In what is surely the best casting in an animated film this year, actress Phyllis Smith (TV’s “The Office”) was tapped to give voice to one of the five main characters in the newest Pixar film “Inside Out.” In the critically acclaimed animated dramedy, Smith plays Sadness, one of the five personified emotions in charge of running the day-to-day operations in the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley.
Finding it difficult to adjust to her and her family’s recent move from Minnesota to San Francisco, Riley tests the limits of her emotions, including Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust, as she tries to settle into her new surroundings. But when an emergency happens at headquarters where Joy and the other emotions work, the team must band together to help Riley discover who she is and put her back on the right path to find happiness.
During an interview with me for the recent release of “Inside Out” on DVD and Blu-ray, Smith talked about how she settled on the sound of Sadness and how self-conscious she’s always been about her own voice. We also discussed which emotion she would want to add to the film’s roster.
What was your initial reaction when you saw what Sadness was going to look like?
I loved everything about the look of Sadness. Actually, the very first drawings I saw of her were a bit different. She looked more like a teardrop. Then she morphed into her cuteness with her little pigeon toes and her stringy hair and her glasses. I thought she was adorable.
How did you decide what an emotion like sadness should sound like?
[Producers] Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera heard my voice in another project I had worked on. I can remember the very first session that I had, I was trying to feel sad but I was trying too hard. Then they played me a portion of my voice from that other project, which was “Bad Teacher,” and when I reheard my voice I realized it was my energy level I had to change.
Are you the kind of person that hates to hear her own voice?
I used to be! When I would hear my voice when I was speaking into a microphone or something, I was very insecure about it. Somewhere along the line that fell to the wayside. I never really thought of my voice as being anything different or unusual. In fact, I’ll tell you a story: a friend of mine asked me one time, “Why do you talk like that? You’re never going to get any work with that voice. You have to talk with authority.” This was when I was working in offices, not “The Office,” but offices. So, all I can say to that person is, “Hmm” because I never changed a thing and I’m glad I didn’t because it worked out the way it should.
How do you think a character like Sadness can help kids deal with their own emotions?
Well, when they see the film they can see that it’s OK to be sad. Maybe it’ll help them want to talk about it or help others who are going through an emotionally down day. They can just sit and listen to someone else and that could be helpful to them as well. Usually sadness is thought of as a negative, but it could still help to find out that not necessarily always the case.
Would you consider Sadness a bit of a drama queen?
(Laughs) Yes, of course! But she does it in an inoffensive way. I think she’s kind of cute with how she picks her leg up and wants to be drug around.
What emotion is usually in charge of your personal dashboard these days?
After seeing the film, I did do something thinking about that. Joy and Fear are my two driving forces. Fear that I’m not going to do [something] right or whatever. But I’ve be a very blessed person, so I think Joy is the main one in my life.
If you could add another character to the roster of emotions in “Inside Out,” which would you add and what would he or she look like?
(Laughs) I think irritation might be fun. It would be like an offshoot of anger and disgust – in between the two of them. Irritation might have wiry hair or something.
Who would win an award for most melancholy animated character, Sadness, Eeyore or Droopy Dog?
Well, I know who I’d like to win it. (Laughs) I’m going to go with the one closest to my heart, which is the little blue one.
Who is getting the DVD/Blu-ray as a stocking stuffer next month for Christmas?
Oh, a number of people on my list! (Laughs) They can binge watch it and have a good cry.