The Simpsons Showrunner Talks Enlisting Billie Eilish for New Disney+ Short

Thanks to The Simpsons now falling under the Walt Disney Company umbrella, the beloved animated family has been crossing paths with all corners of the Disney+ library for exclusive shorts. After having already delivered fans crossovers with properties like Star Wars and Marvel, the latest short, "When Billie Met Lisa," features pop sensation Billie Eilish and her brother FINNEAS dropping by the beloved family from Springfield in honor of her Disney+ project Happier than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles. The all-new short premieres on Disney+ on April 22nd, with all three previous shorts and the first 32 seasons of The Simpsons now streaming on the service.

In "When Billie Met Lisa," Lisa Simpson is discovered by chart-topping artists Billie Eilish and FINNEAS while searching for a quiet place to practice her saxophone. Billie invites Lisa to her studio for a special jam session she'll never forget. recently caught up with The Simpsons showrunner Al Jean to talk about developing the new short, the series' voice cast, and how long the series could last.

(Photo: Disney+) This Billie Eilish character who's been taking over all of pop culture, do you remember what your first exposure to her was? The first time you either heard her music or saw her at a public appearance or anything?

Al Jean: I've heard her music for a couple of years. As an actress, Saturday Night Live was the first thing, and then I watched Happier Than Ever on Disney+. And besides being a great singer, I thought she was really funny.

That leads into the whole inspiration for this short. Was it you wanted to do something focused on Lisa that involved music or was it you wanted to get Billie involved? How did the whole project take shape?

Starting with the Star Wars short, it was "May the Fourth," we've been leapfrogging across the tiles of Disney+. And Jim Brooks said, "Oh, if we could work with Billie Eilish, that would be fantastic." Then we looked and it was like, "Oh, my God, she's number one on their list of people we can work with." So they helped make it happen and she was great, FINNEAS was great, and it's been a pleasurable experience from start to finish.

With something like Saturday Night Live, there can be some give and take when it comes to collaborating with a performer, but in animation, you don't always have that benefit, given the lead-in time to actually make that animation. So from the initial script to actually getting Billie involved, was there much of an evolution, were there tweaks here and there to inject more of her personality or was it pretty straightforward in sticking to that script?

We sent her the script and it was about the first week of February. She had a table read of it with her tour, and then we met her on Zoom, her and FINNEAS, and they couldn't have been nicer. We said, "Would you like to do one of your songs, or maybe our theme?" She goes, "Hell yeah I'd like to do your theme." So that sealed that. And, actually, there was interaction because we had her on Zoom recording with FINNEAS and with Yeardley Smith, who plays Lisa, of course, so they adlibbed, and the last scene in the short is them. It was really fun. Billie is a natural actress and, in terms of lead time, it was pretty quick, as usual. David Silverman did a great job directing it, and it was maybe, like I said, February 1st to now was how long it took.

Since this is obviously not the first musical guest to drop by The Simpsons, by a long shot, whether it be living or dead, do you personally have a dream musical guest that you think would perfectly fit in line with dropping by and meeting the Simpsons?

Well, both as a mathematical completionist and as a fan, I wish we could have had John Lennon. We had the other Beatles, but of course, that was never to be. It's amazing, actually, how many people who I admired growing up we have had and I've met. I can't really -- Billie, obviously, I didn't know growing up because she wasn't here yet. She may be the youngest guest star we ever had, which is fantastic.

Oh yeah, that's true. I forget how young she is because she has dominated so many facets of all corners of pop culture, you take for granted just how young she is.

If you say the sentence, "The youngest person whoever won _______," she's usually now at the end of it.

With The Simpsons series proper, in the last few years or so, you've had some cast members come and go, and new cast members take over familiar characters. Say Dan [Castellaneta] one day says, "I'm going to retire. I don't know if I want to do Homer anymore," do you think there is a character or do you think there is a cast member that just could not be replaced? You just could not see the show continuing forward without that person?

I don't even want to think about it, Dan's the best. But I would say it's been exciting to have people like Alex Désert come on board. And two weeks ago we had an episode that had that first deaf actor in the history of the show, and John Autry II is fantastic. So there's a lot of stuff where we're introducing new people and that's only good. It's really fun.

Since the series has been going on for so long, there's clearly no end in sight. Do you personally ever think, "You know what? Maybe five years, 10 years, whatever, I'll leave before the series actually ends," or are you just as tied to the series as -- there's no Simpsons without you?

Maybe I'll leave this veil of mortal woes before the series ends. I mean, at this point, it's been 33 years. So I used to say, "Oh, maybe we'll end at Season 25 or 30." Obviously, those have been blown by. So I just go "Simpsons forever." And by the way, this [week was] Simpsons Day. The first short premiered [April 19, 1987]. The "Rock-A-Bye Baby" short.

You say "Simpsons Forever," FOX seems to have that similar outlook of "Simpsons Forever," but if Matt [Groening] or somebody was saying, "Let's pull the plug. Let's end it," do you think the creatives would be more interested in ending it before FOX would want to end it, or is it really just that this is the start and there's another 35 years on the way?

This has been one of the most exciting seasons ever, in my opinion. We have had great episodes and we've been doing these shorts. The last thing that we feel on the writing side is that we're heading towards an end. Who knows what the future holds, and who knows what streaming, and what avenues ... We're now a Disney show and we're thrilled to be on Disney+, but there have actually been more Simpsons minutes put out this year than any year since the movie.

So you have something like a hearing-impaired actor lending their voice to the series, I'm sure that was never necessarily a bucket-list goal, but now that you get to do that, it's this amazing opportunity.

Here's why it's great, is that the writer of the script, Loni Steele Sosthand, based it on her life with her brother. She brought us the story and we're like, "Oh, my God, we can do this on The Simpsons." I mean, and you find that, something like that with The Simpsons, all the doors are opened, everything is doable, and that's the best reason and that's why we keep doing it.

So, in that regard, are there any other bucket-list achievements you've been hoping to unlock that you haven't had the opportunity to do yet, or is it just every year you find a new challenge or a new opportunity that you get to explore and then you get to relatively quickly cross it off the list?

Well, it's been a great year for bucket lists for us, because we did the Star Wars crossover and then the Marvel crossover, which were two things that were the foundations of my childhood, other than The Foundation trilogy. And I thought, never would I be working with Marvel in any capacity, and then we're putting up this homage to Jack Kirby that David Silverman did for the Loki short, and I'm going, "This is insane."

I think I'm a pretty big Simpsons fan, I have a Milpool tattoo of the "Milpool" signature, and I have an Instagram page devoted to Simpsons memes. When people ask who's the craziest fan you've ever met, is it that you can't even get into that realm because saying "craziest Simpsons fan" is like "craziest Star Wars fan" or "craziest Marvel fan"? There's such a depth and devotion that nobody rises to the top, or do you have someone that you think, "Oh, they're the biggest Simpsons fan"?

There's a guy named Alex Ortega that I think is the number one fan, of a few who are like him, who are just unbelievable. Just love the show so much. It's incredible. And I don't want to leave anyone off of the list, but they're all super nice, which is amazing. But that's my pick of the ones that I've encountered where you go, "You can't love The Simpsons more than he does."

Is it based on memorabilia or encyclopedic knowledge? What is it that makes a super fan?

Sheer love of The Simpsons. I would say it's pretty amazing. So, I mean, he's far from the only one that has this love and these really great people you meet on Twitter, who all have this incredible loyalty to the show and are just the best.

"When Billie Met Lisa" premieres on Disney+ on April 22nd.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.