Joan Cusack’s reanimation in Toy Story 3Last weekend, Toy Story 3 finally made it to the big screen, in 3D no less, and like almost every Pixar film ever made, became an instant classic. It’s a nice pay-off after the contentious years-long squabble between Disney and Pixar, which ended up delaying the third installment of the franchise for over a decade.
It’s been 10 years well spent. It’s not just that the film is visually stunning (though it is), but that it’s an emotionally resonant story of growing up, moving on, and celebrating the simple pleasures of play. Joan Cusack spoke with WE about her cowgirl character, Jessie, meeting James Bond, and the business of being animated. [Editor’s note: Warning, some story spoilers ahead.]
WE: Was the script as emotional to read as the film was to watch? Because good lord, did I cry.
Joan Cusack: Really? Actually, I expected it more this time, because when I did Toy Story 2 I’d never even done an animated movie at all. There really isn’t a script that you read beforehand, you just kind of meet with the producer and the director — well, it was over four years for this one. You see them once every six months and then once every three, then two months, and you’ll do little pieces of the story, but you don’t even know the whole story all together. When my son was sitting next to me at the screening we went to, he’s like ‘What’s going to happen next?!’ and I’m like ‘I don’t really know!’ [Laughs]
Were you prepared then for the way it came together as a movie? From the bittersweetness of growing up to the terrifying garbage inferno.
I was kind of impressed that they went for it, you know? They really followed the authentic story to its conclusion. They took the story of these toys, that was kind of hinted at in the second one, and said, ‘Well, what happens 10 years later?’ That was so clever. That the little boy’s grown up and it’s such a creative solution to the realities of their situation. You know, just that Disney and Pixar weren’t going to do another one and then, I don’t know, someone bought the other one, and they finally were able to look at the story again. There were so many things that were clever about it. Even just that Buzz was Spanish and that they included our Latin American neighbours in such a nice way. It’s just smart.
Is it strange for you as an actor to be providing one aspect of a character, a voice, that’s obviously incredibly vital, but then trusting a whole other team to put together a face and body and physical motion to it?
It’s definitely different. You couldn’t be in better hands with Pixar, so it’s pretty easy on that level, but it is a different acting chop. Especially in the beginning. I would think I put some emotion in my voice and then they’d play it back and I’d hear it and I would think, ‘No, I must have been using my hands a lot and that didn’t get picked up.’ [Laughs] It’s funny, but you just have to be more animated.
You record in relative isolation then. You and the rest of the cast are never really in the same room together.
No, uh uh. Like, the press junket we did, I did the whole press day with Timothy Dalton, James Bond, which is hilarious to me. I was so taken aback, ‘Oh my God, James Bond all day talking about Toy Story and he was Mr. Pricklepants?’ It’s very imaginative in a way, it’s kind of what kids do. You just imagine everybody has come to life, so you work kind of similarly, so it’s just different.
Do you remember what first attracted you to playing Jessie?
When I first did it, I’d never done anything like that and it was just kind of fun. But then I remember even when we were making it and they were saying something about Jessie and Woody were doing something, I was asking, ‘Ooh, can Jessie save the guy instead of the guy saving Jessie?’ And they were like, ‘Sure, we can play around with that.’ And then I went to Disneyland with my kids when we were out for the opening in LA, and they are lots of princesses and Cinderellas and mermaids and Jessie’s kind of a new kind of Americana, home-grown, doesn’t-need-a-guy girl.
It’s kind of cool. It’s like a subtle evolution in a neat way.
That’s really important to show little girls different ways you can grow up, to be self sufficient and equal to anybody else.
Right! And you feel that in society, that it’s happening anyways, and slowly but surely there’s that presence in different professions. It’s interesting that it’s in the movie, too.
It feels very modern in the values that it reflects, particularly how it emphasizes the value of creativity and imagination and getting back to those things we’ve maybe lost a bit.
And playing! I love the little girl, Bonnie. She’s shy but she has this great imagination and passion and love for life. It’s simple. It doesn’t require a lot.
And it doesn’t require money, you know, it transcends one’s station in life to just be able to play with toys you find somewhere and make them your own.
Right, and you personally have taken the time to invest in the way you’re thinking and the way you’re playing. That doesn’t cost anything. It just costs time.
It felt like the movie had some nice closure, but also that it’s poised to move on into something new. Do you anticipate playing Jessie again?
I’ll cross my fingers for that. I think it’s so fun that there’s a little girl at the end with that world. It’s a different world, a girl world, and it hasn’t been shown yet in a modern way. There’s certainly room for a lot of creative storytelling there.
Thanks so much for talking to me.
It’s nice to speak with you, too! And you hang in there, girl reporter! You go too!