the vulture transcript

Anna Faris on The Dictator, Her Fantasy Theater Refuge, and Playing Idiots

Anna Faris. Photo: Richie Buxo/Splash News

Anna Faris’s famously elastic face is just as animated in person as it is onscreen. Her lips appear to be doing calisthenics as she forms words, and her eyes widen whenever she makes a wry comment — like when she says she expected to be working at Starbucks, instead of starring in films. At the time of the interview, she had yet to announce her pregnancy with her husband, Parks and Rec actor Chris Pratt, and there was certainly no evidence on her diminutive frame. As she curled up on a lushly upholstered couch at the Waldorf Astoria while promoting the Sacha Baron Cohen fascist romp The Dictator, Faris talked about her role as a crunchy Brooklyn cause-haver, her dreams for a remote theater refuge in the Pacific Northwest, and playing idiots.

I saw The Dictator last night. It was a lot of fun.
How was that screening? I keep hearing sort of …

What did you hear?
Oh, just that different journalists were like, “It was crazy, it was crazy … “

Oh, I mean it’s the 42nd Street theater. People were into it, though.
Oh, good.

I didn’t think it was that crazy. What are you filming in London?
It’s a movie called I Give It a Year. It’s a SudioCanal movie with Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall and Simon Baker. It’s a rom-com.

What’s your character?
I play a character who’s a very real girl. She’s kind of like me, if I’m a real girl. I don’t know. She’s very insecure and she’s American. She works for a nonprofit; she’s been gone in Africa for a long time and she kind of comes back into a married man’s life.

Is it more serious than other rom-coms that you’ve done?
Yeah, yeah.

So it’s more of a rom-dram?
[Laughs.] Ha-ha! Rom-dram!

I thought that the role in The Dictator was a bit of a departure from your usual bubbly blonde character. Was that what drew you to the role?
Yeah, I mean, I guess. I was really just excited to work with Sacha. I was sort of ready to play any role that they wanted me to. But yeah, I loved sort of playing a character that’s not vain, and clearly not too concerned with the aesthetic end. And I think part of the comedy is that his character has never met or known a girl like that. For me, it was awesome. It was great.

Did he write it with you in mind?
I don’t think so, no. They asked me to come in to, like, meet him for this top secret project. I was like, “Okay … ” So they didn’t give me, like, the script, or the sides or anything. So we went in and we did some improv scenes and then, like, a couple of months passed and I was like, “Oh, I wonder what happened with that.” And then they offered the role to me but yeah, I was just thrilled.

What were the scenes that you improvised?
They were nothing really based in the movie except for a scene where I find out that he is the general, or he’s the dictator. So they would give us a scenario, like, okay, you’re falling in love with this guy, and then you just found out that’s he’s actually a horrible dictator. So, go.

I have to ask, was the armpit hair fake?
No. It was mine. It was all mine. It’s the first time I haven’t worn extensions. [Laughs.]

Are you at all political like that character?
Yeah, a little bit. I mean, I grew up in Seattle; I went to the University of Washington. I think there was a time in my life where I felt like maybe I identified with that gal a little bit. I used to sort of consider myself a feminist, an environmentalist; and I still have some of that in me, but I’ve done so many offensive comedies I’m now worn down to a little nub of … nub of an activist. But I think I love those elements of her.

In the great New Yorker profile of you last year, your agent said he’s wary when people try to go outside the box with you, when they want you to play a cop, or a spy, and that really annoys you. Is that something that still bothers you? Do you still want to do things that are even more far afield than the comedies that you’re known for?
Yeah. I don’t think anybody really wants to know their limits. I think I’d like to think I play all kinds of roles. I don’t know if I can or not, but I like to explore that idea. But I do feel really lucky because I feel like compared to a lot of actors, I have been able to play — I mean, it’s all sort of mostly in the comedy world — but a lot of different types of people; some insane people, some really awful people, mostly all really dumb people. So yeah, I feel pretty fortunate in that. And I think that though, the big thing with that in Hollywood with sort of breaking that idea is time. It just takes time to build up a repertoire with roles.

Is there anything that you’d especially like to do?
Well, there’s characters on my mind that I want to play, that I want to create and develop. I like the idea of sort of playing quieter roles, which would be refreshing for a minute. It is exhausting being really loud and obnoxious.

I’ll bet. Are you developing any characters right now?
Yeah, there’s something that I’m sort of working on, but I feel like it’s too early to talk about.

Anything mid-stage that you could talk about?
Bill Hader and I have a project together where we play twins, both incredibly depressed, and it’s actually really serious. It’s already written. It’s called The Skeleton Twins. We’re just hoping that financing will come along soon, but it’s a great project. We’re both excited about going down that path. I think all actors, maybe everybody in general has a desire maybe to surprise people. So I think that idea is exciting.

Your movie from last year, What’s Your Number? was set up in the media as something of a litmus test for a woman-led comedy. How did you feel about the movie’s reception?
Well, I think it’s always a little sad when something you’ve worked on and loved isn’t loved the way you love it. But I guess you just sort of move forward. I love that movie, but I think it’s like my 32nd movie maybe, so it’s kind of like at some point you just have to distance yourself a little bit from the economic sort of part of this industry. You have to, you’re forced to.

Were you heartened by the success of Bridesmaids? Has that actually made it easier to get movies about flawed female characters made? Has it felt like there’s been a shift since last year?
I think so. I mean, I think it’s still scary for Hollywood to sort of commit money to a messy woman. And to a lesser extent, but to some degree, a messy guy as well. But yeah, I do think it’s shifted the conversation because it used to be the conversation when I was pitching movies was always like, “Well, what’s it rated?” And if we said R it was like, “Well, no, it’s got to be PG-13.” Or, either that or the conversation was like, “How do we make this girl likable?” So then you’re forced with the burden of like, winning. You know, the whole cliché is like you want the women in the audience to want you to be their best friend, and the men in the audience to fall in love with you. That’s a whole hell of a lot to be saddled with, and it’s very limiting. So, I’d like to think that that conversation’s shifting.

Are you seeing any evidence?
No, I’m not seeing any evidence. [Laughs.] No.

Would you make another Scary Movie movie?
I would, but I think that they’re going to, from what I hear, they’re going to revamp it or call it something —

A reboot?
Reboot. I think that’s the plan. I’m not positive, though. But I have a very, very fond place in my heart for Cindy Campbell.

I know that was your big break. Do you feel like your career has been calculated? Or just a series of breaks? Do you have a master plan?
I think the master plan is just to have a really good time for as long as I can. Yeah, I mean, I always like to take roles that are really interesting to me, and fun, and I’m really grateful. I never anticipated ending up in the comedy world, but …

Where did you think you’d end up?
I thought I would end up at Starbucks, working the machines. But when I was growing up and I was acting, it was always very dramatic stuff. And I didn’t really have a sense of humor. I was a very, very serious kid. So then to sort of end up in the comedy world was really very odd and I was very insecure for a long time, like, “I have no idea why I’m here.” But I feel really, really lucky that that’s been sort of the journey, and I think the master plan is just to do things that I love and work with great people.

Do you think you have a sense of humor now?
Yeah, I think I’m pretty good at laughing at myself.

Your husband started out doing comedies like you, and it seems like he’s recently been able to cross over into more serious stuff like Moneyball, and I know he’s in the upcoming Kathryn Bigelow movie. Do you think it’s easier for him to cross over in that way because of his gender, or do you think every career is different in its path?
I think that it’s sort of every opportunity and everything is incredibly different. I mean, I think that he probably … actually, I don’t know. I don’t want to speak for him, so I don’t know. Yeah, but I mean as far as my goal, I would love to be able to do something dramatic here and there, but I hope that my career is mainly focused on comedy, for as long as I can. So, I haven’t really been incredibly active in pursuing really dramatic stuff.

There’s a really funny moment in that New Yorker profile where you had a list of actresses you compete with for roles, that you hope get pregnant. You talked about wanting to start a family. Is that still something where the timing seems complicated, or is it something that you’re trying to figure out?
It’s something that we really want to do. And we’ll figure out the time. I mean, we’re both in our thirties now, and I think that our priorities are kind of shifting. I think it would be great to start a family. It’d be great to have maybe a place up in Washington State that we could sort of retreat to. We have a fantasy of starting a weird little theater company on an island in Washington State. It would be incredible. And just, you know, putting on weird plays and training the locals … not even training them, they would train us.

That sounds like an amazing family. Is it just that you wouldn’t want to raise a family in Los Angeles?
I don’t know. I think if you do it right you can raise a great kid anywhere. I just think that it’s hard for me to not feel sometimes like my industry and my job is the most important thing in my life. I’d like to feel like it’s not what everyone around me’s talking about. You know, just a retreat would be great. And I certainly don’t want that kind of thing for future kids and stuff.

What’s going on with the movie Gold Diggers — the Kate Hudson project you were developing that you described as the female Wedding Crashers?
I don’t know. That’s been sort of on pause. It’s with Paramount, which has [The Dictator]. I think we probably need to update the script and work on that a little bit, but with any project, you know it goes through waves of momentum. And I realize now with some distance — because House Bunny was the first movie that I developed, and it happened so fast, I sort of thought that’s how everything kind of worked. So it’s been an interesting lesson to realize, oh, projects, like, stay in development for years and then maybe something happens. So, I still want to make it, I need to sort of finish up with this current project.

Is it frustrating to have things in limbo?
Yeah, but I think you accept it. It definitely makes it all the more rewarding if actually something happens. But, yeah, it’s frustrating. But it’s even more frustrating to wait around for an audition and see if you’ll, like, get a role and feeling like you have absolutely no control over your future.

Do you still have to audition for things or do people tend to come to you?
No, I don’t really audition for much. I auditioned for The Dictator, but usually a lot of the stuff I’m doing now, I’m usually a part of the process before the movie gets financed, or something like that, so it’s a little different. Sometimes I do long for the days when I auditioned and if by some miracle I got the role, like three weeks later you’re shooting. You’ve got a job. That was amazing.

Have you made any headway in your goal to have an Apatow-style all-girl production team?
No! I mean, I guess … not really. That’s not exactly true. I haven’t formally done anything, but being in a part of, like, the community, in the sort of comedic world, is now it’s so different from when I first got to LA. And also it’s great because my husband is friends with all these people. Now there’s just a different feeling when you talk to other actresses, there’s this feeling of, like, let’s do something together, instead of when I first moved to L.A. where it was like, oh, we’re up for the same role. There is a feeling of camaraderie, and the feeling is, like, isn’t this sort of impossible, isn’t this sort of hard? Well, let’s doing something together, wouldn’t it be cool, will you come do a little thing in my movie? It’s an empowering feeling, which is great.

Who are the actresses that are in that world?
Well, like Zooey Deschanel, and Rashida [Jones], and Amy Poehler, and Abby Elliott, and Kristen Wiig — I mean, she’s on a different level. I don’t know, but she’s like scraping around. The cool thing, though, she’s such a leader and supporter of that kind of collaboration. So, that’s really amazing. It’s just nice when you see these actresses and you’re friends with them and they’re like, I like that person, love to work with them, and I think we just all have each other’s backs. And maybe I’m naive in that way, but it feels like that.

You were talking about the women who are in that comedy circle. Who do you think are your peers in terms of when you go up for roles?
Oh, I have no idea.

No idea?
I have no idea. I mean, I really don’t. Part of it is because I don’t ask because I don’t really want to know. Part of it is ‘cause it changes all the time, and part of it is, too, I think it’s … I feel like I’ve done enough, so people either know that they want me or they know if they don’t. It’s kind of interesting. But when I was first starting out, it was, like, all the American Pie girls; I was always losing jobs to all of them, I remember. It just, like, shifted; every six months it was somebody else. It was funny.

Before you go back to London to shoot, tell me a little bit about I Give it a Year.
It’s directed by Dan Mazer, who executive produced this movie, The Dictator, and he’s been with Sasha [Baron Cohen] for a long time. I love that it’s very British in that all of the dialogue is very quick, and witty, and fun to say, and it’s all very dialogue-based humor. There’s nobody slipping and falling on a fucking bra or whatever. So that’s a great sort of change of pace. It’s very actor-y. It’s been a while since I’ve done a movie with like three other really professional, amazing actors. It’s really rewarding to sit around and laugh and play with these people who are all  so good at what they do.

Anna Faris on The Dictator and Playing Idiots