It’s been a big year for “The Simpsons,” but an even bigger one for the voice of Bart Simpson.
Bart, Homer and the rest of the family first appeared on “The Tracey Ullman Show” 30 years ago, and the series is about to break another record with the most episodes of any scripted series in history (surpassing “Gunsmoke”).
Nancy Cartwright has also hit personal milestones, including her second Emmy nomination for voicing Bart Simpson. But over the course of the past year, she also became a grandmother – and a first-time filmmaker.
“The Simpsons” has already been picked up for Seasons 29 and 30, guaranteeing Cartwright’s role as Bart until at least 2019 – and likely beyond. “Look what we’ve done. It’s unbelievable. It’s unfathomable,” she recently told IndieWire. “At 10 years they were saying, ‘Did you have any idea?’ and then 20 years, ‘Did you know?’ And now, another decade has gone by and I’m a grandmother on top of it. That’s kind of special, Bart being a grandmother.”
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Cartwright won her first Emmy as the voice of Bart Simpson in 1992, and she’s looking to finally repeat that feat 25 years later. For Emmys consideration, the actress submitted the episode “Looking for Mr. Goodbart,” in which Bart starts hanging out with and lavishing attention on a bunch of grandmothers because they spoil him rotten (well, more rotten than he already is). But when he meets one lady in particular, Phoebe (Jennifer Saunders), Bart learns to truly value the women and their experiences.
“I just love it. And in that episode I actually play more than just one Simpson, I play Bart and I think Ralph is in it and Nelson is in it, but for some reason, I was nominated just for the voice of Bart,” said Cartwright. “It’s the journey that Bart is taking, trying to find his grandma… It was super clever and the fact that I’m a grandma, there you go.”
She’s been with “The Simpsons” now for half of her life, so it’s not surprising that each has had small influences on each other.
“I like to pop in and out of Bart or Nelson or Ralph and make people laugh in life,” Cartwright said. “And I’m very fortunate in that I don’t have nine spikes on the top of my head and I’m not like other actors that, they look very much like the characters that they play. I can have a lot of fun with that, and I do.”
Cartwright has even seen bits of her life play out on the show.
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“You know sometimes I feel like they follow me around and they’re spying on me because …that sort of happened in my life,” she said. “The grandmother thing for example, but that was just too amazing. They can go to my Facebook page and see what I’m communicating and maybe they’re inspired by what I’m originating. I’m the honorary mayor of San Fernando Valley and there was a mention of Bart doing that [running for mayor], I think, in one of the episodes, years ago and that was kind a funny.”
“The Simpsons,” which is also nominated for Outstanding Animated Program again this year, has also found a way to be responsive to current events. Although production requires that animated programs take longer to turn around, the show has created custom content in response to current events, namely the election and presidency of Donald Trump. Whether it was tweaking its signature chalkboard gag or creating short clips and posting them on Twitter that show the ghost of Richard Nixon advising Trump or imagine a world in which Ivanka Trump takes Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat the show has gone out of its way to be topical.
“These guys are so brilliant. They’re thinking ahead,” she said. “I’m sure they’re working double time. It’s so irreverent and it’s unique in that we can do that because it’s an animated show. Other shows don’t have that. They don’t have the freedom to be able to do something like that.”
Although “The Simpsons” has taken over her life the past 30 years, Cartwright recently revisited a passion that came right before she landed the role of Bart. She has produced and co-written the independent film “In Search of Fellini,” which is inspired by her experiences when she was younger.
“It’s based on a true adventure that I took in 1985, a couple years before I was cast as Bart,” she said. “I was in an acting class and studying Federico Fellini. One of his films was called ‘La Strada.’ I decided I wanted to go meet him so I connected somehow with his office and they did not want me to come, but I said, ‘I’m absolutely coming,’ and I went. I went on this wild adventure and did some things that, I look at now and go, ‘Well that was stupid.’ I got myself in some predicaments. You eat, drink, you fall in love when you go to Italy and I had an amazing time.”
“When I came back I no longer wanted to develop ‘La Strada’ as a play, but decided I wanted to make my little adventure, I wanted to develop that as a one-woman show,” she said. “But shortly after that I was cast as Bart. I got married. I had two babies and now we’re into ‘The Simpsons,’ so in 1995, I did it as a one-woman show. Matt Groening and a lot of the writers showed up and the actors saw me on stage. Then 20 years goes by and … it was not a goal or a purpose of mine to write a feature film. I didn’t have the lines and I didn’t have the confidence. Financially I didn’t have the wherewithal to produce it. How am I going to shoot a film in Italy? But I never stopped telling the story and I never let go of the dream and now, the time was right about three years ago, and we did it.”
The film stars Ksenia Solo as the sheltered young woman Lucy Cunningham and Maria Bello as her mother. Mary Lynn Rajskub also appears in the film, which is directed by first-timer Taron Lexton.
“He brought a danger and a very Fellini-esque, if you will, quality,” Cartwright said. “I think it’s a lovely tribute to the quirkiness and disturbingly brilliant culture that he created with his films. We’ve done nine film festivals in five months and we took Best Director, Best Production, and Best Actress at the Ferrara Film Festival in Italy.”
She continued, “I think you’re going to love it ‘cause [there are references to] ‘La Dolce Vita,’ there’s ‘Satyricon,’ ‘Amarcord.’ And ‘’La Strada,’ remember the little girl on the the white horse? That’s in our film.”
The Emmy nomination, although not expected, couldn’t have come at a better time. “I’m so lucky. I just feel it’s a good time right now,” she said. “I’m riding kind of a nice crest with the Emmy and with this film coming out and the Simpsons going into year 30. I can’t believe it. And being a grandmother. It’s a career. You’re talking about a career.”
“The Simpsons” premieres Season 29 on Oct. 1, and “In Search of Fellini” premieres in New York and Los Angeles on Sept. 15. Watch a trailer for the film below: