“What exactly does one do after Hamilton?”
It’s a serious inquiry, one that only a chosen few within the entertainment industry will ever have the opportunity to ponder. As one of the actors handpicked by Lin-Manuel Miranda to star in the biggest Broadway production of the century, Emmy Raver-Lampman had the privilege of asking herself that very question. In 2017, Raver-Lampman, who was part of the original ensemble cast on Broadway, had just wrapped her successful run as Angelica Schuyler in the first national tour of the show, and the 31-year-old distinctly recalls wondering what else could possibly be in the cards for her professionally. But even as she mulled over the next steps of her career, the unknown didn’t scare her. It was the opposite, really. Raver-Lampman actually gets charged by the prospect of exploring uncharted territory.
As a result, she’s been able to adapt fairly easily during the coronavirus. Tucked away in the well-decorated Los Angeles home she’s quarantining in with her boyfriend — and fellow Hamilton alum — Daveed Diggs, Raver-Lampman is keeping busy by reading books, obsessively doing arts and crafts, and getting familiar with her clippers so that she can maintain her signature undercut without paying a visit to her local barber-shop. She is just as tired as the rest of the world is — “the word ‘exhausted’ has definitely become a permanent part of my vocabulary, thanks to the pandemic,” she admits — but her ear-to-ear grin during our afternoon Zoom chat tells me that her days of lounging about the house in her tie-dye sweats haven’t been all bad. It’s during these long hours that she’s had the chance to explore new things, and consider her future and all its possibilities.
Raver-Lampman’s perpetual sense of curiosity has always been a part of her story. Born in Norfolk, VA, Raver-Lampman was adopted as a newborn by a couple who raised her to lean into any and all of her interests, even the ones they didn’t quite understand. As a child, the actress tells me, she was a ball of boundless creative energy. Always quick to put on an impromptu show, the young Raver-Lampman loved to perform in front of a crowd. Though her parents are academics — her mother is a special education specialist, and her father is a professor — they recognized her interest in the arts and encouraged her to follow her dreams no matter where they’d lead. Even if that meant that their baby girl would venture into the most daunting section of performance art: Broadway.
At the age of 18, Raver-Lampman moved to New York City to begin her freshman year at Marymount Manhattan College. By day, she was a theater student, but in her down-time, she auditioned for everything she came across. The hustle paid off when she landed her first lead role in Children of Eden when she was 21, and then, a year later, a role in a stage production of Hair that required her to temporarily step away from school with just one semester left till graduation. (She ultimately returned, graduating in 2012.) After she left school to appear in Hair, Raver-Lampman nabbed roles in Jekyll & Hyde and Wicked, each gig preparing her for the role of a lifetime in a little musical called Hamilton.
Raver-Lampman cops to initially balking at the premise of Miranda’s colorful retelling of American history, and honestly? Same. A musical set in the fledgling United States in the 18th century that is infused with elements of hip-hop and composed almost entirely by a cast of color is as paradoxical as it gets. Black people were still considered property, not people, during that time, and the show does little to address many prominent characters’ slave ownership, but the world is wholly obsessed nonetheless. (To his credit, following Hamilton’s July premiere on Disney+, Miranda did address the fact that the show glosses over, rather than substantively engaging with, the topic of slavery.) As the show was selling out the house during its early Off-Broadway run at the Public Theater in 2015, Raver-Lampman jumped at the opportunity to join its talented ensemble cast on Boadway. Then, after stepping away from Hamilton to star in SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical in 2016, she returned to the show totackle the leading role of the level-headed Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton’s first national tour in 2017.
The magic of being part of Hamilton still hasn’t worn off for Raver-Lampman, who legitimately glows when reminiscing about her time in the Broadway gamechanger. “I spent nine months just in shock,” she laughs. “We started this thing not having any idea exactly what we were sitting on, only for it to become this sold-out affair. We were nominated for Tonys and Grammys, Oprah and Prince came to the show, we were invited to the White House — the Obama White House!”
“It was the craziest experience, like lightning in a bottle,” Raver-Lampman says, her voice taking on wistful quality, her eyes shining. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, and it’s been four years. There was absolutely no way back then to predict how big it was going to become. We just had no idea.”
While some people might question the decision to leave such a coveted gig, Raver-Lampman was ready to imagine what life as an actor would look like post-Hamilton. The show would be a hard act to follow — Beyoncé and Michelle Obama are stans — but eight shows a week for months on end had taken a physical and emotional toll. More than just a departure from Hamilton, though, Raver-Lampan realized it was time for a break from theater, and so, once the company found its way to sunny Los Angeles, she left the production with three months left on her contract, sure that she was now in the perfect place to recalibrate.
But, she didn’t have too much time to relax before her agent presented her with the pilot script of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy. Based on the graphic novels by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, the series follows a dysfunctional family of superhumans who have been brought together by an eccentric billionaire and trained from birth to save the world. While Raver-Lampman isn’t exactly a comic book nerd, the unique family dynamic between the formerly estranged, now uneasily reunited Hargreeve siblings struck a chord with her. Growing up an only child herself, she could only imagine what it would be like to have brothers and sisters to bicker, laugh, and potentially save the world with. So she took a chance, self-recording an audition tape for the show’s casting team without any expectations. Though she had been active on Broadway for almost a decade at that point and had established a reputation within the industry, Raver-Lampman wasn’t keeping her fingers crossed for the part. The audition, she recalls, was genuinely “just for practice.”
Four months later, though, she got the call — they wanted to test her for the series. And shortly after that screen test, her role in The Umbrella Academy was secured.
Raver-Lampman plays Allison Hargreeves, who has the ability to manifest anything simply by “rumoring” it into existence. Although Allison spent her youth fighting crime alongside her siblings, she developed into more of an antihero who has mostly used her gift for personal gain. For Allison, her relationships and celebrity status were things she simply spoke into reality instead of putting in the real effort of creating genuine bonds with people or actively working for her success. But all this reflects the fact that Allison has been cutting corners for so long that she doesn’t really know how to live without taking shortcuts, and it’s affected her relationship with her family. She doesn’t like them much — and the feeling is mutual.
Considering they’re portraying such a dysfunctional family, the cast of The Umbrella Academy gets along swimmingly. That natural chemistry between the diverse group of stars made Raver-Lampman’s transition from theater to television that much easier, allowing her to shine during filming. According to her castmates, the actress is a bonafide scene stealer. Her razor sharp improvisation skills and expressive face command attention no matter the scene, tricking everyone on set into forgetting that this is her very first leading role on a television show. Off-camera, she’s also one of The Umbrella Academy’s resident class clowns (alongside Irish actor Robert Sheehan, who plays the misunderstood but beloved Klaus), a trait that makes her the ideal co-star: consummately professional but always down to have a good time.
“Whenever I’m on set with Emmy, I’m just blown away by how effortlessly she occupies the space,” says Ellen Page, who plays Raver-Lampman’s sister (and unfortunate victim of Allison’s powers), Vanya. “She just has this incredible energy and ease about her. It’s hard to believe that she hasn’t always been on television.”
Fellow castmate Justin H. Min, the deceased ghost Ben Hargreeves, has been a member of the Raver-Lampman Hive since her Hamilton days, but his awe of the actress quickly transformed into genuine respect for her mastery of her craft. “Emmy would just start improvising little moments and lines here and there, and everything that she came up with on the spot would make it in the final cut because they were such gems,” he says. “None of that is ever written into the script, but she knows exactly how to make the moment hers.”
Season 2 of the show, set to release Friday, July 31, pushed the actress to dig deeper into the nuances of her character’s story arc. As the Hargreeves are accidentally transported back in time to the 1960s in the American South, Allison finds herself facing a new evil head-on: de jure racism. Suddenly, her Blackness, an aspect of her identity that didn’t factor too much into her childhood, takes center stage, and the sole Black member of the superhero cohort is forced to tackle this particular big bad all on her own. As she encounters the second apocalypse of her lifetime — the recurring threat of the earth’s total annihilation is canon in The Umbrella Academy universe — Allison’s main priority is trying to survive as a Black woman. Because even if she and her siblings keep the world from being blown to smithereens, Allison could still be killed at any point, simply because of the color of her skin.
“We’re presented with a different side of Allison this season,” explains Raver-Lampman. “She doesn’t have any of her vices or crutches, her biggest being her powers and her family. Allison has to reinvent herself, and it’s not necessarily an act of choice on her part — it’s a survival instinct that develops after being quite literally thrown into the segregated South.”
“Allison’s rumoring, in one way or another, has always been a quick fix with serious repercussions down the line, but the change that the civil rights movement was trying to create and make way for had to be permanent,” she continues. “Being in the heart of movement forces her to see how just wishing something like systemic racism away isn’t worth risking the important activist work that she’s become part of, or the lives of the people she comes to love in the process.”
Allison’s powers are no good in Jim Crow’s America. Desegregation and voting rights can’t simply be rumored into existence in a space where whiteness is the gold standard; true equality was paid for in full through the blood, sweat, and tears of the Black community. This is something Allison learns when she is radicalized in a local beauty salon after enduring a terrifying racist attack on her very first day in the ‘60s. The memory of that encounter is a hard lesson that Allison carries with her as she does her part to ensure that her future self will reap the benefits of her activism, developing the superpower of being Black in a violently white supremacist world.
“I can’t even imagine what it would be like to go to bed tonight only to wake up tomorrow in the 1960s...but then again, I feel like I can,” Raver-Lampman shakes her head in dismay. “We know what that time period was like because we’ve read about it and heard about it, but we’re also living in the afterlife of it right now. I don’t need to research what it feels like to be oppressed and discriminated against because it’s still happening. That’s still our reality.”
This particular struggle couldn’t be unfolding onscreen at a better time, so much so that it feels as though The Umbrella Academy writers were able to make a quick trip into the future themselves in order to write the strikingly relevant plot. We're decades removed from the 1960s, but Black people are still fighting for the basic human right to exist in society freely and safely. Sure, segregation might not be legal anymore, but institutionalized anti-Blackness persists nonetheless in a myriad of forms. If only achieving equality was as easy as one of Allison's rumors, we could finally see the Black community’s dream come to fruition. If only.
For Raver-Lampman, who’s been using her celebrity platform to shine a light on the devastating stories of violence against the Black community as well as signing every single related petition she sees online, playing a multi-dimensional Black character like Allison during this time is nothing short of kismet. The same could be said of all of the other stops in her trajectory, which she readily admits “don’t always make sense together,” but have worked to shape her current mindset when it comes to being a Black woman in this industry. Raver-Lampman happily marches to the beat of her own drum now, every career move a carefully planned step in accomplishing her true dream of creating art that actually matters.
When she was younger, Raver-Lampman was eager to get out there and try her hand at every opportunity that presented itself, auditioning for the gigs that paid the bills as well as those that would get her noticed. Now, she’s committed to only signing on to projects that genuinely spark something inside of her, while recognizing that being choosy about work isn’t really a privilege that Black women navigating the entertainment world typically have. Roles for Black actresses are already limited because of the industry’s demonstrable tendency towards misogynoir. But Raver-Lampman isn’t a rookie anymore, so she’s going to follow her heart and her instincts when it comes to her career, even if the projects don’t get Hamilton-level acclaim. What is most urgent to the actress is her impact and imprint, and that fierce determination to traverse this space on her own terms is exactly what will guide her path moving forward — and etch her distinct mark on the culture for years to come.
“Time is the one thing that we can never get more of,” Raver-Lampman says. “As an artist, I have to feel good about putting my time and my voice and my talents in the right places and for the right things.”
“At the end of the day, when I stand back and look back at my body of work, I want it to tell a story that’s important to me,” she concludes. “I’m just really interested in sharing narratives that are about us and for us — and for the generation of men and women to come. We need more work that reflects every part of who we are, and whether that means creating it, writing it, or starring it, I’m ready. Whatever it is, I’m ready.”