Dan CastellanetaBy Allan Johnson
"Actor comes home... alone "
After hitting a financial homer on `The Simpsons,' Chicagoan Dan Castellaneta is in the enviable position of picking his ventures
How is it that America has been enamored with clueless cartoon character Homer Simpson for so many years?
The patriarch of Fox's long-running animated series "The Simpsons" has blithered and blundered and "D'oh-ed!" his way into heart and home for 12 seasons now.
Through bumbling schemes, outrageous behavior and a gluttony for food and greed that only appears to be equaled by a gluttony for punishment, Homer is the poster boy for ignorance.
And yet we love him like a brother -- albeit the one you don't talk about.
"I guess he's sort of an unreleased kid," says Dan Castellaneta, the Chicagoan who has won two Emmys for providing Homer's voice.
Although Castellaneta plays various characters in his one-man show, "Where Did Vincent Van Gogh?" which is playing Wednesday through June 10 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, you won't see Homer among them.
"I couldn't afford him," laughs Castellaneta about obtaining the rights from Fox to insert Homer in his play. But it is because of his most famous alter ego, and the appeal he has to millions of viewers, that gives Castellaneta the opportunity to mount "Van Gogh."
Castellaneta, 43, describes a scene from "The Simpsons" that is classic Homer. It was the episode where it was revealed that elementary school principal Seymour Skinner really wasn't who he said he was.
"Everybody was shocked," Castellaneta says, "except Homer. He just said, `Pretend you're shocked, and inch slowly towards the cake.' Everybody knows that he is what he is.
Castellaneta agrees with one of the writers who described how Homer is "like a dog in a man's body. Dogs do all sorts of things. They wreck the garden and they chew things up and do all sorts of things, but you still love them. And also, they're straight with you. They want to eat, and they want to eat now ...
"I think Homer has no ulterior motives. Or if he does, you hear it right away."
Light-years removed from "The Simpsons," Castellaneta's "Where Did Vincent Van Gogh?" starts off as a "bad one-man show" about the artist, then evolves into a farce when Castellaneta, as the actor playing the character of Van Gogh, seems to have a nervous breakdown on stage. It soon becomes clear that an alien being has taken over the actor's body.
"I've seen a bunch of friends, actually contemporaries of mine from Second City out here in L.A., who have done one-person shows, and I enjoyed it," Castellaneta explains of the genesis of his show. "I just thought I wanted to try it."
Castellaneta has an extensive background in Chicago's improvisation and theater scene. Raised in Oak Park (his sister still lives there with her husband, and his parents live in Westchester), he performed with several improv groups in and around Chicago (where he met his wife, Deb Lacusta, who was also performing improv) before joining Second City in 1983. In 1987, Castellaneta left to become a performer and writer for Fox's "The Tracey Ullman Show," where "The Simpsons" was a running cartoon within the sketch comedy. It was spun off into its own series in 1989.
"The Simpsons" is acknowledged as one of the best sitcoms on television, and Castellaneta says the excellence is due in no small part to the writing. But even he marvels at how much work goes into that aspect of the show, including scripts that are rewritten at least four times before the actors get them.
"It really takes a lot of sweat, I think, for them keep the quality up," he adds, a reason why he never gets "tired" of Homer.
That quality has allowed Castellaneta to keep a steady job while he branches out with such ventures as "Vincent Van Gogh." He and the other actors on the series recently signed deals that upped their annual salaries to $100,000 per episode for another two seasons. They also received $1 million signing bonuses.
The security means Castellaneta can "turn certain things down that I'm just not interested in" and concentrate on endeavors that he has an active part in creating.
"That's another reason why I'm interested in writing my own stuff and doing my own stuff," he says, "because I don't want to wait around for the right thing to come along, either."
Last updated on October 10, 2001 by Jouni Paakkinen (email@example.com)