Meet The Dad Behind The Voice of Dad- An Interview With Kyle MacLachlan #InsideOutEvent
Thoughtful, quiet, introspective, with a quick wit and a smile that is infectious would all be words that immediately come to mind when I think back to several weeks ago when I had the chance to sit down with actor Kyle MacLachlan who currently can be heard as the voice of “Dad” in DisneyPixar’s Inside Out. To sit down and talk to MacLachlan, with his total ease and calmness about himself and life, you’d never know that this was the same person whose diverse credits included everything from his roles in cult films such as Blue Velvet as Jeffrey Beaumont, Paul Atreides in Dune as well as his prominent roles in television shows including appearing as Special Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks, Trey MacDougal in Sex and the City, Orson Hodge in Desperate Housewives, the Mayor of Portland in Portlandia, and Calvin Zabo in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The consummate professional, it is easy to see why MacLachlan has won a Golden Globe and has been nominated for two Emmy Awards but the role he seems most proud of, and the one that lights up his life is being dad to his almost 7 year old son. I had a chance to learn a little about the man, his road to acting and life in general and come away with an even greater respect and admiration for this actor’s actor.
So just how did MacLachlan come to be the voice of Dad in Inside Out?
“They came to me through my commercial agent actually. They talked to her and she explained that they had this for me. I thought that it sounded very interesting and it was Pixar of course so I was so happy. I didn’t really know what to expect or what they needed. I had such a lovely first meeting with Pete Doctor, Jonas, and Ronnie del Carmen and they were grateful and I was grateful so it was a good mix.”
Looking back at Kyle’s varied acting roles, portraying Dad was definitely a departure for him. Just what was it like to take on this part?
It was fun to do this guy because being a Dad myself, I was able to bring a little bit of my relationship with my son in and it was encouraged actually by Pete and Jonas and Ronnie, they wanted my personality so I was happy to try different things. Some worked most didn’t but it’s always good to throw them out there just ideas. The process is strange, you’re sitting with a microphone and you don’t have anything visually to work off, Pete would feed me all the information and kind of what was happening in the scene and I would read it and then I had to kind of go into my head and play it out in my head as I was doing it so it was like I was shooting my own little movie as I was saying the words and so walking into the room and sitting down on the edge of the bed and saying things got a little hand, you start asking questions like would I say that from the doorway or would I knock? So you begin to just put it together in your brain about well, let me try it this way and then let me try it starting it here. So that was the process which I find fascinating. Most people I think would be bored to tears but I love just how to interpret those words, in the most interesting way, hopefully so that’s the difference between doing it in front of the camera where you’re actually just walking through it and you can feel it yourself to just playing it out in your head as you go so I hope that answered the question but that’s the process.
“There’s a couple of facial gestures that I see that I’m like Oh God, that resembles me but only for a split second. It looks so different. You know, when they gave you the folder and said here is the character, I was like he’s got a mustache I was like OK, that’s me, OK. I had to sort of get myself into that thing, that space I guess. And the same thing with Diane Lane, you look at Diane Lane, and she’s gorgeous and the Mom was kind of, you know, Mom, you know, and so it was like OK, that’s sort of like that. And then you hear Diane’s voice coming out of her mouth and OK, that’s different. Some of the monkey stuff that we did, they were filming right as I was doing it and that made it in as well. I felt like they relied on my contribution and needed it actually and were grateful for it, which makes you feel good so.”
“I totally see it in him. With being seven, he’s still trying to figure out how they all work together. Joy is the dominant one for him as well but he can bring in some disgust with attitude, which I’m sure he’s picked up at school and some of the others as well. But he has this silly gene from me which comes from from my grandmother in fact. But you begin to see and recognize not only in him but in other people as well. I was doing an interview earlier where the writer asked ‘Why don’t you take your hand off the anger button’ to his son? And I was like OK, so maybe this will enter our consciousness in a whole different way.”
Has his own son seen the movie yet?
“No,he’s seen trailers on it like the dinner scene. He loved the dinner scene. He says, ‘the foot is down, the foot.’ He loves that part. So he’s seen a couple of the moments but I’ll take him to see it at some point this summer.”
“Which babysitter? Well the protective dad which they fear because that would keep him from doing anything but then he wouldn’t experience everything that I would want him to experience so, I think Joy. I think kids are pretty resilient, you know, and if they got into trouble, they’d figure a way out. I love watching him come to me with an idea like dad, can you just hold this. He’s got something in his hand or something cause I want to be able to. There’s something fantastical idea that in his brain, it makes complete sense, this sequence of things and I’m like, well if you know, if you do that, you’re going to end up falling in the toilet, you understand that? And he’s like, ‘No, No, No, No,’ because he sees it a completely different way. And that is the fun of having a little kid, just to listen to them and their logic because it’s so completely not logical. I love that.”
How did voice acting compare to being a stage or film actor?
“Well you know, going to work, I always say, as an actor, they sort of tell you what time, they pick you up, sometimes. They feed you, they tell what to wear. They tell you what to say. They tell you where to stand. They tell you when to stop, they tell you when to go. They tell you where to sit and you’re waiting. They tell you where to eat lunch. So it’s pretty nice not to have to do a whole lot. Voice acting is nice because, there’s not a camera that you have to be aware of necessarily. Although they did film all of the stuff that I was doing just to capture the physical gestures and mannerisms and a little bit to incorporate I think in the role or in the drawings. But it’s a different and challenging because as I said earlier, I’d run the scene in my head because I’m recreating because I don’t see all the stuff. It’s sort of described to you- he’s at the door, he’s at the bed. I have to figure out when does he get there? And how does that work and when is his line when you reach out and touch your hair, would you pat our hand? All that is running in my head as I’m doing it, trying to recreate it up here. You get exhausted doing that actually. But there’s only 2 hour sessions so that was OK”
One of the funniest scenes in the movie has to do with pizza. What’s the strangest thing MacLachlan has ever had on pizza?
“Well 2 point answer. I like the Canadian Bacon Pineapple topping. But the more interesting answer, when I was in a Marine Biology Camp, 8th grade maybe, 9th grade, we had to make dinner, our own dinner based on the ingredients we found in water. So whatever we found in tide pools or in the water, we could catch, we had to make dinner. So we made pizza with a variety of different mollusks and things on top of pizza and we had to chew things that I didn’t really know what they were. And but we stuck it on a pizza thinking that, you know, we made it on a dough with tomato and then stuff on top. So it was challenging so that was one of the weirdest things. Yeah funny that I remember that.”
“Funny because that moment is so perfect in so many ways because it’s recognizable to everybody. It’s universal whether it happens to be the dad or the mom but it’s funny that it’s the dad. But on a deeper level, you realize he has probably had a crazy busy day where his brain is totally fried and he just wants to come home and sit down and sort of not think for a little bit and he chooses the wrong time to go into his fog. It’s challenging especially when you have little ones. You know, you really need to be present with them. I try to be present with my son as much as possible. Without being sort of intrusive and asking all sorts of questions. You kind of want to draw them out and kind of have to be up for wherever that little brain decides to go and whatever they saw in class. Often times, it’ll be times like bedtime. I’ll be sitting down and we’ll be just sort of be reading a book and I’ll be tucking him in. He’s getting all his animals around him and he’ll just pop out with something. You want them to feel that they can talk to you about stuff, and that if they have any kind of weird stuff that they’re holding onto that you know, you make it like that little bit better. It’s gonna be OK so that comes at any given moment in time so just being present. I think is the one thing that the Dad in that particular moment wasn’t maybe the best at, but we’ve all had those moments in time.”
“Definitely I think it’s added another dimension of consideration, you know. How is this going to affect my family both in my being around or not being around and also is it something that I’m comfortable putting out there? Do I want to carry whatever remnants of that work environment back home with me, you know. I’m not one of those people that sort of does that, clings to stuff, that needs to be engaged in the part 24/7. That said, certain scenes require that when you get to work that everything else kind of disappears and you really stay in that focus for the run of that scene. And then when the scene is over, you can drop it. I like to just drop it all away, just let it go. Hopefully they say, OK we got to go back and shoot something, then it’s like, it’s already been shed by me, you know. I’m thinking particularly of the scene where I meet, Chloe for the first time or Daisy for the first time and that was a very tough scene and a very long day. And those required me to be really in it and I can’t really pop out to have conversations and stuff. But those aren’t that frequent. It was just a couple during the filming where I had to be like that. But all those things, I’m definitely aware of now, primarily being away from him, you know, which was a consideration with “Shield”. Fortunately, they were very accommodating and I was only gone for 2, maybe 3 days maximum on that apart from 2 times. And we were to work the schedule out and the situation was fine. I just don’t like to be– He’s probably fine. I’m not. He’d say, ‘Oh dad, I didn’t even know you were gone.’ But, yeah, I just hate being away from him so.”
What does MacLachlan hope that an audience of dads will take away Inside Out?
“He is soft spoken kind of dad. He’s a gentle dad. And I think really attempting to connect with her, to understand what is going on in her brain, which of course was inspired by Pete Docter and own relationship his daughter and trying to understand where this vivacious outgoing joyful little creature went when she turned 11. I think just giving your kids a little bit of space to figure it out I think would be good. And also I think, one of the things in doing the scenes with her I attempted to connect with her. Do you want to talk about it? You realize with kids, a lot of it is about timing so if you come to them and you’re prepared to have a nice conversation and maybe they’re not ready. So you have to take them when they’re ready. You have to engage them when they’re ready. That could be at the most inopportune times say 4th quarter in a great football game, you just have to walk away from the football game and engage with them because that’s when they’re ready. So maybe their understanding about that, it’s hard to do because kids are masters.”
Meeting Kyle MacLachlan I was fortunate enough to see that not only is this a man of many talents, but someone who truly cares about life, about what he does, but most importantly about his family and animated or not, he brings these same convictions to life as Dad in Inside Out. I think Kyle’s son Callum is one lucky little boy to have a dad that “gets it” Go see DisneyPixar’s Inside Out now playing in theaters everywhere.
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Disclosure: I have been invited by Disney to cover this media event. All material and expenses for this event have been provided courtesy of Walt Disney Studios but all opinions expressed here are my own.