Emily Arlook, at age 27, is in a breakout role as Nomi, the bisexual Jewish college student on grown-ish (the acclaimed black-ish spin-off that premiered in January). If you’re not watching grown-ish, now is the time to start. In the first seven episodes, the show has already dealt — smartly! — with storylines revolving around the college hook-up culture, student athletes, study drugs, and more.
— grown-ish (@grownish) January 5, 2018
On the show, Nomi is a freshman who hasn’t yet come out to her family, but is extremely vocal about her sexuality at college. The visibility of bisexual characters on television is so important, and Nomi is definitely a step forward in terms of representation. Emily spoke to us about what playing Nomi has meant to her, her own Jewish upbringing, and why kugel is her absolute favorite Jewish food.
How did you end up on grown-ish?
The audition just came in like anything else, through my manager, and I had five auditions in one week, which is kind of a whirlwind. It was kind of crazy at the time, but I think great in hindsight… only cause it was in such concentrated time periods that I didn’t really have any time to worry about what I was doing, cause it was so quick. At the time it was called college-ish, but I knew that it was the spin-off of black-ish.
Did you do screen tests with anyone?
I think the first couple [of auditions] maybe — I know Yara [Shahidi] was in three of them with me. She did the chemistry test with me, then the studio test, then the network test. And that was all of them! It was awesome to get to know her.
Your character Nomi’s storyline has really dived into the double standard of bisexual men and women. Fans have been having such a positive online reaction to grown-ish because of this storyline. What has that reaction meant to you?
It’s been so exciting and such an honor to be involved with this storyline. You know, I’ve been able to learn so much about the bi community. I didn’t know that bi people make up the majority of the LGBT+ community, and yet they’re the most underrepresented. So to be able to represent the bi community at all and to bring light to these double standards was for me very awesome and very exciting.
What’s ahead for Nomi this season? Are we going to see more of her family and her backstory?
I don’t know how much I can say! We’re probably, this season, going to focus more on her and her friends, but we have 20 more episodes for season 2 so I’m definitely excited to get to know her background and her family. Obviously, Dean Parker is her Uncle, so we have that family connection, but I’m really excited to see what else we learn about her.
I love how in the first episode there was a flashback to her bat mitzvah.
Oh my gosh, I was so excited — I literally said to Kenya [Barris, the grown-ish creator], “I have my bat mitzvah photos, you can use them if you want.” But I think it was too complicated with adding the Rottweiler to the picture. But I was so excited at the prospect of having my actual bat mitzvah photos in the show.
What was your bat mitzvah like? Different than Nomi’s, I assume?
There was no Rottweiler at my bat mitzvah. My bat mitzvah, was, you know, long. I don’t know — I’d say it was three hours long, but that could’ve just been me being dramatic. It felt really long. But then I had the party, and it was like in my backyard, and it was really fun. I think there was a henna artist there… It was a typical bat mitzvah in the early 2000s.
I went to a bat mitzvah a week ago in Connecticut and it was so fun and so different than ones I was used to. There was like Carpool Karaoke and a virtual reality rollercoaster ride! The bat mitzvah — and bar mitzvah game — has really stepped it up since I was in the circuit.
What was your Jewish upbringing like?
I grew up pretty Conservative when I was younger, and I did Hebrew school and all of that, and then after my bat mitzvah, it kind of fell by the wayside, like a lot of people, that tends to happen. But I’m still very, very connected in my culture.
What was your college experience like? Anything like Nomi’s?
I’m actually still in it! I’ve taken 10 years. Yeah, it’s awesome! I’m in my final quarter right now.
Thank you! I graduate soon… It’s been a long time coming. But I’m very happy I stuck to it. So mine’s very different from the experience on the show. Cause I never lived in a dorm, so it’s very different.
When you’re watching grown-ish, or reading the scripts, who do you identify with the most?
I see myself in all of the characters. I think that’s what’s so great about the show; each character is so diverse and different from the others that it’s hard not to relate to any one of them at any given point throughout each episode.
What’s been the most surprising reaction to grown-ish for you? Have you been surprised at how much people are like, ‘Wow that is totally me’ or you sort of knew that was coming?
Oh I don’t know… I felt, you know, cautiously optimistic. So I was hoping that that would be the reaction, but I didn’t want to be [overconfident] and I’m also a little bit superstitious.
But I’m also a fan of the show, so I feel equally excited and I relate to anyone who likes the show. Every week when I got the script I was excited and looking forward to reading what was gonna happen next. We all — all the girls and I on the show [Yara Shahidi, Francia Raisa, Chloe Bailey and Halle Bailey] — we all kind of had a pool going about which guy we wanted and we thought Zoe should be with. So yes, we’re all definitely fans of the show.
Oooh, who do you think Zoe should be with?
I don’t know if I want to say right now!
What do you think Nomi’s ideal Valentine’s Day is?
Oh my gosh that’s such a funny question. I think her ideal Valentine’s Day is… I mean she’s definitely going to have sex. I’m not sure with who. But I’m sure she’s gonna get laid. I’m sure there’s going to be chocolate. And, you know, just gluttony. Hedonism and gluttony for Nomi would be a fun Valentine’s Day.
What’s your ideal Valentine’s Day?
[Laughs] Not quite Nomi’s. Mine is probably like takeout and Real Housewives of anything on Bravo. [And] my fiancé [Will McCormack], but he would be there in support of me watching Real Housewives. And in that magical world, he would enjoy it, too.
Okay: quick word association. What pops into your mind when I say….
Nice Jewish Boy? Josh?
JDate? Wedding? So boring, I don’t know!
Kugel? Oh my god, yum! My mom.
Does your mom make good kugel?
She makes the best kugel. It’s such a delicacy… She doesn’t make it often, she might make it once a year. So it’s very special.
What’s one thing you wish people knew about you?
I both meditate daily and listen to The Howard Stern show. Not necessarily in [that] order.
Header Image by Kevin Scanlon.