Ellen Toland felt some anxiety and trepidation over the romantic comedy Inside the Rain, and not just because she’s playing a sex worker whose body — in one memorable scene — becomes a sushi platter.
Toland’s first big-screen leading role represents a critical step in the career of the Highland Park High School graduate, winning the sort of acclaim that validates her decision to pursue acting full-time about a decade ago.
In the film, which pivoted to a streaming release this spring once theaters closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Toland portrays Emma, who moonlights at a strip club where she meets manic depressive film student Benjamin (Aaron Fisher). When he’s threatened with expulsion from school, Benjamin recruits Emma to help him re-create the incident on film. His afflictions draw the two closer together.
“Emma wasn’t portrayed as down-on-her-luck, or in trouble, or the usual things that you see from women in sex work,” Toland said by phone from New York. “Instead, it’s just about their friendship and their growth together.”
Toland, 30, grew up in the Park Cities as the youngest of seven children in her family. She performed at the Dallas Theater Center for the first time at age 3 and was hooked.
“Despite all the things going on in the world, I feel like I’m in a really good spot in my career.”Ellen Toland
“I loved everything about being on stage, and I loved dance,” Toland said. “I was 8 years old when I saw Dirty Dancing over the summer, and I came back and wanted to be the best dancer I could possibly be.”
After graduating from HPHS — where she was a member of the Highland Belles — Toland developed a passion for acting at Pace University in New York. She even studied abroad for a semester at the prestigious Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts in England.
“It was something I always dreamed of doing. It was an amazing opportunity, she said. “The teachers there really changed my perspective on everything.”
Toland has amassed an impressive resume of roles thus far, including small parts as a cult member in the short-lived web series Doomsday and as a 1940s army wife in the 2018 indie feature The Chaperone. She hopes Inside the Rain will continue that upward trajectory.
“My goal is to always keep changing and not get stuck,” Toland said. “Despite all the things going on in the world, I feel like I’m in a really good spot in my career.”
Want to Watch? Find Inside the Rain on streaming services such as Sling TV, YouTube, and Amazon Prime.
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