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Yeardley Smith: Life as Lisa Simpson

Friday 24 May 2013 1:43 p.m.

The voice behind television's most precocious eight-year-old – Lisa Simpson – has two words for critics who think The Simpsons well past its peak: "F**k 'em."

Twenty-six years on from the show's debut, Yeardley Smith says the fact people still have an opinion on it is all that matters.

"What's interesting about that is people, like on Twitter for instance, feel the need to specifically send me links to articles that say the show isn't as good as it used to be," she says.

"I'm like, what is that in aid of? Do you think I'm not aware of that? Of course we're aware of opinions like that, and do you also think I could somehow change that singlehandedly? You can't worry about it."

Smith is in New Zealand for the Armageddon pop culture expo, which kicks off in Hamilton this weekend, before heading south to Wellington. She's appeared in a number of films and television shows, but it's her long-running role as the middle Simpson child which she's best-known for – so it's hard to believe that playing a cartoon character was never part of her plan.

"I had a very specific trajectory – it was huge, and I wasn't a person who said no to auditions. If it came from my agent that made it legit, and it was on the Fox lot – I thought, who wouldn't want to go there? So I just showed up.

"There's a rumour that's out there that says I almost turned the job down, and that's actually not true. But I had no specific interest in voiceover, that part is true. So in my quest for world domination, voiceover was not one of those puzzle pieces."

In person, Smith's voice is only marginally different to that of Lisa's – and when she laughs, they're indistinguishable. Having such a distinctive tone however means unlike other Simpsons stars like Dan Castellaneta (Homer, Barney, Krusty, Willie and more) and Hank Azaria (Moe, Apu, Wiggum, Carl and more), she's stuck playing only Lisa.

"I used to do an old woman who was in Grandpa's rest home," she says. "Every few years… we have a new showrunner, a changing of the guard and they for some reason gave it to another woman in the cast, and now we haven't heard from her in some time, so maybe she's passed away.

"But they've told me I sound so much like myself all the time that I can't be in the crowd if Lisa Simpson is not specifically in the crowd, so now I have a complete inferiority complex."

Without Lisa though, there wouldn't be a show. Smith says if any of the main cast quit, that'd be it for the The Simpsons – but she doesn't see that happening any time soon.

"I think we're about halfway through," she laughs. "We are now the longest-running scripted television show in US history, by a lot… so who knows? I've been wrong about the answer to that question for so long, I've now decided we're only halfway done."

Now in its 25th season, The Simpsons has one of the most expansive cast of characters of any television show. Smith names country bumpkin Cletus Spuckler as a favourite, as well as recidivist alcoholic Barney Gumble, his enabler Moe Szyslak and the silent, mono-browed baby.

Of the Simpsons themselves – Lisa aside – she's a fan of Maggie.

"She, I believe, says so much in her silence – almost more than all of us say in all of our paragraphs of dialogue."

If the show's only halfway through, there's always the chance the writers will let us see the Simpsons grow up. Lisa's been linked to a few of the boys around Springfield, but when given a choice of tying the knot with either Nelson, Milhouse or Ralph, Smith doesn't think Lisa would settle.

"You know what? I think she'd be strong and single," she says.

If Smith was in Lisa's shoes however, Lisa would be a Muntz .

"Of all of those three young fellows that you named, I'd say [Nelson] has the strongest sense of himself. Milhouse is a wash. Ralph is just like, don't even. I can't even believe you said that!

"Nelson, he has a fighting chance. He did his microfinance project where he was fixing bicycles, and he was so successful that he contemplated leaving school, so I feel like Nelson, he might have a future."

And despite being on air for more than a quarter of a century already so too, it seems, does The Simpsons. As the family once sang: they'll never stop The Simpsons.

Yeardley Smith will be at Armageddon in Hamilton at the Claudelands Arena on Sunday May 26, and Wellington's Westpac Stadium on Sunday June 2.

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