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Interview: Inside Out’s Phyllis Smith Explains Why Sadness is Clearly the Best Emotion

Premiere Of Disney-Pixar's "Inside Out" - Red Carpet

If you loved the film Inside Out, there’s a good chance that you loved it because of one emotion in particular – Sadness. I had the amazing opportunity to chat on the phone with Phyllis Smith, who voiced Sadness, in an exclusive interview for The Mary Sue! And let me tell you, she sounds almost exactly like Sadness over the phone. It was all I could do not to jump through the phone to give her a big hug!

Smith and I talked about why Sadness makes such a great character, and reveals her surprising choice for which other emotion she’d loved to have voiced if given the chance!

phyllis smith sadness

Teresa Jusino (TMS): What drew you to the role of Sadness, and how did you get involved in the film?

Phyllis Smith: I was blessed. Actually, they called me. I was in St. Louis, and I was in my living room here, and I got a phone call on my cell phone, and I didn’t recognize the number, so I thought Who’s calling me? [laughs] And then it turned out it was the casting director for Pixar, Kevin Rear. And he said that Jonas Rivera and Pete Docter were doing a new film and they’d like me to come and meet with them. And of course I said yes, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking Is he calling the right person? Is this a crank call? What is this? I was very pleased to know that it was not a crank call; that I was supposed to go there.

Actually, I found out after the fact that Jonas Rivera, he’s the executive producer, one night he couldn’t sleep and he turned on the television and started watching Bad Teacher, which is a movie I did with Cameron Diaz, and after seeing the first couple of scenes in that film he called Pete Docter and said I think I’ve found our Sadness. So, I gladly jumped on a plane to Emeryville, and met with the guys…and three or four years later, I’ve had a lovely experience. It’s been a great three or four years. I’m happy to be involved in it, that’s for sure.

TMS: What makes Sadness so special, and what makes her interesting to play?

Smith: Well, you have to attribute some of that to the writers. They were able to give her some funny lines, which you wouldn’t think that someone being sad could be funny – so you have to attribute that to the writers. And Pete and I talked early on about the fact that Sadness needed to be more than one-note; that just whiny and crying would wear thin pretty quick, and so we had to find out other levels of her. And we kind of honed in on her insecurities.

That’s kind of like me as a person. When I started this process, I was nervous about it, and kind of the new kid on the block as far as recording sessions and stuff. I think that part of my insecurity helped to feed the character of Sadness.

The character herself, you don’t expect her to be wise and smart…but that’s the writers. The fact that she read all the [manuals], and that she knew all about going into Abstract Thought and how they were going to defragnate and all those things made her interesting. The fact that they made her stand in a circle and stay there – but she made good use of her time!

TMS: I know that there’s a short on the Blu-ray/Digital HD release called “Riley’s First Date.” Will all the emotions be appearing in that as well?

Smith: I think we are, yeah. I remember recording some things, but [Sadness] isn’t the driving force in that…

TMS: Well, given the title, I would hope not!

Smith: [laughs] Right, right! We have some moments in there. I’ve seen it, and I think it’s hysterical. It’s very funny, it’s nice. I wish that they would put it in the theater, but I guess they had to leave something for the DVD.

TMS: Well, lastly – if there were one of the other emotions that you had the chance to voice, which one would you want to give a try?

Smith: Oh, my goodness! Well, I think Anger had some choice lines there. It would be a real [departure] going from Sadness to Anger. I think I would like to try to be Anger! Maybe that’ll be in a sequel…


OMG, if there’s an Inside Out 2, all the emotions need to get jumbled or something so that Sadness can be Anger. Make it happen, Pixar!

In the meantime, Inside Out is now available on Blu-ray and Digital HD.

(Images via Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.