Rise Of The Pink Ladies: Niamh Wilson Is No Mere Player

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This article contains spoilers up to and including Grease: Rise Of The Pink Ladies Season 1 Episode 6.

If Niamh Wilson carries herself like a showbiz veteran, it's because she is. The Canadian wunderkind has been working in the entertainment industry since age five.

Wilson is currently lighting up our screens as rival-turned-romantic interest to Cynthia (Ari Notartomaso) in Paramount+'s Grease: Rise Of The Pink Ladies. We discussed the impact of Lydia and Cynthia's unlikely romance and reflected on Wilson's already impressive career.

Niamh Wilson smiles

When I remark on the beauty of the vibrant work of art on the wall behind her, Wilson announces that she painted it herself. It's hardly surprising -- the 26-year-old acts, sings, dances, directs, and writes. Is there anything she can't do?

"I'm terrible at sports!" Wilson admits.

Lydia - Grease: Rise Of The Pink Ladies

Unlike her character Lydia, Wilson wasn't a typical theatre kid in high school.

"I acted [in film and television] throughout my entire school career -- primary school and high school. In Canada, there's the Sears Drama Festival, and my high school was usually heavily involved. I partook because my older brother was a drama kid, but he always acted in them.

"I was always behind the scenes since the nature of my work was that I could leave at any time for a couple of weeks.

"I could never commit to a performance date because [film and television gigs] came up all the time, and that would take me out of school, and in high school, there aren't many understudies, so you can't exactly miss it.

"So, I couldn't really act in the school productions, but I was heavily involved in the writing. I did hair and makeup, and I did some set design as well. Costumes were my favorite -- I always spent hours making costumes at home."

Merely Players - Grease: Rise Of The Pink Ladies

Her big show (and heart!) stopping number came on Grease: Rise Of The Pink Ladies Season 1 Episode 5 in a duet with Notartomaso's Cynthia -- "Merely Players," a reimagining of classic Hollywood that bucked gender norms.

I asked if it felt as magic filming as it came across on screen and what kind of response she's been getting to the unexpected pairing of Lydia and Cynthia.

"There was a feeling on set that what we were doing was special," Wilson explains. "Ari and I were so, so excited. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

"I've had so many people reach out to me, saying, 'If I'd seen this when I was in high school, I would've had a much easier time coming to terms with my sexuality, feeling represented,' things like that. It's been surreal, honestly. It was a thing that happened, and now people are seeing it.

"In the age of streaming, things don't feel as concrete anymore. Back when things came out weekly, people saw [an episode], and everybody's response came at once. Now that it's a little staggered, it feels different. But it's been very positive!"

Before the curtain - Grease: Rise Of The Pink Ladies

Has she internalized the importance of portraying this relationship that means so much to people?

"I'm just now realizing," Wilson reflects. "I think the reason it feels surreal is because all of it was hitting while we were filming. When do we see main characters, in this period, with a character who's butch like Cynthia, having this kind of romance?

"It's very uncommon, especially in media geared towards young adults. Ari and I had many conversations about how important this felt, how excited we were to be part of it, and how much weight it held -- beyond the fact that this is so fun to do!"

On Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies Season 1 Episode 6, Rydell High's Romeo and Juliet goes up, but not without some drama! Hazel (Shanel Bailey) has to step in as Juliet when Cynthia never shows, upset after Lydia tells her their "rehearsals" will end.

Wilson shared a little of what's in store for Lydia and Cynthia -- without giving too much away.

Rehearsal - Grease: Rise Of The Pink Ladies

"When the season started, it felt like everyone was rooting for Cynthia and [hoping for] Lydia's downfall. No one wanted her to win. They wanted Cynthia to come out on top. And then, all of a sudden, they're romantically involved!

"I think now, after Episode 6, viewers might think more, 'Well, what about Lydia, though?'

"You can be hopeful for them. Hold out. Wait and see. I don't know if you'll see what's coming. Some other people might get involved. It gets a little messy. I don't think the end of the season will disappoint, but it's surprising."

As a Canadian, I acknowledge that Wilson was part of the cultural institution that is Degrassi, portraying Jack Jones in Degrassi: The Next Generation. I ask how the experience of playing a teenager while in her teens compared to playing a teenager at age 26.

"When I was playing Jack on Degrassi when I was the same age as her, I was really trying to age her up. She was this cool, collected character, and I was trying to fake it, to act how I pictured a really cool teenager would be.

Niamh Wilson in green

"It's funny because, with Lydia, I found that I wasn't trying to age myself down at all. She felt more true to myself and my own age in a way. I would put myself into mental scenarios that I had been in when I was younger -- maybe I wouldn't be this far along, and have my emotions this fully fleshed out.

"Usually, when adults are playing teenagers as adults, they're trying to age themselves down and act like teenagers. With Lydia, I just knew she was an overly mature sixteen anyway.

"She's very put together and sure of herself, which is something you don't often find in teenagers. There wasn't ever really a question even of having to fake teenager-ness."

Wilson was pleasantly surprised when I brought up the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) documentary -- Child Star Goes To Hollywood -- she and her mother did as a child.

"That was hilarious. It was me and my mom. I was going to L.A. for the Young Artists Awards when I was eight or nine.

Niamh Wilson sits

"The CBC reached out and asked my mom and me to bring a little tape recorder with us and record tidbits about my experience of going to Los Angeles for this 'huge award.' It was such a goofy little thing, but it was exciting at the time. I still reflect on it and think, 'Yeah, that was pretty cool!'"

In addition to her Young Artist Awards and radio documentary, Wilson speaks French, studied ballet, appeared in two Saw movies, and recently co-directed the short film Tidal, which used dance to portray the trauma of working in the nursing profession.

With so many accomplishments at such a young age, what career milestones are next? How does she see her future mapped out? Are there any dreams left to come true?

She laughs. "That is such an existential question. It's hard to say. Obviously, I do have career milestones that I'd like to hit in my lifetime. [I'd like to] branch out more to the filmmaking side, be creatively in control in a way that you just can't be as an actor.

"I would inevitably like to direct a feature. I've always been interested in writing and directing, and I think directing a feature of my own would be very fulfilling.

Niamh Wilson directs

"Other than that, I just want to continue working as long as possible! I love it. I've been doing this since I was so young. I've just hit the 20-year mark. I want to continue to work as long as I'm offered jobs and can create meaningful, nuanced stories in which people feel seen and represented.

"And, as cheesy as it sounds, I think little six-year-old me, who'd been acting for a year, would be pissed if she knew I'd worked until I was 80 and didn't win an Oscar in there somewhere!" She laughs again. "We'll see how it goes."

Getting introspective, I ask Wilson to consider what advice she might give to that younger self (and perhaps others starting out) on how to handle her journey in show business thus far.

"One thing that was very difficult growing up, when you're constantly pretending to be other people, at such an undeveloped moment of your brain, it's difficult to develop your own sense of self-identity.

Niamh Wilson in black and white

"My advice would be that you can still be you and form your own identity, the way that other kids do when they're pre-teens and teenagers. Those are the formative years when you figure out who you are and how to fit in in the world, where you sort yourself in society.

"I had a lot of trouble doing that because I didn't want to pigeonhole myself into typecasting. I cared so much about my career. It's difficult to wrap your head around when you're a child.

"I just wanted to remain as neutral as possible, which meant I didn't start to figure out my true identity, like who I was as Niamh Wilson, until my twenties (which is obviously also a formative time for people).

"I felt stunted because I was more focused on how to best serve my career and be able to play all these different roles and not let anyone have one defining idea about me.

"So, my advice would probably be, 'You don't have to be everything for everyone all the time. You can be things you want to be for you.' That would have probably helped her.

But then again, I'm a pretty stubborn person. As a kid, I probably would have just disregarded that advice and said, 'I'm doing me!'"

Catch Niamh Wilson on Grease: Rise Of The Pink Ladies streaming on Paramount+, with new episodes every Thursday.

This interview has been edited for length/clarity.

Mary Littlejohn Mary Littlejohn is a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She loves television, cinema, and theatre (especially musicals!), particularly when it champions inclusivity, diversity, and social justice. Follow her on Twitter.

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