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Push Yourself Beyond Your Comfort Zone

In her latest column, Nancy Cartwright talks more anecdotally about thinking outside the box.

Nancy Cartwright.

I have been writing articles and doing interviews for AWN for a little more than five years now. I have covered subjects like finally "Getting That Job," "Promotions and Marketing," "Giving Back," "Finding Your Own Voice," "Being a Professional," etc. After having written so many articles expressing my viewpoint, I decided to interview other professionals to get their "take" on what is most important.

I have had the privilege of interviewing some of the top pros in the industry. The common theme amongst them is: "Push Yourself Beyond Your Comfort Zone."

When I think about the jobs I have landed over the past 28 years, I can't help but notice that when I have "thought outside the box" or even dared to "surprise myself," I have not only found that I was far more capable of doing way more than I ever anticipated, but also ended up getting cast in the part.

For example, years ago, 1981 to be exact, I was up for a quirky part on-camera for a young woman who was legally blind and had a wacky sense of humor. I had just worked with an improv group that included Jonathan Winters and he had given me a red lobster visor-type hat made of foam. I decided to wear that to the audition with a pair of coke-bottle-thick glasses. As I sat in the waiting room, I donned the lobster-hat and glasses and just sat there. I was called in to meet the producers and to read for the part. I forgot that I couldn't read with those glasses on and everyone had a good laugh, including me. Despite that, I didn't apologize or get embarrassed. In fact, I was offered the lead role. Later on, during the shoot, I found out that the producers had seen me with my "get up" on in the waiting room. They decided right then and there that I should have the part! That took a lot of courage and I didn't even know it!

Another time, I auditioned for a role on Cheers. At the end of the scene, my character walks out of the room. Without any apology or hesitation, I finished the scene and I opened the door and just kept walking! In fact, I walked to my car, got in and drove home. By the time I got home, the phone was literally ringing and my agent told me that I got the part! Beautiful! -- another 10 points for not doing what is expected.

As for voice-overs, I steal from people all the time -- people in real life and other performances that I see/hear, especially those on-camera. What really helps me is to observe the shape of a person's jaw or the amount and alignment of someone's teeth! I am inspired by a healthy under-bite or over-bite and a good split right down the middle makes for a great lisp! This is beyond just "making a funny voice". When I was hired to be the voice of Nelson Muntz, I had no idea what a bully would sound like. I just imagined that even though he was only about 10 or 12 years old, he probably drank coffee and smoked cigarettes…and that is where the sound of Nelson came from.

Here are some other helpful suggestions from some real pros in the industry:

Jess Harnell (Fairly Odd Parents, Power Puff Girls, Animaniacs): "The main thing [is] be a sponge. Keep your ears open, keep developing…find what you can do well and exploit that." Kath Soucie (Rugrats, Clifford's Really Big Movie, Space Jam): "Find out what your strengths are from a pro so you can highlight them when promoting yourself. Get "over"-qualified, 'cause there are plenty of "qualified" people lining up already. I'm not kidding -- there's a huge amount of talented people out there. The key is: be prepared -- and once you are, once you're really ready -- have complete faith in yourself and your ability and go for it! That's so key. When an actor auditions, one of the most appealing things to a casting person is confidence." Candi Milo (Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Pet Alien, Astro Boy): "Know the reasons for each line. Beware of the deadly 'ad-lib' -- enhance, [don't] add—save the jokes for your folks. Study. Be disciplined." AJ Riebli (Pixar Animation's editorial manager): "Pixar believes in education. We have our own university at work called PU and all employees are provided with an opportunity to explore their talents -- everything from beginning painting and drawing to beginner UNIX and Brazilian Samba. One of my favorite classes in PU is improvisation and one of the most important rules of improv is to always accept the offer. I really believe that being open to offers is critical to success." Mike Scully (four-year show-runner for The Simpsons): "Really develop your voice to its full potential. Push yourself. You may find voices inside you that you didn't know you had." Tress MacNeille (The Simpsons, Futurama, Animaniacs): "When you do work -- do anything. Do what you're told, don't improvise unless you're asked and try not to 'work blue'." Ginny McSwain (animation VO director): "Let's face it -- Los Angeles is the voice-over capital in this business. You either come to LA to compete in a huge market where the competition is intense, or you stay where you are and be a big fish in a little pond. Obviously, there's more money to be made in a city where there is more opportunity." Brad Bird (Simpsons colleague-turned-auteur): "I learned how hard you have to fight to retain a vision and how you absolutely have to be willing to lose. They [the studios] will completely take advantage of you unless they can see in your eyes that you are prepared to lose it all."

And with these sage words of advice, I wish that all your dreams come true for you too.

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.

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