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INTERVIEWS – Amy Poehler, Maya Hawke, Tony Hale, and the ‘Inside Out 2’ Cast and Filmmakers

Inside Out 2 Interviews Banner min

Disney and Pixar’s Inside Out 2 is one of the best films of the year. Nearly a decade after the first, director Kelsey Mann has created a film that will resonate with adults and children alike.

In advance of the film’s release, I had the opportunity to visit the Pixar Place Hotel to speak with the cast and filmmakers. This was the second time we had the chance to sit down with Mann and producer Mark Nielsen, who also worked on the first film.

For the sequel, we see Riley’s life in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, surrounded by a wide range of diverse characters. Nielsen and Mann talked about the intentional decision to add that into the story.

“You want to make sure it represents our world,” Mann said simply. “And we started by going, ‘Okay, Riley plays hockey in the Bay Area. What is the make-up of the teams in the Bay Area for hockey?’ So we actually went and visited a lot of different teams and we looked at what is the make-up of the teams? We base it off the truth of what it’s really like.”

Nielsen echoed Mann’s statement, saying that the “San Francisco Bay Area is a very diverse place. Public schools in San Francisco is where Riley and her friends go. So it was important to us that it reflects the way it would be if she lived in San Francisco.”

POC Culture Interview with Inside Out 2 Producer Mark Nielsen and Director Kelsey Mann

As evidenced by their field visits to local hockey teams, Mann, Nielsen and the Pixar creative team engaged in considerable research to get this film right. Part of that research involved trying to get inside the minds and emotions of teen girls.

“We do pride ourselves on research in all of our films at Pixar. This was an important one, especially since Kelsey and I are not 13, or girls [laughing], so we needed to dig deep and surround ourselves with people that knew more about that than we did,” Nielsen said. “One of our favorite groups that we got together was Riley’s teen girl trust. We got a group of about nine girls that were between the ages of 13 and 16, and for three years we showed them every version of the film that we made. And then we had a notes session with them on Zoom to get their thoughts on how we’re representing the girls in this, the conversations they have, the situations they’re in, the emotions they’re feeling. It was great.”

Fascinated by this “teen girl trust,” I asked Mann about a memorable piece of feedback that they received from the group during the filmmaking process. He recalled that the casting of Maya Hawke was very well received.

“They were on it from the very beginning before a lot of people had been cast…I remember once, we showed them the screening, and then we met and they were like, ‘I have a question, is that Maya Hawke?’ and we’re like, ‘Yes,’ and she fell over. And we’re like ‘I think you like that it’s Maya?’ and she’s like, ‘Yes!’ and she was just so excited for her. I’m like, ‘I think we found someone who is not only perfect for the role, but someone a lot of people would be excited about!'” Mann said.

Later, I had the chance to relay that story to Hawke herself, who had never heard that story. I asked her what it meant to resonate so strongly with a group of young girls.

“I’ve never heard that! It feels amazing! You telling me that makes me feel amazing! There’s no more powerful, brave, independent, culture moving group of people than young women. And it’s been true throughout time. They drive the culture. So if I have them on my side, then I’m the luckiest person in the world. Because they know what’s up and I’m so grateful.” Hawke said.

POC Culture Interview with Amy Poehler and Maya Hawke

Hawke plays the newly added emotion Anxiety, one that too many of us are well acquainted with. She talked about the challenges of being a new character in an established franchise, which she already had some experience with in Stranger Things.

“I felt an immediate connection to the image of the character. I felt like it pulled something out of me and asked a quality of me; brought it forward. And when I got the opportunity to do it, it was like ‘Yes. I’m not going to shy away from this battle.’ I was really nervous,” Hawke said. “I kind of did it before in Stranger Things, coming in on the third season, where something already works, it’s already great. And you’re like ‘Okay I guess I’m going to fit my big butt into this situation now.’ But that first experience gave me the confidence to be like, it’s possible. Audiences will embrace a new character, especially if you come at it with humility and love.”

Hawke’s Anxiety plays the foil to Joy, voiced by the legendary Amy Poehler. Given Poehler’s public persona and her past roles like Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation, many feel that Poehler is the embodiment of that emotion. However, we all know that no person can always be joyful and Poehler shared that she doesn’t try to fake it.

“You know what? I don’t always try to hang onto [joy]. I think that’s what I’m learning and what the character in the film is learning, and I think a good lesson is that I don’t always try to hang onto it. I let it come when it feels natural and when it feels right. I notice when it isn’t around. I maybe try to call it in a little bit more when I haven’t seen it in a while. But I try as much as I can to just not to gaslight myself or others and just kind of be where you are. Be here now,” Poehler said.

POC Culture Interview with Tony Hale

While Fear, like Joy, appeared in the first film, this time, the emotion is voiced by Tony Hale. Hale has a wide-ranging background of comedy, from playing Buster in Arrested Development to voicing Forky in Toy Story 4. He’s also the parent of a daughter who just graduated high school, which gives him a unique personal perspective on this film.

“This movie, during the teenage years, remind parents to give grace to this process. In addition to giving grace to ourselves. I think we need to have a lot more compassion towards our emotions. But the older I get as a parent, you’re realizing, I don’t have the control that I thought I did. And it’s just one lesson after another of just releasing that control,” Hale said.

Hale also spoke on the importance of this franchise for younger audiences, and the value of creating a language that helps them identify the emotions they are struggling with.

“When I was a kid, there really wasn’t language for these feelings. And so the fact that they have language, I had a tremendous amount of anxiety but I didn’t know what to call it,” Hale said. “And just that they have that language. But to your point, when you’re a teenager, when I was a teenager, you just feel like you’re alone. You feel isolated in your head. For these kids, to see this movie, to have these discussions like, ‘Oh I’m not the only one experiencing this circus in my head.’ Everybody experiences it and that alone is a gift to the world.”

POC Culture Interview with Lewis Black and Liza Lapira

Another new member of the cast is Liza Lapira, who voices Disgust in the sequel. Lapira grew up in Queens in New York and talked about how much she appreciated the increased diversity in this film.

“I mean it’s always a wonderful thing to be a part of. I grew up in New York and that’s the way I grew up. I don’t know another life where you don’t see hundreds of different ethnicities and hear different languages,” Lapira said. “Queens, I have to give a shout out to Queens, is the most diverse borough in New York, which is the most diverse state in America, which is the most diverse country. So there’s just diversity upon diversity. And as we live in a global world, there is no ‘other’ anymore. We can just click a button and see other people. So it’s almost we’re catching up to the world. It’s not like we’re doing anything. We’re just catching up to what already is.”

Inside Out is a film that many educators, counselors and therapist use for their work. Fittingly, Lewis Black, the voice of Anger, shared that he learned to better understand his emotions later in life with the help of a psychiatrist.

“That was really what tapped me into it. I knew that something was up and I knew that, in essence, in part, my career was not taking off and it had to do with something within me and I did not know what it was,” Black said.

Despite being famously cranky, Black admitted that he’s actually an optimist. I asked him how he maintains that optimism in an increasingly jaded world.

“I have this inherent belief that people get it. That the noise is a distraction, has been a distraction, and continues to be a distraction. I still have this faith in the American people that they have an empathy. If there is a catastrophe, you will watch tons of these people from all over the United States will hop in their car or truck or whatever and drive there. And they know no one there except that they want to get there to help. As long as that streak remains, I think we’ll be fine. And I think empathy still, at least what I’ve discovered performing, empathy is still very much a part of us. And as long as that’s there. It just takes a little time,” Black said.

Inside Out 2 releases in theaters June 14th.

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Better Together: A Pixar Pals Celebration! Parade

Fans can also immerse themselves into the Inside Out world at the Disneyland Parks with Pixar Fest, going on now. I’ve had the chance to enjoy some of the festivities, and now is the perfect time to celebrate the release of the film. From the Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind ride, to the Better Together Pixar Parade, there are so many fun opportunities for Pixar and Disney fans.

More details on Pixar Fest:

Pixar Fest — Celebrate with a nighttime spectacular, daytime parade, Character encounters and more through August 4, 2024!

Pixar Fest includes new and returning entertainment offerings for guests of all ages, including: “Together Forever – A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular and “Better Together: A Pixar Pals Celebration!” along with the high-energy Pixar Pals Playtime Party at the Fantasyland Theatre in Disneyland Park and nighttime festivities at Club Pixar at the Hollywood Backlot in Disney California Adventure Park. 

For anyone planning to visit the parks, Disneyland Resort also has a ticket offer. Details are below.

Disneyland Resort recently announced a new 2024 summer ticket offer. Guests can begin purchasing this limited-time ticket offer for visits starting June 10-Sept. 26, 2024.  

With this new limited-time ticket offer, guests can celebrate friendship and beyond with Pixar Fest (through Aug. 4), enjoy the recent return of the nighttime spectacular “Fantasmic!”, and experience D23 Day at Disneyland Resort on Aug. 8 with festivities like a custom cavalcade and high-energy dance party at Disneyland Park and fun-filled celebrations hosted by Disney Junior for preschoolers and their families at Disney California Adventure Park. Plus, guests can also use this ticket offer to visit during the start of fall favorite celebrations, Halloween Time and Plaza de La Familia, which kick off Aug. 23.


Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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