“Flame Princess! Flame Princess! Flame Princess!”
A crowd of people wearing fiery-colored dresses, red wigs, cat-eared hoods and green backpacks suddenly rushed the stage as Jessica DiCicco was deejaying.
For DiCicco, a television, radio and film graduate of Syracuse University, this was becoming normal. DiCicco—who juggles careers as a voice actor, one half of a DJ duo and most recently a music video director—has become famous for a handful of episodes of Adventure Time, a hit show on Cartoon Network. She voices Flame Princess, a feisty new addition to the animated series about a boy, his magical dog and their adventures in the Land of Ooo. Heavy on fart jokes and big-hearted homages to video game and comic book culture, Adventure Time has cultivated legions of devoted fans since it debuted in 2010
“There’s a huge amount of Adventure Time community,” DiCicco said, noting fans who like to dress up as their favorite characters and attend conventions. “It’s great because I get to geek out with them.”
DiCicco’s twitter feed (@jessicadicicco) gives away just how much she enjoys the show. Her tweets are littered with Adventure Time hashtags and behind-the-scenes photos from her life as a voice actor; she recently tweeted a picture of her new manicure featuring an Adventure Time character on each nail.
“When I feel the excitement surrounding Adventure Time, it reminds me of Simpsons mania, which I lived through and loved, where every street corner had Simpsons T-shirts and things,” DiCicco said.
She ran that theory by the Cartoon God himself, Matt Groening. She met The Simpsons creator in February while presenting at the Annie Awards, animation’s highest honor.
“Matt totally agreed with me,” DiCicco said. “He said he was a huge Adventure Time fan, and then told me a story about Pen Ward, the Adventure Time creator, coming over to his house and drawing.”
Ward’s mother was friendly with Groening and arranged a drawing tutorial for Ward, who also spent that afternoon playing video games with Groening’s son.
Soon after, Ward brought Kent Osborne, writer and storyboard artist for animated shows like Spongbob Squarepants, with him to the Adventure Time writers’ room. The two had worked together on another irreverent animated series, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, and Osborne soon became a head writer for Adventure Time and started directing the voice actors on the show.
From a road trip stop in Austin, Texas, where he enjoyed an event featuring independent video game developers, Osborne took some time to chat about DiCicco.
He said it’s so easy to write for DiCicco, he feels almost like it’s cheating. “I can hear her voice in my head when I write Flame Princess,” Osborne said. “I can’t imagine someone else playing her.”
“People try to do these really crazy voices for animation, so if the line’s, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ they’ll go, ‘Heeeeeeeey!! How’s it gooooing?!’ They try to be funny. But Jess’s reads are always super sincere.”
Osborne remembered one episode where Finn and Jake, the boy and his magical dog, are making fart jokes. Flame Princess, who’s feeling homesick after running away, has to say, “Your magic air is making me sad.”
“Jess played it so straight, it was making everyone laugh,” Osborne said.
Unlike many animated projects, Adventure Time records with the full cast of each episode. “We’re basically in a fish bowl,” DiCicco said of the sound booth. “Everyone sits close around each other in these big comfy chairs with their own mics.”
Once one person starts cracking up, it quickly spreads to the rest of the cast. They had to start and stop the scene around DiCicco’s “magic air” line three times before they could get over the giggles.
Lucas Grabeel, of High School Musical and Switched at Birth fame, got to know DiCicco in 30-second bursts in a shared sound booth. That was the time they had while technicians listened to their first takes in an upcoming Disney Junior musical series called Sheriff Callie’s Wild West.
“There’s gobs and gobs of downtime in film to set up lights or move the cameras,” Grabeel said. But in animation, it's different. “We start a conversation, then suddenly they say, ‘OK, line 123 again.’ So we immediately put a pause on the conversation and then pick it up again in the next break.”
Grabeel and DiCicco met while voicing a woodpecker deputy (Grabeel) and a 9-year-old male cactus (DiCicco) in Sheriff Callie’s Wild West. They also voice a group of prairie dogs that serve as a Greek chorus.
“It was absolutely hilarious and adorable to watch Jess’s transformation,” Grabeel said. “She did the cutest voice. I kept laughing and ruining takes. We have a lot of laughs together when we’re working.”
The Disney Junior series is Grabeel’s first job as a regular on an animated show.
“Jess is an old pro, so she shows me the ropes,” Grabeel said, adding, “She’s a great gal.”
Born in Los Angeles as the oldest of two daughters, DiCicco moved with her family to New York City as a young girl and has enjoyed a prolific career ever since. When she was nine, Francis Ford Coppola cast DiCicco in The Godfather Part III as an unnamed child. At 15 she photographed a cover story for New York Magazine about prep school gangsters, and by the time she enrolled in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Nickelodeon hired her as the voice of the Noggin network. Her series, Quarter Life Crisis, won the Gordon J. Alderman Award for excellence in creative broadcasting while she was at Syracuse.
After graduation, DiCicco moved to L.A. to produce television. DiCicco worked for a reality television show and auditioned for voice acting work on the side until her animation career took over. She booked four pilots and lent her voice to five animated shows during her first season auditioning.
“The bulk of my work is in L.A.,” DiCicco said. “I do love it, but I have to say, my heart’s in New York. I’m a New York City girl through and through. There’s that corny saying, ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,’ but I absolutely identify with that.”
DiCicco’s parents still live in New York City and she said she enjoys visiting them. She stays in her high school bedroom, which she left intact, and describes coming home as, “jumping through one of those green warp tunnels in the Mario games.”
It’s a happy pull of nostalgia for the successful actress, who says she likes being around her family because they share the same sense of humor. They also share an understanding of the entertainment industry. Her father, Bobby DiCicco, was a popular actor, and her sister Katie is a singer and songwriter working in New York City and Los Angeles.
In DiCicco’s latest project, a music video for the rapper Kovas, an MTV artist to watch, DiCicco had an adventure. She got some of her industry buddies together to shoot the video for Kovas’s “Ice Cream.”
“Andy Milonakis was there, the evil kid from High School Musical was there. Talk about Hollywood star cameos,” Osborne said. “I got into a chicken or maybe a bear costume and jumped right in!”
Grabeel described the video as a hard-core rap video with a comic twist. He gave the camera the middle finger during his cameo.
“As the director, Jess was the head honcho,” Grabeel said. “It was exciting to watch her own that in the same way she owns her acting.”
Osborne said he was also impressed with DiCicco’s professionalism while keeping things fun on set.
Somehow, with her busy schedule, DiCicco has already directed a second music video, “Thank You” by Master Shortie featuring Leaf and The Cataracs, which went live last Tuesday.
“I can one hundred percent do it all,” DiCicco said. “I’ve always been the type to have a bunch of things going on. I don’t know why that would change now.”
Part of a recent episode of Adventure Time featuring Flame Princess, voiced by DiCicco.