Alison Brie says she looks for acting work that 'terrifies' her
Best known for her comedic work in movies and TV — and her recurring role as Trudy Campbell on “Mad Men” — Alison Brie is on the cusp of taking her career up a notch. And she’s getting there by taking on some edgy material.
On Friday, you’ll see her as the lead in the fictional origin story of how the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling got off the ground in the 1980s with the new Netflix series “GLOW.” Then a week later she and Aubrey Plaza star as horny nuns in the indie comedy “The Little Hours,” in which they seduce an attractive man-servant (played by Brie’s husband Dave Franco) who has mysteriously shown up at their 14th-century convent.
Brie recently talked to Business Insider about shedding her girl-next-door persona; how many times Franco put her through watching “The Room” in preparation for “The Disaster Artist,” an upcoming movie about the making of the bad-movie classic (directed by Dave’s brother James Franco); and her excitement about playing Meryl Streep’s daughter in the the upcoming Steven Spielberg movie “The Papers.”
Jason Guerrasio: "The Little Hours" marks the first time you and Dave have starred in a movie together. Were you guys interested in working together on a project?
Alison Brie: We were. I sort of unofficially signed on first. I've known ["The Little Hours" director] Jeff [Baena] for a couple of years.
Guerrasio: Since you did "Joshy"?
Brie: Yes. And I've known Aubrey for years just because we were both at NBC at the same time and knew each other socially. And then I worked with Jeff very briefly on "Joshy" and developed a friendship. Jeff invited me out for coffee and said he had an idea he wanted to talk to me about and pitched me this movie. And Jeff is so smart and he basically studied this time period and this topic and just as he described to me these stories from "The Decameron" and adapting them into a film. Us playing nuns in the 14th century and that Aubrey would be one of the nuns and possibly Molly Shannon — the whole idea just got me very excited. It's so unique and the majority of movies getting made today are remakes or stories that have been done before. I feel almost everything you see has a quick log line of "it's this meets this" and this was not like that at all.
Guerrasio: But was it also exciting that it was edgier than the nice girl-type roles you usually get?
Brie: Definitely. I'm always looking for that. I feel that's always the goal, to try to do work that is different from material that I have done before where characters are different or some aspect of it is different or exciting in some way. And with "The Little Hours," another big part of it was — I mean, hearing that it's going to shoot in Italy didn't hurt at all — but that it was also unscripted. Jeff had a detailed 20-page outline for what the plot of the movie would be and what would happen in each scene but there was no script so there was this feeling of it being an experimental film. That we would go to Italy with this group of people that we know and love to perform with and we would make it up together as we went along. That, to me, seemed like an amazing adventure. It kind of scared me and I'm always intrigued by things that scare me. I like to run at stuff that terrifies me.
Guerrasio: I wondered about how you pulled it off, particularly the sexuality of it. I mean, you're there with your significant other and he's taking part in some racy scenes. I know it's all performance, but did those scenes ever get weird or uncomfortable for you?
Brie: No. It really didn't. Jeff had told me the premise of the movie before Dave had signed on to do the movie, so I knew that it was about this guy who shows up and all the women seduce him. And I said, "Who are you thinking of for the guy?" Because I'm thinking, God, I hope it's someone that I respond to. And when he said Dave I was relived. And I sort of helped convince Dave a little bit to do the movie.
Guerrasio: That's funny.
Brie: I just felt, how much fun would it be to go to Italy together on this strange adventure with this movie? Also, both of us are professional and we watch each other do romantic scenes all the time. If anything, it was more comfortable because I knew all these people so well.
Guerrasio: This won't be the last time you and Dave will be in a movie together. You'll both be in "The Disaster Artist," so how many times has Dave put you through watching "The Room"?
Brie: [Laughs] Um, I think only one time.
Guerrasio: Wow. I figured at least a couple of times.
Brie: Dave signed on to do "The Disaster Artist" very early on to work with James. This was still when they were putting the movie together. So I didn't think I was going to be involved at all. I was around while Dave was doing his research, but we never watched the movie together. Then we listened to the book on tape of "The Disaster Artist" together. So from listening to that he said, "You have to see the movie now that you know the backstory," so we bought a copy of "The Room" at Amoeba and we put it on and two minutes in I was like, "I have to have a drink, I can't watch this totally sober." But the crazy thing about that movie is it's so genuine.
Guerrasio: I’ve heard people who are fans of the movie like Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd, and I'm sure James feels the same way. They don't love it because they think it's bad — they appreciate the work that's gone into it and want to champion it.
Brie: Yeah. And it's really an endearing and inspiring story about two friends trying to make it into the entertainment industry.
Guerrasio: I talked to your trainer Jason Walsh. He said you did all your own stunts for "GLOW."
Brie: I did.
Guerrasio: Did you suffer any injuries from doing all the wrestling moves?
Brie: No. Not at all. I hate to disappoint you —
Guerrasio: No, it confirms that what Jason said is true: You are a badass.
Brie: [Laughs] It definitely does. No, I think the work I did with Jason definitely helped to keep me safe. Because we certainly got banged up. I had visible bruises, you can see them on my legs and butt in episodes of the show, but we had a great wrestling trainer for the show, Chavo Guerrero Jr. He comes from a long line of wrestlers, so he was incredible with us and very patient and made us all fall in love with wrestling. And our stunt coordinator, Shauna Duggins, whose main priority really was our safety and breaking down these moves so we would be able to do them for 10-12 hours at a time. And obviously there were tricks. If the camera doesn't show all the way to the mat, there would be a pad there that we would land on. And a bigger move, like a suplex, we would limit the amount of takes. We would say, "We got five suplexes in us today, so tell us when you got the shot."
Guerrasio: You also recently have been cast in Spielberg's "The Papers," about how the Pentagon Papers were released. Can you get into who you will be playing?
Guerrasio: Have you had a chance to meet up with Meryl yet?
Brie: I met her very briefly on set when she finished shooting a scene and she could not have been lovelier. I'm over the moon, I couldn't be more excited about that movie. I could burst into tears right now just talking about it. It's a dream come true.
Guerrasio: You are really at a point now where your profile is rising. What's the next elevation? Would you go the superhero route if called upon?
Brie: I hope that's the case. I would love to. I think especially after working on "GLOW," where we all felt like we were superheroes, in a way it has satisfied my desire to do something like that. But in some ways it's only whet my appetite. But I guess I feel very lucky that I've been able to work on such different projects recently. All different time periods and genres. So that looking forward is the goal. I love working in comedy. I would want to continue doing that, but I would also like to do more dramatic roles. Since wrapping "Mad Men" I have missed that a little so I'm excited to work on "The Papers" at that capacity. Just continuing to work with great people.
Guerrasio: Is there a superhero character you would drop everything to play?
Brie: Oh gosh, no. I'm open for any. Just call me and offer. [Laughs]
"GLOW" is available on Netflix Friday. "The Little Hours" opens in theaters June 30.