The Tony-nominated Broadway star has a breakout role in Ryan Murphy's all-star Netflix musical and will follow it up next year in Steven Spielberg's update of the classic film in the role that won Rita Moreno her Oscar: 'Steven really allowed my own life experience to imbue Anita.'
In 2018, Ariana DeBose took her high school prom date with her to see the Broadway show The Prom. At the time, DeBose was a thriving theater actor in New York, who had appeared in the Broadway production of Hamilton and received a Tony Award nomination for playing the title character in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.
But watching the production of The Prom touched her in a personal way, and took her back to her high school experience in Raleigh, North Carolina — like Emma, the lead character in the show who isn’t allowed to bring her girlfriend to prom. DeBose is queer (though she doesn’t claim any label) and her prom date had been a boy, a friend from the high school theater group.
"We just cried," DeBose says, of seeing the show. "I remember being in high school, having a bit of a crush on girls, but I never really felt like I could walk down the hallway holding their hands. You just want to dance with them, but your environment and the community doesn’t quite understand that yet. I said then, ‘If this show ever has another life, I’d love to be a part of it.'"