Alison Brie is at Sundance with the film Save the Date, in which she plays a sister planning her wedding. The film speaks to themes of relationships and communication, bucking the Hollywood clichés of bridezillas and rom-coms. Brie plays Beth, engaged to Andrew (Martin Starr), and trying to micromanage her commitment-phobic sister Sarah (Lizzy Caplan) a little. After the interview was over Brie kept talking about her upcoming role in The Five Year Engagement as Emily Blunt’s sister, doing an accent and everything, but we got in deep about Save the Date, Community and Mad Men.
CraveOnline: What can a guy who just can’t get excited about gift bags do to show his fiancé love during wedding planning?
Alison Brie: Well, I was going to make a joke. The dirty joke that crossed my mind is inappropriate.
Say the joke. We’re CraveOnline, we can run it.
You were going to joke about sacks?
Yeah, it was going to be about sex.
No, specifically a man’s sack.
Oh, sack. I thought you said sex. Oh boy.
So after all that, make the joke.
No, no, the joke has come and gone. Pun intended.
Okay, so now the serious answer.
The serious answer, well, I just think it’s difficult. I am not married but I’ve been the maid of honor. I was in two weddings last year and it was interesting for me to see that disconnect. I think it’s natural that it ends up happening. I mean, it’s not natural I guess but it’s interesting. A wedding, people decide to get married, it comes out of such love for one another and then women can turn into these other people. They’re planning something that’s the biggest event they’ll ever plan in their lives and it turns them into this other person, so it’s not totally the guy’s fault that he’s feeling disconnected from this person. I just think there is a way for guys to at least pretend like they care about the decision making process instead of totally checking out.
But not to fake interest, there must be a way to be genuinely excited and cooperate even if gift bags or other minutiae just aren’t your thing.
Yeah, I think on the other side of that, I think women are really good at pretending they like sports.
You aren’t into sports?
Hey, I can get into sports. I can get into it and actually enjoy it if the person I love enjoys it. Then I’m like, “All right, I’m on board, let’s do it.” So I think that it’s just about if a couple is connected and their communication lines are good, then that sort of thing shouldn’t be such a disconnect I guess.
Another interesting aspect of this is what if you want someone you love to feel something that just isn’t in their wheelhouse?
That’s a tough one because I think that you can’t really control anyone other than yourself, so you’re setting yourself up for disappointment when you’re trying to just always get something from someone that they’re not willing or capable of giving.
So it’s about self managing expectations?
Or open communication. I think it’s important to be honest with yourself about what you want and it’s important to be honest with your partner about what you need. Hopefully if people are truly in love… Hey, I’m no expert on love.
But the movie really talks it out.
Yeah, as much as I feel like a lot of our scenes are very tense and we have some passive aggressive moments, but there are some good scenes where we really say what we’re feeling and are good communicators. Eventually that’s why they end up reconnecting by the end.
You are so different in every role.
What are the subtle characteristics that you work with to distinguish Beth and Annie and Trudy and everyone you play?
Well, I think the characters themselves are written differently. They’re different characters, they’re different ages, they live in different time periods. There are large key differences about these characters already that it’s not my job to bring. I just hope that I’m bringing some element of truth to these characters that are already kind of laid out. Honestly, I’m probably more tying them together than separating them because I’m always going to try to find some sort of common ground between myself and a character to sympathize with the character. I guess finding a common ground that’s a deeper part of who I am but at the same time I do like to make the characters really different. They’re voices are different, they walk differently. I think those physical things as well as the type of language they use with people they’re close to.
The voice is very apparent. The walk is more subtle, like I can tell it’s unique but what exactly is it?
Yeah, I just think it comes down to again looking at these characters and going, “Who is this person and how do they interact with their friends?” They just are all different.
How do you describe Beth?
Beth I think is a very misunderstood character in this movie. I think that we’re just seeing her out of sorts. The Beth that we see in the movie I think is not the person that she is most of the time. How we see her at the very beginning of the film and at the very end of the film are I think her truest moments. In the middle it’s this other person. He talks about it, saying, “This is not the girl I fell in love with.” And I don’t think she is. It’s a lot of self-involved characters. They are.
I would even describe Beth as a normal girl, but she’s way too mature than any person I’ve ever met in real life, so that makes her exotic.
Yeah, I think that because her sister is kind of so all over the place, and her boyfriend is this musician, she feels like she’s the glue holding it all together and that can be daunting. Even though she puts it on herself, later when she’s punishing herself that’s wrong, that is a selfish moment, but I don’t think in general she tries to be selfish. I think more she tries to take care of everyone and make them do the right thing.
And that’s something we all need to learn, that we can’t save other people. We just have to represent ourselves.
I think also to some people, there is that instinct when there’s people that you love, especially if it’s your sister and you feel like they’re f***ing up, it’s a protective instinct more than a hurtful instinct. She goes about it in the wrong way but I think her intentions start out good.
Sure, it’s well meaning, but it’s just not going to work.
Are you a low maintenance girl?
I think I used to be lower maintenance. I think I’m slowly becoming higher maintenance.
What do you do?
What don’t I do? I don’t know what that means.
What do you demand?
No, I don’t know. I’m pretty low key. I’m pretty mellow. I’m not super demanding. That stuff is a different side of me. I don’t relate to Beth in that way. I’ve never been that kind of girl that’s like, “I’m going to have my dream wedding. I can’t wait to get married. I’m fantasizing about it. It has to be perfect.” Even though I play a lot of characters that are very type A like that, I’m not really as much that way in my real life but I do feel like I’ve been becoming more that way a little bit. Maybe it’s because I’m growing up, I suddenly feel a sense that I should be more responsible. The dynamic for me is more like my older sister is more the Beth and I would be more the Sarah in the equation for sure.
Has it been hard to go back to work on Community with all the uncertainty on NBC’s schedule?
No, I think it’s been the opposite actually. Since the show was put on hiatus, when something is possibly going to be taken away from you, you just remember why you appreciate it so much. I don’t want to jinx it at all but it’s just nice to appreciate every moment that we can keep making the show and have so much fun and hang with my friends and enjoy what we do. So it’s actually been really fun and almost maybe there’s more of a freedom to it, like well, if this is it we better just love it while we have it.
What does Annie get to do?
So much stuff. I’m trying to think, suddenly I feel like because we don’t know when the show’s coming back, they’ve been asking us to be a bit more tight lipped about stuff, even though I know it’s usually the opposite of Mad Men and we can just say anything about it. There are so many good episodes we’ve been shooting. We did a really cool Law & Order episode. We’re starting to see a mature side of Annie again. I feel like Annie always matures throughout the season and then when they take the summer off, when she comes back it’s like two steps forward and one step back every year.
It sure was adorable though when she had a tantrum at the model U.N.
Yes, that happened. [Laughs] I love Annie’s freakouts. I’m a sucker for a good freakout so that’s fun but we do see her taking control a little more.
Are you in a lot of the new Mad Men season?
I am in it. I don’t even think I’m allowed to talk about how much I’m in it but I pop in.
But you’re in it. That’s great.
It’s great. It’s going to be a really great season and that starts airing in March.
What was it like to be back on that set after longer than usual?
It was different because normally we start shooting on that before Community. It was funny having already been back in the Community schedule to get back in the groove. I always get a little nervous and excited to go back on the set of Mad Men. Once I get there it’s really easy to transform. The hair and makeup team is incredible. Jane Bryant, the costume designer is so extraordinary and the scripts are so amazing, you fall right back into it.
At Sundance, how much sleep are you getting?
Not very much. Last night I think I got the most. I was hanging out, revolving door at our house.