Alison Brie on How Mad Men Changed Her Life

Photo by Eric Ray Davidson

For eight years now, Alison Brie has been flexing her versatility as an actor across television and film. From shows such as Mad Men, Community, and Bojack Horseman to films like her impressive starring role in Leslye Headlund’s upcoming Sleeping With Other People, Brie has proven herself to be as multitalented as she is hard working.

As the defiant Trudy Campbell on Mad Men, we’ve seen Brie deliver her most dramatic performances—something we’ll be sad to miss as the show begins its final season this Sunday. To give you a taste of Brie’s experience on the show, we’re pleased to share a preview of forthcoming feature on her in the upcoming Spring issue of the newly relaunched BlackBook Magazine

Having been on Mad Men for nearly a decade, how does it feel now that the show is coming to an end?

It was totally incredible to be a part of Mad Men from the first season to the last. I can’t believe I got to stay on the show the whole time. It will forever inform all other work that I do. It was my first real acting job after college, outside of regional theater, and it taught me so much about nuance. It was like a clinic for acting in a television drama, with Matthew Weiner as professor.

I just feel very grateful that I got to be on it for so long. It taught me a lot about stillness and subtext—all that stuff I learned about in college studying theater, but now having to apply it differently when it relates to film and TV. Shooting an episode of Mad Men really feels like shooting a movie, you know? The things I’ve learned on the show, and also the work ethic and professionalism, have come with me into every other job.

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Did you find it difficult to juggle such disparate roles as Annie on Community and Trudy on Mad Men

I feel like for three seasons the shows would shoot simultaneously. There were days where I’d literally shoot Community in the morning and then drive over and shoot Mad Men in the evening. It was an awesome exercise, but not difficult because the shows are so different; so it’s really easy to go from one to the other and not confuse the two. Putting on the Mad Men wardrobe alone I feel like I’m totally transformed into that era, into that character, because the costume design is specific and well done that it was easy. If they’d been super similar, it would have been more of a challenge, whereas this just felt like…I’m living a dream!

It’s always nice to have some downtime amidst craziness, but at the same time I find it hard to not infuse a little bit of myself into every character I play, probably because you are the same set of skin and bones and vocal cords every time. Also, as much as I really respect the work and all that, I also think it’s fun! We’re playing make believe at the end of the day. I try to take it seriously in the moment, so I’m just connecting between.

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With both of your long-term shows ending, is it freeing to know that now your career is wide open for new projects? You’re already taking on such varied roles in film and TV.

It’s been very exciting, and kind of a relief. It’s interesting having worked on Mad Men for seven years and Community for six years, looking at these two shows coming to an end, there’s always the nervousness of like, will I ever work again? I’ve been doing these things for so long. So it was really amazing to spend the last year cultivating some other stuff, some other sides of myself, and being able to do some awesome film work. It’s really great to hear you say that I take on different roles because I definitely do, and it’s not always easy. I’ve been very lucky to have been afforded opportunities to work on some characters that are different and projects that are different.

Most of your upcoming movies are comedies with an edge—do you want to continue down that route or pursue more dramatic roles as well?

I definitely still want to pursue drama. I’ve definitely felt the withdrawal of Mad Men being over, not having that drama fix. I love drama, I love thrillers, so I would still like to look for work in that genre.

Watch Alison Brie Do Impressions of Internet Memes

I can imagine the hearts (and other things) belonging to men across the internet swelling as I watch this video of Paul F. Tompkins directing Community and Mad Men‘s Alison Brie as she recreates popular internet memes. Is there a better, more beloved actress who could possibly do this sort of thing? If Tumblr has told me anything, it’s that the internet loves Alison Brie. And, apparently, Alison Brie loves the internet. 

[via Vulture]

First Trailer for Sundance Favorite ‘The Kings of Summer’

Coming-of-age stories are nothing new to Hollywood—in fact, they’re pretty well worn territory. And for every Stand By Me or The Sandlot, you can bet there will be a thousand Free Willy sequels. One of the most lauded films from Sundance this year will vie for a place in the coming-of-age movie pantheon, and has the favorable reviews from its festival premiere to back it up.

The Kings of Summer tells the story of three adolescent friends (newcomers Nick Robinson, Moises Arias and Gabriel Basso) who, bored, frustrated with authority and feeling stifled by their ho-hum suburban lives, decide to go all Thoreau, live in the woods and build themselves a house there. Of course, things don’t quite turn out the way they expect, as tends to happen in these kinds of situations. Adding to the fun of the coming-of-age-flick idyll is the cast of adults alongside the young stars, including the wonderfully grizzled and deadpan Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Alison Brie. The Kings of Summer hits theatres May 31st; in the meantime, check out the trailer below.

Alison Brie Graduates to the Big Screen in ‘The Five-Year Engagement’

“You are immortal,” whispers the barista to Alison Brie as she hands her a steaming mug of antioxidant-rich tea. At Café Gratitude, a vegan restaurant on Melrose, drinks are named after affirmations. It’s an exceedingly Los Angeles conceit—even regulars like Brie admit it’s a bit silly—and while her immortality is still uncertain, Brie is at least having a very good year. The doe-eyed, petite actress already stars in two critically adored television shows, Mad Men and Community, and she’s about to hit the big screen, summitting the Mt. Olympus of comedy typography: a Judd Apatow production. This one is called The Five-Year Engagement. It stars Jason Segel and Emily Blunt as a long-suffering engaged couple—like The Breakup in reverse—and features Brie as Blunt’s younger sister, Suzie. As Brie heads to our table to ingest her own immortality, I lean in to the barista and say, “I am gorgeous.” “You are gorgeous,” she answers and hands me green lemonade infused with kale.

Though only 29 years old, Brie has quickly come to represent a certain feminine ideal of comedy—quirky but never irksome, relying neither on Liz Lemon’s klutziness nor on Sarah Silverman’s potty-mouth misanthropy. Brie is just plain funny. She’s had nearly three decades to practice.

“When I was a little girl, I was always trying to make my family laugh,” she recalls, breaking into a wide smile. “I would perform little SNL-type skits with my sister. My signature sketch was about edible wieners. Picture me, a skinny little eight-year-old girl in Pasadena wearing a trench coat. I’d break into the room and open the trench coat to reveal a hot dog between my legs, and I’d burst into this advertisement. ‘You’re walking down the street and you get hungry, and you don’t have anything to eat. New edible wieners! It’s your wiener, but you can eat it!’” She sips her frothy brew between laughs.

In between appearances as Toto in a local Jewish Community Center production of The Wizard of Oz and, later, working gigs as a clown at birthday parties, Brie found she had a talent for making people laugh: namely, herself. It’s a trait that has served her well on the freewheeling set of NBC’s Community. “[Community co-stars] Donald [Glover] and Danny [Pudi] make fun of me because they say, ‘You just have this amazing ability to make yourself laugh regardless of how funny the joke actually is.’” Brie says. “I literally bring myself to tears because I’m laughing so hard.”

Though Community is a scripted comedy, it is one that leaves plenty of open space for improvisation. Over the last three seasons, Brie, along with co-stars like Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs, have become adept long-form improvisers and comedic collaborators. This, in turn, has allowed for a free and easy set. “If you’re not shooting for some big laugh with every word that comes out of your mouth, then there’s less disappointment,” Brie reflects. “It’s more like a delightful surprise when something really funny does happen.”

“To deliver any kind of joke, you have to get the joke,” says Brie. Thankfully, Community members do. “I feel like the scripts were so funny already, and then the cast developed our own language, just like in any circle of friends. I feel bad now for guest stars that come on the show, because it’s like we’re talking in quotes from the show that we’ve changed and morphed into some other joke. It’s like an inside joke of an inside joke. How is anyone able to penetrate this at all?”

If the slang and shorthand of the cast has rendered the comedy of Community illegible to guest stars, the semi-obscure references can seem even more inaccessible to some viewers. (Community fans worry that Season Three may be the show’s last. And sadly, that decision lies in NBC’s hands.) But for many, it’s that tangible insider quality that makes the show compelling. “What keeps people coming back to watch the show,” says Brie, “is that these people are constantly growing and changing, and that those relationships are evolving. You can go see stand-up and laugh, and that’s fine, but it’s the story that should keep you coming back.”

If the Community set resembles the basement theater of Upright Citizens Brigade, the vast machinery of AMC’s Mad Men is a stately penthouse apartment. Brie, who plays Trudy, the ambitious young wife of upstart ad man Pete Campbell, calls the feeling “a bit more quiet and focused.” Actors are given weeks with the script as opposed to the fast turnaround of Community. “Mad Men is so much more about the subtext,” she says. Not that that subtext can’t be funny; it’s just that its humor is found after the fact. “When we’re shooting the material on Mad Men, it seems like it would never play into comedy,” she says, “because the circumstances in any scene are usually so serious and are taken seriously when we shoot them.” Take, for example, a scene in which Trudy laments the fact that she and her husband Pete (played by Vincent Kartheiser) can’t conceive. This, one might imagine, is a set-up completely devoid of any humor. In fact, on set, director Matthew Weiner stressed the sadness of the moment. Brie was instructed to dab her tears away with a napkin. (The tears were real. Though known for comedy, Brie has done drama. Her Ophelia in a Rubicon Theatre production of Hamlet was called “deeply moving” by the Santa Barbara Independent.) It was only later, when she watched the scene cut together, that Brie realized it was “hilarious.” “You’re looking at these two people, and you’re like, ‘Oh, man, they’re ridiculous.’” Pete and Trudy are the only people taking Pete and Trudy seriously. But, of course, that’s part of the genius of Mad Men. “It’s just written in there, and these characters are just that way,” says Brie.

Both Annie and Trudy, the twin roles for which Brie is best known, are perfectionists: they’re driven to please others. But in her role as Suzie in The Five-Year Engagement, Brie plays against type—an “irresponsible party girl,” says Brie, to her uptight, permanently engaged sister, Violet. “It’s really the most flighty I’ve ever played,” she says, even though it still falls firmly within the wheelhouse of hilarity. Though Brie has found her place in the comedic world, she’s still interested in exploring her range and knows she can’t be an ingénue forever. She confides an interest in trying action, an urge that arose after shooting Community’s action-heavy paintball episode. Her attitude seems to be that if she has fun filming something, the audience will have fun watching it. It matters little to her if she trades on her stunning good looks—which situate her somewhere between cherubim, girl next door, and hippie chick—or if she subverts it. Sex appeal is fleeting; comedy is forever.

“A big part of comedy to me is looking stupid and being comfortable looking unattractive,” she notes. “Comedy comes before vanity.” When I ask about her evident sex appeal, she claims she’s “middle-of-the-road attractive” and worries less about the sexualization in comedy. “Being objectified, if it’s for the sake of the joke, is not such a terrible thing,” she offers. “We do it to the men on our show, and we do it to the women.” Whether Brie veers toward the Cameron Diaz/Jennifer Aniston School of Hot Comedy or follows the Amy Poehler arc; whether she forsakes comedy altogether for ammo, guns, and glory or the thrill of the theater (with three syllables) is anyone’s guess. Happily, she has an eternity to decide.

Video Exclusive: Alison Brie Blooms in the California Desert

Alison Brie is lucky to star on two popular TV shows — the cult comedy Community and the beloved drama Mad Men. We’re lucky enough to have her in our April/May issue. With the upcoming The Five-Year Engagement (and excelling at a British accent!) added to her resume, the lovely and charming Brie talks about her Community cohort as well as bringing humor to the serious Mad Men set. Be sure to pick up a copy of The Comedy Issue to check out our feature with Brie, but in the meantime you can get a sneak peak at our California photo shoot with the hilarious, gorgeous starlet. 

Anna Faris Graces the Cover of Our Comedy Issue

For over a decade the delightfully daffy Anna Faris has been making people laugh in movies like The House Bunny, Observe and Report, and the four films of the Scary Movie franchise. She’s even lightened the mood in heavier Oscar-winning fare like Lost in Translation and Brokeback Mountain. With a role playing opposite international prankster Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator and a rumored return to the cast of Scary Movie 5, Faris continues to prove she’s a comedic force to be reckoned with. In the cover story of our April/May issue, Faris reveals what makes her laugh (it involves the phrase "mammary glands") and reveals that her status as a cinematic comedienne was accidental. 

It wouldn’t be The Comedy Issue without a few more jokesters, which is why we reunited Jeff Who Lives at Home costars Jason Segel and Ed Helms for an epic jam session, proving they’ve got the musical chops to shift careers (not that we want them to quit their day jobs). Community and Mad Men‘s Alison Brie chats about bringing humor to two very different hit TV shows, and she opens up about her role in the upcoming comedy The Five-Year Engagement. Critically beloved writer-director Whit Stillman, whose Damsels in Distress hits theaters in early April, explains his 14-year absence from filmmaking. And we answer the burning question that everyone’s been asking: are gay guys funny? (Spoiler alert: they are!)

You’ll also get a look new restaurants in Chicago, hot night spots in Paris, an illustrated guide to the Tribeca Film Festival, and the long-awaited look at the cinematic history of vibrators. You can find a copy of the issue on newsstands next week, and be sure to check back with BBook.com for full coverage and web exclusives! 

‘The Five-Year Engagement’ Trailer: Jason Segel Grows Up

Jason Segel’s starred in a number of movies where, for better or worse, he plays a slightly regressed man-child. But his newest role in The Five-Year Engagement looks to break that trend. Here, he’s the good-natured fiance to Emily Blunt, who must watch as her ascension up the career ladder means an increasingly indefinite hiatus for their wedding. Along the way, there’s deaths in the family, arrow-related knee injuries, and the typical rom-com pitfalls. 

Behind the camera is Nicholas Stoller, who also helmed Forgetting Sarah Marshall. That was one of the sweeter Judd Apatow-related movies, focusing more on adult issues rather than the way bros need to get down. There doesn’t seem to be much broing down in the Engagement trailer, just quippy conversations about wedding dates and so forth. (Check out Community‘s Alison Brie doing a British accent.) Parks & Recreation‘s Chris Pratt also stars, and the whole movie  looks like it will be charming in the typical Apatowian way.

The movie comes out on April 27, 2012. I know The Three Stooges is coming out earlier in the month, and it’ll be really hard to not to outspend your movie budget, but I trust you can figure it out.

Watch the ‘Community’ Joke that Took Three Years to Set Up

It’s no surprise that Community has some great, subtle visual gags, but it’s a big surprise when we discover  that there’s one particular gag that is so subtle, that it took a whole three years for the joke to set itself up 

For the (hopefully) few of you out there who haven’t seen the 1988 film Beetlejuice, it’s a comedy/horror hybrid that started the careers of both Winona Ryder and Alec Baldwin, and made a household name out of its director, Tim Burton. A major plot point is that the title character, played by Michael Keaton, can only appear if you say his name three times. 

Watch below as his name gets referenced once per season, and then look closely behind Alison Brie. And NBC might cancel this?