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Nancy Cartwright Chats with Tress MacNeille

In her latest column, Nancy Cartwright finds out what inspired Tress MacNeille, what are some of her favorite experiences and what advice she would give aspiring v.o. artists.

Nancy Cartwright.

Nancy Cartwright.

Tress MacNeille provides voices for many popular and classic animated series and features, radio and television commercials, narrations, video and computer games, trailers and promos. She is Babs Bunny, Dot Warner, Daisy Duck, Merriwether, The Queen of Hearts, Chip (of… and Dale), many other Disney classic voices, Wilma Flintstone, Rosie The Robot, Agnes Skinner, The Cat Lady, Dolph, Brandine, Cookie Kwan( among many others) in The Simpsons, Mom(and many others) in Futurama, Charlotte Pickles ( Rugrats).Tress is a California native, a UC Berkeley grad and a proud member of a large, happy and supportive family.

Nancy Cartwright: Tell me about your early years. Did you always want to do voice-overs?

Tress McNeille: I wanted to do cartoon voices from about the age of eight, I'd say. Among the many shows that inspired me were Gerald McBoing-Boing, Beanie and Cecil, Felix the Cat, Woody Woodpecker, the Warner Bros. classic cartoons, anything Disney and the wonderful Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. I also wanted to be an artist, wear a smock and live in an atelier. Then I moved on to the more "practical" ambitions -- baker, disc jockey, doctor and, of course, lawyer. Even as a child I thought I could never get into show business. I had no connections and nobody else I knew did either! So -- it was on to the fifth grade and on with my life. Meanwhile, my Boo Boo Bear impression was getting better and better.

After college I did finally get to broadcasting school and became a deejay. Then I discovered voice over!

NC: Your first part back 1979 was Scooby Doo and Scrappy Doo. Tell me how you got that first job. Did you make any decisions because of it?

TM: My first animation job came after I'd been doing radio spots, some TV, demos, sound-alikes, industrial narrations -- anything that came my way for about two years. It would be almost four more years before I was ever a true series regular. Bob Lloyd (The Voicecaster) and Rita Vennari at SBV [Talent Agency] were my true champions and got me the job. Gordon Hunt directed Scooby Doo, and all the other shows it seemed, at Hanna Barbera. It was a blast and I just had to do more! Adding cartoon voices to the quiver gave me great confidence and helped me believe that I might be able to do voice-over professionally. I was still working at night, taking workshops, joined The Groundlings and was a casting assistant for Bob Lloyd. Working for Bob was The University of Voice-over. I thank him every day.

NC: You have one of the largest libraries of voice-over work of anyone in the industry with 227 series' credits to your name. What is your technique aka "secret" for creating so many different characters? Are they based on friends, relatives, the guy who lives down the street?

TM: Creating characters and doing impressions is an ability that may have to come naturally, I think. Kind of a predisposition, perhaps. The characters that I do all come from people in my own life -- as well as the material I've stolen from my friends!

NC: You have had the opportunity to work with some of the pioneers in the v.o. industry, including Joanie Gerber, Frank Welker, Peter Cullen, etc. Who are your v.o." heroes"?

TM: There are so many fabulous people that I've had the honor of working with and ripping off that it's almost impossible for me to list them! I love them all! Rob Paulsen, Frank Welker, Jim Cummings, Jeff Bennett, Billy West, Russi Taylor and Wayne Allwine, Maurice LaMarche, Tom Kenny, Candi Milo, Charlie Adler, June [Foray], Joanie, B.J.Ward, Corey Burton, Jess Harnell, Phil LaMarr, John DiMaggio, Kath Souci, Pam Adlon, April Winchell, Dee Bradley Baker, James Taylor, Bill Farmer, Tony Anselmo -- don't get me started. And don't get me into trouble!

Tress McNeille.

Tress McNeille.

NC: What is your greatest challenge regarding your work?

TM: The greatest challenge regarding my work is keeping it fresh and trying not to repeat myself, or at least not to get caught!

NC: We've had the pleasure of working together on no less than 10 series, including obviously The Simpsons, but also My Little Pony, Bonkers, The Critic, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Rugrats, Chalk Zone and All Grown Up. What is the most challenging job you have ever had?

TM: Babs Bunny in Tiny Toon Adventures was a very challenging role. She did many impressions in every show, sang and screamed. The role had been written with me in mind so I was fairly safe but I certainly didn't want to disappoint! That show reflects a lot of the work of which I'm most proud.

NC: What advice would you give some "young pup" just starting out in v.o.?

TM: To those who might want to pursue a career in voice over I would recommend an improv class. There's nothing better for the chops. It doesn't hurt to be a good reader and to have a lot of information. Arcane is good! Join a theater company and be with other actors.

I would also caution people to make a living doing something else until they're established. Voice over isn't part-time work. When you do work -- do anything. Do what you're told, don't improvise unless you're asked and try not to "work blue." Oh, and don't bring your children or pets to a session. I'm just sayin'...

NC: If you were producing/directing an animated series, what would you do differently than is done today?

TM: Because I'm blessed to work on only the greatest shows that exist and with the very best producers and directors in the business (did I mention Andrea Romano?) I'm relieved of the responsibility of steering those ships. Sometimes there is a "snarkiness" to a cartoon that I'm not fond of, or too much sexy-sexy or politics (huge mistake), but all in all, I'm very grateful to be sitting in a room with my best buddies -- the brightest, funniest people on the planet -- learning and laughing a whole lot every day.

NC: What is your proudest artistic achievement?

TM: When all is said and done, my proudest achievement in this business is that I've been able to work in a career that I love for all these years. (I was very young when I started!)

Nancy Cartwright is best known as the voice of spiky-headed Bart Simpson on The Simpsons. She has voiced dozens of cartoon characters in a career that has spanned more than 20 years. Currently, she can be heard as the voice of Rufus the Naked Mole Rat on Disney's Kim Possible and Todd Daring in Disney's The Replacements. To learn more about Nancy's career, listen to her audio book My Life as a 10-Year-Old Boy.