Interview: 'Community' co-star Alison Brie on romance, comedy and 'Mad Men'
Back at Comic-Con, I attended the triumphant panel for "Community," then spent a while interviewing various people associated with the show, then spent some time hanging out on the set and in the writers' office while I was at press tour. You've hopefully already seen the very funny(*) video interview I did with Donald Glover and Danny Pudi, and I published a small piece out of the interview I did with Dan Harmon, about John Oliver's expanded role this season.
(*) All credit for the funny business goes to Glover and Pudi, of course.
I'm going to publish the other interviews - including more from Harmon, Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown and some thoughts from the directing Russo brothers - from time to time over the next few weeks to hopefully whet your appetite for the return of one of the funniest and most inventive comedies on television on Sept. 23. First up: a Comic-Con chat with the versatile Alison Brie, about Jeff and Annie's unexpected sexual chemistry, playing a bad cop, finding time to run over to "Mad Men" to play Trudy Campbell, and more.
At what point did you recognize that you and Joel (McHale) had something going on there?
Well, obviously the debate episode was the critical episode where there was a gear change, but it wasn’t while we were shooting that episode that I thought that. When I heard we were kissing in the episode, I thought, "Well, it can’t be romantic." And then I got the script and I said, "Oh good. No, it’s not romantic. It makes sense." And when we shot the scene with the sexual chemistry and we’re trying to study, there was more of that feeling of, "Oh, this is an interesting chemistry that’s happening, that’s happening in a real way." But it wasn’t until after seeing the fan feedback that really sort of influenced it and just made us go, "Oh, wow. People really responded to that and that could be a realistic storyline."
I think it was the same for the writers; they just tested the waters and then saw, "Oh, people enjoyed that." But even so, we kind of stepped away from it for a long time. And then gearing up towards the finale and the last few episodes, I could see the writers even were throwing us off because the Vaughn thing came in and it was like, "Oh, okay. I guess they’re going that direction." Either way, it was a major character shift for Annie becoming more mature, starting to date older guys, getting over Troy and kind of letting that storyline go.
Well, there’s older guys and there’s older. You’re playing an 18-year old. Joel is playing someone close to his own age.
How does Annie feel about this? And how do you feel about Annie’s feelings about this?
For Annie it’s exciting. I think the whole season has been an exciting experiment, with so many new things that she couldn’t have imagined, and learning how to wield this new power she has over the male sex. And with Jeff, I think that she probably has a sort of schoolgirl crush on him and has had it the whole season, and that’s in a very realistic way - something that happens with younger girls and older guys all the time. It probably exists more in a fantasy world for her than in any real way, as in them going on to have this romance. But I think that she’s excited about it fundamentally, and similarly, I felt like I just trust the writers so much and everything they put out is so great and we’ve had such a great outcome so far that I’m onboard, you know? I was never opposed to it. Joel’s so great and we had such a fun time shooting the debate episode and other episodes after that where they sort of explored Annie and Jeff’s friendship, which I thought was really fun. So I was excited about it as well.
What it was like doing the buddy cop episode with Yvette?
Oh my gosh, so fun. The worst thing is that we shot this whole chase sequence that didn’t make it into the episode because of time constraints. And it was incredible. One of the best things about the show is that we get to explore these other genres. It’s not that you’re just working on a comedy show. It’s like you come to work and you go, "Oh, this week we’re doing an action movie." And we really try to take it seriously and personify it while still doing the comedy. And so this scene didn’t get in there but we were running. We shot all over Paramount and it was very guerilla-style. The security at Paramount even kicked us out of a couple of areas because we were too loud. We were shooting in alleys and jumping over boxes and racing around and the pepper spray was kind of the only moment that stayed in, thank God.
Yes. That was amazing.
It was so fun. It was funny to shoot. Adam Davidson directed that episode, and he’s so fun to work with, so he really let us go out there.
Were you drawing on any specific inspiration for Annie as a bad cop?
As bad cop? You know maybe just a general (idea). I never watched a lot of these cop shows on TV. But there was sort of a David Caruso feel that we were trying to gather. It was definitely more male, I think. The ideas in my head that were coming up were like Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Kindergarten Cop" and definitely CSI and stuff like that.
Matt (Weiner) always clamps down on stuff. How much are you allowed to be in this season of "Mad Men"? Has NBC been cool about it?
You know, I’m not really allowed to say anything about specifics like that, but I can say that I was fortunate enough to still be involved.
And it was a collaboration, you know, compromise on both ends from both studios and I’m very thankful for that.
And do the shooting schedules ever overlap?
They do overlap. This year we got a bit of an earlier start on "Mad Men." Last year it overlapped for about a month—a month and a half. So there was a day where I was in the morning on "Community" and in the evening on "Mad Men" in the same day.
How is that?
Amazing. Oh it’s incredible. It's such an adrenaline rush. It’s just exciting It reminds me of when I was in college and I studied acting, and you’d go to scene study, then you’d go to your play rehearsals at night, and it was a normal thing to kind of have a couple of different characters that you might be working on. And they’re just so different and even my relationships with the productions are so different. You know, "Community" is new and it’s this comedy and it’s this ensemble group, and I've been working on "Mad Men" now for a while. I feel a bit more comfortable in Trudy’s shoes and can see where that’s going. So it’s just amazing.
Well, they are very different characters, but other than the fact that you’re playing them both, do you see any commonalities between Trudy and Annie?
Absolutely. I think they’re both perfectionists. I think they both very ambitious. Even though they’re ambitious in very different ways, you just see that drive in both of them - which is probably something I see in myself as well I, would say. And that’s probably the underlying tie for the 3 of us. Also, they have very high expectations for their own lives and how things are going to go. And those expectations are seldom met in the real world that is either show.
Dan Harmon told me something once: he said of the 7 members of the study group, Annie is the one he feels on the page is always closest to cartoon. And that you sort of somehow find within her a humanity too. Is that something that you see in the process?
Oh. That’s a great compliment. I don’t know. I was going to say of all the actors I might be the one that’s the most cartoon, so it’s funny that he says I’m grounding the character. And that might be coming from "Mad Men," because everything that we do over there, the subtlety is really what we’re working with. And it’s very understated and a slower pace, so I feel like I’ve learned a lot working on that show, and hopefully it’s carried over to give her some sort of underlying backbone.
Well, Trudy was not a character who was particularly funny in the first couple of seasons and then in season 3 you do the Charleston and then there’s the great bit in the finale where you’re calling Pete from the bedroom because he's on the verge of blowing it with Don and Roger. Can you talk about finding that side of that character?
Well, I think that, you know, I almost disagree a little, in terms of even in the first 2 seasons, I think that Trudy and Pete had some very comedic moments unbeknownst to even me when we were working on them. There were a number of times I remember, particularly in the second season, in the very first episode we shot and it’s this emotional scene for us at the table because her friend, Jennifer Crane, is having a baby and she can’t. When we were doing it, Matt was coaching us to take it very seriously, of course. And we’re talking about the inner turmoil. And then when I saw it air, they sort of set it to this funny music and I’m drying my tears with a napkin ring and I couldn’t see the comedy in it when we were working on it - only later when I stepped back and watched it as a viewer. And also because Pete is sort of over the top in his conniving ways that you just have to laugh at him sometimes, that the couple is endearing in that way and I think they’ve become more so as the series has progressed.
But they were also just a more functional unit in the third season - other than the fact that he has sex with the au pair.
But she stuck with him through that, which is a testament to their relationship and her ability to stick to something. Her follow-through, if you will. But yeah, I think the third season was really fun to work on because I like when Pete and Trudy have harmony in their relationship, and I do think that Trudy really loves Pete. She really wants their relationship to work, and obviously Pete has his own ambitions in a different world that she doesn’t exist in, so it’s nice when they can kind of come together.
All right. Last one. Danny and Donald were talking before about how there are times when each of them wishes they could play the other's part. Is there another character on "Community" you wish you could play?
Absolutely not. I love Annie. I love her dearly but also I just think everyone else is cast so perfectly in their roles. I can’t imagine, even as a dream character, to say I’d want to play Abed or something would be so out there because how could anyone else be Abed?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org