18 Questions with Ari Notartomaso
18 Questions With introduces 1883 readers to the brightest young artists, actors, creatives and beyond. From childhood memories and guilty pleasures to their latest ventures and upcoming projects, our goal is to bring you closer to the people who inspire and entertain us.
Ari Notartomaso is a vibrant, non-binary actor who stars as Cynthia in Paramount+’s Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies. Even though this is their first major TV role, Notartomaso has extensive theatre experience and has already built a loyal social media following for putting a queer twist on musical theatre classics.
Nearing the season finale for Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies, Notartomaso shares their favourite thing about playing a gender conforming lesbian in the 1950’s, how special it is being a role model for other non-binary actors, and what it was like putting on their iconic Pink jacket for the very first time.
What’s one exciting thing that happened to you this week?
I saw the new Michael R. Jackson musical ‘White Girl in Danger’ yesterday, and in my opinion, it’s the best and most original musical on or off Broadway right now. It’s a shame it’s closing so soon; it seems to be a trend that the most poignant and heartfelt musicals never make it to mainstream audiences and theatres.
What was the last thing you read?
Oh, I’m on the last few pages of a book called She Who Became the Sun, a novel by Shelly Parker-Chan, and I’ve been holding out on finishing it because I love it so much. It’s such a treat to read queer stories from other cultures and time periods. A must read for sure.
Favourite memory growing up?
Watching Grease?! No, I’m gonna say playing “Gavroche” in my local theatre’s production of Les Mis, and seeing the shock on people’s faces when they discovered I was not an ‘actual boy’ offstage. Guess I’ve loved confusing people about my gender from a very young age.
Where was the last place you traveled to?
Los Angeles and I have become very well acquainted the past few months. I previously felt weirdly proud of being a TV and film actor who hadn’t ever been to LA, but it didn’t last long and I’m glad for it.
What was the last thing that made you laugh?
Just a few seconds ago my girlfriend let out a toot that made me chuckle, does that count?
What’s your night time ritual?
It changes every night. I always brush my teeth and floss but other than that it’s anyone’s guess.
Who would be on your dream dinner party guest list?
KD Lang and Tracy Chapman, the best two queer singers and songwriters since Sappho herself, alongside my chosen family of course.
Favourite quote from a film or TV show?
“Snap out of it!” – I’ve never actually seen Moonstruck, but Cher is an icon and her voice both haunts and delights me wherever I go.
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
Something by KD Lang or “Crazy on You” by Heart usually.
Favourite item in your closet?
I found a pair of jeans at a thrift store with no tag and I wear them every single day. 90º? Wearing the jeans. Subzero temperatures? Those jeans.
What is your earliest memory of the Grease universe?
I don’t have many memories prior to age 12, so I don’t remember any specific moments of watching either of the movies, but I do very vividly remember watching Grease after booking the role, and again, watching it after having shot the show. There are so many Easter eggs and references to moments I hadn’t even noticed before.
What is your favourite memory from filming Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies?
I have to choose? Okay, it’s a tie between our first day on set with the Pink’s shooting “Different This Year,” and filming my character, Cynthia’s queer awakening song “Merely Players” directed by Jennifer Morrison who’s portrayal of Emma Swan in ‘Once’ was a huge part of my own queer awakening as a kid. Very full circle.
What was it like putting on that iconic pink jacket for the first time?
Knowing I was one of maybe 8 people in the history of the world to originate a role with this jacket had more than a few tears rolling down my cheeks, I will admit. Now putting it on feels like home.
Your character Cynthia had a standout musical number in the first episode. What was it like filming that scene?
Well first off, thank you. I wasn’t much of a dancer in college (or before) and so I feel like I’ve done my dance teachers and certainly myself proud doing Jamal’s choreo how I did. Our dancers are all so spectacular, so keeping up with them will always be a point of pride for me. I also got to put on a T-Birds jacket for the first time, which was fulfilling in the same way putting on a Pink Ladies jacket was of course, but also in a way that was meaningful as a trans/nonbinary person. In my limited memory of watching Grease as a kid, I do remember a distinct pull towards and affinity for being a T-Bird. And I’ve heard there’s lots of people with the same experience, queer or not, so it’s really special to then have a character with the same feelings canonized in the Grease cinematic universe.
What is your favourite thing about playing Cynthia?
I love playing a character who isn’t solidified yet. So often for auditions and breakdowns, we get short paragraphs describing the personality of a character that’s filled with descriptors, answers, periods, knowns, (which is incredibly helpful and necessary to understand the scene, don’t get me wrong), but to me the most engaging parts of characters are the areas they haven’t explored or don’t understand yet. And Cynthia, as a gender nonconforming lesbian in the 1950’s, is swimming in questions. There’s so much about them that even I don’t know, and I find that so engaging as an actor and especially as an audience member. If no real human beings know what we’re doing, why should fictional ones?
How does it feel to be a role model for other young non-binary aspiring actors?
It’s an honour. I have so much respect for the queer/nonbinary/trans/gender-nonconforming actors that I look up to in this industry, and I look forward to more opportunities for people like me, and people different from me, to exist so publicly and freely in the world that it’s no longer extraordinary for queer and marginalized folks to exist in this industry and on screen. Being a part of making this world better for all of us is the thing that drives me the most, and young people give me so much hope to keep pushing even when it’s hard or scary.
What was it like working with the legendary Justin Tranter on the music for this series?
I mean, Justin is one of said non-binary artists who I look up to. They’re an absolutely prolific writer of course, but on top of that they’re a joyously collaborative human and friend, and I can’t imagine a single person better suited to lead this project’s musical landscape. They’re physically incapable of writing a bad song.
What does the rest of 2023 look like for you?
We’re all hoping for a season 2 of Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies, so hopefully it includes flying out to Vancouver to make more of this gloriously campy and heartfelt musical, but until then I’ll be spinning vinyl, reading books, and watering my houseplants.
Grease: The Rise of the Pink Ladies is streaming now on Paramount+,
Interview Rachel Martin
Photography Luke Fontana