‘Central Park’ Newcomer Emmy Raver-Lampman on Making Molly Her Own and the Importance of Representation in Cartoons

Emmy Raver-Lampman Molly Central Park
Raver-Lampman: AP; Central Park Courtesy of Apple

After working on Apple TV Plus’ “Central Park” for “months and months” alone, Emmy Raver-Lampman, the animated musical sitcom’s new vocal talent, felt like most of the cast she heard through her headphones during recording sessions had become her musically gifted imaginary friends. Josh Gad, Kathryn Hahn, Tituss Burgess, Stanley Tucci and Eugene Cordero welcomed Raver-Lampman with open ears, and helped her make Molly Tillerman her own in the course of laying down tracks to some whimsical “bangers,” as the actor describes them.

In an effort to make the biracial eldest Tillerman daughter more authentic, Raver-Lampman, who is best known for her leading role on Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy” and for being part of the ensemble cast of the legendary Lin-Manuel Miranda alt-American History hip-hop musical “Hamilton,” was brought into take over the role from voice talent Kristen Bell for Season 2.

Now, Raver-Lampman is “in shock” that it’s all come together, and she’s excited to share her version of the young aspiring artist and superhero with crimefighting hair when the show, created by Gad, Loren Bouchard and Nora Smith, drops June 25 on the streamer. Ahead of its debut, Raver-Lampman talked with Variety about adopting the purple overall-wearing teen, how honored she is to bring biracial characters on-screen and what it’s like to currently play two badass super powered girls on TV.

When voicing Molly, did you try to emulate Kristen Bell’s previous work and build upon it, or have you tried to make Molly your own, so to speak?

I have tried to make Molly my own! I talked with Josh and Loren in the beginning about my process and what I was hoping to do with the show. It was important to them and it meant a lot to me that we find my version of Molly, and not try to imitate or recreate a version of her that already exists. I think we were all kind of excited and wanted to try something different and bring in different sounds for her, so, I think we were all on the same page of allowing me to find her for myself with their help.

Were you familiar with the show and with Molly before signing on to voice her in Season 2?

I was because I’m a huge fan of Josh’s work, and I lived in New York for 11 years. When I was watching “Central Park,” I immediately felt like I understood all of the little inside jokes and the New York myths, and I really appreciated that. And, also, my partner, Daveed is in the show, so I watched it in support of him and his brilliant work as Helen.

You have quite a few personal relationships with pre-existing cast members on the show. What was it like to work with your significant other and with your fellow “Hamilton” alum, Leslie Odom Jr.?

Yeah, I do, and that’s the funny thing about animation is that you’re on these shows, or even animated movies and the cast list is outrageous and unbelievable — but the amount of time you actually work with them is about zero, for the most part. You hear their voice all the time and I’ve laid down tracks that Leslie’s done his harmony before or his solo part before, and it was the same with the entire cast. But, as far as being in a room with any of them and work with them, you know, that’s just not the world we’re living in right now, especially with COVID-19, but it’s also not really so much in the realm of voiceover work. Nowadays, you can really do it from home or you’re in a studio by yourself. It’s a solo journey, and then the editors and the animators and other creators put it all together. So, sometimes the first time you actually get to hang out is when you’re doing press together — but, because of everything going on, we’re not doing that either! But, obviously, with the exception of Daveed and Leslie, who is a really good friend of mine, it’s been a funny experience spending so much time with these artists and their voices in my headphones, and working off of what they’re doing for Paige (Kathryn Hahn) and Cole (Tituss Burgess) and Birdie (Josh Gad), but then actually not getting to spend any time with them. It makes them kind of feel like imaginary friends. Like, I feel like I’m really good friends with Josh and with Tituss, but I’ve actually never spent any time with them in real life.

In a way, you’re currently playing two superheroes on TV right now: you’re playing Molly’s alter-ego, Fista-Puffs, and you’re playing Allison Hargreeves on Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy.” What’s that like?

I haven’t really wrapped my mind around that one yet! I identify with the way Molly uses Fista-Puffs to express herself and to work through whatever teenage angst she’s got going on in her brain. She escapes into this alter-ego superhero that allows her to find her inner strength and her inner voice and work through these preteen moments and struggles — from her first kiss, to potentially her first boyfriend, fights with her parents and her brother and she kind of manifests all of that. Paralleling that with Hargreeves, I think, speaks on the representation of being a biracial actor playing a superhero. It allows people like myself to connect with Allison Hargreeves, and I think all people can connect with all of the siblings on ‘The Umbrella Academy’ for several different reasons because we’ve got a plethora of actors playing superhero characters. Seeing themselves on screen can allow them to feel more confident and find their own inner voices through these characters and through the powers that they have and how they tackle and take on conflict and dangers. There’s an interesting parallel there in that Molly finds her confidence and herself through a character she creates, and Allison’s character allows real-life people to do that with her when they watch her.

What were some of your favorite animated television characters growing up that made you “feel seen?” How would you have felt if there was a Molly Tillerman around during your childhood?

That’s an interesting question because I don’t think I’ve ever really connected with a lot of animation. Growing up, I didn’t see myself a lot in that world. I’m truly honored and grateful for this opportunity to be voicing and bringing a biracial animated character to the screen. I think that’s so important, and something that I wish I had growing up. I think maybe that may have been why as a kid I gravitated more towards “The Lion King,” and animated movies and shows that were based on animals and not based off of actual human characters because I just didn’t see myself in that space. This is such an amazing opportunity and furthers the reason why representation is so important.

Could you expand upon that: Why do you think it is so vital for voice talent to be of the same background as the characters they are portraying, or why do you think that authentic representation is valuable?

I think representation is incredibly important because it allows us to tell different stories, and it allows us to walk into a story that is not our own and to see through someone else’s eyes and to experience cultures that we are unfamiliar with. And, I think that just broadens our ability to make a difference, and to have the arts reflect what the world actually looks like, which is a pure melting pot of so many different cultures and races and sexualities and genders, and I just think that is important to showcase in any medium, including animation.

I read that you’ve lived in multiple countries, and you’ve traveled to over 50. The Tillermans have a pretty unique house smack dab in the middle of Central Park. What is one of the most unique places you’ve lived in or stayed at?

When I was 10 years old I lived in Calcutta, India, for a year with my parents, and that was by far the most magical experience of my life. The Indian culture is just so incredible, and I haven’t been back since but I am dying to find the time to — but, you know, India isn’t a weekend stop, it’s more like a tour of the world. You have to go and fully submerge yourself in the culture and really take the time to sink your teeth into everything that makes India one of the most amazing countries. Getting to grow up there for a year and making friends at school was unlike any experience I’ve ever had in my life.

Season 2 of “Central Park” began streaming on Apple TV Plus on June 25.