‘The Prom’ Star Jo Ellen Pellman on Why Kate McKinnon Is Her Queer Role Model

Long before Jo Ellen Pellman was cast in the starring role of Emma in Ryan Murphy’s movie adaptation of “The Prom,” she saw the original production of the Broadway musical.

“I’m only 25, yet I still wish I had this story growing up,” Pellman says on Tuesday’s episode of the Variety and iHeart podcast “The Big Ticket.”

“The Prom” is about a group of theater stars from New York who try to drum up some positive publicity for themselves by traveling to an Indiana town to help high school student Emma (Pellman) fight for her right to bring her girlfriend Alyssa (played by fellow queer actor Ariana DeBose) to prom.

Pellman has always been out about being queer. “That’s something that I do not take lightly; that I have the choice of whether or not to come out to someone, that I am white, cis-passing and able-bodied, and there’s so much privilege that comes with that and, if anything, I feel like my queerness has just been nothing but celebrated and it’s allowed me to tell stories like ‘The Prom.’”

Pellman said she’s received messages of gratitude from a lot of young people. “I remember one very sweet person who messaged me saying that they watched the film with their parents and hadn’t come out to their parents yet and the film prompted that conversation for them to come out in a very inclusive, welcoming environment and they felt so loved.”

Pellman first saw herself represented in Hollywood by “Saturday Night Live” star Kate McKinnon. “I really looked to people like Kate McKinnon when I was in high school, who were just so unabashedly who they are, who were so brilliantly talented,” Pellman says.

McKinnon, she says, showed her, “I can be openly gay, openly queer, and be accepted and celebrated.”

“The Prom” was Pellman’s first time on a film set, after having earned a couple of acting credits on television’s “The Deuce” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Her scene partners in the Netflix movie included Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key, James Corden and Andrew Rannells.

“I was so nervous on the inside,” Pellman says. “Luckily, I’ve since been told by my fellow cast members that I did not seem nervous at all. But on the inside I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to go act opposite Meryl Streep,’ and this is like my second day on set.”

Pellman has been living with her mom back in her Ohio hometown since the start of the pandemic, but she excitedly tells me she’s moving back to New York next month. “I am finally flying the nest and I’m very much looking forward to being an adult again,” she says.

Hear the full interview with Pellman above. You can also listen to “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you download you favorite podcasts.

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