Interview: Co-Director Ronnie Del Carmen Talks About How Parenthood Helped Shape Inside Out

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Ronnie del Carmen is one of the luckiest people in animation. He, along with Pete Docter, co-directed the awesomeness that is the film Inside Out – stepping away from his usual storytelling roles at Pixar to help steer this ship to its eventual success!

I had the chance to speak with del Carmen exclusively for The Mary Sue upon the release of the Inside Out Blu-ray/Digital HD Combo Pack, and he couldn’t find enough good things to say about his amazing voice cast, or about the ridiculously talented Pete Docter. He also talked about how this film only exists because Docter and he are fathers to daughters.

Teresa Jusino (TMS): How does it feel to be a part of a film like Inside Out, which has become such a phenomenon?

Ronnie del Carmen: I am the luckiest person in the world. I worked on this movie, that’s lucky already. I worked with Pete Docter, that’s lucky again. And I won the lottery, because he asked me to be his co-director. So, I’m the luckiest person in animation.

I mean, everybody would love to work with Pete Docter, and those who work with him want to work with him again. I’ve worked with Pete twice already now. One as his head of story on Up, and now as his co-director. So, I’m luckier than most people!

TMS: We love that Inside Out has a female protagonist, and so many female roles! Was Riley always intended to be a girl, or did that change over time?

del Carmen: Well, the inspiration for Inside Out came from Pete Docter observing his little girl, Ellie, who was the voice of Ellie in the movie Up in the beginning of the movie. That was actually Ellie Docter’s voice. And when she was a little girl, she was just like that, you know – bubbly, happy, full of energy…and then when a few years happened, and she turned into a teenager, Pete observed that his daughter became very quiet, and by herself, and very moody….the teenage years have begun! And it made him wonder what was going on inside her head. That is the reason why he even wanted to make a movie about emotions. It’s like, I gotta find out what’s going on. So, that was it. It’s always been inspired by that observation as a parent.

And for me – I have a daughter as well. My daughter is older than Pete’s daughter, and she actually used to babysit the Docter’s kids; we were neighbors – I’ve seen Ellie change, but I also know that my daughter had gone through all those changes, so I would tell Pete, Oh, you don’t like that part that’s happening over there? Uh, well, you’re not gonna like what else happens…

TMS: I’d love to hear a little about your process as a director. How did you work with the actors? Was it always one-on-one? Did you work with them in groups?

del Carmen: Well, we had this fantasy a while back – Wouldn’t it be great, since it’s an ensemble cast, and all of our characters are in one room and reacting and interacting with each other, wouldn’t it be awesome if we could get all of our actors in one session? And we held onto that dream for so long thinking it was gonna happen…it never happened. The most that we ever had was two at one time. There was one session where we had Phyllis  and Amy, and they worked off each other. It was great.

Our set of actors are actually very creative, and great writers, and great collaborators. So, when they show up, not only do they embody the characters, but they bring a lot of themselves into it, and it makes these characters even more amazing than we could ever dream of. Amy Poehler as Joy actually not only embodies the character of Joy, but she herself is a lot like Joy. She likes to make sure that everybody’s okay, she’s very collaborative and she’s very positive even in very challenging times it feels like she’s the one person who’s going to see the silver lining in everything. So, she’s exactly like that already, and when she brings that to the character of Joy, it’s so easy to see her be empathetic. Even though – Joy has this wrong-headed notion that she can keep Riley happy all the time, and she wants to have her way – even though she can be a little bossy, she’s really likable even though she’s bossy. That was what we really wanted. And Amy’s such a funny person in person, she doesn’t have to turn that on.

That’s goes for all of our cast members. Bill Hader had come in very early in our process and helped workshop with us about stories and the characters, and he was so fun to be around, because he was so full of energy himself. So, our way of working with the actors feels like it was this friendly collaboration. They want to play, and we want to make sure that they can sort of bend the character wherever they want and have an instinct and say Go for it! Because goodness me, you don’t say no to that!

TMS: Now, Inside Out was obviously a huge success, and we’re really excited about the Blu-ray/Digital HD release…but are there any plans for a sequel?

del Carmen: Well, you see, if you make a movie for five years, you’re gonna be very tired. Which we are. We are exhausted. It felt like for all those five years we were running at full tilt. It’s a marathon – it was never-ending. And you yourself go through an emotional roller-coaster – highs and the deepest lows…you win the race over the long run, but you are exhausted. Now, we’re just looking at the time we’re in right now and thinking, I’m glad that’s done.

TMS: Lastly, and most importantly, who is your favorite emotion and why?

del Carmen: My favorite emotion is Joy, because we started out with our lead emotion when we embarked on this project, and I got to understand what she wants. She wants the same thing that I want out of my time on this planet, because I have kids, just like Pete Docter does. And when we’d confer, we’d talk about what we wanted, and we were like, I just want my kids to be happy. When they cry, I don’t want them to cry. And I wanna make sure they can just laugh. Because I love hearing my kids laugh. Even now that they’re in their mid-20s, when they come over and I hear them laugh, I feel like Oh, I love hearing my kids laugh. But it’s unrealistic [for them to be happy all the time], so I can relate to her journey as a parent. So, she’s my favorite character.

But along those lines, too, my job as a storyteller at Pixar – they always give me these very tough, emotional scenes, so I have to access a lot of my sadness. So, thanks to that, I’m employed!

(Image via Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

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Image of Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino
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.