Yeardley Smith Reveals That Lisa’s Tears on the Train Platform in ‘Lisa’s Substitute’ Were Her Own

Smith recalled being a ‘complete mess’ in the recording studio when she filmed her final scene with Dustin Hoffman
Yeardley Smith Reveals That Lisa’s Tears on the Train Platform in ‘Lisa’s Substitute’ Were Her Own

It’s a shame that no swarthy, sweet-talking substitute second grade teacher ever thought to write a note that read, “You are Yeardley Smith.”

Lisa is arguably the most complicated character in all of The Simpsons. The precocious, sax-playing vegetarian stands out as distinct from other Simpsons characters as her personality and interests often come across as aloof and esoteric to both her family and to the rest of Springfield — as well as to many Simpsons fans who often find themselves uttering the words, “Oh, great, another Lisa episode.” Even Homer finds it hard to engage with his eldest daughter’s interests, often meeting her saxophone practice with an un-paternal, “Knock off that racket!”

However, throughout the Simpsons canon, Lisa occasionally found a male mentor who understood her nuances in a way that her own father figure either can’t or won’t. In a recent interview with Vulture dissecting the classic Simpsons Season Two episode “Lisa’s Substitute,” Smith discussed the impactful process of forging a bond between her most iconic character and Dustin Hoffman’s Mr. Bergstrom, an eccentric, cosplaying substitute teacher who changes Lisa’s life before leaving forever. Smith called the making of the episode “one of the most fantastic, fulfilling, meaningful, lovely, generous days of my career.”

Smith has long talked about how weepy she was while recording iconic scene in “Lisa’s Substitute” when Lisa says goodbye to the most positive male role model she’s ever had. Before he boards a train out of Springfield Mr. Bergstrom tells her, “Whenever you feel like you’re alone and there’s nobody you can rely on, this is all you need to know,” then he passes Lisa a note that reads, simply, “You are Lisa Simpson.” When she talked with us this past August, Smith gave her interpretation of the missive, explaining, “What he was saying was, ‘Everything you need is already inside of you.’ I didn’t get it then, but that was a direct reflection of the fact that, at the time, I didn’t feel that way about myself.” 

In the Vulture retrospective on the episode, Smith recalled how she was “starstruck” to be working with Hoffman, noting the unusual nature of their recording session. Legendary producer James L. Brooks insisted that Smith fly out to meet Hoffman at a New York recording studio to film their parts together instead of splicing their separate recordings, as is typical for animated shows. Additionally, in the episode’s credits, Hoffman insisted on being listed as “Sam Etic” just to give his fellow Jewish Simpsons fans a laugh.

With The Simpsons still in its infancy in many ways, Smith was just starting to get deep into the character of Lisa when she and Hoffman taped their scenes in “Lisa’s Substitute.” “I felt so connected to her,” Smith said, noting how the recording setup helped her to share Lisa’s heartbreak as the only person who truly understood her unique mind left forever. “I got so much from Dustin Hoffman that when you come to the scene where he’s leaving her on the train platform, I was a complete mess. I was a blubbering idiot.”

As for the pivotal piece of paper that Mr. Bergstrom hands Lisa before a train whisks him off to Capital City and out of her life forever, Smith reported, “When I tell you I felt so cheated when we recorded that … I thought, ‘That’s all you’re gonna give her? How dare you,’ not at all realizing at the time that what they were saying was, ‘You are enough.’

“Honestly, that speaks to the tremendous deficit that I felt inside and sort of have grappled with my whole life. It certainly has evolved now, but back then I was really, really working hard to fill up the inside from the outside,” Smith revealed, “So if you’d handed me a note that said, ‘You are Yeardley Smith,’ I would have been like, ‘What the fuck is that? What are you talking about? So fucking what?’ I really didn’t get it, and I think part of the gulping sobs was feeling as though it wasn’t enough.”

Smith said that it took many, many years and many, many Simpsons seasons for her to finally come to terms with the message of “Lisa’s Substitute.” Smith explained, “I probably didn’t figure it out for a decade. I would have been through two marriages already and gone, ‘Oh, shit. That’s what they meant? What you’re saying is you have everything you need already inside of you? Oh my God!’”


Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?