Last summer, Netflix comedy Big Mouth proved a change leader in the world of animation, following its decision to recast a key voice role, for the sake of more authentic representation. In June, actress Jenny Slate announced that she would be stepping back from voicing the half-Black, half-Jewish character known as Missy, and two months later, it was revealed that Ayo Edebiri would be taking over the part.
On Saturday, co-creator-EPs Mark Levin, Andrew Goldberg, and Jennifer Flackett, and Co-EP Kelly Galuska appeared for a virtual panel, as part of the USC Comedy Festival, discussing their time with the show, and how the recasting of Missy came about.
“It’s very complex, actually, because over the course of several seasons, Missy, as a mixed-race character, has been growing,” Levin said, “and [a lot of that] has been driven by the Black writers on our staff.”
Throughout production on the show’s first four seasons, Slate “always had questions and some hesitancy,” he added, “about whether it’s appropriate to represent a character who…presents to the world as Black and identifies that way.”
By the end of production on Season 4, he continued, which wrapped up right around the time of George Floyd’s killing, “we all agreed that it was the appropriate time to make the change.”
Ultimately, Edebiri would take over the voice role from Slate in “Horrority House,” the penultimate episode of Season 4. “We had already been deep in exploring Missy’s journey, her own awakening to her Black identity, and then also her struggle with self. In the ninth episode, she is in a funhouse and sees all different versions of herself, and they shatter. She puts together a mosaic, and that mosaic of Missy comes to life, and that’s the moment [where] we trade off,” Levin explained. “It was a combination of events that led to a moment we were already exploring, but with the decision to change the casting, we discovered, this is the perfect moment to do that handoff.”
From Goldberg’s perspective, the handoff was an “interesting process” because prior to joining Big Mouth‘s voice cast, Edebiri was already a writer on the show. “We auditioned a ton of actors to play Missy. Ultimately, Ayo felt right and maybe had a leg up because she was in the writers’ room, and had been part of all these conversations about how Missy was going to evolve,” he said. “But I think it also just has a lot to do with who she is, as a person, and as a writer, because I think she identified with Missy growing up, and there’s something about Missy that you can’t fake.”
Going forward, the Big Mouth team will continue to make an effort to embrace authentic representation, both on screen and behind the scenes. “We know we need to have a lot of different perspectives at the table,” Levin said.
In conversation with USC Professor J.D. Connor, the Big Mouth creatives also touched on Season 5, which is scheduled to debut this year. While few concrete details were offered up, Levin did note that the forthcoming season will “explore a little bit more about kids advocating and becoming political.”
At the same time, Flackett noted that the show will never be very topical in its comedy. “It takes us a long time to make a season, so topical humor is really, really hard,” she said. “You can do something about political identity, like ‘I’m a Republican, I’m a Democrat, I’m a whatever,’ but I don’t think we could do anything [more specific]. Because we want the world to feel somewhat timeless, anyway.”
Created by Flackett, Goldberg, Levin and Nick Kroll, Big Mouth follows a set of teenagers who find their lives upended by the wonders and horrors of puberty. Ahead of Season 5’s debut, the musical comedy has already been renewed for a sixth season. Throughout its run, the series has earned four Emmy nominations, and last year, star Maya Rudolph claimed one, in the category of Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance.
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