NBC's Rise, from the producer of Hamilton, Jeffrey Seller, focuses on the lives of highschoolers who are navigating family, friends and teachers. One of the breakout stars, Erin Kommor chats with us about how she got into the industry, parallels in her character and being a yoga teacher.
ATHLEISURE MAG: Tell us about how you got into acting and what your journey in the field has been as we know you have done theater, film and TV.
ERIN KOMMOR: No one believes me now when I say this - but when I was younger, I was cripplingly shy. I hated talking to people and would hide when I was introduced to any person I did not know. When my mom started bringing me to the theater, I had this sudden pull. I wanted to be up on the stage, but I could barely speak to a stranger. For some reason, it was much easier for me to be someone else/engage with the audience & humanity when I was on stage. After doing theater for a while, I became less shy & more comfortable in myself, and in that, much more personable/friendly. I think theater helped me find myself by way of becoming someone else, in a manner of speaking.
I started acting & singing classes as a kid on the weekends in Louisville, Kentucky (where i’m from), and began doing community theater shows. From there I auditioned for our Youth Performing Arts High School, and got accepted. Those years really shaped me and prepared me for the next steps. I auditioned for my dream school, The Boston Conservatory and was thrilled to get accepted. From there I moved to New York and continued doing shows and taking class.
AM: Who have been mentors of yours whether in film, theater or TV?
EK: I owe so much of my success to the generosity and kindness of my mentor, Paul Hardt. He is an exquisite casting director in New York City. I met him a few months before I graduated college and he immediately took me under his wing. He has always been there to give me advice about everything in the industry, and to check in and make sure own I am okay (career wise & emotionally!). He is like a father to me. His guidance, wisdom and humor have gotten me through my time in New York. I would not be the performer I am if it were not for him, and for that I am so grateful!
Another big hero of mine is Jeffrey Seller (producer of Hamilton, Rise, Rent, Avenue Q, the list goes on...) I first auditioned for him a little over a year ago for a new show he was directing called “The Man in the Ceiling”. I ended up getting that job and working with Jeffrey was an absolute dream. He is so genuine in everything he does and he has helped me grow immensely as a performer. He is the reason I even got to audition/book Rise, as well. I adore Jeffrey, and respect and admire him in so many ways.
AM: For those that may not be familiar with Rise, tell us about this show and about the character that you play.
EK: Rise is a new drama about discovering inspiration in all different ways. It takes place in a modern high school where these students are navigating their way through some challenging life experiences. The show really focuses on the relationships between these kids and their families, peers & teachers.
I play the role of Sasha Foley. Sasha is a student at Stanton High, and a part of their theater department. She absolutely loves the theater troupe and that gets her through her days. Her family life is challenging - she is an only child with just her dad. Her father lost his job and they are really struggling financially. She doesn't have much support from any adults in her life. Tracey becomes a beacon of light for Sasha.
AM: Are there any parallels between yourself and Sasha Foley?
EK: Sasha and I are both extremely passionate about theater & music and use those art forms as an outlet to express ourselves. We take our hardships from our lives and pour it into our art. For both Sasha and I, theater is immensely healing, theraputic & transformative.
Sasha and I also both value friendships and what it means to be a good friend. We have both in a sense chosen our families from the friends and loved ones around us, not necessarily blood related. We are sensitive & vulnerable, though we may put up a tough exterior as a defense mechanism at times.
AM: What is the social impact of this show in today's climate with many being concerned about the reduction of funds for the arts in schools?
EK: NBC Rise started a R.I.S.E America project where NBC awarded 50 high schools with a $10,000 grant! The grant covers the theatre department’s needs such as production expenses, technical equipment and master classes. NBC partnered with the Educational Theatre Foundation (ETF), an organization dedicated to shaping lives through theater education, to administer the grant applications and award process.
Rise is making a huge effort to help high school’s theater departments, and I think that is SO important and special. Theater has been proven to help students in a myriad of ways.
AM: What has Rise been like from the audition process, to being accepted and then filming the current season?
EK: Rise has been such a dream to be apart of from day one. The audition process was very quick and I actually didn’t initially audition for the role of Sasha. I went in for Jolene, and a few days later my agents called to inform me I landed the role of Sasha. I was over the moon. I had been dreaming of being on TV since I was a little girl, and this was my television debut. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. The filming process was a dream. Jason Katims is my favorite writer of good all time (I grew up obsessed with Parenthood & Friday Night Lights), and to get to bring one of his characters to life and work with him was surreal. He is such a brilliant man, and his work is so incredibly powerful and touching. The whole cast and crew was amazing to work with, and I feel insanely lucky to be able to say “work” and living my dream are one in the same.
AM: When you saw the promos running during the Super Bowl, what was your reaction?
EK: I cried when I first saw the Superbowl commercial. I actually was drinking coffee in bed and spilled it all over myself. I just could not believe how stunning the commercial came out. Seeing myself and my friends on TV is still so surreal. The reaction has been overwhelmingly lovely from everyone around me.
AM: We know there are a number of phenomenal actors including Rosie Perez, what was it like working with her?
EK: Rosie Perez is easily the best scene partner I have ever worked with in my entire life. She is such a brilliant and generous actress and human. The scenes we shared together were so very meaningful to me. She taught me a lot in the work we did together, and I’ll never forget those special moments we shared. Between takes and offstage, she was so amazing and kind as well. Not to mention- she is HILARIOUS. She was always cracking me up. Rosie is a goddess!
AM: Do you have any upcoming projects that you are apart of that you can share?
EK: Not that I can share... yet. I’ll keep you all updated! :)
AM: In addition to being an actress, you are also a yoga teacher - why did you embrace yoga in this manner?
EK: Yes! I love yoga and meditation. When I moved to NYC, in the mix of auditioning and working, I needed something to ground myself. This city and industry can be overwhelming, and it’s nice to have yoga to center me. I practice yoga daily and on set before I film. It’s a way to check into the present moment, be aware of your breath, and really get in touch with the here and now. I love being a teacher and sharing the gift of yoga with others. It has done wonders for my anxiety and I love helping other people find that same sense of calm. Yoga is really a key part of my life and I would not be the same person or actress without it.
AM: In NYC, where can we find you working out, grabbing a cocktail and a meal and shopping in the city?
EK: Working out, you’ll find me at my yoga studio, Yoga to the People!
Grabbing a cocktail and a meal, I really love a spot in my neighborhood, Harlem Public. Amazing vibes and great food & drinks! I love shopping in Soho — that area is adorable.
AM: Do you have any plans to travel this summer and if so, where?
EK: I don’t have any travel plans as of now, but I love traveling and I would love to plan a trip. Somewhere tropical ideally. I love the sunshine!
AM: How do you stay balanced between auditioning, preparing for roles, and taking personal time?
EK: It takes a lot of time management skills. My friends and family are so important to me, and they are also very understanding of my demanding schedule. I make sure to schedule set time with my loved ones and hold myself accountable. As for time with myself, that’s what my hour of yoga a day is for. It’s a time to unwind, refocus and come back to myself.
AM: Do you give of your time in terms of philanthropy/charity and if so, what?
EK: In the next couple months I am starting to volunteer at an animal shelter in NYC. I love animals and want to give back and help animals in need.
PHOTOS COURTESY | PG 50 VIRGINIA SHERWOOD/NBC | PG 53 CINDY ORD/NBC