Bender’s back, baby! When animated sci-fi comedy series “Futurama” returns for an 11th season on Hulu after a decade-long hiatus, voice actor John DiMaggio will reprise his role as the foulmouthed, human-hating robot.
Hulu revealed the reboot plans in February 2022, but DiMaggio’s name was notably absent from the long list of returning cast members. (The series originated on Fox, then saw DVD-format and Comedy Central iterations.) In a situation that foreshadowed the current questions over streaming salaries in Hollywood, DiMaggio was deadlocked in a salary negotiation with the streamer.
“When they made the announcement, it wasn’t like I had said no. We had been negotiating for a long time,” DiMaggio tells Variety in a Zoom interview just hours before the actors are to go on strike. “It was a stalemate.”
Social media erupted over the prospect of the beloved character’s original voice not returning, spurred on by DiMaggio’s own hashtag: #BenderGate. “Bender is part of my soul and nothing about this is meant to be disrespectful to the fans or my ‘Futurama’ family. It’s about self-respect. And honestly, being tired of an industry that’s become far too corporate and takes advantage of artists’ time and talent,” he tweeted at the time.
A month later, amid fan campaigns to boycott any revival without DiMaggio, the actor and Hulu jointly revealed he had officially signed on to the series.
“I didn’t want, nor did my agent want, me standing outside of a house that I should have been having Thanksgiving dinner in,” DiMaggio says. “It was just like, OK, I gotta say yes, because I don’t want the demise of the show on my shoulders.’ They were ready to bring in other people. It was what it was.”
In the end, DiMaggio didn’t receive the pay increase he was looking for. “I didn’t get more money,” he revealed in May 2022 at a fan event. “But what I did get was a lot of respect, and a lot of head nods from people who are like, ‘Yo, bro, I see you and thank you.’”
DiMaggio still speaks with pride as he recalls his fight: “When you’re David with a sling and you’re standing up to Goliath, you try to do what you can to get your side heard. I think I did.”
The rocky start didn’t dampen DiMaggio’s elation over coming back as Bender, a character he’s voiced since “Futurama’s” premiere in 1999. “It makes me so happy that we can touch people with this goofy sci-fi comedy that has some of these tender moments in it,” he says. “It resonates with people.”
More than two decades later, even the show’s earliest episodes still hold up when viewed through a 2023 lens. “That’s a testament to the writers, and to the way the jokes are cultivated on this show. There are raunchy jokes, there are off-color jokes, but they don’t punch down on this show,” DiMaggio says. “We always punched up. And that always works. That’s how you win over people.”
The Hulu reboot is no different. “This show, whenever it comes back, people are like, ‘Oh, it’s the same!’ It is the same,” he says. “We’ve retained about 75% of the writing staff, consistently. And everybody that’s new is seasoned as a motherfucker.”
As SAG-AFTRA and the WGA continue to strike, the actor is feeling “vindicated” about his self-advocacy. “It’s kind of interesting that the strike is happening, because it’s all the stuff that I wanted and was fighting for — not only myself, but everybody else,” he says. “Now it’s not just me versus them. Now it’s everybody versus them.”
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