Josh Gad, Kristen Bell interview: How Apple’s Central Park united ‘Avengers version of musical theatre cast’
Josh Gad, Kristen Bell and Loren Bouchard spoke to Hindustan Times about uniting the Avengers of musical theatre for Apple’s new animated sitcom, Central Park.
While the entire entertainment industry is barely staying afloat while trying embrace a new normal, Apple’s new animated sitcom, Central Park, has “not only continued to make new episodes for season two, but somehow creatively thrived,” according to co-creator and star Josh Gad. “We’re proof of concept of that theory right now,” he told Hindustan Times in an interview.
Gad co-created the series, which debuted on Apple TV+ on May 29, with Bob’s Burgers alums Loren Bouchard and Nora Smith. “I like doing animation from home,” said Bouchard. “Of course you miss people being together, and of course you miss people bumping into each other in the hallway,” he admitted, but “it is physically possible to do it.”
If the animators are clever about how they set up their home internet, they “can upload and download files they need to work on,” Bouchard explained. “We ship our animation overseas and they can work from remote if they need it. It is a little exciting how much you can do in your underwear. It’s dawning on us that when the virus goes away, some of us may never leave our houses.”
For Central Park, Gad said that he wanted to assemble “The Avengers version of a musical theatre cast.” And so he reached out to his friends, and “every one of our first choices said yes, which is extraordinary.”
The first person that he called was his Frozen co-star Kristen Bell, who said ‘yes’ immediately. “Josh and I get along so well, for a variety of reasons,” she said. “But I trust Josh creatively, I love his ideas, his ethics and morals, so I would work with him on anything. I didn’t need to know anything about the project. He’s one of the only persons that I know, other than my husband, whose creative integrity I trust blindly.”
Bell, known for having voiced characters in the Frozen films, and Family Guy, The Simpsons and Big Mouth on TV, is no stranger to working in animation. But she said that early in her career, “I wasn’t as comfortable with harnessing my level of weird.”
Gad, who voiced the sentient snowman Olaf opposite Bell’s Princess Anna in the Frozen franchise, said that she has taught him “an amazing lesson” through the Disney films. “She has an intimacy with the microphone that’s incredibly powerful. You hear not only the lines, but you hear the reflections of an emotional journey through the little things that she does; the sounds, the sighs, the storytelling that goes beyond what is there on the page,” he said
Set in New York’s Central Park, the show centres around a family of caretakers that must contend with a greedy hotel heiress scheming to take over the land and make condos on it. The villainous old lady, named Betsy Brandenham, is voiced by Stanley Tucci. And Bell, a Caucasian, plays a mixed-race teenager named Molly.
“After we cast Kathryn Hahn and Leslie Odom Jr, we actually made a decision that we wanted to represent this family as a mixed race family,” said Gad. “It felt like the right story, the right family, and the right world. Similarly, Loren is no stranger to casting males as females in Bob’s, to great comedic effect. We have tried, and we continue to strive, to have diversity not only in every single role, but also in the writers’ room itself.”
With Tony winners Odom Jr and Daveed Diggs as part of the cast, Gad is just one actor away from arranging a Hamilton reunion of sorts. “Texts have been sent and will continue to be sent (to Lin Manuel Miranda),” he said.
Central Park debuted to positive reviews, with praise being directed towards the show’s musical numbers, the performances of its cast, and its warm tone. “Unadulterated joy,” is what Gad wants audiences to feel while watching the show. “We’re living in a time right now that is filled with uncertainty and darkness,” he said. “Central Park stands as a beacon of light through it all. It’s a musical celebration not only of a city that has been hit hard by the pandemic. It’s a love letter to passion, and life itself, and perseverance against all odds.”