If you're a fan of The Simpsons, you probably see Nancy Cartwright's name in the closing credits every week. Astute devotees know she does the voice of Bart Simpson (Cartwright's best-selling book, My Life as a 10-Year-Old Boy, was the first clue), but only the hardcore Simpsons nuts know she also provides the voices for Nelson Muntz, Kearney, Ralph Wiggum, and Todd Flanders, too. You can hear the voices, and the story behind them, at this year's High Falls Film Festival, where Cartwright picks up the Web of Life Award.
City: I'm a huge fan of "The Simpsons," but I never realized this until I looked it up last week: You don't do any voices for female characters.
Cartwright: That's right. I know; what is with that? I love the fact that I don't do any girl voices on The Simpsons because it gives me some more possibilities outside of The Simpsons to do more work.
City: You've just taken over Chuckie on "Rugrats" recently, too. What's it like going onto a show that's already established...without anybody noticing?
Cartwright: To be honest, doing Chuckie is the biggest challenge of my career so far, to step in those boots that Chris Cavanaugh left behind. She retired, and they needed to find somebody else to recreate what she originated. I was hired and didn't know I could do this voice.
City: That's amazing.
Cartwright: Yeah. But they don't know that. There are a handful of us women who do voices and our voice prints are very similar. It's all in the same vocal range. Doing the voices that we do, we can all stand in for each other. I do a separate session because I take a little bit longer than the rest of the cast. So to answer your question, I'm not really thrown into this family that has been together for 10 years. That would be tough.
City: How does it work if you're doing voices for multiple characters in the same scene?
Cartwright: You know what? You just talk to yourself. We don't concentrate on one character and then go back to pick up another character. [Cartwright's voice changes to Bart Simpson] I'll be talking like Bart Simpson and having a dialogue with Nelson Muntz [voices changes again], and all of a sudden I'll have to start talking like Nelson [voice changes again] and then Ralph Wiggum steps into the scene. So you have to be able to bounce.
City: So what are some of your favorite episodes?
Cartwright: Oh, God --- that's the hardest one to answer. "Bart Sells His Soul." "Lisa's Substitute." I really like the one where Bart shoots the bird and becomes mother to the babies. I like the statements The Simpsons make. There was one episode where they put Bart on Focusin [a Ritalin spoof] that was such a powerful comment on drugging children in our school systems. Then there are other ones where they make social comments on things like stealing cable television, or when Homer was smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes.
City: Do you ever get uncomfortable if you don't agree with the social commentary or the show's politics?
Cartwright: Actually, no, because I really get the overall intention. With satire, it may appear to be condoning, like the whole marijuana thing, but when you watch the whole episode, you get a whole different take at the end. And, on the other hand, The Simpsons offends everyone. Everyone is a potential target on our show.
No matter what she tells you, Nancy Cartwright is not, in fact, a 10-year-old boy. You can see for yourself on Saturday, November 2, when she hits the Dryden Theatre at 1 p.m. for the multimedia extravaganza An Afternoon with Nancy Cartwright: My Life as a 10-Year-Old Boy ($7.50 adults/$5 children 12 and under; through Ticket Express); and on Sunday, November 3, at her free Barnes & Noble (Pittsford) book signing.