Nancy Cartwright On The Spot

There’s not enough time in the day for Nancy Cartwright. Best known as the voice of Bart Simpson, Ralph Wiggum and Rugrats’ Chuckie, the Kettering, Ohio, native is more than just a talented voice artist. Cartwright, 48, is the brainchild behind The Kellys, an animated series about a stock-car-racing family. Produced by her animation company SportsBlast LLC and Turner Sports Interactive, The Kellys can be seen on Nascar’s Web site. She also is involved in several nonprofits, including Happy House, whose mission is to build better families, one at a time. —

Q: What inspired you to get into the voice acting business?

A: I pursued activities that made me happy as a kid. I would tell jokes and stories … and people would always comment about the unusual quality of my voice. People weren’t quite sure if I was a boy or a girl. I had very short hair and a very androgynous sound to my voice. In high school I got on the speech team. … My brothers were bringing home trophies for little league and soapbox derby, while I would bring home first place for humorous interpretation.

Who has influenced you most creatively?

His name was Daws Butler, and he did the voices of Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Elroy Jetson. He was to Hanna-Barbera what Mel Blanc was to Warner Bros. … I got in the [UCLA] theatre department and started acting (because they didn’t have a speech team). On Sundays, I would take the bus 20 minutes to Beverly Hills … and take a private lesson. [Butler] became my mentor. Within a couple of years, I was auditioning at Hanna-Barbera, and I got my first gig in 1981 as the voice of Gloria on Richie Rich. It’s been just a toy store, a carnival, Christmas, all rolled into one. I love it.

Everyone knows you as the voice of Bart Simpson, but you’re also the founder of SportsBlast. Tell me about the company.

We noticed two things: The most popular area on the Internet is pornography; the second is sports, and there wasn’t any animation at all on this very highly trafficked arena. We got in touch with Turner Sports Interactive and developed a relationship with them in order to create some family entertainment using stock cars and racing, and we came up with this concept of The Kellys.

Have you driven a race car?

The production team actually went out to the track several times, and I continue to go out and drive. It is exhilarating. I love sitting behind the wheel of one of those cars that go at 158.2 mph—that’s my top speed.

Are you a fan of Danica Patrick?

She’s got a lot of moxie. It’s interesting following her career. … I’d love to meet her and get her viewpoint. It would be fun to have her on The Kellys.

Do you do anything special to take care of your voice?

I drink warm stuff, I hydrate my skin—I have a steam shower. I avoid things like coffee, regular tea—I’ll drink decaffeinated. As much as I love cheese and ice cream, they do not love me. I don’t like the idea of having to keep clearing my throat when I work, so I just try to avoid stuff like that.

Of all the characters you’ve voiced, is there a favorite?

That is like asking me which kid I like the best; that’s so hard to answer. On The Kellys, I’m the voice of Chip Kelly. He’s 7 years old, and I love him because there’s a precociousness about him, but he’s not irritatingly precocious. If his legs were three feet longer, he’d be a great driver, because he has the qualities that make a good driver.

You’ve had many celebrities guest-voicing on The Simpsons. Who were you most excited to meet and work with?

Quite honestly, we only get to work with a handful because we record on Monday from 10 till 2. If, say, Meryl Streep is not available from that time on a Monday, they set up a separate record session for her. I had the opportunity of working with Meryl because all of her scenes were with Bart. They set up a private session with her and me, and I’ll tell you, it was one of the highlights of my career.

Name one person you’re dying to work with.

Robin Williams.

Did you come up with any of Bart’s famous catchphrases?

Just one of them—”Eat my shorts.” That was based on something I did when I was in marching band in high school. It was just an expression that we called out when we were playing for the football team. Thirteen years later, in a moment of inspiration, I threw that out as an ad-lib. The next thing you know, it’s plastered on millions of T-shirts.

Besides Butterfinger, have you been involved in any other commercial work?

We did Ramada Inn, Burger King. I love the Butterfinger campaign. I was so sad when they stopped it because people are still saying, “Never lay a finger on my Butterfinger.”

Give me three words to describe yourself.

High achiever, playful, business-savvy.

How about three words that describe how others perceive you?

Youthful, ethically minded.

What’s the most important thing you learned from your parents?

To support children in the choices that they make for their goals. Lead them along like a kite—you just keep letting out a little bit of string and then you gotta let them fly.