The Netflix original series Grand Army centers on five students who attend Grand Army High School in Brooklyn, New York. Each of the five central characters deals with various hardships unbeknownst to their peers, highlighting how isolating and difficult high school is for so many teens. Through these hardship-driven storylines, the show addresses mature themes including racism, xenophobia and sexual assault.
But unlike most "teenage" shows in which the actors are well into their 20s or even 30s, Grand Army features a cast of young, new faces. Most notably, Northwestern sophomore and theatre major August Blanco Rosenstein plays recurring character Victor Borin.
For Blanco Rosenstein, Grand Army marked his first major acting role. Filming for the show commenced in the summer of 2019 directly after he graduated from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City. He spent the summer travelling alone between New York and Toronto, Canada, where filming took place. “It felt good to have a job and to feel independent,” Blanco Rosenstein said. “The sense of individual agency was really lovely.”
Moreover, the theatre major called the Grand Army set a “welcoming” space and said that many of his co-workers were not only new to professional acting but also New York City natives just like him. The cast even included a handful of other alumni from his high school.
“Katie Cappiello, the showrunner and head writer, was really doing everything she could to get young people who she thought could represent this feeling and vibe that we had grown up in,” Blanco Rosenstein said. “My first impression of the script was that this is one of the first shows that I’ve read that actually did sound like what me and my friends talk like and did feel quite authentic to the kind of characters that young people are today. It’s about these New York City public school students, which I have been my whole life.”
In addition to befriending new castmates, Blanco Rosenstein said his on-set experience changed the way he views the entertainment industry: “It is really empowering to see that all of these adults, whether they are actors or directors or on sound, are all just servicing a story the same way you do in school or anywhere else. They’re just adults, working with really expensive equipment. But it is the same exact process — you’re playing pretend, you’re having fun, you’re being creative.”
Since finishing Grand Army and starting at Northwestern, Blanco Rosenstein has not booked any new professional projects. Still, the lull in his professional career has not deterred him from auditioning, as he continues to send self tapes to casting directors from his Evanston apartment.
“I tape a lot and almost every single time I never hear back, and it is not heartbreaking. It’s just the way it is. The more you do it, the less precious it becomes and for me, that feeling of preciousness is usually a real inhibitor for my work being good or spontaneous or interesting,” Blanco Rosenstein said. “At the very least, it is great to have the world of professional acting and professional art be de-mystified for me. I know I can do it and I know all these people I go to school with can do it. I’ve just had the privilege of getting a shot at actually doing it, so it no longer feels like the great unknown to me.”