The show must go on for the teenagers of Rise, but that's easier said than done for some of them.
The second episode of the musical theater drama put the spotlight on Gwen (Amy Forsyth), who was introduced in the first episode as a direct adversary for Lilette (Auli'i Cravalho). At first, Gwen seemed stuck-up and judgmental, then bitter when Lilette received the lead part in Spring Awakening, despite Gwen having the better voice.
It turns out that the football coach's daughter isn't mean just because she's pretty and popular. The second episode dug deeper into Gwen's home life and revealed her parents' marriage was falling apart with their daughter stuck in the middle of the wreckage. Her mother pushed Gwen to fight for the lead spot because she felt that Gwen's assigned spot was beneath her, which only made rehearsals that much more awkward for Gwen.
The theater was once her safe space from the drama at home and the new musical has turned her haven into another battlefield that she has to navigate. Even if Gwen and Lilette were able to find some common ground, it's obvious that Gwen is still struggling with everything outside of the stage crumbling around her. The episode culminated with Gwen rehearsing her solo for Lou (Josh Radnor) and she proved that she really is the best actress the show has as she dug into her pain to deliver the most emotional performance yet.
With such a big reveal meaning huge things for Gwen, TV Guide talked to Forsyth about Gwen's struggles and where she wants to go for the rest of the season.
It kind of feels like there's a war brewing between drama and football on the show, and Gwen is a person who might get stuck in the middle. How is that war going to add some stress to her plate?
Amy Forsyth: Well, Gwen has a lot of stress. There are a lot of things happening. I think that's a great point with her dad being so heavily involved. That is something that she feels that, of course, for Gwen, though she is supportive off her family, for her, theater's her thing and her first love. Yes, she's a little bit caught up in the middle because of her family, but I think we can trust that Gwen will always be on the side of the theater.
The first episode sort of set up a rivalry between Gwen and Lilette, and then we see that soften in Episode 2. How does their relationship develop going forward?
Forsyth: Yeah, I think they're sort of victims of their circumstances. What's going on is out of their control, that really has nothing to do with them at the root of the issue. Obviously there is that initial pain of not getting the role you want and feeling like something has been taken away from you, when Lilette comes in and has this incredible voice and the theater has been Gwen's sort of domain for so long. But at the root of the issue, we touch on it in the first episode and you see it a little bit more as the episodes go on, it's about her family, and ultimately these girls, though it seems slightly different, they are experiencing the same sort of issue. So I think you see that that can bring them together a little bit because ultimately it's out of their control and it's not about them at all, really.
It is really nice to see two girls, like two teenage girls, not fighting over a boy, that there are very serious issues that put them at odds. Is there any chance for to unite over those issues or are they going to keep their distance because it's just too painful to be around each other?
Forsyth: That was always my thing, too, was this should be bringing them together, and I had a hard time wrapping my head around these two girls that just didn't connect because I think telling stories about women supporting women is so important, especially right now, but I think you see a glimmer of that...They're gonna need time to sort of sort it out, at least Gwen is, but yeah. There's definitely a glimmer of that, and I hope that that's something that we can explore a little more as well. Fingers crossed, if we get a Season 2.
Her parents are obviously too busy with their own mess to be focusing on Gwen, and then she doesn't have the role in the play that she wants. Who is she going to lean on going forward?
Forsyth: I think stress and pain can inspire you to do some things you might not normally do ... There's one person that she starts to connect with that she might not have connected with previously, but there's ... I guess I can say there's interest in Gordie, in Lou's son, that is explored a little bit in the upcoming episode, so an unlikely pairing.
Gordie is on his own rebellious streak. Will we see Gwen have one too?
Forsyth: I think these kids, all of the kids, but you know, if we're gonna speak to Gwen and Gordie, they're both going through some really heavy, dark, intense things, and I think they connect through that. Though their issues may be different, pain brings people together.
Gwen has this really beautiful moment at the end of Episode 2 where she's singing to Lou. How does her finally being able to break those walls down help her going forward, or does it not really help her going forward?
Forsyth: I think it does...She's had this persona and this wall up for so long of, "I know what I want to do. I'm gonna do whatever I need to do to get there. Nobody messes with me," not because she's mean-spirited, but because she's determined, and I think finally being given permission to take that down a little and just release everything that she's been feeling and hiding for so long. That release changes a person and that permission to release changes a person.
So I think you see her hard shell soften a little bit, but it just opens up this waterfall of emotions, and you see all that she's dealing with. She's got a lot going on in her life not only at school, but at home, and Lou giving her permission to release I think is a very important part in Gwen's life, especially with the pressure that her mom puts on her, though it's out of love. She's just always been determined to be on all the time, and she's told that she can be human, and I think that's a really important moment for her.
Does she accept that maybe the lead role isn't the best part for her? Not necessarily that she didn't deserve it, but that this role that she has is more fitting for where she is in her life right now?
Forsyth: I think that that sort of comes a little bit later. I think the initial anger and frustration and hurt of feeling like you were robbed is still very present in the first few episodes, but I definitely think that that is ... there's a spark of that when Lou talks about opening up and [says], "Ilse's an incredible role for you, especially. I know that you've got things going on." When Lou gives her that permission, I think there's a glimmer of that at the end of the second episode, and then I think the real discovery about Ilse being right for her is a little bit later.
What do you think that Gwen wants by the end of the musical?
Forsyth: Her ego and the vain side of her wants to prove herself and prove that even though she's not the first lead, she can still shine. But I think because of everything she's going through, I think the musical becomes a bit of an escape for her, and it's also — for people who aren't aware of Spring Awakening or haven't seen it or listened to it — it's a very, very dark musical, and so there are a lot of parallels in the show to what's going on in the students' lives, and I think for Gwen, by the end of the musical, it's more of a release. It's more of a therapy session almost, and so I think just getting through this time in her life is what she wants in the musical and in her personal life.
Rise airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.