One Shelton native is learning exactly how much of an impact their passion for acting has on an audience via their role on the new NBC television show “Rise.”
Just weeks after Rise premiered on NBC in March, rising actor Ellie Desautels, who plays Michael on the show, said they could never have imagined how many people would connect with their character.
“You can never be sure of what that impact a piece will have until you’re living it,” said Desautels. “I knew that this role could serve as an inspiration for people, but I couldn’t have imagined this. I could’ve never guessed that it would be this beautiful.
Desautels explained that they identify as non-binary and feel as though it was a factor in them being perfect for the role of Michael.
On the show, Michael’s character is a singer that just joined a drama department for the first time in his life, according to Desautels.
“He had never acted before, but had been recruited into the show because they needed boys,” said Desautels, describing the character they play on the show. “He just started his social transition as a trans boy. They made him feel like he could be himself, not only being trans but also so he could become this flourishing performer. … Knowing that the creators of the show wanted a trans person for this role made me want it that much more.
“When I figured out in college that non-binary was the term that best fit me, everything else kind of fell into place. … Being non-binary, to me, means that I don’t fit into the boxes of ‘man’ or ‘woman,’” said Desautels. “I feel like those boxes are really confining and I don’t think that I have to sit in one of the two. That’s a non-reality for me. I don’t identify as either of those and my entire life I’ve always just felt like ‘me.’ I’ve always had the freedom to express myself however I wanted. When I was a kid I was able to wear whatever clothes I wanted to. I was never confined to the box of being a girl or a boy.”
Since the show aired for the first time, Desautels said they’ve found joy in fans’ connection with their character, Michael.
“It’s been so overwhelming in the best ways,” said Desautels. “I have people reaching out to me saying that because of Michael and because of me, they’ve found the confidence to tell their friends and family that they’re trans. I can’t even describe it. It’s incredible. I can’t believe that I got to be a part of that with them.”
With this being Desautels’ biggest role to date, they described the first time watching an episode of Rise with their family as an experience that inspired tears of joy.
“It was just finally happening,” said Desautels. “The cast and crew, we worked so hard on this big beautiful project and now it’s finally out there for everyone to see. … My support system is made up of my parents and my fiancée, Wren. They are my rocks. … Filming was a very independent thing for me, but once we stopped my life suddenly slowed down drastically, so having my mom and fiancée around, especially, offered me a lot of support.”
Their love for acting and the confidence they bring to the screen came from their time at Shelton High, according to Desautels.
“I had a great experience in high school, mostly because I was in marching band,” said Desautels. “I had been part of the marching band pretty much my whole life because my older siblings did it. From eighth grade until senior year at SHS I had this constant thing that I did and I think that having family and a group of people that I worked with every day was why I was such a confident kid in high school.”
Since then, Desautels says, their profession is their motivation.
“Acting is my motivation. Knowing that I get to act, and do what I love doing most, is my motivation,” said Desautels. “I’ve worked so hard at it and worked so hard to become a professional that it’s hard to put into words. It keeps me focused and keeps me going.”
Just one season after playing Michael, and hoping to have the chance to continue to play him in future seasons, Desautels said they have a dream role in mind for the future of their career.
“I want to play a non-binary character that is more than that,” said Desautels. “Maybe someone who’s a teacher and that is about just them being a teacher. Something based on what they do and not who they are.”
When asked what advice they have for people pursuing their dreams, Desautels said determination and perseverance are key.
“Don’t stop, even when you feel like you don’t have any support from anyone else,” said Desautels. “Sometimes you have to be your own support. It’s not always an easy thing to be, but sometimes you have to be there for yourself.”
The cast and crew wrapped up filming season one of Rise back in November, and Desautels said they haven’t heard about a season two yet, but they’re keeping their fingers crossed.