Mexican ‘Simpsons’ voice cast sounds off

Toon cast on strike

MEXICO CITY — Less than a year after “The Simpsons” almost lost its voice over a salary dispute, a Mexican union issue may be giving the Latin American version a case of Montezuma’s revenge.

Thanks to a contract dispute, the four principal voice actors behind “Los Simpson,” the popular Spanish-language twin of the Fox series, are on strike and, unless the issue is resolved very soon, are likely to be replaced.

The National Actors Assn. (ANDA), which represents the four “Simpson” leads, has been in a standoff with recording company Grabaciones y Doblajes Internacionales (GDI), over the use of non-union actors. Until the fall, the actors worked under an exclusive contract allowing only ANDA talent in Grabaciones productions.

But that contract was ruled invalid last year thanks to a management change at GDI, opening the door for the recording company to ask for a looser exclusivity clause, allowing 40% of actors to be non-union.

ANDA balked and the four “Simpson” leads have been on strike since October.

Next week, a Mexican labor court will hear both sides of the argument. GDI has suggested that if the matter is not resolved then, it will tear up its contract and look for new voices for Bart, Lisa, Marge and Homero.

“We don’t have any special interest in working with unionized, independent or other kinds of actors. We just want to work with professionals,” said David Mendoza, a lawyer for GDI.

Replacing the voice actors could have a dramatic effect on the series, which is as popular in Latin America as it is in the States, with an estimated 150 million viewers, all of whom have been hearing the same four Mexican thesps for the past 15 years.

“We’re no longer just people. We’re the representatives of millions of people who know our voices,” said Humberto Velez, the voice of Homero Simpson, who also played Lord Farquard in the Spanish-language version of “Shrek.”

Velez said he and the other principals have made counteroffers in the dispute, offering to open up 25% of the cast to non-union actors. But GDI, insists on 40%.

Twentieth Century Fox, which distributes skein in the region, has kept out of the fight. “We’re just letting them work this out,” a spokesman said.

Unlike last year’s strike involving the English-language cast, money isn’t the issue. Velez says he and fellow actors earn between 200 pesos and 600 pesos per episode ($17 and $52), a far cry from the $250,000 per episode the U.S. mainstays won after a two-month walkout ending in May.

ANDA leaders said the issue also applies to other animated series dubbed by GDI and, as a result the union, won’t budge on the matter.

It plans marches and public protests against the recording company. “We just want to defend the rights of our actors,” said Raymundo Capetillo, labor secretary at the union.