Even The Voices Behind Bandit & Chilli Know We Can’t Live Up To Bluey

“Chilli is the best of us, that’s why she’s such a joy to play,” Melanie Zanetti tells Romper.

Talking to Melanie Zanetti and David McCormack is weird in the best possible way. It’s not the conversation itself that’s odd. They’re both charming, thoughtful, and funny. It’s just that I’ve heard their voices basically every day for the past few years and I know that if I’d closed my eyes at any point in the interview, I would think “Bandit? Chilli?! Oh my God, it’s you.”

As someone who routinely writes about and always enjoys Bluey, having the opportunity to chat with “Mum” and “Dad” is a trip, particularly since both Zanetti and McCormack sound like their characters IRL. And yet in spite of this and the incredible international fame of the series, the actors tell me they’ve rarely been called out “in the wild” for their famous voices.

“Never. Not once,” Zanetti tells me. “I think maybe the cognitive dissonance, the fact that I’m not a red heeler maybe does that.”

“It’s maybe happened to me twice in all these years,” McCormack agrees. “I think, like Mel says, it’s just a disconnect. People aren’t expecting to see Chilli or Bandit. And besides, [in Australia] everyone sounds like this anyway. We all sound the same.”

“We’ve escaped that,” Zanetti smiles, and McCormack gets a mischievous glint in his eye.

“I’d like it to happen,” he opines. “It’d make me feel like more of a celebrity.”

The two have never technically worked together outside of a handful of interviews and conventions. Both record virtually in individual sessions; McCormack from his home in Sydney and Zanetti from wherever she happens to be working at the time, which could be any number of countries and continents. But for this interview, I have the unique pleasure of having both of them on one Zoom call, where we are able to talk about how the show comes together, their favorite Bluey moments, and the highly anticipated 28-minute episode “The Sign.”

Thank you both so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Are you both in Australia right now?

Melanie Zanetti: I’m currently in LA.

David McCormack: I’m in Sydney.

It’s only about 7:30 in the morning where you are David. Thank you very much for joining me so early.

DM: No problem, Jamie. It’s all good. The kids have gone to school. I got up early, I did the lunches, just being a legend dad, I tell you. Absolute legend.

I feel like our readers would just be devastated to hear, like, “Oh yeah, I kicked them out, didn’t give them any food before they left. They’ll be fine.”

DM: “Yeah, the kids never came home last night but I’m sure they're fine.” Good for their immunity.

As I understand it, neither of you expected Bluey to become as big as it has. Was there a moment for either of you where a lightbulb went off and you were like, “Oh my God, this is huge?”

MZ: I think it blew up in Australia quite quickly. People loved it kind of straight away. Part of me was like, “Oh, that’s because it’s such an Australian product, and gorgeous and everything.” But then when it started taking off in the U.S. and internationally, I was like, “Oh, this is a thing thing. This is an everyone thing.”

DM: Yeah, I was amazed even when they said, it was going to be on TV outside of Australia. Because it’s so Australian, obviously Brisbane, Australia, to be specific. And I was amazed when it was popular in Australia. Like Mel said, it blew up pretty quick here. But to have it going all over the world and now have a 28-minute episode that’s coordinated to be screened at approximately the same time around the world, that’s amazing.

I have to say, as a U.S. viewer who normally has to wait months to get the episodes, we’re very excited everyone is getting “Ghostbasket” and “The Sign” at the same time. My kids are well above the intended demographic for the series, but we’re a whole family of Bluey fans.

MZ: I love that.

You bring up the idea that this is a very proudly Australian show, and that comes through for me as well. Is there a particular Australian sensibility that makes it speak to everybody?

MZ: I think it’s less about that it’s so Australian and it’s more about Joe, the creator, has just gotten really truthful and really real about that age group and family life, it just happens to be in Australia. And because it’s so real in all its hilarity and absurdity and heart, it resonates regardless of where it is. But the fun thing is then you guys get this little export of our slang and little Aussie accents popping up in the U.S.

DM: One thing Joe’s really good at is efficiency, economy, both in the visual look and in the story and the dialogue. He’s really good at doing heaps with not very much. And I think that maybe makes it a universal appeal, everyone can relate to that idea.

MZ: So much is distilled to its essence. You’ve got to be pretty brilliant to be able to do that.

The economy of the show and everything is just incredible. A while ago I spoke to Joff Bush, who does the music, and the thought and care that goes into every minute of a 7-minute show is so impressive. I think the respect for the audience is what comes through.

DM: Yeah, totally.

MZ: Absolutely. Absolutely.

DM: [Joff] has created a Bluey sort of musical universe that you can hear and instantly know it’s from Bluey. Besides the opening titles that are iconic, you can hear any cue from an episode and go, ‘Oh, that’s the Bluey world,’ even though the palette is wide-ranging and lots of different textures in there. He’s just created a musical language that’s just quite brilliant.

Now Dave, you’re a musician. I recently saw a TikTok that pointed out that Bandit is also fairly musically inclined. Are there other elements of your personalities that have gone into the characters?

DM: You know how we were saying before, Jamie, how we had kids of the similar age to Bingo and Bluey when the show started? I don’t know if it’s elements of me got in there, but I could identify a lot with what was going on in the story, with the games and what’s happening with the kids and with Chilli and stuff. So I don’t know if I just found it easier to be in that situation because I’d probably been in that situation that morning or the evening before.

What about you, Melanie? Any chance you’re a big field hockey player, like Chilli?

MZ: Yeah, massive. Professional field hockey player here. No, I think with any character, you’re the channel that character’s coming through, so there’s always going to be bits of you that come out in the wash. But what’s so nice about this character is she’s written as warm and wry and funny and caring and smart. So if there’s any of those elements in myself, they get to come out through this character. Chilli is the best of us, that’s why she’s such a joy to play.

As a mother, I’m just never going to live up to Chilli, and I have to accept that in my soul.

MZ: We all do. None of us are. These characters are aspirational.

Do you have a favorite episode or joke or moment from Bluey that sticks out?

DM: My favorite one, I can’t remember what episode it is, but Bandit walks into the room and goes "Here’s Dad," or whatever and then Chilli just does this really slow, wry clap in the corner. I just think it’s so funny, it’s so Chilli, and it’s not underestimating the audience as well. It’s pretty funny. It’s almost Seinfeld-esque in its humor, you know what I mean? When I watch that stuff... Because when you’re doing the script, it says, “Bandit: Here’s Dad.” And then, “Chilli claps slowly.” You don’t quite get it until you see the finished product. So good. Mel, is that your hand clapping?

MZ: That’s my hand clapping.

DM: I knew it. I knew it.

MZ: There’s attitude in that clap.

MZ: My favorite episode is “Sleepytime” because oh my goodness, it has heart. A joke that I really love is an obstacle course, when there’s a Gallipoli reference, where they’re like, "How fast are you going to run?” “As fast as a Greyhound!” “How fast can you run?” “As fast as a Greyhound!” And Dad walks in going, “Lot more Greyhound talk than last time. That’s okay.”

It’s a really good joke.

MZ: Respecting the audience. I remember Joe, when he was creating that episode, he’s like, “Oh, I’m dealing with all these Gen Zs. None of them are getting the reference and it’s killing me.”

DM: I also like the part, is it in “Flat Pack” when Bandit goes, “I’m not going to take advice from a cartoon dog.” And then it becomes a real Escher diagram of the story: the story’s commenting on the story, which is commenting on the story.

I have to confess, “Flat Pack” is my favorite episode, I’ve seen it a million times. I don’t think I’ve ever not teared up during that episode.

MZ: Oh, I know it’s one of Joe’s favorite episodes as well in terms of... It’s a masterpiece. We are seeing evolution both on a macro and micro scale. Incredible, really.

A while ago I wrote an article ranking Bluey episodes that’ll always make you cry, and that was my number one. When I described what it was about, the one-liner was “The evolution of life on earth, children growing up, death and the afterlife, and building Ikea furniture.” It’s a lot!

MZ: In seven minutes! Genius!

I’d love to know more about the process of recording an episode. What’s it like and how long would you say an episode takes?

MZ: *to Dave* So I don’t know what your sessions are like because we’ve never done it together, but for me it’s been about four episodes in a session, over about two hours. And then you’ll have pick-ups at the end from the previous session, and then you’ll do it in blocks. I think for them, the animation, it takes about a month to do one episode, except for “Sleepytime,” which took three because of how huge that episode was graphically.

DM: Yeah, Mel, it’s about the same as what you said. You do about four episodes in a couple of hours. And working with Joe, it’s not work, it’s so much fun. And you end up laughing and then he’ll say, “Oh, pretend you’re getting kicked in the stomach.” Or, “Jog.” Or, “Do some robot beatbox,” or something. It’s pretty good fun.

Do you record at home or in a studio?

DM: I’m in Sydney, they’re in Brisbane. Mel, you’ve done it all over the world!

MZ: Just depending where I am filming or shooting or where I am in my life. But Australia, LA, Upstate New York, Florence, Latvia. I've recorded everywhere.

DM: We’ve never worked together; we’ve never been in the same place to do it.

I know individual recording sessions is pretty standard for voice work, but the chemistry that comes through as a cast really speaks to the quality of the show and everybody who works on it. It meshes so beautifully.

DM: I know. That’s the big tribute to Joe to pull it all together, isn’t it? When you see the show, you would never think all these people are separate. It is so cohesive when you see an episode.

MZ: It’s got such vision.

Well, don’t sell yourselves short because the performances are top-notch. You’re pulling your weight.

MZ: Well, thank you very much.

DM: Well, like I said, it’s so much fun to do. It’s not really performance, is it? It’s just having a good time.

MZ: It’s going in and having a play.

Do you have favorite characters on the show other than your own?

MZ: I have a joint favorite, and it is both my children [Bluey and Bingo]. I just think they’re so brilliant and work so well together. And quite inspirational really, in terms of the skill and carrying the show. Yeah, they’re my faves.

DM: Yeah, they are pretty good. And the way that they can be the grannies and everything, and have their own offshoot characters.

MZ: I know. The grannies and then the ladies, like Belinda and stuff, and Olympia.

Merifyndor was the one in the swim class episode. I always loved that name.

MZ: Such a great name. But I love the husband’s names. What is it? Hecuba and Gerald. So good.

So Melanie, I have seen an interview with you where you had to debunk the scandalous rumor of Chilli and Lucky’s dad…

MZ: What slander…

Obviously this is a show that speaks to fans of all ages, but I will confess, as somebody who covers the show, I have gone into online spaces and looked at fan theories and been like, “Oh my God, you guys, what are you... Stop. No, just stop it.”

DM: What?! Tell me more, Jamie. What’s happening?

Well, sometimes it’s downright unwholesome...

DM: Oh no...

... but mostly it’s just kind of unhinged sometimes! Like, “This character is clearly connected to this character, because if you look at these four episodes at 13 seconds in…” It’s like, “Guys, it is a very clever show, let’s not overthink it. There’s enough on the page we can think about.” But have there been moments like that, that have surprised you with adult fans of the show?

MZ: Oh, adult fans are just as into this, if not more than the kids. I think there was a questionable theory going around about where Bandit and Chilli get their monies from.

DM: Yes, I’ve heard that one.

MZ: Whether they’re underground dealers of antique stuff… I don’t remember exactly. But there was some deep diving that people were doing, connections that maybe aren’t there. But I love the commitment, and the fever around it was admirable.

Speaking of fan theories, people are really looking forward to “Ghostbasket” and “The Sign.” When you first got those scripts and you read through them, what was your reaction?

MZ: Well, we got “The Sign” in two parts — one half and then the other half — so we had a cliffhanger.

DM: Yeah, we didn’t know what was going on.

MZ: I was having a rollercoaster of emotions. I did not know where we were going, I was borderline distressed. So yeah, I’m excited that the audience is going to go on said rollercoaster, but in a shorter timeframe.

DM: I honestly did not know what was going to happen. It was traumatic, but a little bit exciting.

Dave, looping back to your kids, have you found any parenting inspiration from this series?

DM: Totally. Because Bandit’s such an aspirational dad, I do one of these sessions with Joe or whatever, and it’d be like, “Oh God, that’s so well written. Bandit, that was so good, what you did.” And I’ll come home and try and be a better dad, but it doesn't last for that long, Jamie. I normally can do about 20 minutes, half an hour tops, and then I’m back to the old, like, “You guys go amuse yourself. God, I’m exhausted.” But look, like everyone says, Bandit only has to do it for seven minutes, right? Chilli only has to do it for seven minutes, and they’re animated! I reckon anyone could do seven minutes.

MZ: Particularly if they’re animated!

DM: And if it’s written for you. Bandit and Chilli are aspirational parent models, and they’re not perfect as well, which I really like.

MZ: I love that.

DM: They can be flawed, and they’re just trying to make the right decisions at the right time and do their best as parenting. And that’s the real world, isn't it? That’s what we got to do.