Bill Hader, the laugh-so-hard-you-cry star of Saturday Night Live fame, has already been in a Disney•Pixar movie, although you might not have noticed. In 2013’s Monsters University, he played both a referee for the scare games and the slug that is painfully late to his first day of school (a character so hilarious that he’s featured in a brief post-credits scene). But in this week’s Inside Out, he takes on a more prominent (but just as hilarious) role.
Hader stars as Fear, one of the five emotions that live inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. Together with Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear is tasked with steering Riley though the tumultuous emotional war zone associated with that age (and a big family move). It’s a wonderful role and Hader pulls it off brilliantly, offering just the right amount of jittery, high-strung energy to a movie that’s pocketed with deep emotionality.
We sat down with Hader and chatted about the various versions of the movie that used to exist, what his favorite Disney movie is, and when he first cried while hearing the story of Inside Out.
You have some interesting credits on this movie. Not only are you the voice of Fear but you’re also the cool girl at the end of the movie…
Yeah, I don’t know how that happened. There would just be a day where they would say, “What would this sound like?” And I did 20 different things and I don’t know what they used.
You’ve also got an additional dialogue credit.
I hung out and wrote on it for a while. I came and hung in the story room with this guy Josh Cooley [co-writer of Inside Out and co-director of the upcoming Toy Story 4], who is a genius. I really went in there to learn about stuff and Josh was a great teacher. I was just hanging in the story room with him and learning.
What did you contribute specifically?
I don’t know what stayed in. It’s hard because it was years and years of doing it. They just did a commentary track, where Pete called me and said, “What did you and Cooley do on the movie?” And I thought, Gee, what did we do? I know stuff that didn’t make it in was this scene with the subconscious with the clown and the clown waking up. We had this forest of dental equipment. I remember that. Joy had to run through that. And the clown made balloon animals and threw them and they started running at her and the balloon animals were catching on the equipment and going off. Josh had boarded this sequence. And we had a little girl character, I remember, that was a girl Riley was afraid of. She was up on these monkey bars and she looked over her shoulder and went, “Mine.” They were afraid.
Was this stuff too intense? Why did it get cut?
I don’t know. We talked about that on the commentary and Pete said, “Why did we get rid of that?”
And there was a version of the movie with Joy and Fear.
Yeah, when I first came in it was a version with Joy and Fear going on the journey together but it really made sense. Because the movie isn’t about the fact that it’s okay to be afraid, it’s about being sad. And when you’re in that sullen, pre-teen age that Riley is in, it’s really Fear, Disgust and Anger that is driving you; sadness and Joy kind of go out the window. So it made more sense that Joy and Sadness were the things that needed to coexist and it’s okay to be sad. You should be sad. That’s a great emotion, especially if these memories go away and these things go away.
You talked in the press conference about how much you loved The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Was that your favorite Disney movie?
It was probably the one I watched the most growing up. I love that one. I loved it because it was really spooky and scary and I loved Halloween. I loved the Disney Halloween specials. Those were big for me every year.
I remember the talking pumpkins.
Yes! It was the talking pumpkins and Donald Duck and Huey, Dewy and Louie. And they had scenes from Fantasia and scenes from all of these other things. It was really fun and it was a very nice memory for me, being a kid at my grandparents’ house and watching those movies. I got totally excited and was totally into Ichabod Crane. So I dressed up like him for four years in a row. Every year my parents would go, “You sure you want to dress up like Ichabod Crane?” And I was like, “Yep!” I had the hat and I looked like I was in Colonial Williamsburg.
It’s great that you were attracted to these scary Disney things and then got to play fear. Did you make that connection?
No. Not at all. We talked about the Ichabod Crane thing a bit. But also because my kids are young so we watch Dumbo and Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. But for some reason that was the one that stuck with me. I never made the correlation, but I think they chose Fear because when I came up, years ago, I hung with them and did a thing where I went into a booth and Pete said, “What would Joy sound like? What would Fear sound like?” This was way before anyone was hired. And I just improved a bunch of stuff and it was not good. But they said, “Your Fear one was good.”
How do you feel about creating these characters that a whole generation of children will become attached to in a similar way?
I don’t know man. I don’t even think about it in those terms. I just think about how much fun it was, just doing it. I’m just hoping that people like it.
Mindy has talked about how she cried when they pitched it to her. When was the first time you cried?
I cried when they pitched it to me. I got really emotional when they pitched it to me because Pete showed a picture of his daughter Ellie and growing up and looking sad and all of these things. And then I remember I went to a long lead press day and Pete said, “I’m going to show you the first ten minutes of the movie.” I cried during that. And then during this big cast and crew screening we all cried and Richard King was just boo-hooing during it. It’s a rough movie. But Pete’s really good at that. I really admire him. This is what moves him. It’s very honest, it’s very genuine; he’s very curious about things.
Would you want to straight-up write a Pixar movie?
Yes. It takes five years but I would love to work the way I worked on this, where I show up a couple of times a year and hang out for a week. I would do this in a second.
What was the biggest change to the movie since you signed on?
I don’t know how much they want me to say but I will say the thing that came in last and was a huge story beat was the Personality Islands. And I will go on record as saying that I didn’t like the islands. I wasn’t into the islands initially. I remember being in the car with Pete and saying, “I don’t know about these islands, man.” And he said, “Let’s see.” I said, “I don’t get it.” I just didn’t understand it. He said, “Well there’s something very visual about a presentation of what she’s into and I like seeing these be destroyed. You’ll have stakes in them so when they’re destroyed, it feels like she’s falling apart.” I thought, Okay alright. Then when I saw the movie, I realized I was totally wrong. That’s where Pete’s really good. He didn’t get angry, he heard me out, we had a long conversation about it. I didn’t just offer this up. He asked me what I thought about the new version and I said, “To be honest, I love everything but the Personality Islands weren’t great.” He said, “Oh okay. I see what you’re saying. I like them though.” And that’s just a good thing to learn for anybody wanting to be in this—hear people out, understand it, but stick to your guns. He was 1000% right because he’s Pete Docter and he’s a genius and I’m Bill Hader and I should keep my mouth shut.
Inside Out is in theaters this Friday.