Melanie Zanetti was hanging out at her friend Dan Brumm's home studio when she first heard about Bluey. The Australian actor was visiting with the voiceover artist and sound designer, who told her about his brother Joe Brumm's new animated project. Dan asked if she wanted to put down a demo, despite the show already being cast.
Well, that recording session was well worth it as, in the eleventh hour, the Australian Broadcasting Company decided to go in a different direction and asked Zanetti if she would be OK with them using her take in the pilot episode. She voiced Chilli, the animated blue heeler dog mom of the title character.
"I was like, 'Yes, I'm in love with this already. Take whatever you want,'" Zanetti tells Scary Mommy during a Zoom chat, saying she ended up recording for three months to eventually secure the role.
"Straight away, I was on my agent like, 'You call them? Can you see what's happening?' And they were like, 'Why are you so obsessed with this little cartoon about a family of dogs?' And I was like, 'Trust me, this is really special,'" she says. "I reminded them of that last night: 'Who was right about this little cartoon?"
Bluey is now an International Emmy-winning kids' program that has captured the hearts of parents and children alike. The animated show — which follows the adventures of blue heeler puppy Bluey and her family of four — is now in its third season, airing on Disney Junior and streaming on Disney+ in the U.S.
Zanetti chatted with Scary Mommy hours after she and co-star David McCormack, who voices Bluey's dad Bandit, made their American late-night debut on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. The on-screen dog husband and wife actually met in person for the first time just days before their appearance on Fallon, as they've never had the chance to get together since the show's premiere in 2018.
"We didn't even have a conversation on the phone until a few years into it," Zanetti, 37, admits. "There was no talking about our connection or what we're like together, none of that. It's all in the writing. And that's really a testament to Joe, the creator, who writes all the scripts, who directs us, who directs the animation. It's really his brainchild. He's really everything behind Bluey. He got the chemistry of the right people and put it together."
Zanetti also has a great vocal relationship with the kids who voice Bluey and her little sister, Bandit. The young actors remain anonymous to shield them from the frenzy of child stardom.
"It's so wonderful that they did that at the start so that all the children in the show are protected," Zanetti says. "We know what show business has done to so many young performers, and to know that this show is not exploiting those kids in that way, unintentionally even, and that everyone can just have a wonderful childhood and still be part of something great, I think is fantastic."
Zanetti is not a mother herself but explained that she is one of six kids and had a wonderful mom to emulate when it came to creating Chilli, who many viewers consider a woman who can do no wrong. She works, cleans, cooks, sets standards, is up at night to soothe, and plays for hours on end. Chilli is impressive, yet accurately represents the reality of all mothers.
"There's a real understanding of conscious parenting now that I don't think was as much when I was younger, but my mum was really tuned in to us and really present," Zanetti says. "She made us work through all of our arguments together, which is a lot of work. She never compared any of us to each other. There was a lot of stuff that was very consciously focused on having a growth-driven, harmonious, loving environment together. And so she's really the inspiration. If there's a line that I'm like, 'How do I?' I'm like, 'Oh, right, that's how Mum says it.'"
The actor added that also just being a person in the world who is around children helps her tap into Chilli.
"Of course, you will never know unless you have children exactly what that's like, but I guess my job as an actor is to ask, 'What if?' And to imagine."
Zanetti explained that the scripts speak for themselves and embody the authentic experiences of family units. Some of her favorite episodes are "Hammerbarn," "Escape," the now-censored "Family Meeting," and, of course, "Sleepytime," the cinematic, emotional adventure.
"I was bawling for a few reasons: the unconditional love of a parent, but also just the unseen labor of what parents do to keep their kids feeling safe and seen," Zanetti says of the Season 2 episode.
Bluey entertains kids while truly understanding their parents and caregivers, touching on topics like bullying, death, new motherhood, and even miscarriage and infant loss.
"That's the goal, isn't it? Reality, life, is hilarious and heartbreaking and absurd and ridiculous. It is all of those things. And I think in every good comedy, there's tragedy, and in every great tragedy, there's comedy, because that's the wholeness of life," Zanetti replies when asked how it feels to be a part of such an impactful children's series.
"Bluey is one of those shows that's able to really hold it all, but in a gentle way that is age appropriate. Then there's the layer that kids won't get, but it is for adults. And I think that's the mark of some genius."
Zanetti thoroughly enjoys the "wild" fan theories adults conjure up on Reddit and TikTok: "People are going down these rabbit hole tracks, and everyone's like, 'Yes!' And I'm like, 'Nooo. That's not a thing. But anyway...'" (For your information, Zanetti said Chilli is "absolutely not" having an affair with Lucky's dad.)
"I don't think anyone could have predicted just how big it's become," Zanetti says of Bluey. "But when I saw the animatics, before the pilot was even finished, just the very bare bones, I knew it was something really special. And I desperately wanted to be part of it."
Bluey is now streaming on Disney+.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.