“Bob’s Burgers” creator Loren Bouchard addressed his decision, at the Television Critics Assn. winter press tour on Sunday, to cast men as female animated characters and Kristen Bell as a biracial lead in his new Apple TV Plus animated musical comedy, “Central Park,” calling the latter a “casting conundrum.”
“Central Park” centers on a family that lives in New York City’s most famous park, telling the story of a park manager and journalist who are raising their kids there “while fending off hotel heiress Bitsy Brandenham and her long suffering assistant Helen, who would love nothing more than to turn the park into condos.”
Bouchard said that he cast Bell as a lead female character — a biracial young woman with a black father and white mother — because he couldn’t see any other actor occupying the role.
“Kristen needed to be Molly; we couldn’t not make her Molly,” said Bouchard on stage. “But then we couldn’t make Molly white and we couldn’t make Kristen mixed race so we just had to go forward. And then we arrived there and said, ‘Well.. we gotta just keep doing the best we can to balance, to turn around and give somebody the opportunity who wasn’t getting it… A commitment to diversity isn’t some odd job, it’s a commitment to making stuff better.”
Bouchard later told Variety that he “of course” considered casting a biracial voice actor as the biracial character that Bell ultimately plays.
“We cast first — in this case, it was building a bunch of characters around him,” said Bouchard, pointing at “Central Park” actor and executive producer Josh Gad, who was also participating in the media scrum on stage after the panel. “We just said, ‘Who are your friends? Who do you want to work with? Who’s going to come to work? Who’s going to make themselves available?’ And he had this incredibly exciting list of people. And it was very obvious… Leslie Odom Jr. had to be the dad. Kathryn Han had to be the mom. Kristen had to be a daughter. Tituss [Burgess] had to be a son. Those characters were sort of obvious, and then we just had this problem.”
Gad and Bell, of course, worked together on both “Frozen” films. Bouchard called the “Central Park” situation a “casting conundrum.”
“It’s not ideal, but [Bell] is the ideal actress for that part,” he said, adding that he then tried to add representation to other roles on- and off-screen. He noted the significance of adding diversity not just for the diversity’s sake but in order to improve the storytelling.
“We have a responsibility to do two things… One, it’s good to have not just a bunch of dudes making stuff,” he said. “It makes the show better if you don’t have a bunch of dudes. Diversity makes stuff better. You will be exposed to a new idea, you’ll avoid a trap, you’ll avoid a cliché if you have a bunch of different voices in the room, whether that’s the writers’ room, whether that’s artists, whether that’s production, whether that’s in the cast… Secondarily, you don’t want to get to the end of the road, in old age, look back and say, ‘We could’ve done better.’”
During the panel, writer Liz Shannon Miller asked Bouchard about casting Stanley Tucci and Daveed Diggs in women’s roles.
“Animation just makes you want to take this voice and make it come out of this face — it’s just delicious and I can’t stop myself,” said Bouchard, before quickly acknowledging the impact of that casting.
“Here I am, yet again, taking away two roles from women,” he said. “It’s something I have on my mind all the time to try and keep balancing things out things out… We’re always trying to both honor the urge to have fool around and have fun with animation, and also just balance that shit out, get women of color in the cast, in the writers’ room so that you feel at least that you’re always giving in to the urge because you think there’s something there, some spark.”
This is not the first time that Bouchard has been asked to defend his decision-making in that regard. At Comic-Con in 2018, for instance, he acknowledged that “Bob’s Burgers” needed “some balance” in the gender of the cast and said he wanted to improve, according to IndieWire.