Phyllis Smith On Inside Out

In Features by Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Pixar’s back with a bang! When they opened up the mind of teenager, Riley, and took us on an all-access tour, audiences were hooked. As the DVD hits our Christmas stockings, Film Juice’s, Janet Leigh catches up with one-fifth of Riley’s psyche – Sadness – better known as Phyllis Smith, to chat about the success story that is Inside Out.

How did you come to the role of Sadness?
By God’s grace! I was in a movie called Bad Teacher with Cameron Diaz and the executive producer, Jonas Rivera, had trouble sleeping one night and so he turned on bad teacher. There was a scene where Cameron is eating out of my plate and he picked up the phone and called Pete Docter, the director, and said I think I found our Sadness. I’m just so grateful that Jonas had insomnia that night and decided to turn on that movie. I said yes immediately.

What was your first impression of the character?
I remember walking into this room and seeing this storyboard. All the drawings were around the entire room. Pete Docter walked me around and told me the story and I was trying to absorb all of it. Very seldom do you think of a character as someone being continuously sad … We immediately discussed the fact that the character had to be more than ‘one note’. If she cried all the time and whined all the time, people would get tired of that pretty quickly. I’m a little shy sometimes, a little insecure and Pete was able to help me bring out some of that – and it worked.

What were the challenges of playing Sadness?
Her energy is fairly low and, not having done voice over before, I had to really find a way to show her moments of happiness without being too energetic with it. Equally, if she was trying to yell across vast amount of space I needed to think about how to keep the timbre of her voice and to project at the same time. Those things were a challenge, but when you work with Pete Docter, you know you’re in good hands

Did you find it hard to act with ‘just’ your voice?
I just tried to bring the truth out in the words, in the lines, in the things that we were working on for each session. As an actor I really enjoyed it because, as I gained confidence and as Sadness gained confidence, I was freer. I remember doing a line five or six times and knowing that it was working because I could hear them trying to not laugh in the background.

Would you ever do voice over again?
I’d love to. I found it a growth, creatively, because I wasn’t aware of my facial expressions. I was just trying to get the truth out in the sound of my voice.

Riley has a lot of complex emotions that make her who she is. What emotions sum up your adolescence?
I was actually a very happy teenager. I hadn’t thought of it until the film came out but my main emotions were really a combination of Joy and Fear. I had a lovely, wonderful family life with my parents and my brother. We just had a nice, solid family but, at the same time, I was a dancer so I wanted to be the best that I could as a dancer. I wanted to make sure my grades were good. Was I too heavy? You know there were always those doubts and fears. So it was a combo of that and joy mostly.

There was a lot of talk, before Inside Out was released, saying that Pixar had lost its edge. Having been part of this movie, what would you say to that?
I’d say that that’s wrong. I think Inside Out has proven that they haven’t lost their edge. They know how to bring new and creative ideas into a story. I would always be first in line to watch a Pixar movie.  Don’t know if there’s going to be a sequel – I haven’t been privy to that information – but I would love for something like that to come down the line. I think there’s a lot of room for exploration of the emotions as Riley matures and grows. We’ll see what happens there.