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Interview: Richard Kind on Voicing Bing Bong in Pixar’s Inside Out

November 4, 2015

By John Corrado

Los Angeles Premiere And Party For Disney-Pixar's INSIDE OUT At El Capitan TheatreLast week, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Richard Kind, a character actor who has delivered brilliant supporting work in excellent films like A Serious Man and Obvious Child.

But the basis for our interview was to discuss his unforgettable vocal performance as everybody’s favourite imaginary friend in Pixar’s Inside Out, which is now on Blu-ray, and hearing him on the phone was like talking to Bing Bong himself.  Enjoy!

First off, I’m a big fan of Inside Out, and Bing Bong was one of the nicest surprises of the film.  How early in the process did you get involved, and when did you first see the designs for what your character would look like?  As far as how early in the process, who knows, because I don’t know when everybody else got involved.  But it was over a two to two and a half year period.  So my guess is it was pretty early, and I know that they went to John Lasseter, you know the founder of Pixar and head of Disney, with my name.  And I had worked with John, and they “said what do you think,” and John was absolutely delighted at the prospect of me doing the role.  So I think that I was in the running quite, quite early.

I absolutely saw Bing Bong when he had been fully developed.  I did not see Bing Bong during his evolution.  I’ve seen pictures of it, but I never saw Bing Bong, he was never presented to me as a work in progress, this is how he always looked.  And I can’t say that I changed much.  When I read the script, and I saw sort of what they wanted, I think that’s really what I did right from the get go.  Different variations while collaborating with those guys while we were recording it.

Riley and Bing BongAnd did you know that Bing Bong was going to be kept sort of secret throughout much of the marketing?  Yes.  I think this is the greatest story ever, because in the last or second to last recording session, they came up to me, and they like me and they adore me and then they’re my friends and we have a good time, and they came up to me and they said “I just want you to know that we’re going to keep Bing Bong a secret, and we’re not going to do much publicity with him.”  So I said, “I absolutely understand, that’s great, I don’t mind.”  And of course with this comes the prospect that they’re all going to the Cannes Film Festival, and I’m not.  And when would I have the chance to go to Cannes with a movie?  It’s a great opportunity, and I of course was a little disappointed.

So certainly they all went there, and then the reviews came out, and darned if they weren’t right.  They absolutely are the smartest guys around, and I don’t know if it was marketing, I have a feeling it was them.  They knew that Bing Bong should be a surprise, and was going to be, and like a surprise to Joy and Sadness when they meet him, and they were correct.  In every single way, they’re just smarter than we are.  They know how to do it.  They know what they want, they understand and have every aspect figured out.  And I salute them.  They’re just correct.  And I like it, and I believe that even helped my character be as strong as it was, because when I do pop up, you’re going, “What?  He’s not an emotion, what is he, who’s coming up?”  I was a better actor than I had a right to be, because of their brilliance.

Bing Bong, Joy and SadnessThere’s a lot of great interplay between you and Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith, who play Joy and Sadness in the film.  Did you ever record with the other actors?  Very interesting story as well.  I never did.  I always recorded with Pete (Docter) and (Ronnie Del) Carmen, and then, in the very last session that I had, they said “we want you to come in and work with Amy (Poehler).”  Now, I’m a neurotic actor, and you can replace a voice in a movie anytime, and when I heard that I said, “oh god, it’s not working, they want to give me one last chance.”  They want to help me, and they’re going to give me this chance to work with Amy.  Well, it wasn’t that at all.  They just wanted to see whether or not we could improve on a lovely relationship that was already established.  So we did it, and we had a great time.

Did we improvise?  Yes, I remember improvising.  I don’t know whether they used it, if it was it was minimal, but we got to overlap.  And when you record initially, you’re not allowed to overlap, because then the person you’re recording with is therefore on the track.  So you always have to stop, and then the other person has the line and then you stop, and you say the line, and then you stop and they say the line.  So you have a dialogue, but you have a breath, and when people talk we like to uh huh and yeah and add on, so finally with Amy we got to do that.  So I did that day record with Amy.

Bing Bong in Cloud TownLike your characters in A Serious Man and Obvious Child, Bing Bong is very much a supporting player who also has a really memorable role within the film.  So where did you draw the inspiration to play this character?  Bing Bong is purity.  Amy compared me to an old vaudevillian.  And I happen to love vaudeville.  And I think that it’s large because it’s onstage and you’re reaching out.  If you’re a clown or a comic in a vaudeville show, subtlety doesn’t enter into it.  And I think that there’s a purity to his comedy in much the way, wow I’ve never said this before, in much the way that Jerry Lewis has, when he’s screaming from his gut, and there’s no filter at all.  And I’m not saying Jerry Lewis, but I’ll say the lack of filter is probably where I got my inspiration.  It’s just pure.  There’s no filter, whatsoever.

Absolutely.  And it feels like that in the film.  Bing Bong obviously provides a lot of humour, but also much of the film’s heart.  What were some of your favourite aspects of bringing him to life?  When I first saw the movie, we saw it with just the actors, and then we saw it with an invited crowd, and I think people were watching and not judging, but they were very, very loud listeners is the way that I can put it.  And these great jokes that Pete and Carmen all wrote that I thought were hilarious.  You know, when he says “those are opinions and those are facts, and don’t worry people get them confused.”  I thought that was hilarious, and it didn’t get a laugh.  And then I saw it with the populous, and of course they were roaring.

I was very disheartened for a while, and I would go “boy, maybe I just didn’t do the job that I wanted to.”  The best compliment I got is, I sat next to Frank Oz during one of the screenings.  He was a voice in it, and of course he’s not just iconic because of the Muppets, but the movies that he’s done I adore, and he’s a smart man, he’s a funny man, he’s a great thinker, a great heart.  And when it was over, he turned to me and he goes, “Rich, you’re Ed Wynn.”  And Ed Wynn, when I think of it, as being Uncle Albert or seeing what I saw of Ed Wynn when I was a kid on the Disney shows or in the Disney movies.  Of course, when I was a kid, I wanted to be Kurt Russell.  But now that I’m who I am, being Ed Wynn?  That just made my heart soar.

Sadness and Bing BongIt’s a huge compliment.  And I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you this, but Bing Bong made me cry.  So I want to talk a little bit more about that scene in the memory dump, and the very emotional themes of Inside Out.  Have you been surprised by the responses people have had to the film?  Yes, I have.  You know, when you’re acting, and you’re in the moment, it’s actually very pleasing to reach truth.  There’s a good feeling within you.  The scene is so well written, I could certainly identify with it, and I remember doing take after take, and they go “ok, we think we got it,” and I go “no, no, no, let me have one more.”  Because I was enjoying being in that moment and saying “I got a good feeling” or “take her to the moon,” and I would be sobbing sometimes while I’m doing it.  And I knew I liked it.  I knew I felt good.  I had no idea that it would resonate the way that it did.

And who could?  I had no idea that the movie would resonate the way that it did.  I guess you could say that, but it was so outré, so unusual an idea, that I would come home and I would say to my friends, “honestly, I think this is a masterpiece.”  I think it’s greatness.  I don’t think it’s really great, I think it’s greatness.  But I don’t know.  I had to have people say, by their applause and their reactions, “this is great.  Yes, Richard.  You are in something that is special, and will last the ages.”  All I could do was have an opinion, it was unfounded, so who knew?

And from my perspective, it’s still my favourite movie of the year, so I just want to say thank you bringing this character to life, it’s had a big affect on me.  Well, you’re very sweet to say that.  I’m glad.  Thank you, thank you so much.  I appreciate it a lot.

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