“Inside Out” is, like most Pixar films, a majestic experiment in fantasy and imagination. Unlike most Pixar films, it directly investigates what makes imagination so powerful. The newest Pixar adventure chronicles the life of a girl named Riley, whose emotional life is powered (literally, at a control station) by five brain inhabitants named Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). While all five characters enjoy moments of jubilation and panic, it's Disgust who seems to have the most fun. She smarts off and grumbles in a way that would make Lucy Van Pelt proud.
We caught up with Kaling, whose show “The Mindy Project” just moved to Hulu, to discuss the thrill of voicing such a prickly character. We also grilled her about the hottest Disney and Pixar characters. Her answers may surprise you, even though you'll probably find it hard to disagree.
You play a character named “Disgust” in this movie, but I think of you as being more droll and opinionated than disgusted. Was there a learning curve playing such a snippy character?
What's great about this character is that — not since I've played Kelly Kapoor on “The Office” — I've never been able to be so openly impatient and rude with people. My character on “The Mindy Project” has a lot of flaws, but because she works with people and is a doctor, she has to couch those feelings and hide it a little more. That's what's fun about playing this character. She's always openly going “Ugh!” And, like, fake barfing. Because everyone else's ideas are so bad. It's great to play a brazen, open character.
Which of the other characters in Riley's head would you have liked to voice, if any?
Anger. For sure. That's such a great role because anger is so not socially acceptable at all. To be able to blow your stack like that must be pretty cathartic.
Do you have favorite movie characters who've stuck with you since you were a kid?
I always loved Kevin Kline's character in “A Fish Called Wanda.” I thought that was so original. Only a Kevin Kline-type actor could bring it to life, a theatrical bad guy. He was wonderful, Otto. Love that character.
I'm so used to hearing you on “The Mindy Project” perform material you and your writing staff have written. What's it like being an actor for hire on projects like this?
I will never forget this rare and wonderful gift, which was to not have to audition for this role. I was just given it. Most of my roles I do I write myself, so this was rare and great. I probably shouldn't get used to it.
Are you critical of how you sound performing dialogue you haven't written? Do you listen to yourself back in this movie and think, “That sounds strange coming from my mouth”?
My character's part is not so big in this movie that you can scrutinize. Like, she doesn't have long monologues where you can say, “Oh, that's different than what she'd write for herself.” If it were a live-action movie, I'd notice it. But because this movie is animated and my part is not huge, I don't.
At times, “Inside Out” is a pretty whimsical movie. Can you still get swept up in whimsical TV and movies, or does working so much in TV make that difficult for you?
I just started watching “Outlander” because my writer's room is into it. I'm often surprised at how I can suspend my disbelief and watch shows like “Game of Thrones” and “Walking Dead” or “Outlander.” They're so high concept and they take themselves so seriously. I'm surprised I don't criticize them at all. In fact, I like that. They're very different than what I'm interested in, and that's maybe why I like it.
I notice that none of the shows you listed are comedies.
Now, listen! I do love comedies too. With half-hour comedies, I can really see a little bit more how things are made. Sometimes I don't love that feeling. That said, I love “Broad City” and I love “Veep.” I like almost all genres. There's actually not much I don't like.
Are there comedy cliches you absolutely hate reading in a script?
You know, I think I still see nagging wife cliches a lot. I think another thing I should be less surprised about is beautiful women who have absolutely nothing to say. I see that a lot in movies and TV. You know what I love? How you can date a pilot season by what the props are in it. Like, in 2005 you'll see something that says, “You might see Bernard walking around with an iPod. He's that kind of guy.” You know, he's “cool.” Now it might be an Apple Watch or something. If a character is cool, they're always sporting the latest Apple gear.
I know a writer on “The Mindy Project” and I asked him to give me a good question for you, something you haven't been asked. He said you'd have serious opinions about which Pixar characters were hottest.
Ha! I know they don't design the characters while keeping in mind 35-year-old women appraising their hotness, but Woody in “Toy Story” is great. He's pretty good-looking. I don't know that any Pixar character is truly hot, but in terms of appeal, it's Woody. I always say that in Disney movies, Robin Hood as portrayed by that fox was very, like, handsome. By far the most handsome Disney prince. And he's a fox. A literal fox.
Do you have favorite voice performances in movies? Animated or otherwise?
In “Bullets Over Broadway,” Dianne Wiest does crazy things with her voice that I just love. I loved Janeane Garofalo in “The Incredibles.” Wasn't she French in that? No, wait, “Ratatouille”! Sarah Vowell was in “The Incredibles.” I'm conflating my female Pixar brainiac brunettes.