Richard Kind is a veteran actor best known for his role in the hit TV series Spin City and his most recent role as Mayor Aubrey James in Gotham. Richard has also performed extensively in theatre and in multiple voice work roles. Today I spoke with Richard as he strolled through the streets of New York City about his role as Bing Bong, the forgotten imaginary friend of Riley in Pixar’s Inside Out. We spoke about the city, voice work, stage vs screen work and more.
Richard Kind: Hello Bill.
Bill Howard: Hello Richard, how are you?
RK: I’m swell, how are you doin?
BH: Good. You’re walking around New York as you speak with me, is the weather nice?
RK: The whole city now, it’s bustling, it’s beautiful. I’m on Central Park West, I’m right by the museum and it’s beautiful.
BH: Fantastic. I just visited New York for the first time this summer.
RK: Stop it! Did you like it?
BH: I did, it was beautiful. My 8-year-old daughter wanted to see the Museum of Natural History for her birthday so we all went.
RK: Well you can tell her I’m looking at it right now, every parapet and step, it’s the greatest. Did she like the dinosaurs and the elephants and everything?
BH: She loved it, she’s a big archeology nut and she loved the whole city.
RK: Oh wow. Did you then go to the met to see the archeological exhibits there?
BH: We didn’t have time but the next time we will go there.
RK: Oh yeah, the Met is just the greatest place in the world.
BH: We only had time for the Natural History and MOMA.
RK: MOMA’s great, just great, great great. It is spectacular but the Met is just ridiculously great.
BH: So my first question, with Inside Out, where the main characters are all emotions, I actually found your character, Bing Bong, to be the emotional heart of the movie. Why do you think people connected in such a significant way to that character?
RK: I don’t…I do know. Well first I want to say thank you because for such a long time I was…not pushed to the side but in all of the publicity they were concentrating on the five emotions and they told me, they warned me; they said we’re not going to use you, we want you to be a surprise. And I mean look; they’re the smartest guys around, so they were right. I don’t know necessarily if I am the emotional heart but what resonates with people and why it was so strong is there is a quote, ‘But when I grew up I gave up childish things’. I don’t know it exactly but I think when she goes soaring up, she says goodbye to childish things. And the problems of the world, those things that make our shoulders hunch are all about to come crashing down on us. There’s nothing we can do about it. We all remember a purer, easier time. And why can’t the world be a nicer place? Why do we have these problems? Why should we be aware and why should Pandora’s box been opened in the first place? And I think that is why it resonates so much, because we all remember a time of purity in our lives and it’s gone.
BH: I agree, I think we should find the balance and retain some of those childish things.
RK: Yes of course, we would not grow, we would not evolve, it’s important to humanity. I’m looking at three little kids now and they have no idea that bombs are going off in Syria. And they couldn’t play like that if they lived in certain countries. I know I’m making it very large but that’s why I think it resonates so much.
BH: I’ve heard reports of grown men crying at that scene and I think that’s why, confronting that we had to leave that behind.
RK: Yes but you’re also asking the actor who voiced the character but I have no more opinions than the guy that is sitting on the park bench who I am looking at, you’re just asking me because we’re doing this interview. I think the child psychologist might have a more interesting take on why that resonated so much. And it wasn’t my take while recording it; it’s my take after seeing it. So I’m just having a discussion.
BH: That must be an unusual thing about voice work.
RK: It’s an unusual thing about acting. Did you see the movie A Serious Man? The Cohen Brothers movie?
RK: I have people who ask me what does it mean? What does the ending mean? I go: I’m an actor! Ask an expert. I’m stupid. I know as much as them. I’m nobody to ask. I just acted it out. I have no idea.
BH: You have done tons of voice work over the years, what do you find rewarding about voice work as opposed to traditional acting?
RK: I don’t. I don’t find one better than the other. I am somebody who likes to do theatre but I like doing movies and TV. I like doing theatre, I like doing voice work. You know I got a very loud voice. Much too loud for my own children, they close their ears when I talk. In voiceover work you should not have a booming voice. The microphone is going to pick up whatever you say, it’s right there. A lot of the time the sound guy is closing his ears; he can’t believe how loud I am. And voice work is actually sometimes very difficult because you have to take all of that energy and concentrate it. But it becomes enormous. So it’s difficult for me to bring it down and not be as expansive. But I enjoy that challenge too.
BH: Your body of work overall is huge and comprised of all kinds of genres and types of roles, and you don’t seem to be slowing down any. What do you think you can attribute this longevity to?
RK: I think that I will take anything. I love to act. And usually the people who ask me to act have good taste because I’m not pretty. Maybe I’ll act a part a different way than a normal guy would do it. A lot of times I’m given challenging roles but I never have to carry a movie on my shoulders. There are movie stars who have that tremendous burden of selling a movie and whether or not the box office is good. I truly lend support and love doing it. And usually the supporting parts are different. I mentioned this before, I’m a big theatre actor and when I am on stage only between 400 and 1200 people a night see it as opposed to millions which you would get with TV. So I am lucky that I am given challenges. I pick and choose my theatre parts while TV and movies, that’s my bread and butter. And I think I have had the courage to pick movie roles that aren’t similar to what I do on stage, nobody’s ever seen me as a villainous horrible man but I was nominated for a Tony playing a horrible movie studio chief in Clifford Odets classic, but nobody saw that, nobody knows that. It was great for me.
BH: Do you know what the first movie or play was that made you first fall in love with movies or acting?
RK: Oh that’s a great question and I do. Fiddler certainly had a great effect on me. Seeing the movie Oliver and The Music Man had great effect, I always wanted to be Harold Hill and that’s the kind of actor I wanted to be, I wanted to be larger than life like Mostel. Like I said I’m loud, I’m expansive. Then when I started doing single camera work I started becoming a softer and more direct actor. I became a better actor on screen. I learned a lot doing a TV show called Luck on HBO with Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina and Nick Nolte. I used to call them ‘what’ actors because they would say a line and I would say ‘what?’ I sort of learned how to bring it down, how to be subtle, a little more subtle than I am, or could be. But I started out a big Broadway and musical theatre guy. That’s what I love, I love being on stage all the time.
BH: Well thank you very much, it was such a pleasure talking with you.
RK: My pleasure to talk to you, thank you.