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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
<i>Rick And Morty</i>’s Spencer Grammer on voicing the most functional member of the Smith clan

Rick And Morty’s Spencer Grammer on voicing the most functional member of the Smith clan

Photo: Angela Weiss (Getty Images for Vanity Fair), Graphic: Libby McGuire

Spencer Grammer likens the long wait between seasons of Adult Swim’s hit show Rick And Morty to standing by for your one true love. “It’s like waiting for a soulmate,” she explains over the phone. “You’re like, ‘I love this thing. I’m just going to wait forever and ever and ever until it comes.’” Thankfully, fans didn’t have to wait an eternity for the fourth season of Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s animated sci-fi comedy, even if the two-year gap felt torturous for some. The show’s break did little to diminish its loyal fan base: 2.33 million tuned into the season-four premiere to reunite with the Smiths, Rick Sanchez, and a gaggle of alien lifeforms that make Mr. Poopybutthole look conventional.

Amid the torrents of madness and intergalactic time leaps stands Summer Smith, Morty’s headstrong teenage sister and occasional chaos companion. Over the years both Grammer and the girl she voices have learned to roll with the punches enough to render wormholes—or in Grammer’s case, unpredictable show schedules—part of the norm. “People ask things like, ‘How do you feel about this crazy schedule?’ It’s just the way the schedule has always been, so it’s not crazy to me. It’s just the way this one goes.” Grammer talked about what makes her character so strong and the kind of personal journey she’d like to see Summer have in the future.

The A.V. Club: Since the beginning of Rick And Morty, Summer has developed from the fun, quippy side character to a notably more active participant in the intergalactic shenanigans and a strong thinker. Did you get to provide any input when it came to the progression of your character?

Spencer Grammer: Not particularly, apart from just bringing my sort of sensibility to the role. I think it inspired them to give Summer more independent-slash-feminist points of view. I also think it’s part of the zeitgeist of our social context, where women are becoming more and more empowered. And it works well with Rick because he is so sociopathic and narcissistic and patriarchal. I think it’s a good balance between those two characters. I also think Summer just really identifies with and respects him in a lot of ways. I think it allowed for her character to grow over the years.

AVC: Their dynamic has always been really interesting, because on paper it shouldn’t work, for all the reasons you mentioned. What do you think makes them work so well?

SG: I think Summer just really cares for him in the weird way that every dysfunctional family cares for one another because of their blood ties. I also think that even though Rick might be frustrating at times as a representative of being a patriarch, I think he also always go to bat for his family.

AVC: With the show’s hefty renewal, fans can look forward to a lot more adventures from the Smith family. Is there anything that Summer hasn’t done yet that you’d like to see her do in the future?

SG: It’s funny, somebody asked me this question and I was like, “Summer should speak French.” It was the most basic thing I could say! Of all the things in the universe, I was like, “Just French!”

Really, it’d be cool if there was, like, a whole season for each kid. We have so many episodes coming up, so we could dedicate it to that one character—Summer as Rick for an entire season. That being said, I really have no pull. I would love for Summer to do more satire, like Summer in the West Wing, an action movie, or noir. It would be fun to explore different genres of cinema.

I also wonder how long we can maintain her teenage angsty things. When does Summer decide she’s going to be a grown-up? There’s so many things to explore when you have a family dynamic. I think when we learn more about the family and how our various actions affect one another, the story is really, really strong. There’s something about the heart of that being the center of our show that makes it really dynamic and introspective. The Simpsons and Family Guy do that. They sort of paved the road for us to create this show with a more science-based, fractured universe, string theory reality.

AVC: Summer has to be one of the most adaptable characters we’ve seen in a while—she just rolls with things. But what makes her so fascinating is that some of the things that would be vilified in other young female characters often make her the smartest person in the room. The fact that she’s concerned about being social and popularity makes her the most personable. She tends to have a better understanding of how people work than anybody else. It’s what fueled her ability to fit right into a Mad Max-esque existence in “Rickmancing The Stone.”

SG: To that point, it would be interesting to see when she doesn’t adapt. I think it’s inherently feminine to put yourself in situations that are really tough and having to learn how to adapt to it. And she’s never a victim. No matter what, I don’t feel like she plays this role of, “Oh no, I’m victimized by this.” Even in [“The Old Man And The Seat”] she’s like, “Cool, I downloaded this app [that helps users find their soulmate] and now I’m completely committed to finding all of these soulmates.” She never feels slighted by the app. She doesn’t necessarily even think about it that much. She’s just in it, and I think that makes her character kind of strong.

AVC: Does Summer have a specific journey for season four?

SG: Kind of? There are some really fun episodes coming up with Summer that are pretty great. And I know they’re working on writing season five, too. We only have the first five, but we’ve recorded the other five. You just don’t get to see them yet. Summer has gotten stronger, more independent, more sure of herself. Obviously, she’s giving it back to Rick a little bit more, though she also wants to be a bigger part of that group scenario. I would love to see them incorporate the whole family more.

AVC: Many people were likely introduced to you through then-ABC Family’s Greek. For a lot of fans, Greek had a really social element to it. It was the show you watched with friends.

SG: I heard that from people often. It was a time when we didn’t really have streaming yet, apart from iTunes downloads. I did that this weekend actually with some friends, but it’s just a different world now. Social media didn’t really exist when the show came out as well, not until maybe our third or fourth season with Twitter. It’s changed the way that we watch television. It’s really quite fascinating.

I feel like Greek and Grey’s Anatomy were the kind of shows that everybody would get together to watch. Greek was an amazing opportunity for me—it really was a great launching point. But I did get burnt out. We worked really long hours. So I took a break to finish undergrad, and I planned to go to graduate school at some point, but then Rick And Morty came along, and I was really grateful. I did the pilot almost nine years ago, so it’s been a part of my life for so many years. It’s the work I’m most proud of because I love what it says about our world, our commentary. And I think Greek tried to do those things, too.

AVC: Do you feel like there are any similarities between Casey Cartwright and Summer Smith?

Yeah, I think so. Summer is not as popular as Casey was. Casey really was that “it” girl who had everything going for her except for her nerdy brother. I don’t think Summer is nearly as cool, but she definitely has the same sort of brother/sister dynamic that exists. Casey was also really ambitious the same way I think. I don’t know if Summer’s as ambitious, but they both definitely have confidence in their choices.