Two months after Jenny Slate announced she would no longer voice the character of Missy on “Big Mouth,” the Netflix animated puberty comedy has found her replacement: writer, producer, comedian and actor Ayo Edebiri.
“I was definitely a very uncomfortable child, so I think the show speaks to that and a lot of those feelings, which still resonate with me as an adult,” Edebiri tells Variety. “I’m back home in my childhood bedroom right now and on my bookshelf in between ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ is Bill Clinton’s autobiography and Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and a translation of ‘The Iliad’ in Latin. I was a true dork. So I don’t think I have to go too far to connect with Missy.”
While Slate will continue to voice Missy for the majority of the fourth season (the premiere date of which has yet to be announced), Edebiri will take over the role in the penultimate episode. She booked the role just a few weeks ago and has already recorded her Season 4 dialogue. She also joined the writers’ room of the show for the fifth season — a job she actually booked and began working first, given the schedule of breaking stories and penning scripts.
“As a writer my goal is never to figure out, ‘Oh let’s get myself a part on this show.’ When I’m writing, I’m serving my boss’ vision and I want to be helpful in whatever ways I can be and lend my ideas and my jokes and whatever else they need to that,” Edebiri says. But she admits “because I had the experience of being in the room and knowing the story, I think that helped with the comfort level” when stepping into the recording booth, especially on such an accelerated timeline.
Originally, co-creator Andrew Goldberg tells Variety, Slate was going to voice Missy throughout the entire fourth season. “By the time we made the decision to cast Ayo, we had finished all of Season 4 and delivered it to Netflix,” he shares. With production lead time on animation, the team didn’t think they could replace the whole season of Missy’s dialogue — nor did they want “Ayo to have to start her journey with this part by matching what Jenny did already,” he continues. “That’s not a way for her to make it her own.”
Goldberg credits co-creator Jennifer Flackett for finding a moment in the season’s penultimate episode that felt like “a really organic and cool place” to bring Edebiri in sooner than originally planned.
“It’s about Missy’s continued evolution as a person — that she has all of these different parts of who she is. There’s the sidelines Missy and the more sexually adventurous Missy, mirror Missy, and then also this Missy that she’s been discovering [in Season 4] through hanging out with her cousins and really taking a look at her Black identity,” co-creator Nick Kroll says of the moment.
Once they found that moment, it was about making sure the transition “wouldn’t be a startling change for viewers of the show,” he explains.
“The transition is a nice farewell to Jenny in that moment, too, in a way,” adds Edebiri, noting that she wanted to pay “homage” to the previous performance “while also bringing something new. The voice I found is also because of the work Jenny did, too.”
Since Edebiri joined the “Big Mouth” writers’ room first, she already understood the sensibility of both the character and the overall tone of the story before being cast. But just because the “Big Mouth” team already knew Edebiri did not mean she did not have to audition. Slate, who had voiced Missy since the show’s inception in 2017, announced on Instagram in June that she was going to step down from the role the show because “Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people.” At that time, the co-creators of the show also released a statement on social media in which they apologized and expressed regret for casting a white actor to voice a biracial character and said they were looking forward to furthering the character’s growth once recast. Since this announcement came so publicly and before they had even discussed casting anyone new, the team was able to cast a wider net when looking for the new Missy than usual.
“We had a lot of people submitting off of Twitter and Instagram and we brought in a bunch of those people,” says Kroll. “We let people self-tape and submit — and a few of those people came down to the final very short list of people we considered to hire.”
Edebiri shares she recorded a “range” of takes on Missy for her initial audition and then ended up having multiple callbacks and a couple of sessions with the producers where she further tested out dialogue and sounds. Ultimately, Goldberg says what set her apart was that she “does just bring so much of herself to the role.”
Most recently, Edebiri was a writer on NBC’s “Sunnyside.” A stand-up comedian, she also co-hosts “Iconography,” a podcast, for Forever Dog. Her other upcoming screen credits include co-producing “Mulligan,” Robert Carlock and Tina Fey’s upcoming animated series for Netflix; voicing the lead role in the upcoming animated series “We Lost Our Human” for Netflix, and writing and acting in the second season of “Dickinson” for Apple TV Plus. (For the latter, the role of Hattie was written for her after she joined the writers’ room.) She is repped by Odenkirk Provissiero Ent., CAA and Del Shaw Moonves.
“My parents are both people who didn’t really get to do what they loved to do; they just worked jobs. And they were like, ‘If you’re going to go for it, just go for it.’ So I’m going for it!” Edebiri says.
Now, Kroll says, having a Black actor portray Missy in “Big Mouth” will allow the show to “tell more nuanced stories about Missy’s identity.” Although he admits that when they first created the character it was, “OK this is a dorky girl who happens to be Black,” the conversation has shifted through the years and the writers’ room has encouraged more of an exploration of Missy’s Blackness.
“This allows us to talk about this particular character’s growth in a way that we hope to talk about all of our characters’ growth,” Kroll says. “This change of actor is a heightened version of that, but a good example of how our characters are always evolving.”
For Edebiri, that comes with a responsibility to tell “stories you may traditionally see as not fun” in a funny way. “There are lessons to be learned [from the show] and it’s growing pains — like on the show,” she says. “To me, it’s nothing but exciting. As a show and as a room and as a moment, it feels like it’s happening, and hopefully it’s here to stay.”
A version of this story originally appeared on Variety.com.