Who better to voice the emotion of joy than the perennially upbeat comedienne Amy Poehler, 43, in Pixar’s latest film, Inside Out, a 3D computer-animated fantasy-comedy. The other voice cast includes Phyllis Smith (The Office), Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live), Lewis Black (The Daily Show) and Mindy Kaling (The Office, The Mindy Project) who live in the mind of a young girl, Riley, where five emotions, Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness guide her through life.
A 15-time Emmy Award nominee, Poehler began her career studying improv at The Second City and ImprovOlympic in Chicago. She later moved to New York City and became a part of the Upright Citizens Brigade before joining Saturday Night Live where she remained from 2001 to 2008. On SNL she did regular sketches with her friend and colleague Tina Fey. The comedienne/actors also co-hosted the Golden Globe Awards three consecutive years). Until recently she starred in the sitcom Parks and Recreation, since 2009.
She’s also enjoyed a successful film career which includes Mean Girls, Baby Mama, and will soon star with pal Tina Fey in the upcoming comedy, Sisters.
Poehler was married to actor Will Arnett for nine years (with whom she played a quasi-incestuous brother-sister ice skating team in Blades of Glory) and produced two sons: Archibald, 6, and Abel, 4.
THIS MOVIE WAS LIKE WE GOT TO GO INSIDE AMY POEHLER’S HEAD. SO WHEN IS ANGER OR FEAR PROMINENT IN YOUR MIND?
Well, I like that in the film the emotions change constantly so like everyone else, I think that they come and go really fast; anger, fear, disgust and sadness. And I think a lot of anger, fear and disgust and sadness come from being in traffic. I feel all of them all the time and it’s interesting which ones are driving.
PETE DOCTER, THE DIRECTOR WHO ALSO WROTE THE STORY SAID THE STORY WAS INSPIRED BY HIS OWN DAUGHTER WHEN SHE WAS AN ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD GIRL. WHAT WERE YOU LIKE WHEN YOU WERE ELEVEN YEARS OLD? HOW DIFFERENT ARE YOU NOW?
That’s an interesting question because I feel almost the same in many ways. I think at eleven, you have a pretty good sense of who you are. I think I was a very young girl filled with a lot of anticipation, a lot of curiosity and I had a very loving home so fear wasn’t really in charge which was nice but joy and sadness certainly kind of like battled it out every day. And what I like about the film is it’s that age in a young girl’s life right before she gets distracted by the noise of the opposite sex. It’s just in the horizon but she’s still truly living in her own world and really truly being herself before she gets caught up in who she is supposed to be and what she is supposed to look like. So, at eleven I was like all angles and elbows (laughs) and possibility.
HAVE YOUR KIDS SEEN IT?
My little guy, he’s afraid of movies, (laughs) so he still doesn’t want to go to a movie, but my six year old loved it.
HOW MUCH DID YOU DO BESIDES THE VOICE? DID THEY PICK UP SOME OF YOUR MANNERISMS?
There was a couple that I noticed. When I was recording I was standing up all the time and moving around my arms and there’s a few moments in the movie that I notice that I recognise me a little bit and it was just a nice feeling.
I WONDER HOW MUCH OF THIS DO YOU RECOGNISE IN YOUR SONS? BOYS ARE A LITTLE BIT EASIER WHEN IT COMES TO EMOTIONS AND SADNESS.
Well I don’t think there’s anything gender specific about emotions. I think that the feelings of Riley, this young girl has the same feelings that we all have, women and men and boys and girls. It’s interesting the idea that the voices are inside your head, which is not a new construct or setting for a film really, but when told through the lens of Pixar becomes this colourful, amazing world. I love that in the same way like Little Mermaid showed us the bottom of the sea, Inside Out is showing us inside our own heads and it’s a place that we live but we don’t know what it looks like but we are there every day and we live there. We live inside our heads.
ARE YOU GOING TO BE HILARY CLINTON AGAIN ON SNL?
Well Kate McKinnon is doing an amazing job of playing her, so I think, I have watched Kate this season play her and it’s been really fun, so when the race is underway, things change every minute. And having been on the show when there was a presidential race, you need someone who is on active duty and SNL active duty, so I am looking forward to what Kate is doing.
WHEN ARE YOU THE MOST JOYFUL AND WHEN ARE YOU THE ANGRIEST?
Most joyful I think just being around my family, and angriest, I am often angry, (laughs) but anger is a very useful emotion. It brings us justice and it’s how we figure out what is just in the world. Anger can often protect us and set good boundaries and not be taken advantage of. So I like anger and I am attracted to a healthy amount of anger because it often equates with a certain amount of self worth and control.
A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY THAT COMEDIANS ARE THE BEST DRAMATIC ACTORS.
BUT THEY ALSO SAY THAT COMEDIANS HAVE HAD SOME SORT OF PAIN IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO BRING JOY TO OTHERS. SO CAN YOU SHARE MAYBE SOME OF THAT?
Well I think there’s a sense sometimes where you have to feel sometimes and by the way, I don’t love talking about comedy because it’s this elusive thing that doesn’t have this set of rules, but I think that feeling like an outsider can be good when you want to observe. I think that humour and drama live very, very close and I think pain and joy live very, very close.
DO YOU THINK YOUR KIDS HAVE THE COMEDY GENE ALREADY?
I don’t know. I hope they work for social justice and they become something like an architect. I wouldn’t wish acting on them certainly and certainly not comedy. It’s a hard road. But I don’t know, like everybody thinks their kid is funny , everybody else’s kids are not as funny as people think. (laughter) Yeah, who knows?
DO YOU FIND THAT HUMOUR DIFFUSES A LOT OF SITUATIONS?
Yeah. It does, doesn’t it? I will bet you use it. (laughs) But you know, you can read between the lines, and you can tell the intention of a joke and where it’s actually coming from. Humour can be used as a weapon, it can be used as an olive branch, and it can be used as a diversion. There’s all different kinds of laughing. (laughs) Some good, some bad.
WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT SISTERS, YOUR MOVIE WITH TINA, YOUR SISTER FROM ANOTHER MOTHER?
Yes. Well I apologise because I am not quite skilled yet on how to explain it because it’s not in my headspace yet, but very quickly, Tina and I are playing sisters whose parents decide to sell our childhood home and we have one last party. We are a little too old for it, and we try to pull it off. And yeah, Tina and I both don’t have sisters in life, we both each have a brother, so certainly she is my longest female relationship other than a few of my old childhood friends and we have been friends now for 20 years, so she is my chosen sister certainly as is a lot of my friends, and so it was fun to play relations, cause being related is different than being friends. (laughter)
IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE FIVE CORE MEMORIES IN YOUR CAREER, WHICH ONE WOULD THEY BE?
Okay let’s see. I would say joining and creating a theatre with the Uptight Citizens Brigade, getting hired at SNL, getting to play Leslie Knope, sitting on George Clooney’s lap at the Golden Globes, and then talking to George Clooney after I sat on his lap. That’s four and five. (laughter)