Rarmian Newton loves Spring Awakening. So it's fitting that he now finds himself starring on NBC's Rise, a drama that follows a high school production of the provocative, Tony-winning musical about teens coming of age in 19th century Germany — and the parents who just don't understand.
A theater vet at age 24, Newton's stage credits include the toe-tapping titular role of Billy Elliot in the 2007 Sydney production, as well as The Boy From Oz alongside Hugh Jackman. But as sweet, soft-spoken Maashous in Rise, Newton spends most of his time on set in the lighting box. However, that hasn't stopped the actor from pitching ideas for Stanton High School's next production. "Maybe they could do something like Dear Evan Hansen next season. That might work. Or Next To Normal."
As for Maashous, don't expect to see him on stage anytime soon. Now that his mom is back in the picture, his future at Stanton is uncertain. That, and he's not really a song-and-dance man — yet. A few more weeks with the Mazzuchellis, and he'll be rapping along to Hamilton in no time. MTV News chatted with the Aussie actor about Maashous's heartbreaking decision going into next week's finale and how even he had a hard time pronouncing the name "Maashous."
MTV News: We asked your co-star Auli'i Cravalho to spell "Maashous" and she failed twice. She was really confident, but those vowels tripped her up.
Rarmian Newton: I remember walking into the audition and asking Jason [Katims], "How the hell do you pronounce the name?" I think I got it wrong in the audition! I used to think it was a German name or something, like Mas-haus. You could put a German accent to it.
MTV News: But we can agree that it's a completely made-up name, right? Because I looked for an origin online, and it just doesn't exist.
Newton: He was saying it's made-up. I thought it was a funny coincidence that my name, Rarmian, is also made-up. You don't meet too many people who have made-up names.
MTV News: So you've never met another Rarmian?
Newton: I found one on Instagram. Different spelling but same sound.
MTV News: Speaking of Maashous, he's really going through it. With his mom back in the picture, he's now going to live with her in another city. What's going through his head? Is it fear? Anxiety?
Newton: It's hard for him. This is the first time in seven years that he's actually felt close to people. He's developed a close relationship with the Mazzuchellis, and he's starting to see that they give a shit about him. They care. So it's not that he doesn't love his mother, and she didn't intentionally leave Maashous — people make mistakes — but he does feel abandoned by her. He's gained a perspective now that he's older, but that feeling's still there. It's been so long since he's lived with her. The thoughts going through his head are, "What's it going to be like? Is she the same? Is she going to break her parole?"
MTV News: It's heartbreaking that Maashous had finally found a family — at home and at school with the drama club — and now he has to leave that all behind.
Newton: It's the theater program at Stanton High that gave him a home before Lou. Maybe he didn't have the friends that he does now, but he wouldn't have been sleeping in the lighting box if he didn't feel like that was more of a home that his foster home was. So it's like all of the walls and the roof are crashing down on Maashous, and it's all happening at once. It's pretty stressful.
MTV News: And it's not like he really has a choice in the matter because he's a minor, which must be frustrating.
Newton: I think that's the most frustrating thing for anyone who's considered themselves an independent teenager. He's made himself independent. It is hard for a kid who's in that situation to do things that adults tell them to.
MTV News: It's part of the reason Lou has the ability to connect with his students so well. He respects them and treats them like equals in a way they don't get treated outside of the theater.
Newton: And that's the cool thing about Lou. Something I love about Lou is he breaks down that etiquette. There are moments where he opens up about his own personal problems, and then he talks to them. I think that's awesome. We need to reevaluate that teacher/student dynamic because kids don't feel connected to their teachers, and how are they going to listen to them if they don't respect them? Sometimes the opposite can get in the way of a kid's progress, especially if they're dealing with shit at home — they need to feel understood.
MTV News: Maashous is a little more mature than most because he's had to grow up so fast.
Newton: That's the thing about Maashous is he's got all these little hidden skills because he's so used to doing everything himself. He's never had enough friends or family to rely on anybody. He thinks he can do everything on his own.
MTV News: There's also the trauma that comes with being tossed around the system like that.
Newton: There's a bit of a pattern of defensiveness. Maashous is out on his own, and he's had to grow up very quickly, and he can't rely on anyone. So the moment he feels threatened by Gail or by anyone, he just goes straight to his defensive posture, even though he's not that kind of guy. Deep down, he's a sweet kid.
MTV News: He's my favorite character because he's so good-hearted. He just wants to do the right thing.
Newton: It's good to play this character. The last show I did, I played this character who was really more of a Gordie-type character. Shit was going on in his family, he was starting to drink, and he was bullying his little sister. He was just this asshole. So it's kind of cool to play someone so completely different.
MTV News: It's so necessary. We need different depictions of masculinity on screen.
Newton: Especially right now.
MTV News: So much of this first season has been about the school production of Spring Awakening. I know you have a theater background, so do you want Maashous to be more involved in the next production? Not that lighting isn't important, but acting might build his confidence.
Newton: Totally! Me, as Rarmian, 100 percent. Spring Awakening is my favorite show as well. I've loved Spring Awaking since I was a teenager. I've seen multiple productions of it. I actually saw the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening just before auditioning for the show. It's one of the reasons I really wanted to do this project. But, yeah, I think it would be a huge challenge to get Maashous to do something like that. He's very much in his shell. Maybe in the future we'll see Maashous develop in a different part of the theater, but we'll see.
MTV News: Lou and his daughters, who both love musical theater and Maashous, can help bring it out of him. Maybe in Season 2 we learn that he's an excellent dancer.
Newton: Our producer was joking about that because at one point he discovered that I did Billy Elliot as a kid, and he was like, "What if Maashous's mom took him to dance classes when he was a kid and he was really good at it, but he hasn't danced since he's been in foster care?" [Laughs.] Sure! As long as Maashous is happy.