, or with friends, she likes to try new recipes.