Virginia Sherwood/NBC
Samantha Highfill
March 27, 2018 at 10:01 PM EDT

It’s safe to say Lou had no idea how much trouble Spring Awakening would cause in the Stanton community. And in the latest episode of Rise, viewers watched as Simon’s parents pulled him out of the play — and the school — so that he could attend St. Francis, a school that was more in line with his parents’ beliefs.

EW hopped on the phone with Ted Sutherland to talk about the hour and Simon’s journey this season.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How much of Simon’s journey did you know when you took the role?
TED SUTHERLAND: I only knew what was in the pilot script, so I didn’t know much.

What was your reaction when you read episode 3?
We were filming episodes 2 and 3 at the same time, so I read the third script, didn’t yet have the fourth script, so I went, “Oh okay, I’m off the show. It was a fun run while it lasted, I guess.” [Laughs] But then I got nice things said to me by the producers who were like, “No no no,” but it’s always a bit of a precarious place to be when you read that.

What is it that you connect to with Simon?
I connect to a lot of things with Simon. The biggest thing is his arc of discovering himself, discovering who he really is. I think that’s something that is a universal struggle, everyone goes through that, especially in your teenage years when you’re in high school. But even now, I’m how many years post-high school, I still struggle with who I am and my own identity. So his struggles are incredibly relatable for me, and it’s something that’s a joy to dig into as an actor. It helps you discover more about yourself.

Had you sung any of the songs from Spring Awakening before this show?
No. Okay, this is a bit embarrassing but before the pilot, I hadn’t seen Spring Awakening, I didn’t really know the music. But I was very quickly immersed in the world of Spring Awakening. I’ve been listening to the music relentlessly for the last year, and I still love it, so I’m very thankful to have been introduced to the show, however late it was.

What’s great about our show is the way that the writers have been able to weave the music from Spring Awakening into the characters’ storyline. Honestly, when Simon is singing “Left Behind,” the song and the words do the work for you. We’re incredibly lucky to have this wonderful music that tells these stories. The music really does integrate so well into our characters’ stories.

What was the process of filming those musical numbers?
They’re the theater days. Basically, we have a theater set, and we block out days that we’re going to do all of our musical numbers. So if shooting goes for two weeks, most of the time the first week will be stuff outside the theater, and then the second week will be just a week straight of all of the musical numbers, ironing them out. So that’s a very intense process but a lot of fun.

I love Simon and Lilette’s friendship so much.
Auli’i [Cravalho] is fantastic, and we hit it off right away. I remember on the first day of the pilot, I was sitting across from the room from her, and she ran up to me and was like, “Well we have to be best friends because we’re best friends on the show, so I need to know everything about you: What’s your favorite color?” [Laughs] We were good friends from there.

What’s the fan reaction been like?
People have been incredibly kind. They’ve had nothing but positive things to say, so everyone’s been really, really nice and has been sending me really supportive messages. That’s been really enjoyable and sweet. I’m very grateful.

What’s next for Simon?
He’s going to go off to St. Francis and struggle with that for a bit. We will still see Simon. Some fun stuff comes up in episode 6. There’s fun stuff in every episode, but my personal favorite is episode 6. I think people will see why.

Rise airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.

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