Werner Herzog Thought ‘The Simpsons’ Was A Newspaper Comic Strip Before His Cameo
Werner Herzog is many things (at least according to his Wikipedia page) — a film director, screenwriter, author, actor, opera director and a pioneer of New German Cinema. But one thing he was most assuredly not, he says in a recent episode of the Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend podcast, is a fan of The Simpsons.
That’s not to say Herzog has anything against The Simpsons. It’s that he had no idea what they were prior to his 2011 guest appearance as Walter Hotenhoffer (formerly the obese Augustus Gloop of Willy Wonka fame).
“I found The Simpsons very fascinating, intelligent and a lot of anarchy in it,” he told O’Brien. “And when I was invited to speak a role, I immediately said ‘Do they speak?’”
The question makes more sense when Herzog reveals that he originally believed The Simpsons was not a television show but a comic strip printed in newspapers. “I had never seen it,” he confesses. “Matt Groening, who started it, said to me, ‘Don't you know? Since 24 years, we are on the TV stations.’”
Well, it was more than that, O’Brien clarified. “One of the most popular TV shows of all time around the world.”
Herzog’s response: “I did not know that it existed.”
So Herzog asked for a DVD to learn more about the show. In particular, he was interested in the mechanics of his voice assignment, “how cartoonish the voices would be.”
Producers sent Herzog a bunch of videos along with some advice. “They said, ‘You don't need to be cartoonish. Just speak with your accent. It's wild enough, wild enough for us.”
Herzog says he really enjoyed his Simpsons experience, even admitting, “I’m good at that.” Indeed, he built upon his Simpsons success, becoming an unlikely character actor in pop-culture projects ranging from The Mandalorian to Rick and Morty to Jack Reacher.
“In Jack Reacher, there are bad guys. They open fire, they have huge assault rifles, they swear, they shout, they yell at you, they have fist fights,” Herzog explained to O’Brien. “I'm the epicenter of evil. I have very few fingers left. I ate them in a gulag … and I'm blind in one eye. And I only have my voice to spread terror.”
Herzog describes a scene with a “sub-villain” who wants to make up for a bad mistake. “I tell him you can get away with it. If you're really determined not to do that again, you have to eat your fingers as I do it.” The terrified underling tries to do as he’s told but, you know, it’s eating fingers. “I very calmly encourage him. I say ‘That was already good. I know you can do it. Just try harder.’ And it's so frightening.”
Hey, Matt Groening! If you want Herzog back for a repeat Simpsons performance, finger-munching sounds like the perfect subplot for the next Walter Hotenhoffer episode.