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Alison Brie on Frumpy Trudy and Her Art-School Sexual Experimentation

We went shopping in Soho with Alison Brie earlier this year and watched her try on a host of unfortunate dresses while we discussed her talented feet (she can make an egg-salad sandwich with ‘em), and her roles on two of our favorite TV shows, Community and Mad Men. Here’s what didn’t make it into the original profile, including her thoughts on frumpy Trudy, the inspiration for type-A Annie, and Brie’s art-school sexual experimentation.

What was your experience shooting Save the Date?
It was so fun. When we shot that movie we were all so close. It’s basically a five-hander with Martin Starr and Lizzy Caplan and Geoffrey Arend and Mark Webber. It sounds lame to say when people say "passion project" and you want to punch them in the face. But it was like we all just loved making it and we were so close when we did it.

Is it coming out this year?
You know, it’s going to a bunch of other festivals and we’re sort of waiting to see what happens with distribution. But fingers crossed.

If it came out this year, you’d have two wedding movies.
It’s true. Last year was my spring of wedding movies. And it was great, because the summer before was my summer of weddings, where I was maid of honor in my sister’s wedding and a friend from high school’s wedding. Which was like my nightmare because I’m not weddings-y at all. So it was just weddings stuff following me. First maid of honor in two weddings, you know, six months later back-to-back movies about weddings. I seem to be surrounded by weddings.

Did you hate being a maid of honor?
Yes. [Laughs.] No, of course not because it was my good friend and my sister. Of course I love them and I wanted to do a great job.

Older or younger sister?
Older.

So you’re not mirroring The Five-Year Engagement.
No, but I definitely was basing my character off of my sister in Save the Date, which I told her about and she was like, [sarcastic] “I can’t wait to see it. Great.” I was like, “Well, it’s loosely based. Loosely based.” The character’s a little abrasive, so I didn’t want my sister to get too insulted. But I realized recently that I base probably 90 percent of the characters I play on traits of my sister, just different sides of her. I think that I’ve probably spent my whole life doing that. We’ve always been very close. We’re under two years apart. It’s just that she is definitely more of a Type-A personality than myself, and so, you know, I play these characters all the time and I’m like, it’s funny that people find me that way because I’m so … especially when you look at the two of us … the more irresponsible sister. My sister sort of keeps it all together.

What’s your life in California like? Are you just juggling your two jobs … three jobs … four jobs at the same time all the time?
For about eight months of the year it’s pretty crazy when we’re in production on Community and Mad Men at the same time. The Mad Men schedule is shorter because they only shoot 13 episodes of that show and 22 of Community. Every other year the productions have only overlapped by like a month, but this year Mad Men got started so late, so the entire season of Mad Men was engulfed by our season of Community and they were just totally simultaneous. It’s mostly like I don’t have much of a life at all when we’re shooting the shows, which is fine, because I love everyone on Community.

Did Annie moving in with Troy and Abed stem from you just being such good friends with those guys?
Maybe. I would love to think that. We’re all close on the show, but I might be closer with those two guys, certainly with Danny because we share a trailer. We’re like trailer buddies. We talk through the bathroom wall to each other. I think also it just made sense because our three characters are the youngest characters and it just made sense maybe for them to all live together. They had been building up to Annie moving out of her place for a while and always setting it up as she lives in this terrible neighborhood. So I don’t know if it had always been the plan all along or what, but it does make sense because they’re kind of like the three little kids. I feel like any progress that Annie has made toward adulthood was thwarted as soon as she moved in with these two guys and now she’s just regressing more and more each week … in a good way.

Do you think she’s kind of based on your sister?
I think there are aspects of her type of personality that are based on my sister, and I think that there are aspects that are based on myself. But it’s funny to have watched Annie loosening up, and maybe that’s more of me sort of trickling in to the character than it originally started out. And I don’t mean to say that it’s fully based on my sister at all. I think that my familiarity with Type-A perfectionism probably comes more from my sister just because she’s got it all together, but of course Annie is a character who doesn’t really have it all together. She kind of just operates under this whole mannequin guise of having it together, and underneath everything’s simmering and about to explode.

Were you actually going back and forth in between the sets? Are you shooting Trudy one day and then Annie another day? Or on the same day?
I’ve done both on the same day a few times, and it’s fun. Those are the days I think that I’m most excited and feel like it’s all happening, you know what I mean? It kind of is super fun. I do sort of think where I make … even though it’s seldom up to me. The days where I start on Mad Men and then get to go over to Community, to literally taking your hair down and letting it all out. The clothes are so restrictive on Mad Men, which is great, and they put me in character, and it’s very important to me when we shoot over there, but it’s like just such nuanced, focused work and dramatic work and incredible, so it’s kind of nice to start shooting there and then like cut loose.

Trudy is really frumpy this season.
Yes. It did appear that way. Well, you know at the end of last season we saw her really wanting to move to the country. Matt [Weiner] is always taking these characters in directions that are unexpected but that totally make sense because at first I was like, “Wait. What? How could that happen to Trudy of all people?” Stylish is her thing and realism is her thing, but in the second season and the third season is when she was going through the struggle to have a child. I think we saw this warm side, more mature side to Trudy. She’s a real person who wants genuine things, and so this new side of her actually does make total sense to me in that she had this baby and it was a very difficult thing for her. She finally got it. It was a miracle and now she just wants to go fully into that world. It makes me think of Annie, too, about fully immersing herself in whatever the next thing at hand is. And they’re both perfectionists. And I guess I am, too, kind of, but only when it comes to my work. Not anything else.

Trudy really interested me because when you see her at the beginning you think she’s going to be more like Betty, in that she’ll be cheated upon by Pete, which did happen.
But she’s not as complacent or passive-aggressive, I think, as someone like Betty. To me, Trudy does speak up for herself. The episode where Pete cheats on her with the au pair and she knows is such an interesting episode. She’s a smart lady. You see her make the conscious decision to look the other way, and it was really powerful. And they wrote it in really such a great way that she almost is still putting her foot down while being totally humbled by the situation. So that’s always the interesting dynamic between Pete and Trudy is this constant power struggle and I’m never sure who is really winning.

So how do you feel about being frumpy Trudy? First of all, I loved pregnant Trudy in her many nightgowns.
That was fun. I loved pregnant Trudy. I never realized how much I would love wearing a pregnant belly. Not even in a maternal way at all. It wasn’t, “Oh … I can’t wait to have my own babies.” It just was fun and it was just fun to wear it. It was funny in the clothes. I just kind of liked wearing it. It was a fun accessory to be able to take off. Frumpy Trudy was fun, too.

But Trudy seems like someone who might bounce back, you know? I’m surprised that she hasn’t bounced back.
That’s true. I don’t know that she sees it as a bad thing, you know what I mean? I don’t know that she’s like, “Wow. I really let myself go. I’d better bounce back." I think she’s more discovering this other side of herself that she enjoys out there, you know? And Pete’s just not always into it. Go figure.

And it’s an interesting contrast between frumpy Trudy and frumpy Betty.
Yeah. Trudy really goes for frumpiness …

But Betty looks worse.
You think so?

For sure. So they’re definitely doing like chin things with you guys, right?
Not with me. Thanks a lot. But yeah, they’ve done them. And they’ve done that stuff before, with Elisabeth, Peggy in the first season when she was pregnant, they did those prosthetics as well.

Do you think that Trudy’s going to find out about Pete’s other baby?
I don’t know. I don’t know. Someone on Twitter recently was like, “Yo … I don’t know if you know, but Pete had a baby with Peggy.”

There’s been very different off-season sort of behind-the-scenes stuff with both Mad Men and Community. How do you deal with the fact that you never know when they’re going to renew?
Like I said, we’re so close on the show, so I think that helps us deal with that is that we all have each other. We’ll check in after episodes air and be like, “Hey. The ratings did this. That might be good.” We just all act as a support system for each other and then … you can’t think about it too much. You just can’t think about it too much. You’ve got to kind of just continue to do the next one and to stay busy doing stuff that you enjoy doing. Do you know what I mean?

Do you have any idea whether they’ll do a season four? You’ve been working on it, right?
No. No. We finished shooting our third season, so we’re just waiting to hear if we’ll get renewed for a fourth season. I have no idea.

So I’m going to have to ask. What is going on with the Chevy Chase–Dan Harmon thing?
You know what? I don’t know. I don’t know. I wasn’t at our wrap party for the show because I was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, so I’m the worst person to ask about any of this.

But what is the atmosphere on set? Has that been a problem?
No. No. This year I think our biggest concern is coming back for a fourth season, and that was heavy in the air all year because we were pulled off the air halfway through shooting our season, so I think everyone’s focus was just on bolstering each other and then keeping in touch with the fans and doing good work and showing the network why we should continue to be on the air, and that’s means more to me than whatever mini-dramas are happening behind the scenes; they’re not at the forefront of everyone’s mind all the time.

They’re on the Internet’s mind.
Well, we’ve all looked. That kind of stuff is always just as surprising to me. They’re all like, “a source close to somebody,” and I’m like, “Who? Who is this person?”

From what I read, it was Dan who played the voice mail at this comic-book store show that he does …
Well again, I wasn’t …

You weren’t there.
To be honest, I’ve just been keeping so busy that I don’t have that much of a feel for it.

But does it worry you that this can sort of jeopardize the show in some way?
You know, no. I think that there have been rumors of more dramatic feuds on other shows that have been long-term successes, so I think when it’s a slow news day on the Internet, anything is big news. You know what I mean? But in the scheme of things, it’s a little rift in the tides.

And do you get along with him? Chevy?
I really do. I do. You were looking at me like you were trying to get me.

I’m not trying to get you. I just want to know the truth, okay?
No. No. I do. I do. We have fun with him. It’s that Chevy is still amazing at physical comedy. Nobody throws himself over a chair like him. It’s fun to watch. But I can’t speak for anyone else. But I do. I personally, I do. I hang out with him … get along with him. We are friends.

Yeah. Is he like a dad or a grandpa type on set?
Maybe like …

Or a creepy old uncle?
Not creepy. I was going to go uncle. I was going to go uncle. You said creepy, not me. I did not say creepy.

Now, what was sort of the feedback you got after you wrote the Nerve article [“Homosexual Schmomosexual”]? It’s not a Nerve article. It was actually an excerpt from a book, right?
Yes. Yes. Thank you for clarifying. The only thing that bothered me about it the most was that people thought I had just written some article for this sex website. It was crazy feedback. You know what? I haven’t thought much about it at all, is the funny thing. It started as a live stage show at UCB that friends of mine had put together called Worst Laid Plans: True Tales of Terrible Sex, and it was all true stories that are then embellished and enhanced for comedic value and performance value, and when performed as monologues, I think you have much more control over the tone of a story and kind of how it’s received. So then later when they asked me to be part of the book I was more just flattered and we hadn’t even started shooting Community yet. It was before Community and I just didn’t think anything of it. I just thought it would be this little thing … more than anything else flattered and excited, I think, to feel like, “Oooh, something I wrote is going to be published in a book. How exciting.” But even through that process it was an interesting … you know, you go through with editors and they go, “Well, we don’t want this going off this way,” and “Use ten more this way,” so you go and you tweak things a little bit, so it’s just funny, and of course the book came out like … right when Community had started and people were sort of like … they perceived online as like, this “memoir” of mine or something, like this article I wrote so that people would know. I was kind of like, “Everybody should just relax. It’s meant for comedy. It’s supposed to be funny. It’s based in truth. It’s definitely a true story but it’s embellished for comedy. The headlines were just a little momentarily nerve-wracking.

Like, what was one?
It was like, “Alison Brie: Self-proclaimed slut in college.” And I was like, “Well, my mom’s going to see that.” Now, my mom had seen me perform the stage show and both of my parents know the friend that it’s about, who lives here in New York. I’ve been hanging out with him all weekend … still a good friend of mine … still very gay.

You haven’t turned him yet?
No. I never will. Are you kidding? We talked about it after the story came out and we were laughing about it, and he was just like, “Yeah. And I never attempted sex with a woman ever again.” And I was like, “You’re welcome. Now you know how they really are.” So yeah. It was funny. I remember my mom just cracked up. She thought the headline was really funny. My dad did not think it was as funny, but it took him a couple of years to find it, so by then I had already talked about it ad nauseum, so I was prepared. I was like, “Oh Dad. Just let it go.”

So about how much of it is sort of an embellishment. Were you this free spirit in college?
I was, but I would say if you’re looking at it structurally, the intro to the story is probably the most embellished part. The body of the story is true, and those are the events as I remember them in terms of that escapade. The intro to the story is where most of the embellishment took place because I wanted to set the tone in a certain way that didn’t reflect negatively at all on my friend and made it more like my mission to do this thing, which I sort of remember it being, And I definitely was very experimental in college and I’m just a person who … and this is not just about sex, about getting laid … I’m very just open to trying new things and then just more like, “Well, I’ll try anything once if it’s not too dangerous, why not?” It was an experimental time and place and that kind of environment to try all these different things. That said, it’s not like I was having sex with the entire school or anything like that.

Well, obviously I think you probably didn’t have to take Tai Chi as a required class.
We did have to take the Tai Chi like I said. We did, and it was great. It was great. I loved it.

It was like gym? Like your gym requirement?
Yeah. Well, Cal Arts is an arts conservatory, so you don’t have the same required courses, the same general ed classes as I would imagine normal colleges do. That was part of our theater school training, and it was just about your body and being one. I think physically we all, when we started it, hated it, and by our third year when we no longer were required to take it, me and my friends were all still taking it because we were obsessed with it. And I haven’t done it in years and it’s a bummer. I remember crying.

Now, did you take circus class?
It was always full. It was always full. I could never get into circus class. Taught by the bearded lady. That’s totally true. And we would see people doing stilt walking and I was always jealous, so jealous, because who doesn’t want to take circus class? And I had already worked as a clown, so I was kind of like, “I’m halfway there, you guys,” although it’s a very different skill set, I believe.

What were your clown skills?
Well, balloon animals … I did balloon animals. I painted faces. I would do characters. I would do characters. You know where you bring that big parachute and do like parachute games with like a ball and a boom box and dance around. I was a super-fun clown.

Wait. And where did you work? At like children’s birthday parties?
Yeah. Yeah. At birthday parties all over. It was in conjunction with the company that rented out bounce houses, so it was this small subset of this bigger company in the end where they would send a bounce house and then sometimes people would also order a clown or a character like Snow White. Then you would just go all over.

The other thing from that Nerve essay that you learned was that pretty much anyone would have sex with you because you were easy.
Well, okay. That has truth to it, yes.

I have no judgments. I’m easy, too.
Well, first let me say that, that was meant as a joke. And more of like … that’s my self-deprecating humor. And I do think that, that was something that I learned and even looking back at it in hindsight, I think that because I had been pretty nerdy in high school and not promiscuous. I had a serious boyfriend and it was more innocent, I guess. And when I got to college, it was like this whole new world of feeling like, “Whoa. All these guys are like super into me.” And then later sort of feeling like, “Oh, maybe they’re just super into me because I’m cool with it and I’m going with it.” You know what I mean? Maybe they’re super into anyone that will have sex with them. You know what I mean?

I don’t think there should be any judgments for that.
No, I mean because it’s college, and if you’re not going to do then, then you’re not.

Did things just fall into place for you after art school? Or were you struggling a lot with the acting stuff? And were you doing odd jobs or what happened? Did it sort of happen?
Both. I was very lucky to have a manager come and see me in a play while I was still in school and sort of pickpocket me and set me up with a commercial agent and a theatrical agent right out of college, so I was able to kind of hit the ground running auditions-wise right after I graduated. But I definitely lived at home and worked at three different yoga studios at the front desk, and would do any job. I was doing student films, I was doing PSAs, I was doing really low-budget movies and just anything. And plays. And then actually that’s how I was able to quit my day job, doing theater in Ventura. While I was doing theater I booked Mad Men and so everything just kind of went from there. Very lucky, but also a lot of work was put in, and it was definitely a conscious decision to live at home so that I could work a job that didn’t pay very much but had super-flexible hours. I moved out a year ago.

Back to Community. How would you say Annie is evolving? How would you sum up Annie right now?
Gosh. I think she’s just trying to figure it all out. I used to always say that with Annie it was always two steps forward and one step back, because as she progresses into adulthood or can be the voice of reason and has become much more streetwise than she was at the start of our first season, for every two steps of her progress she’s kind of thrown back, I think constantly knocked back by her own drive and immature behavior. So this year I think it’s way more than one step back, since she started living with the guys, but at the same time I think she’s definitely much more mature. She’s definitely growing up in a lot of ways.

So she has seen a penis, right?
Yeah. Giant dove in a turtleneck. Whoopty-doo. But I think just that once. Just that one time.

Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images