Cecil Baldwin on the Origins of Night Vale, Cecil’s Love for Carlos, and Playing Someone Delightfully Imperfect
Today, Welcome to Night Vale is reaching a wider audience than ever with their bizarre and funny stories. While the show’s writing is brilliant on its own, it’s undeniable that those stories just wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for the wonderful voice acting of Night Vale’s star, Cecil Baldwin. Recently, Baldwin was kind enough to have an interview with The Mary Sue to tell us how he got involved with Night Vale, his take on Cecil the character, and the importance of playing someone in a visible gay relationship.
For Baldwin, it was an easy leap to get involved with Welcome to Night Vale’s creators, Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink. They all already worked together in a theater group called the New York Neo-Futurists. Baldwin was known to have an excellent radio voice and the world of Night Vale wasn’t weird enough to scare him away. As he put it, “If you work in the downtown theater scene in New York you run into some out-there ideas and concepts…What’s important is, is it weird in a way you find interesting?”
Since Night Vale’s creation Baldwin acknowledged that he’s been given a lot of freedom in how he portrays Cecil Palmer, the host and main character of Welcome to Night Vale. He receives very little in the way of direction and instead gets to interpret each script for himself. “It’s very liberating to make those kinds of decisions…I can look at the script and think about the episode before it and think, ‘how can we make each episode different? How can we touch on something new?’…I try to come up with as many voices as possible while still having some sort of narrative arc.”
For Baldwin, Cecil’s evolution as a character has been an interesting one. In early episodes Baldwin feels like he didn’t really know who his character was yet. Cecil was more of a nameless, faceless radio host as opposed to a real person. As the series has continued, Cecil has become more complicated and nuanced. Baldwin spoke a bit about the way his character has both shown strong loyalty to his town, while also being subversive against its government sometimes.
“I feel like we all kind of have that relationship with our communities and our governments… You can love and respect where you’re from, but still question things… It’s the same for Cecil. It’s just a little more dramatic in Night Vale.”
Baldwin also spoke about the evolution of some of Cecil’s personal relationships, such as his friendship with Dana. Cecil’s relationship with her was able to grow enormously as she went from being another intern to having her adventures in the desert other-world to being mayor. “Then [Cecil] blamed her for what was happening to him [when his body was being used after being bought at an auction]. It’s just fun to have characters that are not static…We have fun in that gray area where Cecil isn’t always right or good.”
One of the most interesting details to come up was the way Cecil’s attraction to Carlos initially became part of the story. As Baldwin explained:
“I think the relationship between Cecil and Carlos is in direct relation to the way I began performing those early scripts. I think if we go back and look at the origins for those characters Carlos was not originally the main love interest…
“In episode one he was the outsider. He was the one rationally trying to explain the irrational world of Night Vale and that was it. He was the foil of Night Vale. And then in performance my gut told me if I ran into someone on the street and they’re new in town and they’re gorgeous like a model and they’re smart and they’re a scientist…I kind of reacted in the moment, in this sort of fan-girl gushy sort of way.
“And I think that lead to this idea that there could be this gay relationship at the center of Night Vale. I’m just so glad Joseph and Jeffrey picked up on that…I think that led to their [Cecil and Carlos] eventual coming together.”
On a similar note, Baldwin also spoke about what it meant to him, as a gay actor, to get to play this popular, openly gay character. “[Night Vale] is normalizing gay relationships in a way that oftentimes, outside of major cities, you may not be exposed to.” The effects of this normalizing are especially visible to him when he gets to meet fans on tour.
“…a lot of people were craving that sincerity. That it’s not only okay to be gay, it’s also just a normal part of life…People always comment on how, in the insane world of Night Vale, the gay relationship is probably the most normal part about it….Because a lot of our fans are younger, we’re helping to weave that into the fabric of society as it grows and changes. [Perceptions of LGBTQA people] are in flux and I think we’re a part of that.”
Finally, we spoke about some of his favorite episodes. Baldwin enjoys some of the more horror-themed ones, such as “Station Management” but also had a lot of fun playing a younger Cecil in “Cassettes”. Baldwin has been kept busy with tours and voice acting since starting his work on Night Vale but in his spare time he continues to work with the New York Neo-Futurists. He’s also working in an event called “Shipwreck” at New York Comic Con in early October, where he’ll narrate for an erotic fanfiction competition. (Which, frankly, sounds like the most amazing event ever.)
Cecil Baldwin will be on tour with the Welcome to Night Vale crew through September in Ireland and the UK and again in October and November in Canada and the US. He is also the narrator on the audio version of the upcoming Welcome to Night Vale book, which will be released October 20th.
(image via CarolynEBrown)
Alex Townsend is freelance writer, a cool person, and really into gender studies and superheroes. It’s a magical day when all these things come together. You can follow her on her tumblr and see her comments on silver age comics. Happy reading!
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