'The Simpsons' Team Shares What Goes Into Booking Some of the Biggest Guest Stars (Exclusive)

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The Simpsons has been on the air for an unprecedented three decades, during which time it’s amassed 662 episodes, 33 Emmy wins and nearly 800 guest stars including ET’s own Nancy O'Dell.

ET spoke to members of the Simpsons team during an event at the Tribeca Film Festival celebrating the show’s 30th season, where they reflected on what goes into snagging some of those big bookings.

Dustin Hoffman was the show’s first guest star and he’s still regarded by Yeardley Smith, who voices the precocious Lisa Simpson, as one of her favorites. “I was flown to New York to do [the episode] ‘Lisa’s Substitute’ to record with Dustin Hoffman,” Smith recalled. “I cried so much that day because there’s that scene where the substitute teacher leaves. It was so beautifully written and Jim [Brooks] directed it so extraordinarily well. And I was a hot mess.”

But now, thanks to modern technology, Smith explained that there is no longer a need to traverse the country to record with a guest star. “Nowadays,  stars don't always come and record with us, which is really sad,” Smith said. But one superstar who did join her on the Fox lot was Lady Gaga. “I did have the extraordinary honor of standing next to Lady Gaga, when she [guest starred]. She recorded with us for the whole day,” she added.

However, there was a downside to that, joked Smith. “They actually made me sing with Lady Gaga. That ain't right!" she playfully shared. "Why would you do it? Come on! I mean, it's, like,  Lady Gaga who can sing the roof off the sky and me who I just... I just thought, that's rude!”

While working with Lady Gaga was a delight, according to the show’s creator, Matt Groening, working with musicians isn’t always so easy. “You know what's bad when you have a rock band? In order to get a rock band, you often have to include the manager,” Groening said. “They’ll say, ‘I'll put 'em on but you gotta put me in.’ So if you see some weird caricature that looks like kind of fussily drawn, it's generally the manger.” 

The Simpsons
Fox
The Simpsons
Fox

Groening also told ET about how he kept George Harrison happy on set. 

“George Harrison came in and he was very glum," Groening said of the late Beatle. "I don't know what it is with him but he was very glum until I talked to him about Wonderwall Music, his solo album, and he perked right up."

Another memorable musical moment was with Jack Black, who lent his voice to the show during season 19. “He was the most heroic actor I ever directed,” showwriter Matt Selman said. “He had to sing a whole song for us in Korean and then the song didn't clear, so he had to come back and sing a whole other song in Korean, only singing it phonetically one syllable at a time. That was above and beyond the call of guest star, unpaid guest star duty.”

Sometimes showing off one’s singing chops pays off, as was the case for Anne Hathaway when she guest starred as Princess Penelope in season 21’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Springfield.’ In the episode, the Oscar winner performs an enchanting rendition of "Moon River." “Anne Hathaway was fantastic,” showrunner Al Jean said. “She won an Emmy for the show.”

As for O'Dell, who guest starred as herself in season 11, Selman said they’d “love to have Nancy back.” But Groening joked that she would have to wait until they ran out of other celebrities.

“We have a long list of every celebrity in the world and once you've been checked off the list, you gotta wait ‘til we go around again,” Groening explained. “So probably in a few months.”

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