Jessica DiCicco never envisioned that she would be entertaining preschoolers for a living, especially so prolifically. While the busy voice over actress seems to be bringing characters to life all over the world of pop culture – from television hits like The Loud House and Muppet Babies, to high profile films like Secret Life of Pets 2 – she still remembers the day she was able to quit her Production Assistant job and focus on the world of animation full time.
“I haven’t had to go on a coffee run since,” she said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace! “I still pinch myself that this is my job.”
We recently sat down with DiCicco to discuss embracing her voice, predicting the hits, and why she wouldn’t mind her… beeper back?
TrunkSpace: We have young kids, which is why we have seen every episode of The Loud House at least a half dozen times each. As a voice over actress, is there something kind of nice about having your work be so appreciated – often times viewed over and over again – and yet, still having a level of anonymity?
DiCicco: Your kids have great taste! Hopefully watching The Loud House brings you a Quiet House for at least a little bit.
I loved watching cartoons as a kid, and I specifically remember how comforting I found it. This may sound cheesy, but it feels like an honor to be a part of a kid’s experience. It makes me so incredibly happy to know kids love watching my shows. And now that I have a kid of my own (a busy toddler), it sometimes makes me tear up when I watch him enjoying Sesame Street and laughing. I get to have the experience all over again… and start from the very beginning, with Sesame Street.
I started acting professionally as a kid (I fell into it accidentally!), this one time I starred in this big deal TV Christmas special, and on my walk to school the day after it aired (I grew up in NYC so there was always a ton of people walking around), I noticed people were staring at me! It kind of freaked me out. I’m so happy I had that experience because it helps me to truly appreciate the anonymity that comes with being a voice actress. Between Muppet Babies and Puppy Dog Pals, I’d be swarmed by toddlers if my shows were live action. I would definitely get recognized. Although toddlers are super cute, I’m sure it would get tiresome pretty fast.
TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on so many incredible brands and characters who have left lasting impressions on the world of pop culture. When you first ventured on your path to a career in entertainment, was this the plan? Was voice over work always in the cards?
DiCicco: Thank you! So I’ve always had this raspy voice, and I used to be so embarrassed by it. I mentioned that I began acting as a kid, and I remember after an audition the producer ran out and asked if my voice always “sounded like this”. I got so embarrassed and told him that I had a cold. Slowly I started to embrace my voice as I started to book voice over auditions for commercials and narration. Eventually I realized that animation would be the absolute perfect fit for me, but it wasn’t until I moved to LA that animation became my full time gig. Animation lives in LA, I’m so thankful I moved here!
TrunkSpace: Obviously a lot of your work is geared towards younger viewers, but at the same time, a lot of it crosses over as well. For example, Adventure Time and Gravity Falls have become cult hits for many adults. What have been some of the biggest surprises of your career thus far?
DiCicco: The first HUGE show I was on was Adventure Time, and the experience completely blew me away. I started going to conventions and met tons of AT fans in person, of all different ages. I got to feel the excitement first hand – it was palpable, truly like lightning in a bottle. When I was a kid I was completely obsessed with The Simpsons, everyone was, that time was coined Simpsonmania. The success of Adventure Time absolutely reminded me of that, and it was so wild to be on the other side of it this time. I know what it’s like to be a huge fan of a show. I definitely kept that in mind as I went to conventions and met AT fans. I think that whole experience has so far been one of the biggest surprises of my career. Gravity Falls was also a huge success with palpable excitement surrounding it. I feel lucky I was able to experience that. The characters you play become part of your identity; it’s a crazy thing that happens. The other huge surprise was finding out I was nominated for an Emmy! I was so early on in my animation career, I hadn’t even imagined something like that would happen.
TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on some incredibly memorable television series over the years, but film has always been a part of the recipe as well. Is the process at all different, voicing a character on a television series than it is for a big budget film?
DiCicco: It’s always so much fun to do a film. Animated films have left the biggest impact on me as a viewer, so I take working on them very seriously. I mean, how many times have you watched your favorite movie? Especially as a kid! I always try to be as heartfelt and natural in my performance as possible. With TV, the performance can a little broader and “cartoonier”. My most recent film was Secret Life of Pets 2. I played a few characters in it actually, but my favorite was the puppy “Princess” with the pink bow.
It definitely feels different working on a film because you don’t go in to record as much. On a show like The Loud House, we’ve been working on it for like seven years so it becomes a family!
TrunkSpace: Oftentimes we’ll hear people say that a film or television series felt “special” while they were shooting, serving as a premonition of the success to come. Does animation have that same feel as well? Did you have any indication before its premiere that you’d be working on nearly 100 episodes of The Loud House or still talking about Adventure Time?
DiCicco: This has seriously been the bane of my existence. Shows that were super special and that I found so funny have only gone one season, and shows that I didn’t think were special ended up going for three or four seasons. I remember John DiMaggio (voice of Jake on Adventure Time) saying he didn’t understand Adventure Time for the first couple seasons! So, you truly never know. With that said, The Loud House was definitely special from the get go.
TrunkSpace: What is your process of finding the voice – both literal and in terms of character POV – when you take on a new character? Is it something you do in the room with the creative teams or do you have to step away and be by yourself?
DiCicco: Every project is totally different. Sometimes I see the character design and I read the description and it comes to me right away. Other times I work with the creator or the producers to figure it out so it seamlessly fits in with the vocal range of all the characters collectively. But either way I always spend time with the character in my own mind and figure out his or her nuances. There’s a lot of talking to myself that happens in my house, luckily the ones closest to me are used to it. I just started to incorporate it into talking with my toddler. I just got a couple puppets and I love watching him interact with them as I practice developing my characters. He’s so fixated on the puppet – it’s like there’s no one else in the room.
TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as a creative person and how do you overcome those self-critical insecurities?
DiCicco: Ugh, I hate watching my own work. I’m so self-critical, I always feel like I could’ve read something differently. The only way to rationalize this is to tell myself I can learn from it and do it differently next time. I’ve learned to be more forgiving and kinder to myself, I don’t beat myself up anymore. But I think it’s a good thing to be hard on myself, it ultimately pushes me to do better, to always grow and stretch creatively. Always focus on the details; they are of the utmost importance.
TrunkSpace: If you could sit down and have a conversation with your 16-year-old self, would she be surprised by the trajectory of your career, and if so, why?
DiCicco: I would have to break it to her very gently. Sixteen-year-old Jessica was very busy listening to Biggie, Lil Kim, and WuTang, very into street art, and returning beeps on payphones, she wouldn’t believe she was destined to entertain preschoolers for a living, complete with squeaky clean social media. (I’d also have to explain the concept of social media.) Oh boy, the teenage years. I’m kind of dreading going through that with my baby… it’s such a different world now. I have no clue how to navigate. Take me back to the ‘90s. Give me back my beeper.
TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career as a whole thus far? Also, can you tell us a little about your new show It’s Pony on Nick and your upcoming HBO Max show Close Enough? Any other upcoming projects you’d like people to know about?
DiCicco: The highlight was when I realized I could quit my job as a Production Assistant and do animation full time! I haven’t had to go on a coffee run since! I still pinch myself that this is my job.
The new Nickelodeon show, It’s Pony, is such a great show. It reminds me of the solid, engaging, funny show that you couldn’t wait to watch when you got home from school. The creator, Ant Blades, is British so I feel like it has a different sensibility than any show I’ve worked on. It’s grounded, and based in reality, which is my favorite kind of humor for a cartoon. And parents will absolutely laugh as well.
I’m so excited for Close Enough to come out! The show is deeply funny, and I have such a feeling this show is going to be a huge hit. I really don’t want to jinx it… but this one is different, it really is. It’s created by JG Quintel who created Regular Show, this is his first prime time show, so he has way more freedom. It’s about a couple with a kid who can’t afford rent because it’s so outrageously expensive so they live with some “colorful” roommates. This one is not meant for kids, so I’m excited to see what happens and who responds to it.
I’m going to be on a ride at Universal Studios! My character Princess, one of the puppies from Secret Life of Pets 2, is a character on the ride! Total bucket list career item I never even knew I had. It opens in April, so I’ll definitely be heading to Universal Studios to see it myself.
Other upcoming shows are Season 2 of Ballmasterz on Adult Swim (I play Ace and DeeDee), Season 3 of Muppet Babies (I play Summer Penguin), Season 4 of Puppy Dog Pals (I play Hissy), and Season 5 of The Loud House (I play Lynn and Lucy). And working on The Loud House movie!
TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
DiCicco: This gives me anxiety just thinking about it. What if I’m not where I want to be? I think I’ll just wait till I get there to find out. I’m sure it’s just a blink away anyway.