Did you draw the original character models?
MG: David and I talked about all the characters and worked together. My drawing style is actually pretty simple and crude -- I can't draw beautiful women, not even beautiful cyclops women -- so I turned my drawings over to real artists and let them make them better, and then I took those drawings and messed with them. There's nobody who's really sexy on "The Simpsons," but I learned that the animators could draw women in the "Simpsons" style who looked beautiful -- which was a great surprise to me! So I wanted to see if I could create a science fiction heroine -- except I wanted to mess with the fanboys, so I gave her one eye. The original Leela was far more conventionally sexy, in cartoon form. There's something about cartoonists and animators when it comes to drawing beautiful women they give them noses that are microscopic, and I gave her a nose more like Olive Oyl's, more in that direction. The animators were aghast at this revolting horror character -- you don't even notice it now. You probably can't even picture it, it's just a nose. And then she was dressed like Ripley from the first "Alien" movie.
With "Futurama," I wanted to do unrequited love, and David Cohen agreed, and although our original plan was never to have Fry and Leela get together, we finally just said, "You can only string the fans along so far."
It's a great collection of characters.
MG: And a great bunch of actors. That's one of the reasons why, if the show does go away, I'm going to miss it so much, because everybody on it has a really great time; There's a camaraderie that is unlike anything else I've ever experienced. The animators are in love with the show, the actors are in love with the show, and always show up for Comic-Con -- and you can see how much fun people are having, especially John DiMaggio who plays Bender, and Billy West, who plays a million characters.
I'm very proud of Bender, because you believe he's real -- I don't know why a robot would behave that way or why they would allow it -- but he's definitely autonomous, or almost autonomous. One of the things that makes me laugh the most is that Bender cannot be accused of being a bad role model, because he's a robot -- he gets to smoke cigars and say outrageous things.
David thought it would be funny to have a robot that could only stay sober by drinking -- if he doesn't drink he exhibits the symptoms of drunkenness, including a rusty beard overgrowth. Also magnets make him turn into a folksinger. There was a whole thing at the beginning that he was a cook with no sense of taste, but that got old very quickly. I think he's our Homer character -- Fry's a little too wimpy.
What did John DiMaggio bring to him?
MG: Well, first of all , it's really hard to cast a robot voice; everybody came in and talked robotically or did an imitation of C-3P0, or they did Hal. David Cohen tried out for the part, because some people think his voice sounds somewhat robotic, and he was too good. So. we couldn't use him. And John came in and did it as a kind of aggressive barfly -- and that's it. That really dictated where we were with the character.
With animation because you can draw anything and do anything and have the characters do whatever you want the tendency is to be very loose with the boundaries and the rules. But what's great about all these different [cartoon] shows that are on now is they all have their own rules and they stick to them. And in my opinion the ones that don't make it, the ones that fall by the wayside, are the ones that aren't aware of that idea, that you have to have your own rules and boundaries. If anything is possible then I think the audience doesn't care.
With "Futurama," I was just worried that somebody would beat us to it; it seemed so obvious that there should be an animated science fiction show set in the future. And one of the reasons why it's not, I learned, is that it's really really difficult. Science fiction as comedy is tough to pull off, because so much science fiction is about genre and less about character. Which is one of the traditional criticisms of science fiction, that it's weak on character. The jokes are just a little harder [to write].
We have a bunch of things that we never got around to, I wanted Bender to pull the ultimate caper, he's somehow going to sneak into heaven and rob God's treasure.
God seems a funny thing to bring into science fiction.
MG: We have seemingly portrayed God on the show as a disembodied voice -- we had an episode where Bender gets shot out into space out of a torpedo tube and a little civilization grows on his body and they think he's God. And at the very end, I think, there's a disembodied godlike voice, who many people interpret as being God. But I think we say that it might possibly be a rogue robot satellite that thinks it's God.