And A with ] Yeardley Smith

[ Q

FYI: pop culture news

April 08, 2004|By Newsday

Yeardley Smith, 39, has been the voice of perennial 8-year-old Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons since it started in 1986. The role earned her an Emmy Award in 1992. A few weeks ago, she opened at New York's Union Square Theatre in More, an autobiographical one-woman show encompassing her thirst for celebrity, her struggle with bulimia and other travails from which she manages to wring laughs by the bellyful. (The show will play through April 18.)

What possessed you?

I wrote More because I wasn't getting that much work. The Simpsons only takes a day and a half a week, and I'm much happier when I'm busy than when I'm not. I just got really tired of hearing myself complain, so I thought, "Shut up and do something!" It's the hardest work I've ever done -- also, the most gratifying.

How do you see that changing things for you?

It probably won't change anything. I probably will go back to doing one-page parts in movies, because that's the reality. I've made peace with it; now, I don't feel so much that I am what I do. I am still not the person who will ever sit down and read a book, because I feel like I should be doing something more productive, like maybe I'll knit and at least I'll get a sweater out of it.

How did you hook up with your director, Judith Ivey?

We have the same agent. I already knew her as an actress. She is so detail-oriented; nothing gets by her. One of the things she drilled into me was that I really, really, really needed to let the audience in -- in the simplest, most vulnerable way -- and if I wasn't going to do that, then there was no point in telling my story.

How did the work change?

We cut a ton of stuff.

What was the hardest to let go of?

I had a great section called the "Oh, my God!" stories, where I told more funny stories about the peculiar things people say to you because you're a celebrity. "Hey, how much money do you make on The Simpsons?" Or they would ask you if I cry out like Lisa Simpson during sex. Or they would hug me in the supermarket.

What did you expect your audience to be like?

I pictured an audience all of whom were exactly like me. I figured there were enough people out there who felt like they had created a separate set of rules for themselves that got them into trouble, and also a lot of people who've achieved a great deal who feel like they haven't achieved anything. I am part of a show that has become part of world culture -- and yet voiceover wasn't on my radar, so it didn't count. It had nothing to do with a lack of gratitude. It's, like, if somebody hands you a fantastic turkey dinner, but all you really want is dessert? It doesn't mean you're not grateful for the turkey dinner, but you still want dessert.

Do you ever feel imprisoned by Lisa Simpson?

I wish show business was more open-minded and they didn't pigeonhole you when you did something for a long time. But The Simpsons has afforded me so much freedom financially, I would be an idiot to walk away from that job.

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