‘The Simpsons’ actor Harry Shearer weighs in on using white actors for non-white characters

“The Simpsons” actor Harry Shearer, who gives voice to characters ranging from elderly miser Mr. Burns to the unflappable African-American physician Dr. Julius Hibbert, isn’t quite in agreement with the long-running show’s recent decision to stop using white actors for non-white characters.

“I have a very simple belief about acting,” Shearer said Monday during an interview on Times Radio. “The job of the actor is to play someone who they’re not.”

The issue has been a source of debate with regard to Fox’s “The Simpsons” since Hari Kondabolu’s 2017 documentary “The Problem with Apu” and last year’s announcement by Hank Azaria, Apu’s portrayer, to step away from the role.

Though Shearer pointed out that he was not “opining” on whether the producers’ recent decision was a mistake, the actor said about playing a range of characters, “That’s the gig. That’s the job description.”

“I think there’s a conflation between representation, which is important,” Shearer suggested he disagreed with the “conflation” between representation and performance. “People from all backgrounds should be represented in the writing and producing ends of the business so they help decide what stories to tell and with what knowledge,” he said, adding about the acting side, “The job is playing someone I’m not.”

Shearer also explained that his opinion is not one of self-interest: “We don’t get paid by the voice.”

In addition to Mr. Burns and Dr. Hibbert, Shearer voices the show’s Principal Skinner, Reverend Lovejoy, Ned Flanders and Waylon Smithers.

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