Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.
[Disclaimer: Plot spoilers ahead.]
The Performer: Odessa A’zion
The Series: Grand Army
Much like high school itself, watching Odessa A’zion bring rebel-teen Joey Del Marco to life is a beautiful – yet sometimes painfully awkward – experience. Being a teenager is tough enough, but when you have to deal with a terrorist attack, sexual assault and rescuing a condom lodged deep inside your friend all in the same school year, you know it’s going to be a doozy.
That’s just a cursory glimpse of what aspiring feminist Joey Del Marco deals with in Grand Army, a fictional high school in Brooklyn, where she and her best friends navigate the minefield of adolescence. It’s also a place where you realize this may not be exactly the high school experience you had … and yet that’s probably a good thing when you see how it all plays out.
Joey is a 16-year-old molded by the 2020s. Prides herself in being super woke when it comes to “the system,” one reason she stages a mini-coup with friends by wearing a relatively translucent “Free the Nipple” tank top to school. The stunt ends with Joey in a counselor’s office, where she proceeds to convince him of the school’s female double-standard in an impressive logic burst.
What A’zion does really well in this series (with the help of show creator Katie Capiello, who based Grand Army on her award-winning play, SLUT) is present Joey as a byproduct of a generation raised on devices. A teen culture where supposedly “good friends” feel comfortable posting pictures to Instagram of Joey posing with a sex toy. And one where those same friends feel fine to essentially assault her with it in the back of a taxicab, with her boyfriend watching.
That’s one of the central storylines of a series (that has many going for it) – and one where A’zion’s performance hits next-level good. Joey’s traumatic downward spiral that morphs her quickly from woke butterfly to can’t-wake-up-from-a-bad-dream is a cautionary tale for all.
Joey coming to terms with a drunken betrayal at the hands of her friends is the grayish area this series embraces, and rather well. It’s also where audiences are destined to remember A’zion’s portrayal for what it is: raw, real and a true-to-life snapshot of how rape/victim culture works.
If you’re thinking A’zion’s whole vibe feels familiar, a small debt of genetic gratitude goes to her super-talented mom/actress Pamela Adlon (co-creator/star of Better Things and “the Marce”/“Cokie Smurf” from Showtime’s Californication amongst other notable roles).
Given her showbiz blood, the 21-year-old A’zion was born in Los Angeles (not surprisingly) and landed her first role in the film Conception (2011) that mom Pamela starred in alongside David Arquette. After cutting her teeth on film at the ripe old age of 12, A’zion would eventually land her first significant TV role in CMT’s Nashville (2017), where she played an unhoused teenager. She then earned a series regular role on the short-lived CBS sitcom Fam (2019), where she starred as the high-school dropout half-sister of star Nina Dobrev during the show’s only season.
The networked may have slammed the door shut on Fam, but that’s when A’zion’s window of opportunity swung opened – with 2019 marking the same year she got enlisted for Grand Army – a show destined to be a breakout for the talented young actress despite its mixed reviews.
More good news if you’re a fan of A’zion’s work – it appears she won’t be leaving our screens anytime soon. Confirmed by IMDB, she has no less than four new projects in the works including the young adult film, Supercool, co-starring Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Short.
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.