Virginia Sherwood/NBC
Samantha Highfill
April 03, 2018 at 10:01 PM EDT

Robbie Thorne is doing his best not to disappoint, well, everyone. There are his football teammates, his theater troop, and the man we met in this week’s episode of Rise, Detrell (Mark Tallman), Robbie’s father. In tonight’s episode, viewers got a glimpse at Robbie’s home life when a party at his place turned into a jock vs. theater kid showdown. And of course, Robbie was caught in the middle.

EW hopped on the phone with Damon J. Gillespie to talk about the episode and what comes next (especially now that Robbie and Lilette kissed!)…

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This week we got to see a bit of Robbie’s home life. What did that teach you about him as a character?
DAMON J. GILLESPIE: When we got to this episode, I talked to [showrunner] Jason [Katims]. I was like, “Would Robbie be the type of person to allow bullying in his home? Would he turn his back on the troop? Jason and I talked and I said, “I don’t think he’s that person.” I don’t think he can take care of his mom every day in a nursing home and just be like, “Oh sorry, those are my guys.” We had discussed that and I think this was the episode where we really get to see that. I discovered that he’s a good person at heart.

We also got to see his relationship with his father, which gave us more insight into certain choices he’s made.
You get to see a little bit more of Robbie and Detrell’s relationship, but we also see that Detrell’s not a jerk. He’s trying to do what’s best for Robbie. He knows he can’t stop him from doing the play so the next best thing he can do is go to Lilette and be like, “We can’t have him be distracted.” There’s a lot of pressure from his dad but it doesn’t really phase him. He gets it. It’s a different type of pressure than, “You gotta do good at football, son!” It’s like, “Have your fun in high school but make sure you know exactly what you’re going for and what we’ve worked so hard for.”

I enjoyed how the pilot set up Robbie’s central struggle of football versus drama, and this episode literally puts it in his living room.
Exactly. It’s like, it’s bad enough that he’s struggling to learn how to do theater, but he just lost the game and then on top of that it’s like, here’s a perfect representation of what I have to go through! Let’s deal with this right now! After everything that’s going on, why don’t we put that right in front of my face?! [Laughs]

And he does get overwhelmed, but by the end of the episode, he’s apologizing to Lilette…
You get to see that he really is a good person. We see that right before the game starts when he tells Lilette he broke things off with Stephanie. Because he really likes Lilette. And then right after he kind of snapped at Lilette for a second, he’s like, “No that’s not right, I got to make things right.” You’ll start to see that throughout the season to: He doesn’t like to upset people and let them down. He’s going to do everything in his power to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Plus he got his first kiss with Lilette!
That’s really exciting because people have been like: Where do they stand? What is happening with Robbie and Lilette? Are they together? Are they not? What is going on? It’s like, all right, we’ll let you know exactly where we are.

What was it like to film that football game?
Those were long days. Most of that is shot at night so we don’t get to set until about 3:30 p.m. It’s about half and half where it’s me and my stunt double. I got on the field with the guys and we started throwing around and the stunt coordinator goes, “You have a really good arm.” I was like, “Yeah I know, let me do my stunts!” [Laughs] But we had a blast with it. We were all out there playing football at least until about 2 or 3 in the morning. It was a long night but it was so much fun. It was also I think 800 background [actors] there for the crowd scenes. There’s nothing quite as cool as having 800 people scream for you as you run onto the field. That was pretty awesome.

Looking ahead, is there an episode or story you’re most excited for fans to see?
I’m excited for people to see a little bit more of what Michael is about. With Michael being transgender it’s one of those things where we’re shining a light on that story, which is really cool, and Ellie [Desautels], who plays Michael amazingly, has worked with Jason [Katims] and GLAAD to make sure that this was told in a very accurate and positive light. I’m very excited for people to see that. But my favorite episode is the finale. When we got the finale script, a lot of us could not put it down. We didn’t move for like an hour and a half reading the finale, so I’m very excited to hear everyone’s reactions for the season.

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

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