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The Prom stars James Corden, Andrew Rannells, and Jo Ellen Pellman on hope, show biz, and Meryl Streep

The Prom stars James Corden, Andrew Rannells, and Jo Ellen Pellman on hope, show biz, and Meryl Streep

Lights, camera...

Text: Emily Heng


Perhaps we might be overstating things, but the tenacity and resilience of human nature is no better showcased than with Netflix's The Prom. Based upon the Broadway musical of the same name, it's clear to see that the film is designed to inspire and invigorate — even in its short two-minute trailer. The story follows struggling theatre performers: Dee Dee Allen (Streep), Barry Glickman (Corden), Angie (Kidman), and Trent (Rannells) as they attempt to resuscitate their flat-lining careers. A solution arrives in the form of a small-town high school student, Emma Nolan (Pellman), who has been banned from attending prom with her girlfriend. Fancying themselves her rescuers — and, uh, SJWs — the actors flock down to Indiana to provide their aid and restore their public image.

What follows next is a musical tour de force, saturated with earnest dialogue and on-the-nose tunes decidedly reflective of our current climate. LGBTQI+ rights are addressed with sensitivity rather than shirked from; the stakes high without seeming unsurmountable; while the performances are delivered with panache and wit. We can say with total confidence that it's a film for the ages, memorable and heartwarming in a way that all the best classics are.

With that, we sat down with James Corden, Andrew Rannels, and Jo Ellen Pellman to get their view on the film — from the experience of working around COVID-19 to their very own proms.

The movie is, ultimately, about finding hope and joy even when the circumstances are really bleak — which is pretty reflective about our current situation. How have you guys been staying positive and hopeful during this time?

Andrew Rannells: I feel like I have been reaching out to a lot of folks that I haven't normally spoken to. I strangely talked to my family much more than I used to! In an odd way, this has made me reach out to folks that I don't talk to on a regular basis and allowed me to connect with folks that I haven't seen in a while.

Jo Ellen Pellman: When we shut down filming, I immediately flew back to my home, and it's where my mum and I have been since. And it's probably been the longest time I have spent with her since I was in high school, so I've really been enjoying spending time with family and really strengthening those relationships! Oh, and I rescued a cat in our neighbourhood. He has been truly good in getting through the COVID-19 period.

James Corden: I think we were all so consumed with all of the things we couldn't do, when the lockdown first happened. And then it just was sort of a massive change in my mindset from what I can't do, to what I can do. I really found it a sort of an optimistic time of, you know, when I would call friends of mine at home, where there is so much more honesty in the air.

When I call them now and say, "how are you doing?" And they will go, "You know what? I'm struggling." That is a monumental leap forward for humankind, in my opinion — to just be open with each other and to say I'm finding this really difficult, and I hope that's something that remains post COVID. I really do.

Dee Dee and Barry have this really great friendship in the movie. How it was like working with Meryl Streep again for this firm?

James Corden: There's nothing I can tell you about Meryl Streep as a performer that hasn't been said but it's all true. Her brilliance and her abilities and her talent is overwhelming sometimes. But I would say the greatest thing about her is she absolutely creates and sets the tone for the entire environment of the set she's on. That what she did on Into The Woods and what she did on The Prom. I've never been on a film on this sort of scale before but what I heard was that during breaks while filming, all the big stars go back to the trailers and surround themselves their teams and all those things.

Not Meryl, though. Meryl just wanted to put a chair at the corner of the room, which means all the other chairs gets put in the corner of the room, which means all the actors just sit, chat and hang out all day. She's an example of how everyone should be you know she takes the work unbelievably seriously but doesn't take herself seriously for a second. And that means she is the greatest fun you can ever wish to be around on a set for sure.

What was your own prom like?

Andrew Rannells: I wish I had the prom that Emma had. I did not — I went to an all-boys Catholic school in the '90s. Taking a boy to the prom was not really an option for me, but it was very exciting getting to film the actual prom sequence because we had this great group of dancers and background actors, a lot of whom were queer that Ryan had invited to come and join that scene.

That really feel like a celebratory experience that took many days to film. We were all there together, and it really did feel that we were celebrating in a way; the joy that was in the room when we were filming was palpable so hopefully comes across in the film. It was certainly the prom I wished I had!

Jo Ellen Pellman: I am right there with Andrew. Even though I went to a pretty progressive high school where you can take whoever you wanted, I still wish I could have that celebratory prom at the end. I remember for my prom at least, I loved what I wore. It was this this red off the shoulder dress that I had rented with these turquoise earrings, and I went with friends and just like danced the night away. But still, if I could have that kind of inclusivity and celebration at my prom, that would have meant the world to me. So, I'm really excited that from this experience to kids around the world.

James Corden: We didn't have proms in Britain. We have like quite a sh*t disco. We won't really ask someone to go with you. You just go with all our friends and we just kind of drink cider and get wasted.

Andrew Rannells: That's pretty much what American prom is like.

James Corden: [Laughs] Right, but we had a great time.