'Whoa, Mama!': A Voice Actress's Road To Fame As A 10-Year-Old Boy Back in 1987, Nancy Cartwright made a risky, last-minute decision during an audition: Instead of trying out for the part of mild-mannered Lisa Simpson, she went for the role of rebellious Bart.
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'Whoa, Mama!': A Voice Actress's Road To Fame As A 10-Year-Old Boy

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'Whoa, Mama!': A Voice Actress's Road To Fame As A 10-Year-Old Boy

'Whoa, Mama!': A Voice Actress's Road To Fame As A 10-Year-Old Boy

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Now, for the latest installment of our series My Big Break about career triumphs big and small. Back in 1987, Nancy Cartwright auditioned for a show within a show. "The Tracey Ullman Show" on Fox was working in animated shorts about a dysfunctional family, "The Simpsons." Cartwright was there to audition for the studious, well-mannered daughter Lisa.

NANCY CARTWRIGHT: It was a picture of Lisa and I'd never seen it before. And with those spikes on her head, I'm like, wow, this is kind of different. And I read the monologue. It was just a little monologue. And it was fine. But next to her was Bart. I didn't even know there was a boy. And when I read that he was a 10-year-old, school-hating, underachiever, but proud of it, I'm like, boy, that just hit me right in my heart, you know - insouciant and a troublemaker, and I'm like, yeah, that's it. So I went in, shook hands with Matt Groening, and he thought I was there to read for Lisa also. And I said, you know, I saw this kid. Is it all right - I want to do the kid instead of her. Is that - oh, yeah. That's fine. I just opened my mouth and a 10-year-old boy popped out.

(As Bart Simpson) Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Bam. Oh my God, that's him. You're hired. And, like, on the spot, I got the job. My big break? Right there.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SIMPSONS")

YEARDLEY SMITH: (As Lisa Simpson) What you doing, Bart?

CARTWRIGHT: (As Bart Simpson) Skateboarding.

SMITH: (As Lisa Simpson) Can we come?

CARTWRIGHT: (As Bart Simpson) No way, man. Skateboarding's men's work.

SMITH: (As Lisa Simpson) Then why are you doing it?

CARTWRIGHT: (As Bart Simpson) Because I am a man, man. Cowabunga.

This was not a recording booth (laughter). It wasn't a recording booth. They had a portable recording that you see on movie sets and it was a handheld, little machine, pushing buttons and stuff. We're sharing - this is how low-budget it was - sharing a microphone.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SIMPSONS")

DAN CASTELLANETA: (As Homer Simpson) Well, here we are, the whole family.

CARTWRIGHT: Moving to the side so Homer can say his line, then I'd step up and do mine.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SIMPSONS")

CASTELLANETA: (As Homer Simpson) Why, we're more than a...

CARTWRIGHT: (As Bart Simpson) Dad, you can stop now. Commercial's over and the show's back on.

And then look what happened. Just, like, who knew? Oh my gosh, I don't know of any other character that has more catchphrases than Bart.

(As Bart Simpson) Don't have a cow. Eat my shorts. Get bent. Woah, momma.

And my favorite swear...

(As Bart Simpson) ...Bosom.

There you go. That's like six or seven right there. I do seven voices on "The Simpsons" - Bart, Nelson, Ralph, Kearney, Todd, Database and Maggie. Ralph Wiggum - I mean the catchphrases - he's just this walking non sequitur that no matter what's happening, if you stick Ralph in there...

(As Ralph Wiggum) When I grow up, I want to be a principal or a caterpillar.

(As Nelson Muntz) Ralph, what are you talking about?

(As Ralph Wiggum)What do you mean what am I talking about?

(As Nelson Muntz) Come on, straighten up.

(As Ralph Wiggum) Huh, what did you say?

I mean that's - it's called vocal gymnastics, and I get a little bit of an aerobic workout when I have to talk to myself. It amazes me how much people still are surprised to find out that Bart Simpson is a woman.

(As Bart Simpson) Yeah, man, I'm Bart Simpson. What's happening dude?

And their jaw usually hits the ground and then I open up my purse...

(As Bart Simpson) ...Do you want my autograph?

(SOUNDBITE OF "THE SIMPSONS" THEME SONG)

CARTWRIGHT: It's like I am living - I'm living my dream. I really am. I knew when I was about 16 that I wanted to do this. How great to be paid to burp and fart and do what you love with a lot of talented people and still make people laugh all along the way. It's the best - the best.

RATH: Nancy Cartwright, the unmistakable voice behind Bart Simpson. Since her fateful audition, "The Simpsons" has become the longest-running primetime scripted entertainment series in American television history. You don't need an iconic voice to have a big break. Send us your story - mybigbreak@npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF "THE SIMPSONS" THEME SONG)

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