It's easy to feel intimidated by Emmy Raver-Lampman. She's a Broadway darling, starring in hit productions like Hair, Jekyll & Hyde, Wicked, and Hamilton, and this week, she steals the scene onscreen in the second season of Netflix's cult-favorite show, The Umbrella Academy. I have to admit, my inner theater geek was freaking out a little (okay, a lot) before our call. Her Instagram gives off an approachable, friendly vibe—but still, it's always difficult to know what to expect. But my nerves were unnecessary. When Raver-Lampman called into our Zoom chat, her bright smile and inviting energy was palpable even through the computer screen. She greeted me like we were old friends. When she asked me how I was doing, it felt like she genuinely wanted to know, even though we had just met seconds earlier. Just like that, we clicked.
Raver-Lampman might play a superhero on Netflix with one-of-a-kind talent (have you heard her sing?), but her IRL persona is down-to-earth and 100 percent real. Ahead, we talk about her life in quarantine, her newly-cemented barber skills, the second season of The Umbrella Academy, and what she's doing to care for herself as our community continues the fight to dismantle systemic racism. Keep scrolling to read our conversation.
How are you doing?
Honestly, I can't complain. Just trying to find joy when I can.
I can relate. I imagine you're probably on the go a lot. What has it been like for you to be at home and quarantined? What's a typical day look like for you?
I travel so much for work and pleasure, but at my core, I'm totally a homebody. This has been a really great time for my boyfriend and I to be in the same place together—our relationship functions on a very high level of long-distance. A lot of people and a lot of couples have never spent this much time together. We are getting to settle into our version of normal, and finally get to make our space feel like home. Also, there's less pressure. Because we both travel separately so much, there's always a little pressure on the time we do have together, to make the most of it. So it's nice not to feel that. It's been nice to slow down a little bit. We're both [usually] running a million miles an hour.
Have you picked up any new hobbies?
I started a vegetable garden. I'm growing a complete vegetable garden with lettuces, tomatoes, zucchinis, peppers, habaneros, and eggplants. It's awesome. Our house is full of plants, but this is something I've always wanted to do but never had the time to nurture. We're now at the point where I don't have to buy lettuce at the grocery store anymore. That's definitely been my biggest hobby. I make my cup of coffee in the morning, walk outside, and talk to my garden.
I saw one of your Instagram posts, and your hair looks so good! I was like, these curls are poppin’. I feel like I’ve been struggling to keep my curls hydrated. What have you been doing to keep your curls looking so good?
My hair journey really started when I moved to college. It's really about product. Everyone's hair is different, and every texture is going to like certain things. My boyfriend and I are both bi-racial, and the stuff his hair loves, my hair hates. We have separate shampoos and conditioners, and we essentially have the same hair texture. I've always gone to barber shops to take care of the sides. At the beginning of this, I went and bought clippers—there's no time like the present to figure out how to start cutting my own hair. So I've definitely become a barber for myself.
I can get most of it, but he definitely helps me with the back part right here. So, I've definitely been cutting my own hair and doing a lot of hair masks. I got twists the other day, I was so ready for a change—just any kind of change.
I had a chance to watch the second season of The Umbrella Academy. Allison gets dropped into a time where she's not a Hollywood star, and can't fully express herself because she is a Black woman. It's interesting how much the show parallels what's happening now.
This season we're getting a new Allison. It's a very back-to-basics, stripped down, raw Allison, which I really enjoyed getting dive into as an actor. When we meet her [in season one], this is a woman in her 30s who didn't have a great upbringing. She was exploited for her powers by her father. Competitiveness was encouraged. The easy way out was encouraged, and she was only ever really taught to use her powers for selfish reasons. We're meeting her at this low point in her life. It couldn't get lower for Allison, and then she's dropped into the segregated South.
Being thrust into that environment and into the harsh realities of what the color of her skin means, and where she's allowed to be and not to be, and what she's allowed to do and not do, and who she's allowed to love and not love—it's jarring and terrifying. She doesn't have her powers or her family, and has to learn to fight for herself in a whole new way. It's awesome to watch her come into her own without all the vices and crutches she's relied on for 30 years. She is learning how much power she does have without her powers, and [that] she doesn't need her powers to be powerful. It's all a juxtaposition of losing her voice, and that being her power specifically, and falling into a time where there was so much voicelessness in the Black experience.
What was it like to shoot the scenes set in the '60s?
Shooting many of those scenes was really, really hard and really, really emotional. The stakes were and are high, on set and in real life. These were real events that we were trying to recreate, and to be completely honest, these are pretty gentle recreations.
I noticed that.
As far as sit-ins go, this wasn't that bad. In our history, those same events have escalated into some of the most horrifying images we've ever seen. Trying to take on a little bit of that was so powerful and so moving. It was important to me and everyone that we treat it with respect and depicted it properly. We did that by doing the research, and understanding what it is we are trying to say. There are parallels between what we're watching in the season and what's happening on the news right now. It's the same fight. A lot of people like to think, "The civil rights movement, that's over." We just lost Congressman [John] Lewis last week, and that was his young adult life. He dedicated his life to ending hate, and systemic racism, and inequality. I wanted to make sure we were doing right by his unbelievable legacy.
There are parallels between what we're watching in the season and what's happening on the news right now. It's the same fight.
That just gave me a chill. Those scenes are so powerful. I loved seeing all the Black love and support, too. One scene in particular made me think: This show is amazing. When Allison dropped into the ‘60s, and she's running from the aggressive white men on the street, and she runs into the beauty salon. As a Black woman, as an instinct, I probably would have done the same thing. Beauty salons make us look great, but they are also safe spaces. What has been your experience with salons?
I am bi-racial, and I'm adopted, and my parents are white. My mom didn't know what to do with my hair, and as much as she was learning, it was a lot of trial and error. Bless her heart. There were a lot of bows and ribbons. Very quickly, she got really good at braids, and [my hair] became something she just loved to do. When I was in college, I moved to New York for school, [and] I shaved my whole head. My hair has evolved and changed over time. So much of my career, I've traveled, so that is a sense of community [in] the Black experience that I am envious of having. I think I'm starting to find it now [that] I've set down roots in L.A. for a really long time, and by long time, I mean three years.
That's a long time in L.A. years.
It's the longest time I've been in a place. Being in the industry, your hair and makeup team becomes this micro-community. I trust my makeup artist explicitly, and my girl Kim who does my hair, and I have another amazing guy who does my hair named Neeko—we just talk. For the past two years, I have had the same hair and makeup team, and we pick up right where we left off every time we see each other.
While watching the show, I noticed that all of the Black women and men always looked their best, whether they were protesting or organizing. Someone recently said to me, "That's a form of Black resistance." What has been your form of self-care with everything going on in the world right now?
Staying on top of, and being aware of, my mental health. Therapy is so important. Communication is so important. That is communication with your partner, with your family, with your friends, and with strangers if that window of communication opens up. There is no shame in therapy.
We are a species that is obsessed with the future, and we're living in a time where we don't know what's happening next month. That's not just for my career. It's the global thing that's happening. Like what will the rest of 2020 be like? That unknown can cause so much anxiety and unrest, and a lot of people are alone right now and spending more time with themselves than they ever have. I'm making sure I'm checking in with myself. When I need alone time, I take it. When I need to go outside and put my hands in the dirt and reconnect with mother earth, I do that. When I want to sit on the couch all day and eat every snack in the pantry, I do that. When I want to work out and sweat for three hours, I do that. I'm trying as much as I can to listen to myself and not put expectations on myself during this time.
How do you think we as Black women can continue to use our voices and be of support to our communities and ourselves as we navigate these times?
We have to be completely and one hundred percent unapologetic for everything that makes us who we are. Every. Single. Thing. From our hair, to the shade of our skin, to the shape of our eyebrows, to the width of our lips, to our beautiful shoulders, all the way down to every single curve that is exactly what it's supposed to be. And that is just the physical—there's also everything that makes us who we are on the inside. What we believe. Who we pray to and for. Who and how we love. Things that make up happy. Our passions. By being able to accept yourself is hard. We live in a society that wants us to stay silent, and to minimize ourselves, and to roll ourselves back and present a version that is more palpable. That's unacceptable. By appreciating everything that makes us who we are—the good, the bad, the ugly—we allow both sides of the spectrum to make us the beautiful women we are. Every single one of us is so one of a kind.
We live in a society that wants us to stay silent, and to minimize ourselves, and to roll ourselves back and present a version that is more palpable. That's unacceptable.
Aside from the entertainment value of the second season of The Umbrella Academy, what do you want people to take away?
We're tackling pretty big topics [and] issues this season. A massive connection can be drawn from the civil rights movement and Black Lives Matter movement. I think that it is undeniable when you watch it. There are a couple scenes that gave me goosebumps because it was written and filmed a year ago. What an opportunity to further educate not only Americans, but people all over the world about the civil rights movement. On the other topics of LGBTQ+ awareness and mental health, a lot of young people are going to be watching this show with their parents. I do hope that after some of these scenes, the pause button is hit, and a conversation happens. I just hope it opens up a door for communication for young adults, kids, and their parents to talk about issues that are still "taboo," because, quite frankly, times up on that.