Amy Poehler: 'Sadness Can Be Your Friend. And It Can Help You'
The Debrief: The former Ms Lesley Knope speaks up about her new film Inside Out
There’s not much that turn me into a wobbly, sweaty mess of teenage awkwardness but, turns out, being in the same room as Amy Poehler? That definitely can.
Last week, after watching new animated film Inside Out, I found myself at the press conference for the film with it’s producer Jonas Rivera (also the guy behind that film that broke your heart into a million different pieces, Up) director Pete Docter (HE CREATED TOY STORY) and the star of the film and one of the best women in the entire world: Amy Poehler.
This film’s kind of like a (much, much) flashier version of that comic strip that used to be in The Beano called The Numbskulls. It operates on the idea that humans are controlled by five different emotions (all of whom are teeny tiny people that live in your head) who help you make desicions, think, talk and act in a certain way. Amy Poehler plays ‘Joy’, the spritely leader of the gang of emotions in charge of an 11-year-old girl called Riley. Upbeat, perky and relentless in her quest to keep Riley happy all day every day, she’s one local governement job away from being the animated version of Amy’s eponymous Parks and Recreation character Lesley Knope. ‘She has that “come with me” feeling,’ Amy said at the event. ‘She looks like Peter Pan or Tinkerbell and she is the energetic engine.’
As Riley gets older, Sadness (another emotion in Riley’s head who is blue to match her mood) starts to play a bigger part in how her brain works, sending the whole balance of the inner workings of Riley’s head into turmoil. The idea for the film came from Pete Docter watching his own daughter grow up and noticing a shift in her emotions. ‘Eleven is just on the cusp of a very important change.’ He said. ‘There’s that period of childhood where everything is possible and you’ve got an innocence around you and so talking about the loss of that was very important.’
While Riley wrestles with her emotions, Joy also wrestles with hers as she learns that as Riley grows up, she can’t be happy ALL the time and in fact she needs the other emotions to keep her going. ‘Happy is a really vague term,’ says Amy. ‘Happiness and the pursuit of it... What I love about the film is that it reminds us that it’s OK to not be happy all the time; no-one is. And in fact the pursuit of being happy all the time often gets in the way of change, growth and the next best thing. It’s a nice reminder that sadness can be your friend. That it can help you. You never know what someone is thinking or feeling and how they're acting is often very different to how they're feeling. That is an important thing to remember as a human person.’ So, has the film helped Amy remember what made her happy when she was younger? ‘You relate to it as a human adult when you watch it and you think about what used to bring you joy that doesn’t any more, like, “What have I forgotten?” You relate to it as a woman you think about when you were 11, which is this magic hour where puberty hasn’t ruined everything yet and you really do have the whole world in front of you hopefully.’
As many of you know, Amy runs an organisation called Smart Girls which encourages girls to be comfortable in their own skin growing up by offering them an alternative to other stereotypes. Since Inside Out deals with a young girl struggling to find her identity, did Amy find that her work with the organisation come into play with the film? ‘With Smart Girls we deal a lot with the spirit and energy of being unembarrassed by your joy and celebrating the ordinary curiosity of regular young people. I did really want Joy to be a fully-realised character. I wanted her to feel like someone that you cared about and you wanted to watch change. The enthusiasm and exuberance that she has is kind of like what you want and hope for for young women. Just this unbridled energy and lack of self consciousness. She isn’t concerned about what other people think of her which is super refreshing. Also, that doesn’t change in your forties! It’s this cononstant struggle about who you are and what you want to be and what you want to say. So I loved playing Joy for that, and I love girls that tap into that and women who try and get back to that.’
Even if animated films aren’t really your deal, I’d deffos recommend seeing Inside Out – it’s one of those rare ‘kids’ films that has just as much for adults as it does for children; plus, if you get through the whole film without crying, they give you £100. Not really, but seriously, if you manage it, good on you. The film opened as Cannes, despite being a distinctly un-Cannes like film. While the team were initially worried, they needn’t have been – it recieved a 20-minute standing ovation at the end. Which shocked them. As Amy says, ‘There’s nowhere to go but down now.’ But we’re sure that’s not true.
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