Annie Potts has been voicing Bo Peep in the Toy Story franchise since its first incarnation in 1995. Back then, Potts’ character was far from front and center though, as she mostly aided the exploits of Tom Hanks’ Woody from the background. But in this year’s Toy Story 4, Potts enjoys a much-deserved major role. This time, Bo Peep is a leading action hero, rescuing Woody and generally ruling the toy box. Here, Potts discusses how she almost didn’t take the original role at all, the evolution of her character, and what we can expect from her imminent revisit to another old favorite: Ghostbusters.
DEADLINE: Going back to the first Toy Story, did you feel that this role was for you right from the get-go?
ANNIE POTTS: I love to tell the story how my agent had called and said, “They’re interested in you for this project, and it’s the first fully computer-animated feature film.” I was like, “I don’t even know what you just said. What would that be?” Anyway, he said, “Well, they sent along some of their shorts so you can look at the work and understand it.” I was like, “Okay, great.” But I was busy and had a lot of children and was working and I forgot to look. They sent me three boxes trying to remind me to look at it. Finally, my agent said, “Please look at it.” I said, “I’m going to.” I didn’t. One afternoon, not too much later after that, I came home and my three-year-old took my hand and said, “Mommy, mommy, come watch.” He’d gotten in the boxes because he loves to open any kind of box, thinking it’s a present for him. He had been watching them all day. I watched the first three little shorts. I was so blown away, I called my agent immediately and said, “Yes, yes. Please. I want to be a part of this.” I didn’t care what it was. I didn’t even know what the role was.
DEADLINE: They obviously really wanted you for it.
POTTS: They really had firm ideas of the voices that they wanted to hear. I have a funny voice.
Usually, I can get by unrecognized unless I open my mouth. Then there it is.
DEADLINE: How did you approach the role? How did you get into the part?
POTTS: We never saw a script for any of them. You just go in and they give you the lines of the day and go through them one-by-one and tell you a little bit. In the beginning, they’re just pencil drawings. Then, as it goes along, they’re able to show you more increasingly defined pictograms, and then they start to animate. It’s sort of like archaeology. You just dig, dig, dig until you uncover the temple. It’s like, “Oh, wow. Look at that.” It’s such granular work in the beginning. They always had the most wonderful people directing and involved. There’s always a room full of people there telling you how your hair and your hand is going to move in this scene. They’re very granularly interested. It takes hundreds of human hours to make a frame of those films. I worked on Toy Story 4 for 4.5 years. The Pixar folks have been on it way longer than that. But you’re always in the best hands, and the proof is in that pudding.
DEADLINE: This was your first time working with Josh Cooley as director.
POTTS: He’s such a lovely person and so deeply invested. He’s a very smart and kind person, which is good because you’ll say a single line 50-75 times. It’s not like when you’re in the theater. You memorize the whole scene, show up, and let it evolve as you act it out. Most of the time, of course, you’re not acting with the other actors. Although, Tom and I did get to work together quite a bit on this last one, but that’s not usual. You’re in a vacuum there with your director. He’s a very nice person to be in a vacuum with. I trusted him implicitly.
DEADLINE: What was that experience of working with Tom together after all this time finally?
POTTS: Of course, any time spent with Tom Hanks is a wonderful thing. He is such a lovely person. Everybody’s game is the best when you’re around the best.
DEADLINE: This installment of the franchise is especially great for you. Bo Peep is empowered and saves the day. Was it really gratifying to have that storyline for her this time around?
POTTS: It was. Before, she was just an ancillary character. Apparently, they always had this in mind for it to evolve in this way, but none of us actors certainly knew that. Of course, I was thrilled to hear that I get to be the female heroine in this and then it’s kind of her deal.
DEADLINE: She’s a great role model for all those young girls watching.
POTTS: Right. Yes, for me too. Like, pick yourself up and go on no matter what it is. They’re wonderful, inspiring tales of integrity and bravery and all the good stuff, which is in short supply in our country right now. It’s nice that at least we get these role models in the movies.
DEADLINE: We also have the new Ghostbusters to look forward to. Any hints about that? How do you feel about your role in it?
POTTS: I think what I can say is I think that it will be beloved. I think people are just going to go crazy for it because Jason Reitman found a wonderful approach for it. Just wonderful. I can’t wait. We’ve just finished it, so I haven’t seen anything yet, but I can’t wait.