A full emo­tional range

Amy Poehler and Phyl­lis Smith felt joy, sad­ness and more voic­ing ‘In­side Out.’

Los Angeles Times - - MOVIES - KEN­NETH TU­RAN FILM CRITIC ken­neth.tu­ran @latimes.com

CANNES, France — Joy and Sad­ness of­ten can be found shar­ing mo­ments to­gether, even an en­tire life­time, but if you want them to share a ho­tel room for an af­ter­noon, it takes Pixar and the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val to make that hap­pen.

Amy Poehler, who plays Joy, and Phyl­lis Smith, who em­bod­ies Sad­ness, man­aged only three record­ing ses­sions to­gether dur­ing the pro­duc­tion of “In­side Out,” Pixar’s new an­i­mated film in which they live in­side the mind of an 11-year-old girl along with Fear, Anger and Dis­gust.

So it was in one of those south of France lux­ury suites, where the view of white boats dot­ted on blue wa­ter is ev­ery­thing you might imag­ine it would be, that Poehler (a main­stay of “Parks and Recre­ation” and, be­fore that, “Satur­day Night Live”) and Smith (a long­time cast mem­ber of “The Of­fice”) got bet­ter ac­quainted.

They traded sto­ries about how the process of record­ing voices for the film (known as “Vice Versa” in France) is not as straight­for­ward and com­mu­nal as the au­di­ence might think.

“Peo­ple live in dif­fer­ent cities, have dif­fer­ent sched­ules,” Poehler says, “so record­ing stuff to­gether was a lux­ury for ev­ery­one.”

Poehler also says that she was the last of the emo­tions to be hired, and that for­mer “Satur­day Night Live” cast- mate Bill Hader, al­ready work­ing as Fear, helped her to get the job.

“He told me, ‘The guys from Pixar might call you,’ and I said, ‘Done.’”

As for Smith, she was ly­ing on her couch in St. Louis when she got a call ask­ing her to f ly to Pixar’s Emeryville head­quar­ters in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Pro­ducer Jonas Rivera, she said, “told me later that he was watch­ing ‘Bad Teacher’ late one night, and af­ter the scene where I have lunch with Cameron Diaz, he called Pete Doc­ter and said, ‘I think I found Sad­ness.’”

Poehler and Smith had their shares of con­cerns about play­ing a core emo­tion.

“I thought, ‘Are they call­ing the right per­son? Is this for real?’” says Smith, sound­ing, yes, sad. “I’m gen­er­ally pretty happy about life. I wor­ried I wouldn’t be sad enough. I thought, ‘Re­ally? I don’t know.’”

Poehler, as pro-ac­tive in life as Joy is in the film, swung into ac­tion.

“I be­gan think­ing and lis- ten­ing to a lot of Pixar, like Larry the Ca­ble Guy as Mater in ‘Cars.’ You can see it 100 times and the per­for­mance holds up,” she says.

“When I was re­watch­ing ‘Toy Story’ with my sons, ages 6 and 4, I paid at­ten­tion to Tom Hanks as Woody. Woody and Joy live in the same world. They both talk a lot and you can’t get sick of them. In my mind Joy is a per­son from the ’50s, some­one who’s on a con­stant USO mis­sion ral­ly­ing the troops. This char­ac­ter has to drive the energy.”

Though the idea of play­ing an emo­tion rather than a per­son al­most de­fies imag­i­na­tion, both per­form­ers came to un­der­stand that with these roles, “you can’t fake it,” Poehler says. “Au­di­ences can hear that. They re­ally sniff it out.”

Adds Smith: “I just wanted Sad­ness to be true, to come from a real place. I tried to work from the in­side out, go­ing from my gut all the time. I didn’t over-an­a­lyze it. I just did it.”

Mak­ing things harder for the ac­tors was the fact that the “In­side Out” script changed so many times dur­ing pro­duc­tion, at times they had to pre­tend they un­der­stood which ver­sion they were record­ing. “When I saw the fi­nal film I went, ‘Aha, now I un­der­stand,’” Smith says. “I wish I knew be­fore what I found out then.”

Still, though the process of cre­at­ing the script was cer­tainly elon­gated (“As some­one who’s used to TV, I couldn’t be­lieve the pace,” Poehler says), both ac­tors were im­pressed at the way they were con­sulted.

“One draft I read got very ac­tion ori­ented. I felt they’d lost some of the heart,” Poehler re­mem­bers. “The next draft they slightly tweaked some of the re­la­tion­ships and it got warmer. They did go through so many drafts.”

Help­ing them through it all was Doc­ter, the di­rec­tor and co-writer best known for Pixar’s “Up,” whom Smith says “gives the kind­est, gen­tlest di­rec­tions.”

Adds Poehler, “I would like to see Pete Doc­ter di­rect live ac­tion. He did what you want ev­ery di­rec­tor to do: He knows what he wants, and he’s good at giv­ing sug­ges­tions and mak­ing you feel like they were your idea.”

What im­pressed Smith and Poehler most of all, how­ever, was the strength of the Pixar cre­ative team.

“They are re­ally good with story, story is king over there,” is how Poehler puts it. “The whole thing was close to a cultish re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ence. ‘ Use me, master,’ that’s how I felt.”

Dis­ney / Pixar

JOY

(left, voiced by Amy Poehler) and Sad­ness (Phyl­lis Smith) in “In­side Out.”

Loic Venance AFP / Getty Im­ages

SMITH, left, and Poehler didn’t see much of each other work­ing on the film but did meet up at Cannes.

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