How Disney-Pixar's Inside Out Helps Actors with the Creative Process

A few weeks ago, I watched Disney-Pixar’s Inside Out, a 2016 Oscar nominee in the category of Best Animated Feature Film.

As a fan of personality types and understanding human behavior, a number of things struck me as interesting and immediately useful for actors.

What did I learn? Let’s connect the dots together in today’s Vox Daily!

The Psychology of Inside Out

This Disney-Pixar film has the ability to make you feel something and be touched more deeply than you’re prepared to be.

The writers know how to create moments of joy and sorrow, with Inside Out being no exception.

The story begins with birth of Riley, her parent’s only child. The story of Riley’s growing up is told through her emotions. We meet them early on.

Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) appears first and is followed minutes later by Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith).

The baby smiles at her parents only to later begin crying, presumably because she is either tired or hungry.

As she gets a bit older, Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) join the team.

The emotions work in concert with one another, utilizing their skills to help Riley navigate growing up. Their biggest challenge to date? A family move from Minnesota to California.

Adjustment is never easy, and Joy has a lot of work to do to help Riley make the transition.

Their plans fall apart and 11-year-old Riley finds herself clinging to her memories for comfort, until the unthinkable happens.

Understanding Personality

To understand Riley, or any character, we need to grasp what makes them tick.

We need to know their history, the people and things that matter to them, and why they behave the way they do.

Some time ago, I introduced the concept of Myers-Briggs personality types on the blog as a source of inspiration for character development.

Click on the following link if you missed the MBTI Character Development post (it’s well worth the read).

Maybe you see yourself in one of the 16 personality types.

While not an expert in this area, I find personality types fascinating and enjoy learning more about myself through these sort of articles.

Knowing your characters well is crucial to voicing them with authenticity.

If you’re a method actor, no doubt you’ve infused your own experiences into the mix to make your portrayals more believable.

In order to do that though, you’ve got to have a selection of what we’ll call Core Memories to choose from.

Core Memories: What Are They?

In the film, Riley’s core memories were integral to shaping her life. When those memories were in jeopardy, Joy and Sadness worked together to do all that they could to keep them intact.

For our purposes, a Core Memory is:

  • Foundational
  • Irreplaceable
  • Stored in your long term memory
  • Representative of significant moments in time

As an actor, transferring the feelings you experienced from a core memory to your character can result in a most brilliant (let alone singular) performance.

Only you can dig deep to find those memories within yourself.

Drawing upon memories that you already have to feed your character is a common strategy for actors.

Reliving a turning point, a mountaintop experience or an emotionally-charged moment can prove useful to an actor when properly filtered through a role.

Watching the film encouraged me to think about core memories and what mine are.

Core Memories

Many core memories that I would draw upon to help me with singing or acting. One memory in particular that I’ve called to mind several times is the day of my grandmother’s funeral.

Her death represents a defining moment in my life and her burial made it real.

The memory that brings me closest to the pain of that day is when I was permitted to sprinkle grandma’s casket with holy water before they lowered her into the frozen earth.

While this was enormously painful at the time, I can look back now through the lens of blessed assurance.

My grandmother, though six feet under and removed from this life, is planted like a seed in the ground, awaiting resurrection to new life.

What Are Yours?

That was one of my sad core memories, and thankfully, I have happier ones to draw upon as well.

One of the best parts about life is that the longer you live, the more memories you can create and come to appreciate in a different light.

Creating a catalogue of your core memories or experiences that you can use as motivation will help you to jump into character faster and fuel unmistakably original performances.

Creating a Core Memory Catalogue

Think of at least one strong memory that you associate with each of the following emotions:

  • Joy
  • Fear
  • Grief
  • Anger

Note: If the memory you’re pulling is derived from a negative or painful experience, make sure there is enough distance between said memory and your emotions to maintain control of how that emotion comes across.

If you get lost in the emotion too much, it will hinder and not help your performance.

How Do Memories Shape Your Performances?

Whether you’re a method actor or this is all new to you, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Be sure to comment on this article and let me know what you’re thinking.

Take care,

Previous articleHow Do Dolphins, Bats and Marvel’s Daredevil See?
Next articleVoice Actors, Want to Stand Out? Use Different Words
Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here