Erin Kommor is an up-and-coming actress who can currently be seen as Sasha on NBC’s newest show, Rise. I got the chance to talk to Erin about how she got involved in acting, what her audition process for Rise was like, what it was like working with Jason Katims and so much more. Keep reading to see her answers!
How did you get involved in acting?
I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, funnily enough, where our theatre scene is [pauses] interesting. There’s this huge amphitheater that I went to when I was a kid called Iroquois Ampitheater. I remember seeing Annie there with my mom when I was seven or eight and turning to her and being like, “I’m going to do that.” And she was like, “Okay.” I always knew from a super young age that I wanted to [act]. It wasn’t always easy for me. I was a shy child, like crippingly shy. I would hide behind my mom when she would try to get me to talk to people, so theatre was a way to get me to step out of my comfort zone and connect with people.
Was there any specific experience or person that you would credit with helping you decide that acting was what you wanted to do for a profession?
Even before I saw that performance, my kindergarten teacher said that when I would read books aloud, I would act them out for the entire class, make a huge scene and get really into it. She took my mom aside one day and said, “Maybe Erin should get more into this.” But my mom didn’t take it more seriously until I asked her a couple of years later. But, it’s just something I’ve always known. I’ve just known that I wasn’t going to do anything else. I had a ton of teachers along the way, too, that pushed me. I don’t remember the very first one, but I had a ton of great ones.
Kentucky, like you said, is obviously not the biggest theatre scene, so did you end up going to study theatre somewhere once high school was over? How did you move into your career?
Kentucky isn’t the biggest, most amazing theatre scene, but we have a really great performing arts high school called YPAS (Youth Performing Arts School). It’s one of the best high schools in the country, which I didn’t even realize how great it was until I left there. It was an amazing experience. Some of our teachers were Broadway dancers, some of them lived in New York and all of them pushed me to be the performer [I am]. I went to Boston Conservatory for college, and I would not have gotten in if it wasn’t for my teachers at YPAS.
You’re still starting out in your acting career so what’s some of the best advice about the industry you’ve ever received and why?
My favorite advice is to accept failure as part of [this career]. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. It’s something you’re going to be working at everyday and its going to take patience, persistence, passion. You’re going to have to keep going and that’s something I still am dealing with because this career can be insane.
If someone asked you to give advice to aspiring actors, is that what you would tell them or would you tell them something different?
I would tell them to just remember why you love to do this and don’t let anything get in the way. No matter how hard you get knocked down, get back up because you’re way stronger than you think you are and you can keep going. If you stick with it long enough, you will succeed. It’s the marathon game.
So let’s move on and talk about Rise. What was your audition process like for Rise? Was Sasha the role you originally auditioned for?
No! This is a fun story. Jeffrey Seller is the producer of Hamilton and he also produces Rise. He called me in for this musical that he was directing called A Man in the Ceiling, and I was in final callbacks for that when Jeffrey called me in for Rise the next day. So on the same day, within an hour of each other, [I had] my A Man in the Ceiling callback, hopped in a cab, warmed up in the cab because I literally had no time before my Rise audition. I went in for Jolene. So they gave me sides for that, did those, did them again. They said sing a song, so I sang a song acapella, “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan. Then, three days later, my agent called and said, “So you’re starting rehearsal tomorrow, you booked Sasha.” I was like, “Whaaaaat?” I threw things, I was going insane. I’ve been dreaming of being on television since I was a little girl. This was my television debut because [up until now] I had done mostly theatre stuff. It was shocking and exciting and I was thrilled.
What did you think when you first read the script?
I cried like seven times. Jason Katims has always been my favorite writer, so it was kind of surreal going in for a project of his. I grew up on Friday Night Lights and Parenthood and watched [them] 80 times each. Like no joke, ask any of my friends [laughs]. So it was Jason’s writing and it combined theatre, public schools, teenagers going through things. It was ideal, so I was in love when I read it. Laughed, cried, snotted on myself, it was a journey [laughs].
Going off of Jason Katims, what was it like getting to work with him? Was he around a lot?
He was there all of the time. All of the time. He lives in Los Angeles, but he would come into town for entire episodes. He was there the entire time for the pilot, episodes two and three, and I think episode seven… he’s wonderful.
Rise premiered a couple of weeks ago and it got a lot of comparisons to Glee, because of the fact that its a television show that features singing in high school, even though I think they could not be more different. What would you say to people who ask how it is different?
Exactly. I love Glee, amazing show. Rise is a drama that is deeply rooted in these characters’ struggles. I think that is what’s most important, the relationships these characters have with their family, with their friends, with their colleagues, with their teachers. The singing helps the story, but the most important part of the story is these relationships. And the struggles. These kids are going through a lot, and they are using theatre as an outlet, as therapy. These kids don’t have much.
I think one of the ways it’s so different is that Glee started to use songs just to feature songs, but Rise tells the story of this drama department putting on a production of Spring Awakening. I’m sure with your theatre background you were familiar with that play before Rise, but how familiar were you? Was it one of your favorite shows or did you not care for it?
Weirdly, Spring Awakening is my favorite show. I saw both of the touring companies, I saw it on Broadway twice, I saw the revival. I’ve been singing that music forever. It’s one of my favorite shows. And “The Dark I Know Well,” which I get to sing in episode 7 and 9, is my favorite song. The universe is a cool place when that all happened.
I also wanted to ask you about the “Understudies” digital exclusive mini episodes that NBC has been putting out. I love them, because you get to see more of the kids who aren’t featured prominently in the show. When you guys filmed those scenes, did you know they were going to be “digital exclusives?” Or were they filmed as a part of the episodes, became deleted scenes and then NBC marketed them differently?
They were filmed exclusively as a webisode. They were filmed as a series of nine webisodes that we were going to release with each episode, just to give you a little more insight into what the understudies are going through. There are so many unique characters in the troupe and the show is only ten episodes so we wanted to give some more behind-the-scenes of what everyone is going through. I think they’re really cool.
Yeah. I think they’re really cool. I think they could have been deleted scenes. They fit in very well with the episodes, and like you said, they flesh out the troupe characters a little bit more. I feel like I have a better understanding of who they are after watching those.
Yeah, I’m a huge fan of them too. I’m glad you like them.
And I love following this entire cast on Instagram, because it seems like you all are really close. What was it like meeting everyone for the first time and how long did it take for you guys to click?
We met each other a year ago, a year and a week ago, when we shot the pilot. We all sat down with Jason and the producers and the director and sang a song. Then we went to a diner, all of us, and sat at this huge, long table and ate the most disgusting amount and fell in love pretty immediately. We have a group text thread that we’re texting on every day, blowing up my phone [laughs]. We are all family. We’re literally just like a troupe. When we’re on set and we’re not shooting, we’re just hanging out and talking and listening to music. We’re like brothers and sisters. It’s really, really nice.
Now that you are finished filming, are you guys located in and around New York? Do you get to hang out a lot?
Yeah, we do. I live in Harlem and there is a handful of us that live in Harlem. We hang out and go eat ramen. It’s the best.
Last question: our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us so what is something you nerd out about?
Oh god [laughs]. Like how nerdy are we talking?
You can get as nerdy as you want.
Can I give you two things?
Yeah. Give me as many as you want.
Okay. I’m obsessed with yoga. My friends call me crunchy. I go every single day and I also teach. But I have four mats, 18 mala beads. I’m always doing yoga in my room alone. If you walked into my room, it would be pretty embarrassing for me.
And then the other thing, I recently got into needle point [laughs]. Why, I don’t know, but I’m pretty good at it. If you need me to make anything, I just finished this sunglass case and it’s pretty gorgeous.
That’s awesome. How did you get into that? Did you just see a kit in the store and then pick it up?
100%. There was a store, and it was populated with people mostly over 70, and I walked in and fell in love with it. This woman taught me and I probably needle-pointed for eight hours yesterday. It’s really weird but really soothing as well.
Yeah. And then in terms of yoga, you said you’re a teacher. What inspired you to get certified?
Because of this business and the ups and the downs, I realized that I needed something in this city to ground me because [otherwise] I’m going to go insane. Three years ago, I got certified at Yoga to the People, which is a donation-based studio. I get about 100 people in my class, so it’s amazing. It’s really gritty and anyone can come. I’ve had a six-year-old in my class and an 85-year-old. It’s super grounding and super amazing to be around people who also value working on themselves.