Home / Music / Long Day’s Journey Into Night Vale | An Interview With Dylan Marron

Long Day’s Journey Into Night Vale | An Interview With Dylan Marron

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(photo: Getty Images / via Dylan Marron Facebook page)
Two weeks ago fans of Welcome to Night Vale were given two big surprises: the announcement of a book slated for 2015 and a new voice actor for the main character’s love interest, Carlos the scientist. Prior to this announcement, Carlos was voiced by co-creator Jeffrey Cranor at both live shows and within the podcast itself. From now on he’ll be voiced by actor Dylan Marron, star of the critically-praised (and Kickstarter funded) web series Whatever This Is. We chatted with Dylan recently about his response to being chosen as the new voice of Carlos and about the show itself.

Many fans would like to know what led to the decision for Jeffrey Cranor to discontinue reading for Carlos.  We asked the same question to Cecil Baldiwn in his interview, but how important is it for Carlos to be someone who is not white?  Also to be played by someone who is not white?

DM: I think representation is so important in arts and entertainment and you want to make sure that you are really showing a lot of different types of people in your work.  It’s so easy to just fall back on two cisgendered, heterosexual white people in the main relationship of your story.  An unfortunate amount of people think that this is the only way to tell a story, that it’s the only way you’ll get an audience for a story.

Night Vale so beautifully does away with that.  It’s like: no, you can have a huge fan base and tell a story with two male identified characters and one of whom is Latino or brown.  And I think I feel so strongly about this because I was a kid who was queer and brown, and I didn’t feel like I saw my reflection in the art and entertainment that I was watching.  The message that I got was: it can’t be done, there is no place for you, nobody looks like you, nobody talks like you, nobody walks like you, so don’t try.  And that’s the worst kind of message you can send to people because the most disempowering thing you can do to them is take away their hopes and dreams.

Jeffrey [Cranor] really beautifully summed this up in his Tumblr post, saying that it’s important that since Carlos is a queer, brown character that he be played by a queer brown person because if someone Googles the image of the actor playing Carlos, it shouldn’t be a straight white guy like Jeffrey or as he says, “worse than that, no picture at all.”  And I really appreciate it, more than I think I can express right now.

Favorite fan response since the world learned you are playing Carlos?

DM: I really love the new images of Carlos that look a little more like me, but also…I’ll tell you one thing that’s pretty personal: I always grew up totally hating my hair.  I hated hated hated my hair, because it didn’t do what normal hair did.  And of course when you hear that it makes you ask, “Well, what is normal hair?”

Because I grew up around a lot of white people, “normal hair” was “white people hair.”  And so the fact that — and this is really no small thing — the fact that Carlos is described as having “perfect hair” and then people actually see my hair, and people who have hair like mine also see it and they believe that it fits and that I do have perfect hair, well now as a community we are re-defining what good hair looks like.  And good hair can look like a ton of different things and there isn’t just one standard.

So many times with this spoken and unspoken world of hair politics, there are so many racial implications tied up in it.  And we still try to normalize ourselves by appearing like the norm, which is often not representative of what we are.  And my hair doesn’t go down, my hair is not straight, it defies gravity and that is just what it’s gonna do, so just let it be.  And I always used to want to change my hair so when people see my hair and see that it’s described as perfect hair (which I can only say thank you for), maybe that will inspire someone to not try and alter their hair but instead to let their hair be, which took me so long [to understand].

If I can shorten that time for anyone else then I have done a good job at something.  So to bring the answer back to the question, my favorite fan response is, “Oh, I really do love his hair.” It’s like, “WOAH!” I don’t mean that in a vain way at all, you can think whatever you want about my hair, but the fact that you are describing my hair, this hair that’s on my head right now, as “perfect”…that means a lot, more than people know.

In a lot of Hollywood movies and TV shows, Latino actors are often auditioning for very stereotypical and typecast roles (such as maids and gardeners, housekeepers, etc).  Do you feel that Night Vale is different with its characters who are people of color?  Why or why not?

DM: I really feel Hollywood operates from these false demographics.  Like you might have these executives in their big leather chairs, smoking their cigars and talking on their cordless phones, saying, “No, we can’t have this kind of person in this movie because people don’t want to see that.” But they don’t know what people want to see because the demographics of people are changing every day.

If you look at census data, the population of people in this country and definitely this world is not represented by what’s on screen. If what we saw on screen represented people we would be an entire world of happy cisgendered, white, mostly heterosexual people with the occasional stereotype of an “ethnic person” (and I use that term only because that’s often how they are described in these casting notices, as if “any ethnicity will do, just make them funny by imbuing them with stereotypes of your culture”). So its like, if it’s non-white then make it funny and make it quick because you have just a minute of screen time to say something cute.

Night Vale doesn’t operate on any demographics. In the beginning, Joseph and Jeffrey had no idea Night Vale would be this popular so they weren’t writing to appease a fan base but to write what they wanted to write, the way they wanted to write it.  Sometimes the good guys really can win, and I feel like in this case the good guys are winning because they’re getting to tell the story they want to tell with the characters they want to tell and they don’t care about pleasing commercial needs.

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Dylan Marron (second from right) with the cast of web series ‘Whatever This Is.’

In our previous interview with Cecil we also asked about what impact Night Vale had on the LGBTQ community but we’ve heard very little from other minority communities.  Do you feel that there has been an impact on other communities?

DM: I think the great thing about the LGBTQ community is that it’s represented by so many ethnicities, so many different types of people. So if a group identifies with the queer community then it’s identifying with a lot of different colors by default because whether they are open about it or not there are queer people in every community. I feel as though that is how different ethnic groups are represented in Night Vale, through identification with the LGBTQ community. But there are a lot of cisgendered, straight people who really appreciate Night Vale regardless of race or sexuality.

What is your response to the emails requesting the removal of Carlos and Cecil’s relationship?

DM: I think it was totally inappropriate, because this is how Carlos is written. A romantic relationship in a show can be the most accessible point of entry for the audience, so Joseph and Jeffrey wrote one in, but it just happens to be queer, and one of them just happens to be brown. Great, cool, let’s move on.

It goes back to what I was saying about fake demographics, about people saying, “No, no, no you can’t put queer mixed race couple at the center of a popular thing,” and it’s like “Yes, you can! Because queer mixed race couples exist!” And you gotta represent everyone, and no, Joseph and Jeffrey are not going to change the gender of the main love interest because…why? That’s who Carlos is, that’s what many people of this world look like.

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Marron with Cecil Baldwin (left) in a public performance of ‘Welcome to Night Vale.’ (via Peppermint White Mocha Tumblr page)

You describe yourself as both brown and queer.  Do you believe this affects the way you portray Carlos?

DM: Yeah, I think it absolutely affects the way I portray him, but only in the sense that that’s who I am anyway.  This is my voice, this is how I grew up, and of course [my personal history] is not going to come in during the podcast or the live shows, but that’s my voice.  And this is who I am, and this is my backstory, and in art and entertainment it’s not the easiest thing to separate someone from who they play. So that is the only sense in which I’m bringing that with me.

But I think is the most important thing is just making sure that there is truth and honesty in the work I do and the work I say.  And my truth is that I’m queer and brown, and how can I inflect that with my voice, I have no idea.  But I think that, because I have no idea, that’ll just be part of it.  Then the rest of the work is just honoring the script that Joseph and Jeffrey write for the week or that show.

What is something you would want individuals struggling with homophobia or racism to take away from Night Vale?

DM: I think what I want people to take away from Night Vale is this: “Let’s redefine what is abnormal, and if we redefine what is abnormal then we redefine what is normal.  And if we redefine what is normal then there is no normal.”

And I think that is what I would like for us all to wake up to the reality of, that it is so dangerous to operate under “norms.”  Because when we operate under norms then there is a “right way” and there is a “wrong way,” but actually there is no “wrong way” if you are not harming other people.  And I would love for people to take away that all people should be represented in arts and entertainment, all people should be represented in stories, and you can tell whatever story you want to tell.  You can tell whatever story is in your heart and in your mind that you want to share with people, to be true to the honesty of your words, and to let your work represent you.  I think that’s what I want people to take away from it.

Will Carlos ever speak Spanish on the podcast?

DM: [Laughing] I have no idea, that’s up to Joseph and Jeffrey.

I have to say this, I can’t resist. From both Pop Mythology and long-time fans of the podcast: welcome to Night ValeDylan.

DM: Thank you!

Dylan has been a member of the New York Neo-Futurists since 2012, stars in the internet mini-series Whatever This Is, and will be performing regularly in live productions of Welcome to Night Vale episodes in 2014.  

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About Clint Nowicke

Clint Nowicke
Clint is a graduate student at Eastern Kentucky University working on his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, focusing primarily on the Deaf community as well as the LGBTQ community.