‘Bad Teacher’ landed Phyllis Smith ‘Sadness’ role in ‘Inside Out 2’

A sequel was a natural step for Disney-Pixar’s “Inside Out 2” since it continues to follow Riley as she turns 13 and embarks on a multi-dimensional journey, a new world of unruly emotions.

Significantly, a now teenaged Riley has new emotions – and new cast members! – to accompany them.  But first, Phyllis Smith is back as Sadness alongside the first installment’s other returnees: Amy Poehler’s Joy, Liza Lapira’s Disgust, Tony Hale’s Fear and Lewis Black’s Anger.

The new gang offers Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Ennui  (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser).

“I was happy to hear about the sequel because I loved ‘1’ and I enjoy being Sadness,” Smith, 74, said last week in a phone interview. “She was so much fun and she also has a lot of heart. As an actor, you just try to do the best you can and there was comedy in her sad moments.

“Also, I as a person I’m not usually very sad. I’m generally a glass half-full person and consider myself pretty upbeat. So this was exploring a different side that I don’t dwell in.”

Smith remains best known for playing Phyllis Lapin, a role created specially for her, in “The Office” opposite Steve Carell’s  Michael Scott.

Even though you might think there’s no recognition doing a voice in an animated fantasy, you’d be wrong.

“I’m big enough,” Smith acknowledged, “people still recognize me from my voice. I’m in St. Louis at the moment (for a family event) and I was in a hospital setting. This young person came in and she goes, ‘You sound like that character in ‘Inside Out” ’! All I said was, ‘Thank you’ but she recognized my voice! Wow. I thought that was interesting.”

Her big career breakthrough with “The Office” came after years as a behind the scenes success in casting.

“It all happened by God’s good grace. I was asked to audition for ‘Bad Teacher’ with Cameron Diaz. I got the role and played her friend who was kind of a mousy quiet person.

“And one night, Jonas Rivera, one of the executive producers on ‘Inside Out,’ said he couldn’t sleep.

“He turned on ‘Bad Teacher’ and when he saw me he picked up the phone, called Pete Docter and said, ‘I found our Sadness.’

“So it was ‘Bad Teacher’ and Jonas Rivera seeing me that decided they had their Sadness. I was laying on my sofa when the casting director called! That’s how that came about — just by God’s grace, Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera.”

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