Watching Little Voice on Apple+ TV is a theatrelover's dream. There is original music from Waitress creative duo Sara Bareilles and Jessie Nelson, the main storyline follows an aspiring singer named Bess (Brittany O'Grady) who dreams of becoming a star, Tony winner Chuck Cooper and Broadway alum Colton Ryan co-star, and there is a deluge of theatre history knowledge dropped throughout the episodes, with homages to Dear Evan Hansen, Fiddler on the Roof, Carousel, and more.
The latter all comes from Bess' brother, Louie. Musical theatre is his passion: he dresses up as Evan Hansen for BroadwayCon (see the clip above); he waits outside to get the autograph of a new ensemble member in The Phantom of the Opera after she's been a standby in Aladdin for three years; he practices being an usher (Playbill distribution, ticket checking, and shushing included) in a makeshift theatre in his apartment; and he frequently sings bars of Broadway staples like "Soliloquy" from Carousel and "Miracle of Miracles" from Fiddler.
Louie also lives in a home for people on the autism spectrum Forced to adhere to guidelines for his own safety, he struggles with sticking to the rules and often speaks his mind without regard for another person's situation or feelings. Louie's storylines are not about autism so much as an inclusive look at the life of someone who is a Broadway fanatic and living with a neurological disorder.
Newcomer Kevin Valdez plays Louie, a casting choice specifically made by producers to be neuro-inclusive as Valdez himself is also on the autism spectrum (he was diagnosed at the age of 22 months).
While growing up in Ripon, California, the performer discovered his passion for acting in elementary school and dreamed about making it big in Hollywood. At 14 years old, Valdez got his first acting gig in Cornerstone Community Church’s theatre production of Cinderella Kids, going on to appear in shows like Seussical Jr. and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.Now he's making his TV debut in Little Voice.
To learn more, Playbill spoke to Valdez about his real-life love for theatre, the portrayal of autism in the series, and more.
What was the casting process like for you?
KV: It is such a long story that started out of the blue. The showrunners were having trouble finding the perfect person to play Louie, so one day, they contacted the program director of Futures Explored, a film and media workshop that seeks to find film-related jobs for people with disabilities, and sent her a casting call that she told her students at the Sacramento branch to try out for. Later on, after their auditions, she got another message saying that the main instructor from the Stockton workshop, where I go to, was sick, and so she had to fill in for her. The casting call remained in her head and she thought about me since I like acting and when she got there, she asked me if I’d like to audition, so I accepted. She taped me and sent it over to the producers, and a couple of days later, I was asked to join a Skype call with them to audition again, and then after that, I flew over to New York where I auditioned with them again in person, and when I was about to leave the hotel for my flight back home, I was told that I got the part. All of this happened in about half a month, so it’s like I just flew by that process very quickly.
How similar or different to your own experience is the portrayal of people on the autism spectrum in Little Voice?
KV: Honestly, sometimes the way Louie acts in the show, I kind of act the same way a little bit. When these moments do happen in the script, I try to think of those times I had where I wasn’t so perfect and use them as an inspiration.
What do you hope the character Louie means to musical theatre fans?
KV: I hope that theater fans can convey the message that even though people can have some differences, they are basically the same, but might use a different approach to tackle issues.
What do you hope audiences can learn about people living with autism from watching Louie?
KV: I hope other people learn that life is difficult for people with autism as they try to fit in with a normal lifestyle. It takes a lot of work and discipline for them to master reacting in the same way in situations as others. People have to be more understanding and patient and with hard work, they can learn to do it.
Louie has the ultimate fan moment meeting Nicholas Christopher from Hamilton. What’s your most memorable fan encounter or theatre anecdote?
KV: It’s not often that I get to meet somebody up close and personal, but when I do, I like to take a picture or two with them. The two moments that come to mind are meeting up with Temple Grandin before a speech and with Joey Travolta, the older brother of John Travolta and founder of Inclusion Films, at a couple of summer camp film premieres that I’ve been in.
What’s your favorite part about being on the set of Little Voice?
Everybody’s nice and compassionate, and the producers really did their homework on how to address changes in the schedule and make everything calm and relaxing for me. It also helps me socialize with other people and learn more about them.
What do you think of the current state of neuro-inclusivity is in the media? What does a character like Louie add to that representation?
I’m noticing a rise of people with disabilities being cast in various roles, like what you see in The Peanut Butter Falcon. With a lot of work and training, people will figure out that they aren’t different from them in most ways and with the proper treatments, they’ll be able to assimilate in the general world. Many have great talents and could be an asset to mankind if they’re given the opportunity. Louie is a great portrayal of somebody with autism trying to make it into the world with his disability. He needs to learn to change, just like other people have to change to understand him.
How do you describe your own relationship to theatre?
KV: My acting career started out in local theater productions. I got inspired by a couple of friends from elementary school who were in a play at Cornerstone Community Church in Manteca, California, and that’s what got me to sign for another show they advertised two years later. I occasionally enjoy a bit of theater every now and then, going to a few performances from time to time.
What’s been your favorite stage role so far?
KV: By far, my favorite stage role would have to be Teddy Brewster from Arsenic and Old Lace, something that my high school drama club performed when I was a sophomore. It was there that I first got told that I inspired somebody with my performance, and that made me want to try and solidify my name in showbiz even more.
When you’re not performing, what do you like to do with your time?
I’m usually taking weekly classes with Futures Explored and watching several things on TV and the Internet, with NASCAR, game shows, and cartoons taking up a majority of my interests I tune into. I also try to create some short videos if an idea for one comes to mind.
Are there any organizations that you’d like to draw attention to for people to follow or donate to?
I was recently introduced by a friend to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, which is run by people with autism. I also wish for other people to check out Inclusion Films and Futures Explored if your child with a disability has a desire to make films and follow in other people’s footsteps in starting a career.
New episodes of Little Voice are released every Friday on Apple TV+.