Toon Zone Interviews Pamela Hayden on Being Millhouse for "The Simpsons"
At The Simpsons Movie DVD Release event in Bryant Park, New York City, Toon Zone News got the chance to sit down briefly with the funny and charming Pamela Hayden, the voice actress who provides the voice of Milhouse, Rod Flanders, Sarah Wiggum, Janey Powell, and several other supporting characters on the show.
We are providing short audio clips some of her answers, where the transcript would lose the way Hayden shifted into character for her response. Or where it was just funnier to hear her response rather than read it.
TOON ZONE NEWS: Did I read it right that you got your start in stand-up comedy?
PAMELA HAYDEN: Actually, I started in theater. I did a lot of theater. That was my training. Did some television, a lot of stage, and I did stand-up. I actually did stand-up because it was the only aspect of the business that scared me to death, so I started doing that, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do for a living. I just wanted to overcome that pesky fear. It was interesting. You know, one night, you’re just killing, and the next night, you’ve got 3 people in the audience and one’s on quaaludes and one’s just released from jail, and one hasn’t laughed since 1922.
TZN: And one’s arguing with his toilet…
HAYDEN: Exactly, there you go. So you’ve been to that club, I see! (laughs)
TZN: So how did you move from that into voice-over acting?
HAYDEN: I think it was an extension of the acting. You know, voices in my head. It actually isn’t that different. I mean, the techniques are, in terms of working at the microphone, but you’re still breaking down characters the same to find out what the characters want and how they feel. You’re basically doing the same sort of acting techniques, and so when I auditioned for Simpsons, it was similar to an on-camera audition for a situation comedy. It was multiple callbacks, except that you’re doing different roles and you’re only using your voice, obviously.
TZN: What was your training in acting, exactly?
HAYDEN: Oh, I studied with a lot of people, and did a lot of plays. I also wrote a solo show that I performed in Los Angeles, and then HBO asked me to do it at their performance space in SoHo here, which I did. That was really fun, although it’s not a comedy, so I wasn’t quite sure why they asked me to do it (laughs), but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
TZN: What would you say was the hardest thing you had to unlearn when you started doing voice over work? Were there any acting habits that you had gotten into that you really had to break yourself of?
HAYDEN: I don’t think it’s unlearning. I think it’s just…you know, a lot of people think that they animate and then you match the voice, when it’s actually the other way around. We record the voices and then the animators animate to our sound, so it’s very important to make very big choices so that they get ideas on how to draw them. When you’re just listening — although I do use my body at the microphone — you have to have all that emotion through your voice. You can’t just rely on, “Well, you’re going to walk this way,” because that’s not going to show like it would for a character on-screen.
TZN: Where does Milhouse come from?
(CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO HAYDEN’S RESPONSE)
HAYDEN: (As Milhouse) Heh-heh…Milhouse-land. And I used to..over the summers, I’d live with my nana in Italy, and not a lot of people knew that, so that’s why I speak fluent Italian. Bueno noche! (laughter)
(Ed’s Note: Actually, I meant where did she draw inspiraton for Milhouse as a character, but I think I like her answer better.)
TZN: Do you actually do the Italian dubs for Milhouse, then?
HAYDEN: I don’t do the Italian dubs for Milhouse, but we did have a show where Milhouse answered an ad when Lisa wanted a tutor in Italian, so I did speak Italian for most of that show. That was very fun and very challenging. I felt good when I had visited New York and some friends who were Brooklyn Italianites said, “Oh, that was really good Italian that you spoke” (laughs). I got the thumbs up, that was great.
TZN: Normally, you guys record radio style, where you have as many people in the booth at one time. How often do you get to play off each other and work with the other actors?
HAYDEN: Actually, all the time, unless we’re doing dubbing or ADR on a show we’ve already done, we’re actually doing that, and that’s what’s really special about The Simpsons as opposed to other cartoon shows. It’s more like a situation comedy, because we record the whole scene all the way through and then we get direction, and then we do some more takes and go on to the next scene, so we have a fluidity. And, you know, it’s really fun to be in the booth because actors throw things out, sometimes they get into the scripts and rewrite, sometimes they don’t, but the scripts are so good and so timely and topical even without our improvs that they’re a joy to do.
TZN: Now you’ve been Milhouse now for, almost…
HAYDEN: (in old-person voice) Ninteen-aught-two! (laughs) Since it went to series, so I’ve done it for nineteen years.
TZN: Have you ever had a moment where either you looked at something and said, “You know, I think Milhouse would do this instead”?
HAYDEN: Oh, yeah! For the most part, they know how Milhouse would talk, but we have had changes and turnovers, and there have been times when I just said, “Do you mind if I say it THIS way?” Maybe it sounds a little too polished or just a little different, and they’re great. The writers and producers are very good at letting you play.
TZN: So there’s a lot of interaction between you and the producers…
HAYDEN: There is. It’s more with the cast. I mean, we all do a table read with the writers and producers and then they re-write it, but the cast is all there when we record, so it’s playing off the cast.
TZN: Sometimes, we’ll hear other voice actors tell us, “Oh my God, the animators mimicked what just I did in the booth.” Ever seen them doing things like that with Milhouse?
(CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO HAYDEN’S RESPONSE)
HAYDEN: Well, not so much with Milhouse, but for example, when I do Janey (starts doing Janey) Like…she’s a…little girl…and, like, a lot of times, they’ll…uh move around a lot…and ….like, they’ll kind of fidgeting back and forth…and the breath…and that’s why the breathing is different because they’re little. (stops Janey) So, just the movement will be like on camera, how a certain walk or voice will change the character, I think that’s how it does for voice overs for me. That…getting that stance and how a character would move, even though you’re not moving. You don’t want to be off-mike and mess up the sound guy (laughs).
TZN: Do you watch a lot of animation other than The Simpsons?
HAYDEN: I actually don’t watch a lot of it. I watch some, but I don’t watch a lot. I’m a little bit spoiled. I sort of love our show (laughs). I don’t feel so much like it’s animated as it’s just a really strong sitcom. I like the fact that they don’t rely on cheap gags, that they’re character-driven. It’s interesting, because early on people used to talk about what a bad influence the family is, and actually there’s very strong moral messages about how they hang togeher and figure things out in their own Simpsonite way.
TZN: Do you collect any merchandise?
HAYDEN: Animation cels, I enjoy. I have those up in my home office. I like those.
TZN: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do…
(CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO HAYDEN’S RESPONSE)
HAYDEN: (Mock indignant) I don’t do…NUDE VOICEOVERS! What are you saying?!? (laughs) I think that’s happened more actually on Saturday morning cartoons, where you’re doing the voice of a fly, and they’ll say, “Uh…yeah, that’s good, but don’t do an animated fly. Do the voice of a REAL fly.” (laughs) That sort of stuff. You go, “Oh…OK….’I was just talking to Buzz the other day…’”
TZN: You’ve been doing voices for The Simpsons for almost 19 years now. How do you keep from feeling that you’re stagnating as an actor?
HAYDEN: Well, I think it’s actually the opposite. I think instead of stagnating, you really get to know the character. You get to really understand them. A lot of times, people ask me about Milhouse being a nerd, and I feel like, “Well, yes, he is a little nerdy,” but he keeps fighting back and picking himself up. He adjusts, so that’s an important part of life, so I feel like it’s more that you get comfortable in the shoes of a character than you feel like you’re tired of them. Once in a while, someone will say, “Oh, I HATE Milhouse!” and it’s just so hurtful, and then you realize that, well, it’s not really YOU. But, you know, you feel like it’s a part of you.
TZN: Do you have a favorite episode?
HAYDEN: There have been just so many. I do like the really sweet episodes with Lisa’s character. I liked the one with Bleeding Gums Murphy, a long time ago. I liked the one where Bart was working for the mob after school…well, “the gentlemen’s club”…and we had Joe Mantegna. He was just fabulous, he plays Fat Tony. But there’s just been so many. I mean, I still watch it and I laugh out loud, and I don’t really do that that much. One time, we were doing a live show, and they put together a clip of all the shows with Homer saying, “D’oh!” and it’s just hysterical. It was him falling down the cliff, and just when you think he’s fallen as far as he can fall, it’s just one more “D’oh!” And it just cracks you up. It’s just like you’re back in first grade. The show still makes me laugh, so I don’t feel like it’s stagnant.
Toon Zone News would like to thank Pamela Hayden for taking the time to talk with us, and to the 20th Century Fox PR department for arranging it.