Nancy Cartwright...as the voice of 10-year-old dickens Bart Simpson on The Simpsons ever since its debut as an animated television short 20 years ago, the 49-year-old Cartwright morphs into a cheeky fourth-grader whose specialty is outrageous acts of mischief and mayhem. Bart is world-famous, Cartwright is not. The 5-foot-1 actress looks like a soccer mom, not like the star of television's longest-running sitcom, and indeed she is a divorced mother of two teenagers who lives in the Los Angeles suburbs, studies Scientology and devotes her spare time to volunteer community work...
She also becomes wealthy: Cartwright earns six figures per Simpsons episode, though each requires less than six hours' work from the voice cast. The series, recorded every March through October, is broadcast in 70 countries and has won 23 Emmys and a Peabody...
The way she describes it, Cartwright had earlier used what was to become her "Bart voice" for two other cartoon characters in My Little Pony (1986) and Galaxy High School (1986). Called in to try out for The Simpsons, a cartoon short on the sketch-comedy series The Tracey Ullman Show (1987-1990), Cartwright was asked to read for Lisa, geeky daughter of Homer and Marge.
Having read the script and noted Bart's characteristics -- "devious, school-hating, irreverent," as she recalls -- Cartwright insisted on reading that part instead.
"I didn't give them a second option," she says cheerfully. "And they fell for it, hook, line and sinker."
In 1988, a year before The Simpsons left The Tracey Ullman Show to become its own 30-minute series, Cartwright married real-estate salesman Warren Murphy, and shortly thereafter gave birth to her daughter, Lucy, with son Jack following less than two years later. Through all that, Cartwright soldiered on as Bart, skipping only one session -- a rehearsal that she missed after going into labour with Jack.
Cartwright had met Murphy through the controversial Church of Scientology, which she in fact had joined specifically to find a husband.
"I was very successful in my career, owned my own house, but I had never even had a boyfriend," says the actress, who was born Catholic. "I wanted to get married. I thought that a church was a good place to meet somebody, fall in love and get married. I really wanted to have that life and a family."
Part of it was that, in her early 20s, she had lost her mother to cancer and a brother to drugs.
"I had been carrying that loss of family around a long time," she says, "and I wanted to fix it. Scientology was practical and had a spiritual edge."
Cartwright has brought up her children according to Scientology teachings, and runs her producing business on principles learned at the Hubbard College of Administration, a Los Angeles-based institution with a curriculum based on the administrative ideas of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
"It's a rough world out there," she says. "Scientology has helped me spiritually and as an artist. There's a crossover. I have a real confidence about who I am and where I'm going."
Cartwright and Murphy were divorced in 2005, but next year the actress plans to marry another Scientologist, general contractor Steve Brackett.