Here’s some news that we couldn’t wait to leak: Julian Assange will play himself in the 500th episode of The Simpsons! EW has learned exclusively that the WikiLeaks founder/editor-in-chief recorded a guest spot over the summer that is part of the animated Fox comedy’s landmark episode airing Feb. 19.
So, how did this casting curveball come about? Simpsons exec producer Al Jean says that series creator Matt Groening heard a rumor that the polarizing and elusive activist who runs the whistle-blowing website was interested in guest-starring on the series, “so we asked our casting director Bonnie Pietila — who had been able to unearth Thomas Pynchon and got Tony Blair to do the show — to find Mr. Assange. And she did.” Assange recorded his lines at a location unknown to Simpsons producers — he was and is still under house arrest in Britain — as Jean directed him remotely from Los Angeles. (“I was just given a number to call,” sums up Jean.)
In the milestone episode, Homer and Marge discover that the residents of Springfield are holding a secret town meeting to kick them out of Springfield for all of their shenanigans over the years. As a result, “the Simpsons go off the grid to this very rugged place where they meet [Assange], who’s sort of their new Flanders,” explains Jean. And how exactly is he like pious neighbor Ned? “Well, he lives next door,” quips Jean. “The similarities end there… He invites them over for a home movie and it’s an Afghan wedding being bombed.”
Assange, who will unveil a talk show on Russia’s English language channel RT in March, is slated to appear before Britain’s Supreme Court on Wednesday to appeal extradition to Sweden in connection with sex crimes allegations. “He’s a controversial figure, and there’s a good reason he’s controversial,” says Jean. “There was discussion internally whether or not to have him on the show, but ultimately we went ahead and did it.” Jean points out that “there’s nothing we did that has anything to do with the legal situation that he’s in…We wanted to make sure it was satirical, and he was willing to do that.”
Assange isn’t the only guest in the 500th episode. Hints Jean: “There are a couple of other cameos that are more familiar to fans of the show. And much less controversial.”
Season 23 of The Simpsons also features guest spots by celebrities including Kiefer Sutherland, Michael Cera, Jane Lynch, Andy Garcia, and Jeremy Irons.