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How Amy Wong's Voice Actress Changed Futurama's Original Leela

If you're going to make a classic television show, it helps to have luck on your side.

Despite Futurama's animation pedigree, its stable of smart writers, and its impressive cast, the show nearly missed out on the crucial dynamics of one of its core relationships: that of time traveling protagonist Fry (voiced by Billy West) and Planet Express ship captain Leela (Katey Sagal).

In a video interview retrospective with People Magazine, cast member Lauren Tom, who played Planet Express intern and applied physics Ph.D. Amy Wong on the show, said that the original concept of the character was something far different from whom she ended up being. According to Tom, Amy was supposed to be "a car mechanic, and she was dressed that way in a car mechanic jumpsuit and just really tough."

But, as Tom admitted with a laugh, "That's not really my persona that I put out." So when Matt Groening and the creative team met with her and decided they wanted to cast her, they knew they'd have to make some changes. "They made Amy a little bit softer," Tom adds, "kind of free with her love."

The new Amy meant the original concept for Leela wouldn't work

But once that decision was made, the writers found they had two characters filling the same lane. The original Leela was meant to be the kinder, gentler guide to the dim-witted Fry as he came to terms with his new universe. If Amy was trending that direction too, then the writers would be reusing jokes and reactions between the characters. Something had to give.

Luckily, in Katey Sagal the show found a voice actor who could help pivot Leela in a more hardened direction, shouldering some of the toughness that Amy had been meant to carry for the show and proving a little more exasperated with Fry's naivete and idiocy. As Showbiz Cheatsheet points out, it would prove to be a stroke of luck for the show, which hung so much of its emotional center on the contrast between the pair as their relationship developed.

Pairing Fry with a kind and patient Leela would have aligned the show more closely with Groening's other big hit, The Simpsons, and its central pairing of Homer and Marge. By forcing themselves into rewiring the dynamic between those two, the Futurama creative team inadvertently created a way for their show to escape the orbit of that one and establish its own legacy.