The Simpsons Folder
Can you say Castellaneta? That’s OK, just try Homer
Sunday, February 16, 2003.
By Luaine Lee
Knight Ridder Newspapers
HOLLYWOOD — He’s one of the most famous people in the country, but nobody knows his face. Actor Dan Castellaneta is the voice of that lovable, well-meaning goof-off Homer Simpson. And tonight he and his quirky TV family will be celebrating “The Simpsons’ ” 300th episode on Fox.
At 45, Castellaneta is the same age as Homer, and he’s balding, but that’s where the similarities end. Castellaneta is a shy introvert, the kind of guy who could never muster the courage to return an item to the store.
He was destined to be an art teacher; in fact, he was student-teaching and occasionally entertained his students by slipping into funny voices. “One kid goes, ‘What are you doing here, man? You should be in Hollywood.’ I thought, ‘That kid’s got something.’ I decided rather than get ensconced in teaching and maybe wish I’d tried acting, I said, ‘I’ll do it now while I’m young, and if it doesn’t work out I’ll still have a chance to go do something else,’(” says Castellaneta, seated at a corner table in a deserted restaurant on a warm winter afternoon.
He already knew he had a facility with voices. His dad (an amateur actor who worked all his life for a printing company) brought home comedy records, and little Dan would imitate the imitators.
When he was in the second grade he played the Mock Turtle in a school production of “Alice in Wonderland.” And something wonderful happened. “It turned out that I got such a great reception that it was like, ‘Wow, I could do this,’(” he says, not sounding a bit like Homer.
He used his abilities to ease his awkward timidity.
“When I was in college I was very shy and intimidated by being in a dormitory with strangers, and I don’t know how it got out — maybe it was sitting at a table and eating with one of the guys — but I did a voice. He goes, ‘Hey, that’s pretty good.’ And all of a sudden I’ve got immediate friends. I remember sitting in the dormitory entertaining these guys. They’d shout out a request, and I’d do most of them,” he says.
“I remember when I was an usher at the Shubert Theater in Chicago and would try out different accents just to see how they would work with people. Like if it was a German patron, I’d go (in a German accent), ‘Your seets arrr ofer herre, madam,’ and ‘No, zes tickets arrre wrong.’ Like that. They would just look at me, ‘Oh, it must be a foreign student.’ “
Castellaneta was performing with the Second City improv group in his native Chicago and doing occasional voice-overs on the radio when Fox decided to wedge brief cartoons of the Simpson characters into “The Tracey Ullman Show.” Two people recommended Castellaneta to the producer.
He found Homer’s voice through a gradual process, he says. “It started out as Walter Matthau and it was just hard for me — I couldn’t get enough power behind that voice. Homer’s emotions went all over the place, from angry to happy to in a state of nirvana in terms of food, and it started dropping down here into this voice,” Castellaneta lowers his chin to his chest and suddenly sounds exactly like Homer Simpson.
“I was hired as a cast member of ‘The Tracey Ullman Show.’ I had done voice-overs. My wife and I were a voiceover team in Chicago, we did voice-overs for radio spots and things. When they had these little one-minute cartoons of the Simpsons on ‘The Tracey Ullman Show,’ they figured, why cast another person? They had me, and Julie Kavner was also in the cast. So they said, ‘Just make them the parents.’ “
When he began on the “Ullman Show,” his father confided that he’d expected Dan to follow him to the printing company. “But he said, ‘You did it!’ I have to say I was really scared. I actually felt good and grateful to my dad for keeping his fears at bay so that I wouldn’t be so scared. It was tough enough as it is.”
Castellaneta is married to actress Deb Lacusta, with whom he occasionally works. On the show he also voices Krusty the Clown, Barney Gumble, Mayor Quimby, Grampa Simpson and the Scot, Groundskeeper Willie. He also guest-stars (in his real persona) on shows like “The Drew Carey Show,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Friends.”
But twice a week he turns lumpy and yellow, dreaming of Duff beer and doughnuts and spouting his “D’oh!”
“I think he’s a very likable and amusing guy,” says Castellaneta of his alter ego. “One of the writers described him as a dog trapped in a man’s body. He’s incredibly loyal — not entirely clean — but you gotta love him.”