'It's great when joy is sad'
Actress Amy Poehler says creating Inside Out's character was complex acting process
Comedienne extraordinaire Amy Poehler, with her beaming smile and exuberant energy, is perfectly cast as the emotion Joy in the new animated Pixar film Inside Out.
Joy is one of the five Emotions (together with Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear) that live as characters in the mind of Riley, an 11-year-old girl who changes from a sunny, happy kid to a sullen, withdrawn child as she gets older.
Pixar studio artists and storytellers worked with scientists, neurologists and psychologists to study memories and emotions, and their evolution during adolescence so they could personify and animate each emotion.
So it was only natural to ask Poehler, star of Saturday Night Live (SNL) and Golden Globe winner for comedy series Parks And Recreation, what was going on inside her head when we meet at the Montage Beverly Hills hotel.
"I feel a lot of those emotions in Los Angeles traffic," she dead-panned. "And it's interesting which ones are driving."
Getting serious (as much as she could anyway), the 43-year-old US actress reflected on what she was like at 11.
"I feel almost the same in many ways. I think at 11, you have a pretty good sense of who you are.
"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. At 11, I was like all angles and elbows and possibility."
On the process of creating Joy, Poehler said: "We were all in the recording studio together and we weren't separated by glass.
"Pete (director/writer Pete Docter) was reading and talking, and he would give small adjustments, knowing that it was going to be a long process and that we were going to go back and make it better, and readjust it.
"It was really an acting experience, to be this disembodied voice trying to create this emotion, making sure that Joy doesn't drive you crazy because with the wrong tone, that character can come across as really strident, bossy and annoying.
"And so it was figuring out when does she have to pull back, when is she vulnerable.
"And it's so great in the film when Joy is sad. She is kind of having the same journey as Riley and I imagine when Joy is crying, it's probably the first time she's cried.
"So that was a fun day, to cry all day."
Poehler finds her own joy being around her family.
She has two young sons, aged six and five, with her ex-husband, actor Will Arnett.
Did her children like the movie?
"My little guy, he's afraid of movies. But my six-year-old loved it."
When asked about what else makes her joyful, she says: "Looking at what you have and being grateful.
"And how about just starting with the fact that you are alive? Even that can kind of get you out of a funk when the dry cleaner didn't get out your spot."
And her last joyful memory?
"An hour ago, my two sons were in a bathtub and they made beards out of bubbles."
Since the story of Inside Out also deals with core memories, what are the core memories of Poehler's career?
"I would say joining and creating (an improv theatre training centre) with (improv team) Upright Citizens Brigade. Getting hired at SNL. Getting to play Leslie Knope (on Parks & Recreation). Sitting on (US actor) George Clooney's lap, and then talking to George Clooney after I sat on his lap."
Poehler is referring to 2013's Golden Globes, when she took advantage of her hosting prerogative and sat herself down on the actor's lap.
It's worth noting that last year, when she won the Globe for Best Actress in a Television Series Musical or Comedy, she was sitting on U2 rocker Bono's lap, getting a back rub from him, but she doesn't include that win (or the kiss from Bono, for that matter) in her core memories.
"Winning is subjective," she muses. "What is winning?"
One last obvious question for Poehler - if she could have a movie of her own emotions, what would it be called?
"Poehler Opposites, and it would be a smash at the box office. I feel like there would be more than five emotions, but maybe that is just egotistical of me.
"And I think it would be rated a soft R. I don't think we would be able to get away with a PG13 just because of my life."