ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to actress Dale Soules about her role as Darby Steel in Lightyear and the impact of Orange is the New Black. Lightyear is out now on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD.
“A sci-fi action adventure and the definitive origin story of Buzz Lightyear, the hero who inspired the toy, Lightyear follows the legendary Space Ranger after he’s marooned on a hostile planet 4.2 million light-years from Earth alongside his commander and their crew,” says the synopsis. “As Buzz tries to find a way back home through space and time, he’s joined by a group of ambitious recruits and his charming robot companion cat, Sox. Complicating matters and threatening the mission is the arrival of Zurg, an imposing presence with an army of ruthless robots and a mysterious agenda.”
Tyler Treese: I was curious about your relationship with the Toy Story series before you did Lightyear, if you had any favorite characters from those films?
Dale Soules: Oh yeah, Woody is my favorite character. I love him. He’s the guy with the big heart. That’s how it works for me, when I see those films. From a child forward, I was always … other little girls were asking for whatever Betsy Wetsy or a certain kind of doll. Nope, I wanted my cowboy hat and my cap gun, and my holster. After I asked for it for three or four years, they finally gave up and took me to the toy store and got me my cowboy hat, [and] my little gun. So Woody was very appealing to me — to the child in me, and to the heart in me.
Being in a Pixar film has to be so special and this is very unique for them. It’s their first sci-fi action film. So how did this role come about?
It was a very simple process. Galyn Susman, a producer from Pixar for this film, in particular, sent a letter and said, “we think that Dale has just the kind of attributes, vocally, that we would like Darby to have. We’d like her to do it.” That’s it. ,
It doesn’t get simpler than that!
No, it doesn’t get simpler than that. Very painless, I must say. It wasn’t like one audition after another, after another, after another, as often can be the case.
Darby’s background’s kind of similar to one of your famous characters, Frieda, as she’s a convict, but she’s turned her life around clearly. What did you find most interesting about playing this reformed person that goes from convict to hero?
I really like that point. I don’t think anybody else has really put it that way. I love that she is that; that she still has a lot of the attributes of having been in prison — which is, you keep your head down, you just do what you’re supposed to do, and hope to get through to the next day in this situation. She’s actually beginning to be appreciated for her talents and for the kind of care that she gives — as gruff and rough as she is. You can, I hope, feel the heart a little bit. I mean, clearly, Sox is the heart of all hearts, and Izzy and Alisha … when Alicia dies, I’m weeping, you know? Speaking of “what’s it like to be in a Pixar film?” I say heart is the thing that really makes it. You can count on that being in a Pixar film. That no matter what, whether it’s sci-fi or whether it’s Toy Story or Turning Red, which is kind of a great … I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet. Probably you have, right?
Yeah. Great movie.
Yeah! Even though there’s anger and there’s fury, and there’s all these various different things in all the various different stories … there’s always human emotion in there in a way that is not saccharin, but it’s strongly there. And I really like that a lot.
You’ve had such a varied career. You started out in theater productions. Does your approach change any for voice work specifically?
I’ll tell you what I learned — and I hope I learned it — the speed at which you communicate with the other characters is much different than when you’re doing something live on stage. Meaning it’s faster. So I would come in with several ideas about any given line, several different ways I thought it could be done, and then the director would have another several ways. And then an animator would have another several ways. So you might end up doing every line maybe 25, 30 times. And you would have no idea which one was going to be chosen. So you have to give up a kind of control that you have in the live theater, or even on … well, in film, this is similar. You still don’t know which take is going to be used and which way they’re going to guide the character. So it’s deeply collaborative and you have not anywhere near the amount of control, but what I learned was about speed. No matter what I said, Angus [MacLane, director] would say “it was perfect. Can do it a little faster?” So that happened many, many, many, many times until I was like, “I know, I know.” I said “I did a show where I was paid to do fast talking. I can do it.”
Something that was so powerful from Pixar was that they refused to edit out the same-sex kiss scene. That hurt its international release, but what did that mean for you for them to show that support? Because it’s not often we see a company put values over dollars.
Well, I would say as a human being it meant a lot to me because it is an affectionate, loving little kiss, you know? It’s not some sort of crazy sex scene. I mean, it’s the most innocent little kiss and whether they were married or whether they were in a relationship like that or not … I can’t imagine why that would be something that people would want cut out. That it’s not all right to kiss another woman as a friend, as a lover, as a whatever, whatever the relationship is. It was an innocent kiss and I’m very proud of them for having stuck to it. I think it would’ve been ridiculous. The idea of taking that out just seems crazy. So sadly, it’s a step that needed to be taken. One shouldn’t have to take that step.
I saw you also did a voice for My Love Affair With Marriage. Can we expect more voice work from you going forward?
I hope so. I think there’ll be some. Everybody has their own idea about when you’re supposed to say what, but … yes, there is other voice work forthcoming.
Orange is the New Black really opened up your career to a whole new audience. What was it like, reaching millions of people streaming. After so many decades of work, I imagine that had to be rewarding.
That is the best part of the whole experience of Orange is the New Black, is how accessible that was. That is the big plus to me of film and TV, is the accessibility. Live theater in general … it’s hard to afford, period. Nothing complicated about it, it’s more difficult to afford. So the fact that these stories that never got told before and were out in the world … and I bet many, many people still come up and say, “I had a sister who was incarcerated and I just always sort of wrote her off. And then somehow something in one of the episodes was like, ‘oh, I see how thin that line is between something being legal or illegal and how certain people get away with that little shift into the illegality, perhaps because of their race, perhaps because of their economic strata.’” And they began to see that it wasn’t so cut-and-dry — you were a bad person, necessarily, that you also were a human being who made a mistake.
And just quickly, I learned to speak faster for animation because you don’t have the time between when you say something and when somebody reacts. There’s a little distance there. If we’re human beings speaking, like now you’re listening, you’re listening, you’re listening. In animation, it’s just you say it and it’s responded to in general.