The Simpsons Folder
BEHIND THE LINES
Inside the Actors Studio: The Simpsons
(8 pm/ET, BRAVO) © 2003 TV Guide Magazine Group, Inc.
Say what you will about James Lipton: His own acting résumé is rather skimpy, his interviews rather fawning, his manner rather stiff, but he knows how to keep the top-bill talent coming. When Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer taped tonight’s show at the New School’s Actors Studio Theater in November, it marked the first time the entire Simpsons cast has ever been interviewed together. And with their 300th episode airing next week, this TV family must have much to share.
Lipton jokes that it’s the first time he’s ever fit 30 guests on the stage (counting the voice-actors’ alter egos). Even without all those Springfield residents, this is a tight squeeze for one hour. Normally, he can delve into the childhood and adolescent experiences that led his subjects to their profession, marking every landmark school-play performance and every moment of starving-artist sacrifice along the way. Presumably, this is more for the benefit of the students in the audience than for the celeb worshippers at home. However, with six highly accomplished thesps on at once, he can only get to the highlights of their steps along the way to Matt Groening’s little animated segment on The Tracy Ullman Show. Lipton seems most impressed with Kavner’s work on Rhoda and her Woody Allen films, Azaria’s Agador Spartacus in Birdcage and Shearer’s turn as Derek Smalls in This is Spinal Tap.
If the audience is tickled with the actors’ tales of how they came up with their unique voices, they’re ecstatic when Lipton switches gears and interviews the show’s characters. The host is obviously a big fan, proudly mentioning his own guest appearance as himself last season. He asks Homer (Castellaneta) to rate the “Mmm” factor of pork rinds, Duff beer and donuts. Marge (Kavner) talks about her healthy sex drive. Lisa (Smith) reads a poem about her late cat, Snowball 1. Bart (Cartwright) calls Moe’s (Azaria) Tavern to ask for Homer Sexual. Shearer talks to himself as both Burns and Smithers. Finally, they all take turns answering the “Bernard Pivot Questionaire”: their favorite and least favorite words, turn-ons and turn-offs, favorite curse words, etc. It’s amazing to watch the actors switch back and forth on command — especially Shearer and Castellaneta, who voice more than 10 regular characters each.
At this point, the interview really isn’t about the craft of acting any more. This is more a celebration of an unlikely group of cultural icons, and even the usually uber-serious wannabes in the audience let themselves slip from students to fans. But though they don’t expound upon their skills or reveal the method behind their comedic brilliance, we do learn to appreciate the talent behind the yellow skinned, chinless drawings. — Sabrina Rojas Weiss