Inside Out‘s imaginary friend–equal parts cotton candy, elephant, kitten, and dolphin–has become the film’s breakout star. Actor Richard Kind, 58, plays the sweet pal, and spoke to EW about his signature song (“Who’s your friend that loves to play? Bing Bong! Bing Bong!), performing through tears and stealing the show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you have an imaginary friend growing up?
RICHARD KIND: I did not. One of my daughters had one, and my son now claims to have one. I did have a doll. Remember [’60s animated cartoon series] Beany and Cecil? Cecil the sea serpent went everywhere with me.
How were you approached about voicing the role of Bing Bong?
When they were casting and going through all the names, someone said to John Lasseter, “What about Richard Kind?” And you have to understand, this is my fifth Pixar movie. The first one [A Bug’s Life], was directed by John. I know John, I know his boys, I know his wife. I think the world of the man, and I think the world of him as an artist. We’ve been friends for a while. John also has an affinity for me because of Spin City. My name in the show was Paul Lassiter, and one of his sons is named Paul Lasseter. So from what I understand, he went, “Just perfect.” Whatever I brought previously to some of my [Pixar] characters, a sort of innocence, is what you see in Bing Bong. But John only knows me as a good guy. I can be a horrible human being. Trust me. Ask my kids.
Fans have gone crazy for your signature song. Did you play with it at all in the recording booth?
When you do a voice, you do it alone in the recording booth. I had no idea whether I was harmonizing with Amy or whether I was even singing the same notes as Amy when I was doing it. And of course, there was nobody there playing the piano. It was Pete singing it and going, “This is what Joy sang, this is what we’re thinking of.” I said “All right,” and I was just praying that it was somewhat neat. I don’t think Amy and I ever sang it together.
Did they model Bing Bong after you? He kind of looks like you.
I’m not subtle, so this character is not subtle whatsoever. For God’s sake, he’s an elephant! He’s big. That largeness intersects with me.
Your final scene has made a lot of folks cry. Did you tear up?
When I was recording it, I cried every time I tried to say “Take her to the moon.” You can hear it in my voice. Last year I took a trip with my family from Los Angeles to San Francisco. We stopped at Pixar, and they showed us some of the last scenes. My oldest daughter, who was 12 at the time, looked at me and just started sobbing and ran into her mother’s arms. It hit home for her.
Did you expect him to be so popular?
Two or three months ago, [director] Pete Docter and [producer] Jonas Rivera said, “We’re going to keep Bing Bong under wraps because he’s a bit of a surprise.” That’s PR—I know how it works. But I gotta tell ya, it’s so upsetting. You take such pride in it, and then [the rest of the cast] goes to the Cannes Film Festival. And you’re saying, “Why aren’t I in Cannes?” This is as special a piece of work as I’ve ever seen, so whether or not I was in it, I’m delighted when I watch it. But I’m in it!