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‘Toy Story 4’: Bo Peep Voice Actress Annie Potts on Her Empowered Return

[SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead until you have seen “Toy Story 4.”]

Bo Peep is back — and is a bonafide badass.

After being absent from “Toy Story 3,” Annie Potts returns for the fourth installment of Pixar’s beloved series to reprise her role as the porcelain sheep herder. And “Toy Story 4” gives audiences a very different Bo Peep, one that sees her running through the world kid-less, showing Woody that being a lost toy might not be so bad after all.

Potts chatted with Variety ahead of the film’s release to talk about Bo Peep’s pivotal role, what she hopes the character’s new independent direction will say to young girls and if she’ll be in the new “Ghostbusters” movie.

When did you first find out you’d be returning and how big Bo Peep’s role would be?
I was invited back in November 2014, and I honestly didn’t realize how big my role would be until I saw a screening about six weeks ago. We had a script, but it kept evolving, and I never saw a whole script. None of us did. So I was clueless. And then, of course, when I saw it, I was gobsmacked.

What surprised you the most when you saw it all put together?
I think it may be the most emotionally satisfying of all of them in terms of both humor and heart. You laugh, you cry — you cry, you laugh. You just keep cycling through that rinse and repeat throughout an hour and 40 minutes, and it’s a good ride.

Pixar has a team dedicated to each character. What insights did they give you on where we find Bo Peep now?
Well, honestly I was so amazed that they even had a team of 12 people whose job it was to define her every gesture and the way her eyes turned and in what direction and how her hand would be extended. I mean, that’s usually the work that’s up to me as an actress, you know? But I met them and I thought, “You guys are super on it! Awesome, I can just kind of sit back and let you guys make me!” And the proof is in the pudding.

I have to say, I told [director] Josh Cooley after I saw the film — we met outside of the screening room and I just fell onto his — he’s a very big guy [laughs] — I just kind of fell on his chest and we both had a good cry. And I said, “Oh gosh, thank you so much for putting this crown on my head.” Because it took everybody, but that work that they did with me, for me, I thought, “Wow, I’ve never had a more cohesive connection, relationship creatively.” I saw Wally Shawn after the premiere, who I’ve been working with for the last couple of years on “Young Sheldon” and he knows me pretty well. He said, “Oh my goodness. They totally got you.” So anyway, I’m fairly elated right now.

Twenty years ago, when you were first voicing Bo Peep, could you have guessed she would head in such an independent direction?
No, never! That’s the beauty of it. Could women have guessed 20 years ago that we would have a whole Me Too movement and still be persisting and all of that? And I am so glad, on the animation front, to join the ranks.

Annie Potts Toy Story 4
CREDIT: Rob Latour/Variety/Shutterstock

One of the lines that I thought was really interesting was when Bo Peep told Woody that she isn’t just thriving on her own — she doesn’t even want a kid. What did you think of that choice?
Well, I thought the larger point was, you don’t need somebody to own you. In fact, she had found a way to spread the love around and have a very exciting life.

For animated movies, voice actors don’t always record together. But when you did see Tom Hanks and the rest of the cast, what was that like?
Well, it’s nice because we’re very seldom in the same room, Tom and I actually got to do a lot of sessions together because of the nature of their relationship this time out. So we got to do that, which was really nice.

Did you keep up with any of the fan reactions after the Bo Peep-centric teaser was released?
You know, I haven’t… I’ve seen some feedback, people are sending me some stuff. The whole franchise has a big following and is so beloved that I’m not surprised, but I do think that it’s rewarding that Bo has broken into the boys’ club. And she’s been through a lot of stuff. A lot of heartbreak and displacement, and she’s kind of come out of it. It’s the old, “But still, she persisted.” She has definitely persisted.

She has! What message do you hope the young girls who see this movie take from Bo Peep?
I hope they feel empowered by her as she has learned to empower herself. Boys get a lot of that. They get, “I’m sorry to say, the lion’s share.” But you know, even when the lions feed, the lionesses have actually captured the meal and brought it to him. So really, what good is he? Because the mama lions have been bringing home the bacon and making it count for a long time. But that is not the scoop that little girls have been getting. So I hope that they see this Bo and are like, “Oh! I’m important. I’m as important as they are.”

I was surprised to see Bo and Woody end up together, but it was on her own terms. How do you feel about the way Bo’s story concluded?
Well, who says it’s a conclusion?

Oh?
I don’t know, but I think the people are going to be interested in what the toys do next.

Woody’s been a model of devotion to children and you know, never thinking of himself, having given up his beloved. And I think a lot of people will relate to this unrequited love affair to be consolidated.

Why do you think “Toy Story” has endured over so many years?
Because it’s awesome! [laughs] It’s just effin’ awesome. They get so much right. Everybody relates to that. And doesn’t every child – don’t you want to feel that, those things that you invest your love in are equally as invested in you? That is a wonderful thing to find out in love. It’s just a win-win. And of course, they make you laugh so hard and they make you sob. I mean, how great is that? Isn’t that why we go to the movies?

And you might be reprising another character of yours soon, returning to “Ghostbusters” for Jason Reitman’s new movie. Have you heard anything about that?
I have heard something about that! I think that might happen.

That would be exciting!
Uh, yeah! Yes — I really wouldn’t have guessed 35 years ago that these things that I sort of just jumped into without much thought have continued to sustain me and be the gift that keeps on giving.

What do you think Janine is up to in 2019?
I have no idea. I’m going to wait and see what Jason Reitman thinks about that.

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