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Image © Inside Out via Facebook

Inside Out: Interview with Amy Poehler

Imogen Greenberg

Pixar’s latest film Inside Out is being hailed as a return to the glory years of the Pixar/Disney partnership. Based inside the head of an 11-year-old girl, it’s a journey through the mind and imagination accompanied by her hilarious and loveable emotions, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear. London Calling caught up with director Pete Doctor, producer Jonas Rivera and the wonderful Amy Poehler, who plays Joy, to find out more about the making of the film...

London Calling: The film takes place inside the mind of a pre-adolescent 11-year-old girl. How did you strike the balance between the child and adult audience?

Pete Doctor: We made her 11, because it’s just on the cusp of a very important change, something I observed in my own daughter growing up, and definitely remember from my own childhood. There’s that period of childhood when everything is possible, and there’s still a bubble and innocence around you. In a way, we’ve spent our entire careers trying to get back to that. Also the research we did said that 11-17 year old girls are most aware and in tune emotionally.

Amy Poehler: I would have thought it was 80-82 year old men! That’s what you taught me in Up...

LC: You mentioned the research you did, talking to neuroscientists. Was it hard to find the right balance in using that?

PD: We knew it wasn’t a science film. But it’s such an abstract concept that we needed all the help we could get. The research is really important, but for this one especially because a lot of our own mind happens without being aware of it, and that was the big revelation for me. How much happens that we’re not conscious of, how much that’s just bubbling away below the surface that we don’t think about. This film just starts to tap in to that a little bit.

LC: How did the scripting process work and were the actors involved? When does the animation come in?

PD: We had the plot worked out but before we recorded, we went through scene by scene. Amy had a bunch of suggestions that we worked in to the script. Amy is so quick witted that she started going in a bunch of different directions. The tough job was being like, ok which of these 18 funny lines do we put in the movie?

Jonas Rivera: There were a lot of great ideas she’d throw out. I remember her saying, this is a dumb idea, but what if she was playing an accordion? We were like, that’s great! And animated that.

LC: Did you have any imaginary friends as a child, and do you remember them?

AP: I did not! I wish I did... I know Pete did...

PD: I had a small elephant. It drove a magnetic car so he could drive on the walls. If I was bored, I just watched him drive around. His name was Norman, and I have no idea why.

JR: And he had nothing to do with Bing Bong in the movie...

AP: I do have an imaginary enemy. And he’s here... He’s hoping I don’t do well. He knows who he is...

LC: How was your experience at Cannes. Did you expect it to resonate so much with people?

JR: It was such an honour to be asked. It was the most nervous I’ve ever been. Cannes is a very discerning audience. They spent a lot of time warning us: ‘remember, they’ll boo if they don’t like it, and they don’t necessarily love big American movies, and they booed a couple of films before yours... but go in and have fun!’ I’m like ‘why are we showing it here again?’ We sat there pretty quiet... It was overwhelming when the lights came up! People really applauded it. It was one of the great thrills we’ve ever had, we kind of walked out of it in a daze...

AP: It was totally surreal and amazing. There’s nowhere to go but down after that... Cannes is ruined for me! I’ll never go back again.

LC: Amy, you’re book Yes Please focuses a lot on being positive and joyful. Could you have played any of the other characters or was Joy just a good fit for you?

AP: I was so happy to play Joy! I think I could do anger, but my own version of it. That was the one of all the emotions that I think I could rustle up. Lewis is so funny though, and Anger is my kid’s favourite.

LC: What emotions nearly made the cut, but not quite? Also, were you tempted to give Riley’s parents more emotions, because they’re adults?

PD: We had a version of the film where we jumped forwards in time and had like 27 characters in Riley’s head. It included Pride, and his nose turned up and he thought Riley should be the President of the United States. There was Hope, and she was always running around saying ‘Ooo, I hope there’s...’ so that’s why we cut her! We had schadenfreude, he wore lederhosen and people would fall down and he’d say ‘your cries of pain amuse me!’ We experimented with a bunch of stuff. In the end we felt like we wanted to be able to keep track. Anyone who’s superfluous we cut, especially if they stepped on Joy’s turf, which is why we got rid of Pride and Hope.

AP: But you can see them all in Pete’s one-man show...

LC: Up was very emotional, and you’ve repeated that with Inside Out. As filmmakers, how do you move an audience?

JR: Everybody at Pixar approaches his or her job as a filmmaker or storyteller. When we meet with the director of photography of lighting, Kim Wilde, or Michael Giacchino who composed the music, we don’t talk about the technical side, but what’s the emotional undertone, what does this feel like? Everything is about feeling.

LC: Amy, how does inside out relate to your work with Smart Girls?

AP: Smart Girls is a website I do, and we deal with the spirit and energy of being inclusive and unembarrassed by your joy, and celebrating the ordinary curiosity of regular young people. The enthusiasm and exuberance that Joy has is what you want and hope for, for young women. She has unbridled energy and she’s not self-conscious and she isn’t concerned very much about what other people think of her, which is super refreshing. Those concerns don’t change in your 40’s, it’s a constant struggle of who you are, and what you want to be, and what you want to say. I loved her for that, and I loved playing her for that. I love girls that tap in to that, women that try to get back to that and people (men and women) that encourage that.

LC: Have you thought about a sequel?

PD: We haven’t thought too much about sequels...

AP: I have! I’ll pitch you my ideas later...

LC: Has doing the film made you feel differently about your own thought processes?

AP: Yeah. I think it’s always a nice reminder that sadness can be your friend, and help you. When I‘m feeling conflicted, I think about who’s running the show. Disgust and fear played a bigger part in my life when I was younger, and they don’t so much anymore. I look forward to them returning when I’m 60! But sadness, joy and anger are my top three. It makes you think about what you’re thinking, and reminds you that you never know what anyone else is thinking or feeling or going through. The way they’re acting isn’t always the way they’re feeling. It’s a good reminder.

LC: Jurassic Park spawned a generation of palaeontologists. Will Inside Out inspire a generation of neuroscientists?

AP: That would be awesome! Or people who sell pizza!

Inside Out is out now in cinemas.

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