“Inside Out” is Pixar's dynamic exploration of a young girl named Riley's maturity. We're treated to five physicalized emotions — Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger — who dictate her state of mind from a control center. Anger, voiced by “Daily Show” alum and caustic standup comic Lewis Black, is the grumpiest but maybe most lovable denizen of Riley's brain. We caught up with Black to discuss playing the (fitting) character, what he learned from Woody Allen on the set of his first movie “Hannah and her Sisters,” and his feelings about “alternative” comedy.
You play a character named Anger, which strikes me as a good fit. Did you have methods of making sure he didn't seem one-dimensional?
The attack on the line is important. You break it down like notes almost. You do it three times or so, but then they'll say, “Why don't we try it…?” You're really doing it in a vacuum. They know what they want to hear, and where it's going to go and how it'll look. You're almost playing a musical instrument at times.
You've spent so much time developing your own voice as a comic. What's it like to be hired as an actor at this point?
I like it. What it allows me to do is get away from myself a bit. I did “Accepted,” and that was as close as it gets to this. If I were a college professor, that's what I would've acted like! When I did “Man of the Year,” that was different. Acting helps me to utilize other parts of myself that exist, the parts I have to keep at bay.
I'd forgotten that your first movie role was a part in Woody Allen's “Hannah and Her Sisters.” Has Woody been instrumental in your career?
I came very close to doing Woody's next film, but I wasn't old enough! He literally brought me in. I don't know Woody really well, but we had the experience of “Hannah.” Then I didn't see him for awhile, but then I heard he was interested in me again for some things. There was a movie with Larry David and my part got cut out. Then I flew back to audition for him, and he said the greatest thing I've ever heard in an audition. “I needed to see if you were old enough for this.” So if I don't get the role, I'm too young? Either way I win. I'll tell you the greatest thing he did, which is how he taught me about film acting with the greatest note I've ever gotten. It's what I tell kids about film acting. It was me and Chris Clemenson in “Hannah” — we're at “Saturday Night Live” with Julie Kavner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, it's John Turturro's first movie, every little cameo is somebody — we're coming down the hallway. The doors to the elevator closed and he says, “We're just rehearsing.” Then we did it again, and he added, “We're just going to do some stuff with the camera and do it again, just rehearsing.” Then we did it a third time and he said, “That was really great. Remember, everything's just rehearsal.” That was it!
If you weren't playing Anger in this movie, which character would you prefer to play?
Well, Disgust. But I've got a bit of Fear in me too. I always have it when I do a live TV show. I think fear lingers! In all of us. I just did Bill Maher, and no matter what it is — and I should trust myself by this time! — I always think, “This is when they find out. This is when they find out what a f*cking phony I am.” They'll catch me. Even in terms of choices you make, it lingers. “What did I do with my life? How am I living my life?”
Do you see yourself in the animation of Anger? Does it “feel” like you?
I do. They came and saw me work. They watched me in some stuff apparently before they sent me a sketch of the initial character. Then I performed in San Francisco and about 12 of them came down. They sketched me while I was onstage. It is me up there on the screen, as if they just squished me. [Laughs.] Anger carries around a newspaper, and they got that from me too. Since I deal with topicality, I thought that was great.
How does it feel knowing your brand of rancor can work on a kid level?
There's satisfaction being in this and being in something that will have a great effect on kids. It's terrific. Like Amy [Poehler] says, Anger is her kids' favorite character. I'd like to yell at certain kids' parents, but now there'll be kids around the country imitating Anger, and that's probably as close as I'll get to yelling at them directly. I had done “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” before, but this was really a huge leap for me.
I feel like comedy has trended towards awkward and uncomfortable humor in recent years. It's not as caustic as you are. Do you find awkward comedy funny? Perhaps insincere?
Some of it I find funny. What really irritates me is the concept of “alternative comedy.” Comedy is comedy, so don't hand me that shit. It's not an alternative to anything. I mean, Garfunkel & Oates are kind of “awkward” — somewhat awkward — and yet brilliantly self-possessed. Those girls kill me. There's a whole bunch of them I find funny. Some of it I just don't. Their upbringing is different than mine, and so a lot of things they're being awkward about, I think, “What are you even talking about?”