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Speaking Up About Bart : Nancy Cartwright's Voice Carries Weight at Fox

March 22, 1992|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nancy Cartwright made an interesting discovery one night while she was reading "The Simpsons" alphabet book to her 2-year-old daughter Lucy.

"I was pointing out the characters," Cartwright recalled over lunch recently. "I said, 'Who is this?' And she said, 'Homer.' I said, 'Who is this?' and she said 'Lisa.' Then I pointed to Bart and I said, 'Who is this?' And she said, ' Mama. ' I was shocked."

Like many other Simpsons fans, Lucy knows that Cartwright, 32, is the voice of the well-liked wisenheimer of Fox's most popular series. But Cartwright is also the least visible member of the cast. Dan Castellaneta (Homer) is a regular on ABC's "Sibs," Julie Kavner (Marge) is starring in the film "This Is My Life" and Yeardley Smith (Lisa) is a regular on Fox's "Herman's Head."

After "The Simpsons" made its debut three years ago, Cartwright kept a low profile, she said, because the network thought "it was in the best interest of the show that we remain in the background. I understand that point. Actually, it was cool because I was pregnant and had a couple of kids. (Her son Jackson is six months old.) But now we are going into our fourth season, and I am interested in letting people know I am interested in doing other things."

Cartwright's enthusiasm for doing "The Simpsons" has increased over the seasons. When "The Simpsons" were introduced five years ago as a small element of "The Tracey Ullman Show," Cartwright said, "the characters weren't as developed as they are now.

"It's a blast recording it. (We) become the characters across the microphone. Most people think it is just a voice, but they don't take into consideration that we are acting behind the mike. To me, this is the best job in the planet, working on this show. We only tape one day a week. There's a lot of freedom so actors can do other projects."

Cartwright said she came up with the voice of Bart after studying a sketch of him and reading the script. "He was very antagonistic in this particular scene and was picking on his sister," Cartwright said. "That was the only voice I gave them. Sometimes when I (audition) I have a couple of ideas and will give them several options."

Besides Bart, Cartwright also is the voice of his cohorts Todd Flanders and Nelson Munce. "It's pretty funny," Cartwright said. "I don't do girls on the show."

Cartwright, who also supplies voices for such animated series as Disney's "Bonkers" and "Goof Troop," learned her craft from a master, the late Daws Butler, who was the voice of Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound.

"He didn't teach me how to do voices," she said. "He taught me how to make it your own, how to take the author's words and personalize it. He taught me how to vary your pitch and your energy. I would learn through practices with him different techniques I could use on the microphone."

Cartwright also has pursued an acting career, starring in the 1982 CBS movie "Marian Rose White," and in the feature "Twilight Zone: The Movie." She has guest-starred on "Empty Nest," "Mr. Belvedere" and "Cheers." And she is writing a one-woman show, "In Search of Fellini," which she hopes to perform this year.

She said she's never lost acting jobs because of her work in cartoons. "When I go into sessions, people ask me to do Bart," she said. "Everybody loves Bart. Don't you? I just love doing that. I think typecasting is the thing of the past because look at the guests we have had on our show. (See related story.) It has opened a whole new area for people to expand in."

Lunch was over. But one last question. Could she do Bart?

Cartwright smiled slyly. "No way, man," Bart replied.

"The Simpsons" airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on Fox.

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