“Grand Army” — the new Netflix series, which premieres Friday — is the name of a fictional high school near, you guessed it, Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Heights.
But although these may be fake hallways, there is plenty of Brooklyn and New York realness in this gritty drama, courtesy of a young cast that is heavy on native talent who have lived that so-called life.
“It’s really special to watch kids who have lived this experience then embody it on TV,” said Katie Cappiello, who created the series that is based on her “Slut: The Play.” “There’s a deep understanding. These are not biz kids. They get it. We needed that grit, we needed that passion, we needed that thing that New York City kids have in order to make our show feel real.”
Inspired by “a number of public high schools in the city” — including Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant and Millennium — Cappiello called upon many of her former acting students to bring “Grand Army” to life, including leads Maliq Johnson (Jayson), Amalia Yoo (Leila) and Odley Jean (Dominique).
“For me, it was always a goal to have as many young people that I’ve worked with over the course of my years of teaching involved in this project,” said Cappiello. “I’ve watched these kids grow up, I’ve watched their acting skills evolve. And the show would not be the show without their involvement.”
Cappiello’s former students featured in “Grand Army” — as well as the overall cast — represent a diverse crew. (But there has been some behind-the-scenes controversy with Ming Peiffer tweeting that she and two other writers of color formerly on the show “quit due to racist exploitation and abuse.” Netflix has not commented on the issue.)
Although set in New York City, much of “Grand Army” was filmed in Toronto. “It was wild,” said Cappiello. “I have to give a major shout-out to our production designer, who … just went above and beyond to figure out all those special little locations in Toronto that we could really transform.”
Still, the “vast majority” of the exteriors were done in the Big Apple — from Times Square to, of course, Grand Army Plaza. “If you’re gonna have your show take place in New York,” said Cappiello, “you gotta make sure you’re really incorporating New York.”
Here, meet the cast of city kids getting their big break in the series — and see how their real life experiences inform their roles.
Currently living in Queens, this 20-year-old Brooklyn native — who grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant and started acting in commercials when he was about 5 — stars as saxophone-playing sophomore Jayson Jackson.
Alma mater: Cobble Hill School of American Studies. “I almost felt like our school was a prison,” said Johnson. “We had to walk through metal detectors and get wanded. We couldn’t bring our phones inside the school.”
Maliq versus Jayson: “I’m similar to Jayson in the sense that I’m going up against the norms of what the world deems a stereotypical black man [to be]. But I’m different from Jayson in the sense that he has been blissfully ignorant to his responsibility as a young black man in America — and that was brought to light for me at a very young age. It’s different for us.”
Sax education: “I never touched one before, and then ‘Grand Army’ gave me a saxophone coach, and they taught me how to play.”
Favorite actor: “Definitely Denzel [Washington]. He does a lot of talking with his eyes.”
Worst subject: “Probably science. I’m like, ‘I live in New York. Why do I need to learn about sedimentary rocks?’ ”
This 24-year-old actress and singer from Midtown — whose mother is Honduran and father is white — plays senior Flora Mejia, the girlfriend of the central swim-team captain.
Alma mater: Professional Performing Arts School in Hell’s Kitchen. “I think that going to a performing arts high school does add a different element,” said Avelina. “There was an openness in terms of sexuality and the way we expressed ourselves that I don’t know that everybody gets to experience.”
Marcela versus Flora: “I can relate to Flora a lot. She’s a huge advocate for herself. She doesn’t cut corners on communicating. She craves clarity. But I think that at that age I was a little bit more explosive than she is.”
On representing Latinas: “There’s two of us [on ‘Grand Army’]. Naiya Ortiz, who plays Sonia, and I are such different people, and our characters are such different people. I think it’s beautiful that there’s not just, like, the one single Latina caricature.”
Dream role: “I really wanna be in a Pedro Almodóvar film. That’s a huge dream of mine.”
Advice to her high-school self: “Stick to your guns. You know what the f - - k you’re talking about.”
The 20-year-old Long Islander — who made his TV debut as a baseball-throwing toddler — plays cocky, sex-crazed junior George Wright.
Alma mater: West Islip High School on Long Island.
Anthony versus George: “Obviously, there’s some of me in there,” said Ippolito. “But I knew a lot of kids similar to him, like the more hypersexual, irreverent kid in high school. I was just drawing on my experiences with those guys.”
Lucky break: “When I booked ‘Grand Army,’ I was playing for the Baruch [College] baseball team too. I broke my hand in a game, and my audition was scheduled a day after the procedure I ended up having, so I emailed my agent like, ‘Listen, I’m gonna have to take a pass on this.’ And my agent emailed me back, ‘How would you feel about sending in a tape?’ But I kept my hand out of the frame ’cause I didn’t want them to see I had a broken hand.”
Last thing he watched on Netflix: “ ‘The Social Dilemma’ — it’s the most eye-opening documentary I’ve ever seen.”
Advice to his high-school self: “I would tell myself, ‘Stop being so hard on yourself, man.’ High school’s a tough place.”
Born and raised in Lower Manhattan, this 18-year-old actress — who recently relocated to Los Angeles with her family — portrays insecure freshman Leila Kwan Zimmer.
Alma mater: Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, which she graduated from this year. “It was over Zoom,” said Yoo of her commencement. “One of the hardest parts of COVID has probably been not being able to see my friends.”
Amalia versus Leila: “We’re pretty different. I’m also at a very different stage of my life from where Leila is. Leila is a superanxious freshman. She feels alone; she feels lost. And I definitely went through feeling like that when I was a freshman … crying in the hallway a few times.”
Mixed message: “My dad is Korean, but my mom is Jewish. My parents educated me a lot on both sides of my identity. I never felt what I think a lot of mixed kids feel, where it’s like you have to choose who to identify with.”
Favorite actress: “I love Indya Moore, who’s in ‘Pose.’ The whole cast of ‘Pose.’ ”
Worst subject: “Probably gym. [Laughs.] We were not very sporty. We would just sit in the corner and then if the teacher looked over, we’d pretend to be stretching.”
Credit: Source link