Central Park is almost here, animation lovers! The newest brainchild from Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard, Josh Gad, and Nora Smith will hit Apple TV+ on May 29th. Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable interview alongside a handful of other outlets. Our interviewees? None other than Stanley Tucci and Daveed Diggs! Needless to say, it was difficult to suppress my inner fan girl. Each outlet was allowed one question.
Now, Tucci and Diggs both voice female characters on Central Park. Tucci plays Bitsy, a curmudgeonly 80 year-old hotel heiress hellbent on demolishing Central Park for her own financial gain. Diggs plays Helen – her downtrodden, world-weary, middle-aged assistant. It all sounds fantastical, doesn’t it? Two drastically different people voicing drastically different characters. However, it works, and wonderfully so.
While it was a short interview – only 15 minutes – we learned quite a bit about Tucci and Diggs’ Central Park experiences. Of course, we kicked off the festivities by asking the pair what drew them to this project. Diggs cited that Gad told him who was involved, and the star-studded cast was a no-brainer for him. Not only that, but his love for animation. “I’ve been trying to do more of that (animation) anyway,” he explained. Tucci wholeheartedly agreed with him. “Animation is just great fun for an actor, because it’s like you’re a kid again – you’re kind of playing,” Tucci said.
Next, the duo was asked about the mechanics behind doing musical numbers for animation. Oh yeah – Central Park is a legitimate musical show. There’s at least three or four musical numbers per episode. “I think you get to emote with your full body. You guys just don’t see that part,” Diggs said. He teased that, because there’s less pressure on what he looks like, Central Park might contain some of the best performing of his life. Tucci echoed his costar’s sentiments. “It’s like being a kid again…it frees you to give more choices to the creative team,” he said.
Then, Diggs and Tucci were questioned if there was ever a certain day or certain lines that caused fits of laughter. “A lot of them. Not just mine, because we record this separately. When I read her (Bitsy) lines…they’re just so funny. But the whole piece is like that. And that’s what drew us to it, I think,” Tucci explained. “The first time I read a scene I’m laughing through the whole thing – it’s a waste of tape, I think,” Diggs joked. He went on to divulge that it’s all in the writing – the scripts are just inherently comical.
So, did Tucci and Diggs draw real-life inspiration for their fictional personas? “I wouldn’t even dream of telling you if I had based this on someone. I suppose every character is an amalgam of people you meet along the way. Again, it’s really just playing around,” Tucci said. Meanwhile, Diggs poked fun at the fact that the creative team wanted him to use his natural voice for Helen. “I tried some things up front that were all shot down. I kept being told that my own voice was appropriate for this elderly white woman. Don’t know what that says about me. I have therapy tomorrow, so we’ll work it out there,” he explained with a chuckle.
Next, it was my turn to ask my question. Huzzah! I asked the pair what it was like to play characters that could easily go the “caricature” route, and whether it was difficult to keep them truthfully centered. “It’s in the writing. Of course, it’s animation, but there’s a kind of finesse in there too we were able to draw upon. Every time I would do a session, I was surprised as to the way she behaved (Bitsy),” Tucci said. “There’s so much nuance in the writing…I just trust them (the creative team) to make those choices and I just try to give them the colors that are there,” Diggs chimed in. “You’ll do so many different things on different takes…the way the show skews and the taste/tone of the show is a product of the creative team,” he added.
Then came a question that touched upon current events. How will a series that centers on a park fare with audiences who’ve been cooped up for months? “I hope people find a lot of joy in it. When I watch shows with large gatherings, I immediately get nervous for them. There’s something about the cognitive dissonance of animation that doesn’t do that for me,” Diggs explained. He went on to say that Central Park is a reminder of what it’s like to be in a public place and not immediately reach for a face mask. “I don’t find myself worried about those people,” he said.
“I’ve found the same thing when I see shows on television now. When I see people in close proximity, it’s disconcerting. Of course, it’s perfectly normal, given these times where our brains are being rewired to tell us that’s wrong. A good thing, but at the same time disconcerting,” Tucci added.
Lastly, the final query was addressed to our pair. How did they feel when they first saw their characters drawn? In addition, did they view their characters as villains? “Bitsy’s a villain. Helen’s an aider and abettor,” Tucci stated. As to his first reaction to seeing Bitsy come to fruition: “I was appropriately horrified.” Diggs explained that he grew up around a lot of very tall people, so he never felt particularly blessed in the height department. “It’s nice to be in scenes where Helen is towering over Bitsy. She doesn’t get many cool points in the show, but she’s tall,” he said.
Now, Tucci and Diggs were utterly charming. They just oozed charm and effortless charisma. Not only that, but both were kind. They appeared to be genuine, down-to-earth people. I was taken aback by that, especially given their level of fame. In addition, I was privileged to have access to the first four episodes of Central Park. Folks: you’re in for a treat. The music is wonderful, the dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny and the story is simple yet poignant. Frankly, if I hadn’t read the cast list, I never would’ve pinned Tucci and Diggs for their respective roles. It just works. So, should you watch the premiere of Central Park on Friday, May 29th on Apple TV+? Yes.
This article was originally published 5/22/20