In Rise‘s pilot, viewers were introduced to Robbie, the football player with a talent for theater who now finds himself torn between two worlds. “He’s doing his best to do both,” star Damon J. Gillespie tells EW. “He doesn’t want to let his team down, but he also doesn’t want to let the troop down. He’s trying his best not to piss everyone off.”
But this is only the beginning of Robbie’s journey — literally: there are 9 episodes left in the season — so EW sat down with Gillespie to talk about his breakout role.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Just generally, how would you describe Robbie as a person?
DAMON J. GILLESPIE: He’s very stoic, but he’s got a lot of heart. He’s very loyal. When he decides to do something, he goes at it 100 percent. It’s not really shown but in my mind he definitely is a sweet guy but he doesn’t let anybody walk all over him. He won’t stand for something that he thinks is unethical or any type of bullying. He’s going to speak up about anything that doesn’t sit right with him, especially if it’s among his peers.
How do you feel he differs from the stereotypical QB1 character we’ve seen on TV in the past?
A lot of times when I see the star quarterbacks, they’re chiseled. They’re perfect looking. Everything’s put together. Robbie is put together in a way but there’s a hardness to him that I think the town has brought. He’s not going to come in with a cardigan sweater. He’s just not going to do it. It’s definitely not your typical leading male type. He doesn’t look like he’s 27. He looks like he’s 16 and he’s got the strength of an honest real 16-year-old football player. That alone brings something to it. Also the fact that he’s not afraid to let things happen and be vulnerable, especially when he’s on stage.
I was surprised that he didn’t seem to have any major hesitations about giving theater a try.
In the pilot there was part of a scene that was cut was when he comes in with the script and says, “Why do you want to do this? This thing is really going to piss people off. Why couldn’t you do Grease?” He actually took the time to read the script and form an opinion. He was hesitant about it. But also he was connecting with Lilette during the audition, which he really, really enjoyed. He was very hesitant but he really wanted to do it. There’s just so much at stake.
As the quarterback, I’m sure there are complications that come with him liking Lilette…
Yeah, Robbie still has his world that we haven’t been introduced to. He still has an image and baggage in the normal high school world which I’m excited to see how people are going to take that.
Rise airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.