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A New Podcast Explores Why 'Arthur' The Aardvark's Sister D.W. Was Voiced By Boys

D.W., the bratty younger sister on the kids TV show <em>Arthur</em>, has been voiced by different male actors since the series debuted in 1996.
Marc Brown
WGBH Educational Foundation
D.W., the bratty younger sister on the kids TV show Arthur, has been voiced by different male actors since the series debuted in 1996.

Updated July 19, 2021 at 1:23 PM ET

Dora Winifred "D.W." Read, the bratty younger sister to the titular character on the long-running animated children's show Arthur, has become somewhat of a pop culture icon in the years since the program's 1996 debut. Full of sassy one-liners, she's now the star of countless memes.

But there's more to the snarky aardvark than meets the eye — and ear.

D.W., it turns out, has always been voiced by several boy actors over the years.

Jason Szwimer, one of those male voices, is returning to the cartoon character he first played at age 10 in a new podcast, Finding D.W.

It helped him get answers to why the character wasn't voiced by young girls.

The show's casting director Debra Toffan tells Szwimer in one episode of the podcast that the huskier tone of a prepubescent boy's voice was better suited to D.W.'s gruff personality.

"D.W. is a rough-and-tumble little girl. She's a little brat," Toffan told Szwimer.

While she did have girls read for the part, she said, "they were just too sweet" and "nice" for D.W.

Michael Caloz was the first of so far eight boy D.W.s cast to voice the character on the show. In casting the D.W.s that followed, Szwimer told NPR, "they just wanted to match that voice."

Szwimer brought Caloz on the podcast to talk about their shared connection. Caloz said that until their conversation, he never thought much about the role. At a young age, he didn't really grasp the notion of fame and "weirdly enough," he said, he didn't question the fact that he played a girl character as a boy. But his mother helped him fill in some of the blanks.

"I said, 'Mom, like, surely I must have thought this is weird, right?' I'm this little 9-year-old kid and being told 'You're gonna play a girl,' — like, I must have thought that was crazy," he recalled. "And she said, 'No, you just kind of took it as another role to play, and you were really excited to be on TV and, you know, work on this famous book that kids loved.' "

The gender distinction is one reason Szwimer once distanced himself from the role, which he said made him the target of bullies for "having a high-pitched voice and for playing a girl."

"I haven't always felt very proud of it," she said. "I often have gone years where I just sort of shied away from having played D.W. But now, I'm just leaning completely into it."

A young Jason Szwimer voiced D.W. on the show <em>Arthur</em> from 2002 to 2006.
/ Jason Szwimer
Jason Szwimer
A young Jason Szwimer voiced D.W. on the show Arthur from 2002 to 2006.

Szwimer is now embracing his time playing Arthur's kid sister. Being framed as "bratty and annoying," he said, often makes her misunderstood.

"I have a lot of fondness for D.W.," he said. "She's a really good role model to girls, but honestly, to all viewers. I really think that, you know, we should all be that brash, and we should all be that fearless when we have an opinion."

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Isabella Gomez Sarmiento is a production assistant with Weekend Edition.