Awards Daily chats with legendary voice-over actress Nancy Cartwright, who’s nominated for an Emmy for her work as Bart/Ralph/Nelson/and more on The Simpsons on FOX.
Before 1992, voice-over actors could only be nominated in the live-action acting categories (really!). Then, in 1992, the first juried voice-over Emmy was given out, quite appropriately to cast members from The Simpsons, including Nancy Cartwright, the voice of loveable scamp Bart.
“It was the first time they ever did that,” said Cartwright. “And we got it! Because quite honestly, there was no competition, Megan. There was no other animated show on Primetime television, and it wouldn’t be until 2009 when there were enough animated shows to warrant an actual category. What a honor! It took that long for people to recognize that animation is a viable media.”
The Simpsons was and has been a game-changer in animation on TV, and you can’t point to an animated show right now without tracing its roots back to the family that lives on Evergreen Terrace in Springfield (state. . . unknown!).
And yet, it’s taken Cartwright more than 30 years for her individual work to be recognized in the Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance category, first in 2017 and then now in 2020.
“I’ve been submitting myself over the years, and it took 31 years until I finally got nominated! When I found out I got that nomination a couple of years ago, I went to a couple of parties, and people asked me, ‘What are you nominated for?’ ‘Oh, I’m the voice of Bart Simpson.'”
As it turned out, a huge Simpsons fan at one of the parties she went to introduced her to people and mentioned that not only does she do Bart’s voice, but she also does Nelson, Ralph, Todd Flanders, Kearney, and more.
“Nobody knew that, and I think that had something to do with it. I feel like it might have been considered that I have a body of characters, an arsenal of characters in my treasure trove.”
Choosing “Better Off Ned”
So for 2020, when it came time to choose her best work, Cartwright did a deep dive into her own trove of characters in the past year.
“I keep all of my scripts, and I pulled out all of the ones that had most of my characters in them. There were about eight out of 22 episodes I felt were worth me really looking into. Then, I went to Disney+ and pulled the episode up on television and watched the episode, and made my decision. There was no other consideration.”
“Better Off Ned” is Episode 16 of the 31st season. In it, Flanders becomes a mentor to Bart, and out of jealous retaliation, Homer mentors Bart’s bully, Nelson. Lots of Cartwright voices in this episode, including a tearful moment for Nelson Muntz.
“You can tell if somebody’s really not connected to the material,” said Cartwright. “You have to be able to communicate all different kinds of emotions and be able to do them instantaneously. For me, for all of my characters, and I think I’m speaking for everybody on the show, we know these characters backwards and forwards. It is acting, but there’s some truth in the lying if you know what I mean.”
In addition to flexing her emotional muscles, Cartwright also shows off Bart’s singing voice in the church.
“I love the musicals. I think they are so fun. I think Bart sings a little bit better than I do, and if he doesn’t, he’s 10 years old and it doesn’t matter. They didn’t want him to be a bad singer. I didn’t get any direction on how I sang.”
Cartwright’s Voice Through the Years
When I asked her how she keeps her voice sounding the same all these years, she laughed. “You are very kind. I think everybody’s voices have changed slightly over the years.”
Cartwright reflected on when she first did the voice for The Tracey Ullman Show, Bart’s was a little bit tougher before settling into the voice that she has today. And then when she was tasked with doing other voices, like Kearney and Nelson, she discovered that they cross over into each other a little bit too much, because she didn’t realize Kearney would be a semi-regular character eventually.
“I advise my voice students—make sure you don’t make your character sound like another character! Gosh, [Kearney and Nelson] sound too much alike.”
And because Nelson and Flanders end up becoming pals at the end of “Better Off Ned,” I asked her if there were any other characters she thought should pair up in the future.
“There’s a character I voice named Database, who’s a little like Professor Frink (voiced by Hank Azaria). Nobody has picked up on that!”
Emmys 2020—Not 2019
After she put all that thought into her Emmy submission and submitted her episode, Cartwright forgot all about it. But then on Emmy nomination day this past July 28, her assistant told her, “Nancy, I think you were nominated for an Emmy.” Cartwright went online and scanned for her name in Emmy nominations but didn’t see it. She thought her assistant was mistaken.
But then she realized that she was looking at the wrong year for nominations.
“It was kind of amazing!” she laughed.
Doh! Only a true Simpson would make that mistake.
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