Meet the Big Bad of Inside Out 2: Maya Hawke's Anxiety

By Russ Milheim Posted:
Inside Out 2 emotions

The big bad of Pixar's Inside Out 2 was revealed, and the talented Maya Hawke brought them to life.

In late March, Disney invited The Direct to visit Pixar Animation Studios, where a group of press members learned all about Inside Out 2.

During the trip, the press was led around the facilities and taught about different aspects of the film’s production. Prior to the emotional education, everyone in attendance was shown the first 35 minutes of Inside Out 2.

There’s much to enjoy about the movie's beginning, from reintroducing to the emotions everyone knows and loves, catching up with Riley, and being informed about new imaginative lore (such as a belief system tree visualized by glowing strands woven into a bright small tree). However, one particular element stood out: Anxiety, voiced by Maya Hawke.

The moment this rogue emotion hits the screen, it's clear Pixar has a winning angle. While many might be hesitant about sequels to some of Pixar's biggest hits, it’s best to throw that worry out the window.

Anxiety in Inside Out 2, Joy in Inside Out 2

Hawke steals the show, and she was only in a handful of scenes in the footage shown to the press. The actress has no issues holding her own against Amy Poehler’s leading Joy. In fact, Anxiety is the star of the show.

Yes, there are other emotions (Embarrassment, Envy, and Ennui), and this high praise of Anxiety should not discount their contributions to the cast and story.

On a meta-level, including Anxiety feels like a brilliant stroke of genius. Is that emotion not a key antagonist force for nearly every human?

It's fitting then that not long after Anxiety’s introduction, the true role of her character is revealed: she’s the villain of Riley’s next story. Anxiety and the other fresh emotions plan to create a new belief system for Riley, which they feel is necessary as she grows up.

As seen in the latest trailer, the old gang (Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear) gets bottled up and thrown into a vault, leaving Anxiety and her friends to run rampant.

While speaking at a press conference, director Kelsey Mann confirmed the inclusion of Anxiety as the big bad in the story happened "pretty early on:"

"I always had the idea pretty early on… that list of emotions I wrote, Anxiety was on there, and I'm like, ‘Ooh, oh my gosh, there's something here.’ I feel like this was before the pandemic, too. If anything, it was a topic that was coming up a lot, and it just took that dial and went up further with it, and we'd already decided that the movie was going to be about dealing with anxiety."

"It’s a takeover movie," Mann explained, noting that those new emotions can easily be at the wheel, especially at Riley's age:

"I always knew that I wanted to do a movie where Anxiety came in, and she took over. And 'cause your emotions definitely can take over, especially at this age, and so I'm like, ‘Oh, it's a takeover movie.’"

The director teased that Inside Out 2 is "very different from the first film," pointing specifically to how the original movie didn't have a villain:

"It's very different from the first film. There's not really an antagonist [in the first movie]. Joy is kind of the antagonist of the first film, but she doesn't know it and kinda realizes, 'Oh my gosh, this is all my fault.' And I'm like, 'What if there was an emotion that kicked them out?' Like, the first film that got accidentally like, 'Whoa, we accidentally got thrown out'… What if this version is them going, ‘You, you're wonderful, but you need to get out of here.’ And so I always knew. I always pitched it as a takeover movie."

Anxiety in Inside Out 2

The story of how Maya Hawke was cast is an interesting process that was undoubtedly anxiety-inducing—a fitting scenario.

Mann revealed that he actually "auditioned Maya [Hawke] from Disney World… at EPCOT."

When asked if she wanted to audition for the part, the actress said yes but was only available during Mann’s vacation time with his family. The solution was through the Mexico Pavilion at the park, out the back gate, and "to some random office."

"It was awesome," Mann gleefully noted, making it clear how Hawke "absolutely crushed it:"

"It was awesome. I was with my family; I go, ‘All right, I’ll be right back.’ And then they took me backstage, and I went back to some random office where they had a computer with Zoom on it. And I auditioned Maya from Zoom. And she absolutely crushed it. And my favorite part was, at the end of it, I talked about what I wanted the movie to be about, and she immediately connected with it. I think I even cried as she was talking. And I walked away and… [We] were like, ‘Oh my God, she’s perfect.’ And then, I went back into the EPCOT and continued my vacation. It was hilarious."

Producer Mark Nielson added that Hawke is "an incredibly fast talker, which is great for this particular character."

Nielson also revealed a previous "version where [they] had guilt and a version where we had jealousy."

The cut emotion of Guilt is where Anxiety’s drastic number of bags came from, one of the first visuals audiences saw when introduced to the new emotion.

According to Mann, they "ended up cutting Guilt," which led to Anxiety getting all of their baggage:

"The baggage that Anxiety has came from Guilt... Actually, I wanted a giant luggage cart like at a hotel. You know, when you go to Disneyland, you got all your kids' stuff; it is just filled with luggage. And they're like, 'Whoa,' and Joy kinda slammed into that. And they're like, 'Whoa, what the? Whose is this?' And then this little character came out, and he was like, 'Hi, I'm Guilt. Sorry, I got a lot of baggage.' And it was such a good gag. And then we ended up cutting Guilt because it didn't really add to the story. Oh, I think Anxiety's got a lot of baggage, too."

One of the stations the press was guided through in Pixar Animation Studios was a nifty setup where the director of photography and camera team could do physical camera work in a virtual world thanks to an AR/VR setup.

The animation team will animate an entire scene and then hand that over to the camera team, where they decide how the action will be shot. The result looks like the crew was actually there in Riley’s mind shooting these sequences.

In relation to Anxiety, Inside Out 2 Director of Photography Adam Habib explained how when the new emotion is driving, "things feel different in Riley’s world:"

"When Anxiety is driving, things feel different in Riley's world… The camera is only handheld when Anxiety is driving… We also use these wide-angle lenses close to the character, making the world feel a little bit more exaggerated, a little bit heightened… There's less motion. You feel sharper and more crisp. And then also extremes of focus. So either really deep depth of field or really shallow, basically just trying to push and heighten the way it feels when Anxiety is driving…"

While learning about the editing in the film, Editor Maurissa Horwitz said Maya Hawke set a record for the production, having done "78 takes of a line" from "an emotional part at the end of the movie:"

"I think our record on this movie was we did get 78 takes of a line from Maya Hawke as Anxiety. And it was all of her own. She just wanted to keep working on it. Because it was a very emotional part at the end of the movie. And she just wanted to make sure we had absolutely everything we needed to kind of land that emotion. So it was really generous of her."

Around the Pixar offices were tons of concept art and images from the movie, including early sketches of Anxiety. One early design sees the emotion with big eyeglasses and an ironic coffee mug:

Anxiety, Inside Out 2

More art showcases the concepts behind the character's behavior, such as how when "she tries to relax," she "always needs an eye on everything:"

Anxiety, Inside Out 2

Many conversations were brainstorming about how Anxiety's mouth "could open vertically" or figuring out just the right shape of her anxious eyes.

Anxiety, Inside Out 2

Even a highly detailed sculpture of what Anxiety’s final look would become was featured:

Anxiety, Inside Out 2

It’s not often an actor’s performance can be so great that it feels like divine intervention, but Maya Hawke’s Anxiety is clearly going to blow audiences away. 

Hopefully, Pixar can match the emotional highs of the first film, which seems more than possible given everything The Direct witnessed at Pixar Animation Studios.

Inside Out 2 releases in theaters on June 14.

Keep up with more news about Inside Out 2 on The Direct:

Inside Out 2's New Emotions: Full List of New Characters

LEGO Releases First-Ever 'Inside Out' Movie Set

New Inside Out 2 Trailer Confirms Major Pixar Shared Universe Theory

- In This Article: Inside Out 2
Release Date
June 14, 2024
Amy Poehler
Phyllis Smith
- About The Author: Russ Milheim
Russ Milheim is the Industry Relations Coordinator at The Direct. On top of utilizing his expertise on the many corners of today’s entertainment to cover the latest news and theories, he establishes and maintains communication and relations between the outlet and the many studio and talent representatives.