TRANSCRIPT Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Yeardley Smith on the Craziest Day of her Entire Career

The Craziest Day of My Entire Career is a regular segment where we talk with some of our favorite people in pop culture and ask them about some truly unbelievable stories. This time around, we’re joined by actor Yeardley Smith. For over 30 years now, Yeardley has voiced Lisa Simpson, one of the most iconic characters of all time. She is also an on-screen actor and a co-host on the true crime podcast Small Town Dicks. When we asked Yeardley about the craziest day of her career, she took us back to 1986, before podcasts and before the Simpsons. It was a big part in a Stephen King film that she couldn’t turn down, even if it meant a giant crazy truck might run her over.

Guests: Yeardley Smith

Transcript

music

Gentle, trilling music with a steady drumbeat plays under the dialogue.

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Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of MaximumFun.org and is distributed by NPR. [Music fades out.]

jesse thorn

I’m Jesse Thorn. It’s Bullseye.

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“Huddle Formation” from the album Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team. A fast, upbeat, peppy song. Music plays as Jesse speaks, then fades out.

jesse

It’s time for The Craziest [censored] Day of My Entire Career. This is a regular segment where we talk with some of our favorite people in pop culture and ask them about—well, we ask them about the craziest [censored] day of their entire careers. This time, it’s Yeardley Smith. For over 30 years, Yeardley has voiced Lisa Simpson, one of the most iconic characters in all of television.

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Music swells and fades.

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[The sounds of a bustling crowd.] Lisa (The Simpsons): Wait, Dad! Good news, everyone! You don’t have to eat meat. I made enough gazpacho for aaaall! [Collective confusion from the crowd, everyone talking over each other.] Speaker 1: I don’t like gazpacho! Speaker 2: What is that, anyway? Lisa: It’s tomato soup served ice cold! [Everyone laughs.]

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Music swells and fades.

jesse

Yeardley Smith is also a podcaster. Since 2017, she’s cohosted Small Town Dicks—a true crime podcast that just finished up its ninth season. And she’s an onscreen actor. When we asked Yeardley about the craziest day of her entire career, she took us back to 1986. That was before podcasts, before The Simpsons. She got offered a big part in a horror movie that she couldn’t turn down, even if it meant a giant, crazy truck might run her over. Anyway, I’ll let Yeardley Smith take it from here.

yeardley smith

I’m Yeardley Smith.

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Bright, uproarious rock music.

yeardley

And this is the craziest [censored] day of my whole career. What’s funny is, when this thing happened while I was shooting a movie with like—I think it was the third film I did, called Maximum Overdrive. I mean, now it’s a cult classic, but I can tell you when it came out it was a bomb. Like, it was barely out long enough to run the end credit. And it was directed by Stephen King based on a short story by Stephen King. And at the time it happened, it didn’t seem that crazy because I think one of the things about actors—particularly actors starting out or work-a-day actors, we’re incredibly willing. Sometimes to our detriment. So, the story of Maximum Overdrive just briefly if you don’t know is that planet Earth passes through the tail of an asteroid, I think. And it makes all of the mechanics on the planet go homicidal. So, you know, you put a quarter into the soda pop machine and instead of getting one soda, you get 20 but they’re all launched like grenades at your head.

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[Cheers followed by thumps.] Speaker: Uh oh. No soda. [Glugging sounds.] Speaker: Huh? [A thump and a cartoonish scream of pain.]

yeardley

You’re mowing the lawn and the lawnmower turns around and runs over your face.

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[The rumble of a motor followed by a scream.]

yeardley

Cars and trucks start to drive themselves without drivers.

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[A chorus of honking cars.]

yeardley

[Chuckling.] Stuff like that. And so, I played Connie. You could say the description of the character is Connie the screaming newlywed. I screamed so much in that movie.

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Connie: [Screaming.] Help! Me! AAAAH!

yeardley

[Briefly putting on a strong southern accent.] I’ve just gotten married to Curtis and so Curtis and I, we’re on our way to our honeymoon, I guess. [The clip slowly fades in as the rumble of engine noise and scattered screams.] And we come to this old timey town gas station, and it doesn’t seem to be anybody is there, but the gas station door is open. And so, as Curtis goes to see if the pumps are working, this old, rusted 1950s kind of pickup truck starts up on its own and tries to run him over.

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[A calamity of sound crashing together all at once.] Connie: Curtis! Are you deeead?!

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Thumpy, percussive rock music.

yeardley

So, whoever was in charge of controlling the trucks remotely, they lost control of it, and it ended up jumping the curb where the gas pumps were situated, which scared the living [censored] out of the actor—John Short, who played my husband. And so, [chuckling] that scream of, [mimicking the panic of the clip] “Aaah! Curtis! Are you dead!?” Is real, ‘cause it was like, “[Censored], that thing’s coming so fast! Oh my god! Holy! What?!” So, Connie and Curtis leave that gas station. They hurry back into their “just married” car and now they get on the highway.

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[Whirring motors, squealing tires, rumbling machinery, and a blood curdling scream.] Connie: GET IN! Get in right now!

yeardley

And there’s nobody on the highway. And then they see a truck, I believe, going in the opposite direction and there’s nobody driving it. And they’re like, “Uh oh!” And so, they pull off the road and I think at the top of the off ramp where there’s another sort of like an intersection, I think that’s when they see a dead body. And then they’re like, “Oh, [censored]. Oh, god. What’s happening?” Again. And the place is eerily deserted, and so they’re looking for a place to—I don’t know why you wouldn’t just keep driving. Like, put your [censored] foot on the pedal and DRIVE! Like your life depends on it! Because it probably did. And we get to this truck stop and these trucks, these huge 18-wheelers. So, they had rigged these 18-wheelers—the most famous one having this giant, ghoulish, plastic, green, clown face on the front of it. And the trucks have started to circle the truck stop.

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[The rumble of motors and honking horns.]

yeardley

And so, as Curtis and I are trying to get through this circle of trucks—which is not too tight, yet—the circle tightens up to basically imprison us, all of us who are stranded at the truck stop. [A horn honk.] We haven’t quite gotten there, yet. So, we make a b-line to make it through this gap.

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Connie: When we get to that truck stop, everything’ll be alright. Oh, yes! [Cackles.] [The sound of the car shifting gears.] Connie: What are you doing?! Curt: Do you see that gap? The next time it comes around, I’m gonna shoot right through it. Connie: No, you don’t! They’ll gang up on us and squash us! Curt: I can do it! [Tires squeal.]

yeardley

We don’t quite make it. And the car—our car gets flipped over. And more screaming ensues. Lots of screaming from me.

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[Connie and Curt scream, followed by a crash.]

yeardley

And then I remember being caught in the seatbelt, getting back into the car upside-down, being strapped into the seatbelt, and sitting there for what felt like hours in this heat and this dust as they—[laughing] got whatever they needed to get. And screaming.

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[A chorus of honking 18-wheelers.] Connie: Curtis! Get the truck down! I’m scrunched up! Where are you going?! Will you get me out of here!?

yeardley

So, we run into the truck stop, but we are not safe inside the truck stop.

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Suspenseful music with a heady beat, underscored with mechanical sounds.

yeardley

So, I—several days go by and things are getting worse in the outside world and the trucks are getting increasingly more aggressive.

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[The thunder of tires punctuated by piercing horns.]

yeardley

And one of the cars—vehicles that’s gone haywire is a Cadillac. And I am told—here’s the craziest [censored] day of my career. Here’s where it begins. I am told, “Yeardley, the Cadillac is going to drive through the wall of the truck stop, which has a plate glass window and a couple of booths. And you, as Connie, are going to stand there and go, ‘Hey! What is that car doing? Is that car gonna come in through the wall of this building?’” Or something like that. “And then, we don’t have a stunt double for you. We only have one shot at this, so don’t move until we tell you.” I’m like, “Okay. Uhhh, really? Okay.” And they’re like, “Yeah, yeah. Don’t worry. The car’s gonna be coming super slow through the wall. It’ll look much faster on camera, but it won’t endanger you.” I’m like, “Okay! No problem!” So. [Laughs.] I am standing in the middle of the truck stop set. I am looking out the plate glass window. Everything is set to go. The Cadillac is driving itself. So, it’s on a remote. And they say, “Roll camera.” And then they say, “Action.”

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Speaker: Action.

yeardley

And I say my line and then, I’m not [censored] kidding you, that car came so fast through that wall. I’m like, WAAAH! So, my screams were real and the feeling of like when the [censored] are you gonna say, “Okay, duck!” See, it felt like ten minutes. And I thought, “Seriously?!”

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[Clattering and crunching, tire squeals, and a crash, followed by a harrowing scream.]

yeardley

That stupid car got so close. And so, finally they yelled, “Duck!” And I dive into this booth. Meanwhile, I now have glass in my hair. I’m hoping—I think maybe it was sugar glass. Who knows! I will say, some expense was spared on that, uh, [laughing] movie set.

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Twangy, relaxed electric guitar.

yeardley

I don’t—I mean, I wasn’t bleeding or anything, but it was, uh—after, I thought, “Ooooh, you people, you. You didn’t really tell me the whole truth! Did you?” And then, everybody was super happy with the shot.

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[Cheers.]

yeardley

Because now we’ve destroyed the wall of the truck stop. Right? So, it’s done. We don’t get a second try at this. So, they were really glad. And I think, again, you know as an actor and a recovering people pleaser, because they were so thrilled with the shot they got, I was like, “Oh, okay!” You know. “Never mind the glass in my hair and on my clothes and, you know, stuck in my pantyhose.” And blah, blah, blah. “You got your shot? Cool! What’s next?” [Music fades out.] [Chuckling.] So.

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“Who Made Who” from the Maximum Overdrive OST by AC/DC. [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

yeardley

I told the story once, several years ago, and somebody went, “You—what!? I’m sorry!? You’ve got to be kidding.” And so, then when the great question for this podcast was posed—what’s the craziest [censored] day of your entire career?—I really thought, “You know, nothing much has ever happened to me. I’ve actually had really good luck. I don’t—” You know, I didn’t do a movie with water, and they tried to drown me or anything. And then—so, that’s the best story I have of being almost run over by a Cadillac in real time.

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[Volume increases.] … ‘cause it own you Through and through The databank knows my number [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

jesse

Yeardley Smith on the craziest [censored] day of her entire career: the time she almost got pulverized by a giant big rig on the set of 1986’s Maximum Overdrive. Maximum Overdrive, by the way, had an original score by AC/DC, which is the music you’re hearing right now. Anyway, as we said before, Yeardley Smith’s podcast is called Small Town Dicks. It’s a true crime show. Just finished up its ninth season. You can listen to it wherever you get podcasts. You can catch Yeardley on The Simpsons, which is in the middle of it’s 33rd season right now. That’s on Fox, as always. And that’s the end of another episode of Bullseye. Bullseye is created from the homes of me and the staff of Maximum Fun, in and around greater Los Angeles, California—where I was struggling with the issue [chuckling] of a too-loud doorbell. My doorbell was too loud, and I posted on social media, “What can I do to make my doorbell less loud? How do I choose between all these other new doorbells when I replace my doorbell?” And none other than comedy legend Andy Richter replied to me and said, “Hey, dummy, just put some tape on the hammer that hits the bell in your doorbell and that will deaden the sound a little.” Thank you, Andy Richter! The show, produced by speaking into microphones. Our senior producer is Kevin Ferguson. Our producer is Jesus Ambrosio. Production fellows at Maximum Fun are Richard Robey and Valerie Moffat. We get help from Casey O’Brien. Our interstitial music is by Dan Wally, also known as DJW. Our theme song is called “Huddle Formation”. It’s recorded by the group The Go! Team. Thanks to them and to their label, Memphis Industries, for sharing it. You can also keep up with the show on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. We post our interviews there. And I think that’s about it. Just remember: all great radio hosts have a signature signoff.

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Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of MaximumFun.org and is distributed by NPR. [Music ends.]

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Music: Pleasant, gentle ukulele. Jo Firestone: Well, Manolo, we have a show to promote. It’s called Dr. Gameshow. Manolo Moreno: It’s a family friendly podcast where listeners submit games, and we play them with callers from around the world. Jo: Oh! Sounds good! New episodes, uh, happen every other Wednesday on MaximumFun.org! Manolo: It’s a—it’s a fast and loose oasis of absurd innocence and naivete and— Jo: Are you writing a poem? Manolo: Nooo. I’m just saying things from my memory. And, uh, it’s a nice break from reality. [Chuckles.] Is that—? Are we allowed to say that? Jo: I don’t know. It sounds bad. Manolo: It comes with a 100% happiness guarantee. Jo: [Interrupting.] It does not. [Manolo chuckles.] Jo: Come for the games and stay for the chaos. [Music ends.]

About the show

Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.

Bullseye has been featured in Time, The New York Times, GQ and McSweeney’s, which called it “the kind of show people listen to in a more perfect world.” Since April 2013, the show has been distributed by NPR.

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