Kevin Michael Richardson, the voice actor taking over the role of Dr Julius Hibbert on The Simpsons, has revealed he initially turned down the role a year ago.
Richardson is stepping into the role of the Springfield’s mirthful doctor, replacing Harry Shearer, who has voiced the character since his debut in 1990.
The change comes after The Simpsons’ producers announced last year that they would no longer use white voice actors to voice non-white roles.
Hibbert was originally viewed as a parody of now-disgraced comedian Bill Cosby, and the character of Dr Cliff Huxtable from Cosby’s hit sitcom The Cosby Show.
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Richardson, a veteran of the industry, has previously voiced characters inspired by Cosby in series such as Family Guy and The Boondocks.
Speaking to BBC News, Richardson said: “I was very fortunate to be asked to play the role, which, I must say, about a year ago, I declined.
“But I was asked again and I just said yes, but I had no idea the impact it would have on the fans, and so many viewers.”
Richardson was effusive in his praise for Shearer’s performance, and said that he planned to “stay in the ballpark” of the existing vocal interpretation of the character.
Dr Hibbert is not the only Black character on the series to be re-cast; last year, Alex Désert made his debut as Homer’s friend and co-worker Carl Carlson, a role which had previously been voiced by Hank Azaria.
Fans reacted positively to the new voice work, with many claiming they “couldn’t tell the difference”.
Before announcing its intention to “no longer have white actors voice non-white characters”, The Simpsons had faced criticism for its use of racial stereotyping, with particular focus given to the character of Indian-American shopkeeper Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.
The character’s role in perpetuating harmful stereotypes about Indians was scrutinised by comedian Hari Kondabolu in the 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu, which prompted a response in the series itself.
Since the documentary debuted, however, Apu was quietly sidelined, and the role will not be voiced by Azaria again.
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