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Alison Brie Talks Her Funny New Movie, Community, & Being A Sex Symbol For Geeks

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Photo: Victoria Will/Invision/AP.
Alison Brie loves romantic comedies so much that she used to fall asleep to The American President — the 1995 movie in which Michael Douglas plays a widowed commander-in-chief who woos lobbyist Annette Bening — every night. And she still does, occasionally: “I did it again two nights ago,” she told Refinery29. “I know it so well that I can close my eyes and still know everything that’s going on. I fast-forward to the first time she’s in the Oval Office, and that’s my lullaby.”

Brie, known best for her roles on Community and Mad Men, rattled off her favorite rom-coms of all time — When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Hitch, Two Weeks Notice — while we were discussing her new film, Sleeping With Other People. It's among a recent spate of movies that aim to reinvent a beloved genre that grew sadly stale. In fact, Sleeping With Other People, which opens September 11, could be seen as a modern take on the central theme of When Harry Met Sally: Can heterosexual men and women be friends without the sex part getting in the way? Rom-coms, of course, still say "no." (Otherwise, they’d lose the "rom" part.)

In the film, Brie plays Lainey, who’s self-destructively fixated on her married, emotionally distant lover (Adam Scott). At a support group for sex addicts, she runs into the affable guy to whom she lost her virginity in college — Jake (Jason Sudeikis), who has become a serial womanizer. He and Lainey decide they like each other so much that they don’t want to ruin it with sex. Naturally, tons of sexual and romantic tension ensue, which allows the film to examine the complicated connections between love, intimacy, and sex in a time with blurry boundaries and few rules.

For Brie, the movie was a perfect match. She’s known for straddling comedy and drama in two concurrent, high-profile TV roles: sexy overachiever Annie on Community and Pete’s betrayed wife, Trudy, on Mad Men. Sleeping With Other People allowed her to use the full range of her skills while also working with Sudeikis and writer-director Leslye Headland (best known for her dark, female-centric comedy Bachelorette). “As I read this script, I got more and more excited,” Brie said. “Lainey is such a dynamic and interesting character — strong and also funny. It looks like a straightforward romantic comedy, but it’s more like an indie movie that has it all. So when I met with Leslye to talk about the part, I wooed her hard.”

Here’s what else we talked about with the soon-to-be-even-bigger star.

What do you think this movie says about relationships?


"So many things! To me, one of the major themes of the movie is self-worth, especially as it pertains to Lainey. She really puts so much of herself into her relationships. Then, her entire self-worth is in the hands of another person. It takes spending time with someone on a friend level for her to realize she deserves more, and she deserves to be treated fairly. It’s something I could relate to from time spent dating... I definitely have had these kinds of talks with friends where they’re sobbing about a guy, like, 'Why won’t he call me back?' And it’s like, 'You don’t even like hanging out with him that much!'"

Have you ever had a confusing relationship like Jake and Lainey’s, where you don’t quite know how to define it?

"I don’t know that I have. I was trying to think, Who’s the Jake in my life? I think I’ve had more Sobaceks [Adam Scott’s cheating character], which is a sad thing. I’ve also had a lot of good male friends. I guess my own personal life has defied the theme of this movie, which is that men and women cannot be friends. I say: Nay! They can!"

You were on two TV shows with intense fan bases that both just ended. Which of those fan bases has been the most vocal, in your experience?

"My instinctual answer is Community. Community fans are very polite. I feel like they want to come up and say, 'I love you on Community,' and then just leave. They’re too polite, almost. But since Mad Men just ended, I’ve had more people like, 'Oh my god!' They just want me to be emotional with them."

You did become something of a geek sex symbol on Community.

"The funniest thing about that is [creator/executive producer] Dan Harmon hated the idea so much, he would put it in episodes just to spite the network, who [ended up actually] liking it. And so, Dan catapulted the idea to new heights on the internet. He did know what he was doing; he was like, 'As long as we can get Ali doing a gif-able moment…'"

After wrapping up Season 6 on Yahoo!, do you think Community is really over now?

"I think it is really, finally over. Everyone’s strangely okay with it. The fan hashtag was #SixSeasonsAndAMovie. We all felt very lucky that Yahoo! picked up the show. I have a feeling everyone would be on board to do a movie and see out the rest of the hashtag. Either way, I felt like Season 6 was the final season that we all needed. Even if we were kind of only making it for the fans, that’s enough. They’re the only people who truly understand us. It felt like our most insular season, in a good way."

Photo: Courtesy Of IFC Films.
How did you feel about Trudy’s send-off on Mad Men?

"I loved it. Some people were bummed because Trudy had such an empowering moment, kicking Pete out of the house. I loved it all. It was nice to see her empowered, but ultimately, especially in this last season, we got to see that Trudy is not very happy as a single mom. All her ambition lay in her marriage. She wanted to be a great wife and have success through his successes. She was not meant for the single life. As much as she didn’t want to be made a fool of, she didn’t want her marriage to fail. At the end of the day, I’m a hopeless romantic. I think Trudy brought out the best in Pete. It was wonderful to see them have a really romantic moment at the end. Everyone felt like Pete was so despicable, but she really loved this guy, and he loved her, too. The finale was much more romantically optimistic than I expected."

What’s your ideal vision for your career going forward?

"It’s such a tough question because I feel like I probably have had a number of different ideas about how my career was going to go, and you can’t really plan. I love to look at someone like Emily Blunt or Amy Adams or Rose Byrne, who can flow seamlessly through comedy and action and drama and period pieces."

You grew up in South Pasadena, not that far from L.A. How did that influence your career aspirations?

"It’s a little suburb. It feels more like a small town. But they shoot a lot of movies there, because it looks like Anytown, USA. Imagining yourself working as an actor didn’t seem so far-fetched. It seemed accessible. But I was always a theater nerd, and in that way I had a very traditional high school experience. I wasn’t auditioning for [Hollywood parts] or anything. I asked my mom recently why she didn’t have me do that, and she said I didn’t want to. She said she tried to get me to, but I had such integrity at a young age. It’s all gone now, but at the time I was like: 'Theater only! I’m a purist!'"

You seem pretty active on social media. How has that contributed to your success?

"That’s a tricky one. I’m sort of active. But I’m not as active as people who make it their job to be on Twitter or Instagram. I joined Twitter when we were starting Community because we were trying to rally the fans. It gave us the opportunity to have a personal relationship with our fans. Now, I think I’ve taken a step back from it. At first, it was all sunshine and flowers, and now you see the negative creep in. I get messages that are like, 'You don’t tweet enough, you need to step up your game.' I’m like, 'Stop yelling at me!' Now I mostly just use it to let people know what’s going on. I’m not like, I have to tweet every day. I get wary of using Twitter to let people see every other aspect of your life. I don’t ever want to capitalize off my personal life."

What do you like to do when you’re not tweeting or acting?

"We have this cover band, [The Girls]. It’s a great hobby. I don’t have any super weird or interesting hobbies. I watch a lot of movies and TV because I want to see what’s going on."

What are your favorite shows right now?

"I don’t know if it’s allowed to be my favorite show, but have you seen BoJack Horseman on Netflix? [Ed. note: Brie voices a character on the animated series about a horse who used to star on a sitcom in the '90s and is now washed-up and living in Hollywood.] The second season went up pretty recently, so I’ve been pretty immersed in watching that. And I’ve been watching the Wet Hot American Summer new episodes."

You’re producing a new show, too, right?

"Teachers, on TVLand. That’ll be out in January. Those girls, the Katydids, are incredible. They’re a comedy troupe — they’re all named Katie [with several different spellings] and from Chicago. They have a very interesting voice. I think they’re really special. I make an appearance in the pilot episode. I told my agents I wanted to get involved on the other side of the camera. They forwarded me the Katydids’ web series. I was like, This is exactly what I’m looking for. Our comedic sensibilities just clicked. So I came on as an executive producer on the show. It’s super exciting to work with up-and-coming people in comedy who are all women. They’re, like, the most talented people I know."
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