As It Happens·Q&A

Voice actor bids farewell to D.W., the trailblazing little sister from Arthur

Jason Szwimer is proud of his connection to what he says is an iconic, trailblazing character for young girls.

Canada's Jason Szwimer voiced D.W. from 2002-2006 and now hosts a podcast about it

Jason Szwimer, right, voiced D.W. Read, left, on the children's animated series Arthur between 2002 and 2006. (PBS Kids, Submitted by Jason Szwimer)

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Jason Szwimer is proud of his connection to what he says is an iconic character for young girls.

Szwimer, 29, is one of several actors, all of them male, who voiced the character of Dora Winifred Read, better known as D.W., the sassy little sister on TV's Arthur. 

The beloved animated series will debut its final season in winter 2022, capping off nearly 25 years on television. 

Szwimer voiced D.W. between 2002 and 2006, and now hosts a podcast about it called Finding D.W. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens guest host Ginella Massa. 

Jason, how does it feel hearing that Arthur is ending after 25 seasons?

It's devastating. I really think I took it for granted that Arthur, you know, is this institution. It's been around for as long as I've been alive, and I think I always thought it would be around. So I was really surprised when I found out.

Why do you think people are so drawn to this show?

I think that the characters are very relatable and I think that the writing is really good. I mean, it's a show that is obviously for kids, but it's not necessarily written for kids. And what I mean by that is, you know, when you watch the show now as an adult, it's clear that it's not watered down or talking down to a quote-unquote level "for kids" or something. It's very clever. It's very creative. And I think that's due to the writing and the quality of the writing and the production in general.

Did you have any sort of favourite episodes or favourite moments from the show?

Eventually, I feel like there's going to be a compilation on the internet of me answering this question, but the answer is Bleep. That's my favourite episode that I was in. It's an episode where D.W. learns a swear word and she thinks she's learned a magical word that makes older people drop things.

Arthur will end next year after a nearly 25-year run. (PBS Kids)

I was shocked to learn that D.W. was always played by boys. And this part of your podcast is kind of exploring with some of the other actors who are voicing D.W. What have you learned through that experience?

I was definitely just like you. You know, when I was cast on the show, I was really excited. And it was only later that I realized D.W. had been played exclusively by male voice actors.

And my podcast is, like you're saying, my journey to reach out to and try to interview and find all of these actors. 

And along the way, I'm trying to ... figure out how having played such a big character that so many people love has affected me and changed me over time, you know, trying to grow up and move on past it.

And how has it affected you? 

I'm not sure I'm going to come across a clear answer that being D.W. made me want to do X.

But what I think that sort of journey can relate to is all of our journeys to grow up, transition from being the kids that we were, to the adults we will eventually become, and sort of finding our purpose in life.

I know that sounds a little didactic or maybe a bit ridiculous to hear from a guy making a podcast about D.W. But I'm not really shying away from the fact that this podcast is sort of a very public existential crisis I'm having.

Unfortunately, I'm not as cute as I used to be so, sadly, I can't do the voice.- Jason Szwimer, former voice actor of Arthur's D.W.

Fair enough. But what about when you were a kid? You know, did people know that you were the voice of D.W.? And what was that like?

I was leaving school three times a week to go and record. And so kids would ask me, you know, "Is everything OK? Like, what are you doing?" And I told them, "Yeah, you know, I'm leaving because I'm the voice of D.W. on Arthur."

And at first no one believed me. And then I remember one time in elementary school, I brought in for show-and-tell a VHS [videotape] of an episode of me playing D.W. and showed it to the class.

So I think I was something of, like, a local celebrity or something. I'm originally from Montreal, currently based in Toronto. And everyone from the community I grew up in knew, and it was, like, a big thing.

Sometimes it was nice. But other years of my life where — you know, like teenage years — where you kind of want to try to figure out who you are and maybe don't want to draw so much attention to yourself, it was definitely challenging at times. 

But again, as I've gotten older and as I've sort of charted a career in entertainment, it's something that I want to embrace. 

Can you still do the voice?

Unfortunately, I'm an adult man now, which comes with its own challenges and problems. But no, unfortunately, I'm not as cute as I used to be so, sadly, I can't do the voice. Although I do try on my podcast, and I think people are enjoying hearing that.

It's also become a bit of a meme online with some of her witty comebacks and one-liners. What's it like to see that in the universe?

I think it's cool. I love that D.W. has been embraced. You know, I love when sometimes I'll get to speak to somebody, like a woman who's in a position of power, like bosses I've had or executive assistants, you know, all kinds of cool people … who are like, "Yeah, I cite D.W. as an early influence."

I definitely think Arthur had some pretty strong female characters. I think back to watching, you know, thinking about Francine and D.W. They were not pushovers. They were not sweet, nice little girls. They spoke their minds.... There were a lot of sort of progressive storylines and characters in the show. Do you agree with that? 

Absolutely. I totally agree ... and I just think it's so cool.

It's so interesting how much the world has changed from when I was doing the voice of D.W. in the early 2000s to now. And I think it's really awesome that at that time there were these strong female characters.

As you mentioned, you know, Francine and D.W. are kind of outliers for that time in children's television in particular, and the media in general. So I think it's really special that I got to play the voice of a character like that. 

I was a small part of making that character. And I think that character's lasting legacy is really special.

Do you relate to D.W. at all when you think about her character?

That's a difficult question. What I will say is if there are any positive qualities D.W. has, I would be proud to have them.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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