Ali Wong, Tiffany Haddish And Lisa Hanawalt On How ‘Tuca & Bertie’ Brings Fresh Perspective To Animation And Female Friendships

Actress Tiffany Haddish, from left, creator/showrunner Lisa Hanawalt and actress Ali Wong attend the screening for "Tuca and Bertie" during Tribeca Film Festival Brent N Clarke/Shutterstock

Netflix’s new animated series Tuca & Bertie follows two gal pals and their experiences as women in the world. More specifically, a bird world. Created by Lisa Hanawalt (BoJack Horseman), the series follows the friendship between two 30-year-old bird women who live in the same apartment building. Tiffany Haddish lends her voice to the character of Tuca, a cocky, carefree toucan while Ali Wong voices Bertie, an anxious, daydreaming songbird. The show, which debuts on May 3, is fun, eye-popping and a little bizarre — but it works. After making its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Hanawalt talked about how the show is a different kind of story about adult female friendships and Haddish and Wong shared their experiences about playing two BFF birds while trying to get some sponsorship along the way.

Hanawalt told moderator Caroline Framke that she created the characters a while back and they were two of her favorites. This paved the way to make a show about female friendship — but from a different perspective. With Tuca & Bertie, Hanawalt admits that she wanted to do all the stuff that she couldn’t do on BoJack Horseman — like talking plants. She also points out that there are plenty of shows about female friendships, but not necessarily ones with women in their 30s. “A lot of fave shows aren’t my age,” said Hanawalt. She adds that she wanted to make a show about issues that she and her friends are going through right now.

“I wanted to make a show that I wanted to watch,” adds Hanawalt. “I hope women see themselves in the characters.”

The show is an adult animated series and Hanawalt said she wanted to create an optimistic and safe place, but she wasn’t afraid to go to “dark places” with the storylines. The show covers issues like mental illness, sobriety and sexual harassment. Haddish and Wong said they didn’t know that the show would go down this route before they signed on but appreciate that it does. “I didn’t tell them because I didn’t want to scare them away,” laughs Hanawalt.

“They shocked me in a really cool way because it’s serialized,” Wong said. “It’s something you don’t see in animation.”

In addition, the space for animated shows created by women is very rare. Hanawalt points out shows like Daria and Big Mouth were co-created by a woman, but Haddish added, “This one is created by a woman — not co-created.”

Haddish and Wong have known each other for years and Tuca & Bertie gave them the opportunity to work together. In addition to voicing the characters, both have EP credits (which they are very proud of) and it gave them a chance to play in a silly and surreal fantasy world with bird characters that have very relatable human qualities.

“We balance each other out,” said Haddish of working with Wong. “I’m over the top sometimes and she brings me down — I really like having her around!”

Wong shared the sentiment, but during the fun banter (and a quick dance break to demand a season 2), the two started talking about how Takis play a major role on the show. It quickly turned to Haddish and Wong asking for sponsorship. Haddish wanted a vodka sponsor but one “that doesn’t give her a hangover” while Wong requested that Don Julio 1942 reach out to her. Haddish then talked about how she loved diamonds — Tiffany diamonds to be more specific, while Wong was more practical with her sponsorship demands. “I like mortgage payments that I don’t have to pay,” she said.

Tuca & Bertie launches its first 10 episodes on Netflix May 3. The series also features the voices of Steven Yuen and guest performers Nicole Byer, Richard E. Grant, John Early, Reggie Watts, Tig Notaro, Amber Ruffin, Jermaine Fowler and Tessa Thompson. Hanawalt is an executive producer alongside Raphael Bob-Waksberg (BoJack Horseman), Noel Bright (BoJack Horseman, Friends), Steven A. Cohen (BoJack Horseman, Jack & Bobby), Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong. The series is produced by Michael Eisner’s The Tornante Company and animation is done by ShadowMachine.

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