Yeardley Smith on 'Simpsons' Future at Disney: "You Better Keep Making Episodes"

The actress who voices Lisa Simpson doesn't sound worried about the fate of TV's longest-running series, even with a new overlord: "When you're dealing with a pillar of our culture, that's still so culturally relevant, that's some pretty risky territory to mess with."
Tommaso Boddi/FilmMagic

Yeardley Smith, the 54-year-old actress who for the past 30 years has voiced 8-year-old Lisa on The Simpsons, doesn't sound worried about the future of TV's longest-running series, even with Disney as its new overlord.

The show signed a two-year renewal in February, keeping it on Fox through 2021, but there has been speculation since the Fox-Disney merger that it might eventually migrate to Disney-owned ABC or, perhaps, another network. As for what happens to its library of 700-plus episodes, that's also anyone's guess. 

Smith says she considers the next two years “a stopgap” while their new owners decide what to do. “When you’re dealing with something that is still so culturally relevant, and sort of such a pillar of our culture, if you’re going to mess with that, that’s some pretty risky territory,” Smith told The Hollywood Reporter at the GLAAD Media Awards March 28. “So my feeling is — and I could be completely wrong — is that they would cancel it before they would change It [creatively].”

What The Simpsons has that virtually no other show has is a library of 700-plus episodes and counting, which could be key as Disney builds its slate for new streaming service Disney+. “When you are building a silo, you need content,” Smith explained. “Even though we have 700 episodes, when we have a marathon and you can devour that in 14 days, dude, you better keep making those episodes. For us, I think it's very, very good as long as the writers and executive producers still want to keep making the show. I’m optimistic.”

It was a big week for Smith. Not only did she make the rounds at the GLAAD Media Awards — there to support an organization that helped her with producing duties on the upcoming indie Gossamer Folds, starring trans actress Alexandra Grey — she also took to the stage at Saturday night's HRC gala in downtown Los Angeles, where she was one of the night's main honorees. Speaking with THR on the blue carpet ahead of accepting her award, Smith opened up about what it means to receive a recognition of national leadership as an LGBTQ ally. "It's so humbling, I've been a big supporter of LGBTQ rights for a long time. You certainly don't do it for recognition, you do it because you believe in it and it means something to you and you're moved by any little measure of progress that we make." 

As for her character Lisa Simpson, Smith had this to say: "She's one of the best characters of all time — compassionate, empathic, genuinely curious about people — who are you, what is your experience, how can I know you? I do think that curiosity keeps your mind open, and as soon as you lose that curiosity, all is lost. Despite the fact that the writers in every episode give her something and then take it away, that girl has more resilience than anyone I know."

A version of this story first appeared in the April 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.