(Featured image courtesy of Doreen Stone)
A train makes its way through a lifeless plain. Endlessly long, each of its cars contains its own impossible, fantastical world, unlimited by the confines of the small train. People with unresolved issues board and can only disembark once they’ve faced their inner problems. This is the Infinity Train.
In late 2016, Cartoon Network released the Infinity Train pilot on their YouTube channel. The story of a young girl named Tulip who found herself on the mysterious train while grappling with the divorce of her parents amassed over a million views within a month of being posted. Before it was greenlighted, a petition to bring it to series amassed over fifty thousand signatures. The anthology series was a smash hit years before its premiere, and its popularity has only grown, even as it made the jump from Cartoon Network to HBO Max. Each “book” follows a different protagonist as they make their way through the train, diving into their own psyches to find a way off. The production has collected an all-star cast, including names like Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline), Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing). Starring alongside Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Kyle McCarley in the currently airing third book, Cult of the Conductor, is rising star Isabella Abiera.
Abiera’s mother is an actress, so Isabella feels as if she was “born into the industry,” booking her first commercial at a family audition when she was just two years old. The ad was for USAA, and while she was too young to remember, Abiera has been told that she fell asleep during filming. One of her biggest dreams is to eventually be an on-screen superhero, so she draws a lot of inspiration from Marvel films and series like The Umbrella Academy and Avatar: The Last Airbender, which she also noted as the series she’d most like to revive and perform in if she could.
Abiera plays Hazel, a six-year-old girl who lives on the train with her gorilla best friend, Tuba. Both she and Hazel are the youngest in their respective familial groups, and she sees a few similarities in their fun-loving and positive personalities. “I think we’re different because I don’t have a gorilla friend, but I want one,” and even though Hazel’s entire arc takes place on a train, Isabella has never been on one herself.
When she booked the role, she wasn’t really aware of the show or how big its fan base was. “All I knew was how exciting it was to be on a show that was produced by Cartoon Network and HBO Max.” She loved the experience, so it was already exciting enough, but when she revealed on social media that she would be playing one of the main characters of the third season, that’s when she realized “how big the fanbase was and how nice and supportive they are.” Earlier this summer, Infinity Train held a panel for Comic-Con@Home, the online celebration that replaced the iconic San Diego Comic-Con. Abiera did not participate herself, but it was the first time that she was able to see the finished footage of the show, complete with her own voice, and the fan reactions to all the new information. On the art that people are creating for the show, and specifically for her character, Isabella said she was “blown away by all the different ways people can draw Hazel… there are so many amazing artists out there.”
But how is voice acting different from screen acting? “When you book a job, you get a script, and I usually go over it with my mom [or a coach], or sometimes I go over it by myself.” Once she’s gotten all of her lines practiced and polished, she goes into the studio to see the storyboard, and Abiera uses her imagination “to fill in the world while I’m speaking.” It can be difficult while acting to fully immerse yourself in a scene without costumes or sets (or sometimes even without your scene partners in the room with you), so seeing the storyboards and getting a sense of the physicality and environment of the scene can be incredibly helpful. “A lot has changed during the pandemic… but we have created a home setup.” She used to record in her closet, but now her family has a studio in their garage specifically for recording. She also used to rehearse in-person with her scene partners, but now that seeing anyone outside your home bubble is dangerous, she’s had to become more creative and use more of her imagination when figuring out what her tone or delivery should be.
Like her mother, all of Isabella’s siblings are involved in the industry in some way or another, which she loves because “we’re very supportive of each other… and it’s so much fun when you get to work together.” This web of support likely came in handy before the pandemic when Abiera would have to work ahead in her school studies to be able to take time off for filming or recording. Balancing professional and personal lives can be difficult for many young people, but it seems Abiera always perseveres with a smile, highlighting how fun it is to have friends from school and from set. “I love meeting new people.”
One trend that’s kept strong throughout the years is that of adults voicing children. Shows like Gravity Falls have chosen actors twice or three times the ages of their characters, which is great for lending unique voices to child characters but can often take opportunities away from child actors looking for jobs. Abiera thinks that “it’s great that kids have the opportunity to voice children in animation… I’m so grateful that the creative team of Infinity Train book three chose me.” She only had endless praise for showrunner Owen Dennis and the “extraordinary artists and writers and actors that have worked so hard to create an incredible show.” That creativity and hard work has obviously translated perfectly on screen, as the third book has received effusive praise online, with AV Club calling Cult of the Conductor the show’s “best, most challenging season yet,” with Abiera singled out for her “absolutely heart-wrenching performance” (What to Watch), which Gizmodo noted as significant because “it’s rare to find kid actors who are really good at being kids” like Isabella is.
Even as the ongoing pandemic poses endless obstacles, young performers like Abiera are still able to persevere and overcome them all to still create fresh content that can provide inspiration and solace in this unstable time. Infinity Train is that kind of art, so be sure to check out the entire third book, available on HBO Max now.