'Simpsons' is a blast for woman behind Bart

September 16, 1995|By Tim Funk | Tim Funk,Knight-Ridder News Service

She has millions of fans -- Michael Jackson and Meryl Streep even asked for her autograph -- but you've probably never heard of her.

Not as a woman anyway.

To all but her family and friends, actress Nancy Cartwright is better known as the Voice of Bart Simpson on Fox's cartoon classic, "The Simpsons."

That's right, man: America's most famous 10-year-old gets his pipes from a thirtysomething mother of two.

"I actually went in to audition for [Bart's sister] Lisa but couldn't get a hook on her," Ms. Cartwright told a table of TV critics during a summer luncheon in Los Angeles. "But when I picked up the picture of Bart, I went [she shifts to Bart-voice], 'Oooh, yeah, I can do that. I got that."

"Simpsons" creator Matt Groening hired her on the spot.

That was in 1987, when Bart and his dysfunctional family debuted in a series of 30-second spots on Fox's "The Tracey Ullman Show."

By 1990, they'd graduated to their own 30-minute show. And since then, Bart has become a skateboard-propelled icon, popping up -- along with his "Don't have a cow, man" mantra -- on T-shirts, posters, Butterfinger commercials and record albums the Bartman" sold 3 1/2 million copies).

"It's outta control," said Ms. Cartwright, whose children's friends sometimes surround her and chant, "Do Bart! Do Bart!" (When that happens, she responds in character with another Bartism -- "No way, man!" -- that makes the kids giggle and shuts them up.)

Sunday night at 8, "The Simpsons" will reach yet another milestone when viewers of all ages are expected to tune in to find out who shot cold-hearted Montgomery Burns, the 104-year-old owner of the Springfield nuclear power plant. The murder mystery has been a hot topic on the Internet all summer.

Bart is among the many suspects, but Ms. Cartwright isn't talking.

"What's in it for me?" she says as Bart, who's always open to a bribe. Then the actress laughs as she switches back to herself: "I don't know nothing. I don't know nothing. . . . But you will be totally surprised."

Ms. Cartwright is 5-foot-1, hails from the Dayton, Ohio, area (she moved to Los Angeles to study theater at UCLA), is married, has a 5-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son and drives a pink Miata with personalized license plates.

The plates read: DNTHVCW.

(That's short for "Don't Have Cow.")

Over lunch, she told about the time she was stopped for speeding:

"The highway patrolman said, 'Oh, you've got one of those personal license plates that's so personal nobody knows what it says.' So I said to him, as Bart, 'Well, don't have a cow, man.' And he didn't get it! So I said, 'Don't have a cow, man. That's what it says. Don't you ever watch 'The Simpsons?' 'No.' 'Don't your kids ever watch The Simpsons?' 'No.' 'Well, I'm the voice of Bart Simpson!' And he said, 'Yeah? So what? I just pulled over Nicolas Cage in his Lamborghini and I gave him a ticket.' And then he started dropping names of people he'd given tickets to!"

Since moving to California, Ms. Cartwright has done mostly voices. Besides Bart, she does bully Nelson Munch on "The Simpsons" and was the voice of the 15-year-old girl on Fox's other cartoon, "The Critic," which was recently canceled.

But she has a career in front of the camera, too. Early next month, she'll show up in "Baywatch" as a phone-sex office manager. "Typecasting, obviously," she says, laughing again.

Also in October, Ms. Cartwright will stage -- and star in -- her own one-woman show in Los Angeles. "In Search of Fellini" will detail her journey to Italy, where she went to track down legendary Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini in hopes of getting the stage rights to his 1956 film, "La Strada."

But Ms. Cartwright knows that being Bart is what "put me on the map."

Her favorite episodes? The one where Bart passes fourth grade. The one where Lisa has a crush on her teacher. And the one where Bart gets a crush on the Rev. Lovejoy's daughter -- whose voice was provided by Meryl Streep.

"She had such pressure on her because of her kids," Ms. Cartwright said of Ms. Streep. "They don't watch her movies DTC because they're not really for kids. But 'The Simpsons'! It's like, .. 'Boy, the pressure's on, mom.' "

Even more fun than working with movie stars, Ms. Cartwright said, is knowing that she'll go down in pop history as the Voice of Bart.

"There's only one [Bart] and there's only going to be one," she said. "I'm so lucky and I know that . . . And I really love my job."

Ms. Cartwright may even someday write a book about her years as Bart. She's already got the perfect title: "It'll be 'My Life as a 10-year-old Boy,' by Nancy Cartwright."

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