Alison Brie is a talented and fortunate actress. Not only is she a part of one of TV’s best comedies (Community), she’s also got Mad Men listed on her resume. Now she has something else to add – The Five-Year Engagement, in which she co-stars as Emily Blunt‘s impulsive younger sister, sharing most of her scenes with the very funny Chris Pratt (NBC’s Parks and Recreation). We recently had the chance to speak with Brie about her character, her faux-British accent in the film, and whether she prefers to be known as a serious or comedic actress.
You and Chris Pratt steal so many of the scenes in the film. Were you in charge of bringing up the mood whenever it got down?
Alison Brie: It was a great thing to be in charge of anytime. They were such fun characters. Chris and I were given this amazing gift of these incredible characters who are so fun and passionate and impulsive. On a project like this, where there is so much improv and freedom, it’s better to be playing these free and outrageous characters because then it’s constant fun and irreverence. It was amazing.
Do you find those kinds of roles hard to come by?
AB: It was a different role for me. I am usually playing more buttoned-up conservative characters for some reason. This character is more similar to myself so it was more fun. I was excited to get a bit of a change, well a large bit of change because there was also the accent.
Was that something you just had in your arsenal?
I had been working on British accent CD’s for about a month before I even knew about this project just coincidentally for no reason. I had been doing them in my car on my way to work because I thought, “You know, I should brush up on my British accent just in case.” Low and behold, then I got a call about the table read and then 20 minutes I got a frantic call from my agent saying, “Wait! Here’s the thing about the table read, they want you to do a British accent.” He was really bummed thinking it was off, but I told him, “Wait no, I can do it!” I never felt more prepared. It was a good actor moment of patting myself on the back. It was fate.
What other accents do you have?
AB: I have Irish and German.
Did you do anything else besides hearing the CDs?
AB: I watched a lot of Emily [Blunt] – the Devil Wears Prada so many times, just prior to the table read so that I could sound like her. After the table read, she made me recordings of herself and doing drills so that I could practice sounding like her. I wanted to sound like Emily because I was playing her sister. It wasn’t just about the accent, but also about her cadences and the way that she talks and jokes. I have a sister and I know that we talk alike, we don’t just have American accents, we like talk the same. Does that make sense?
What about when you two switch into Muppets?
AB: Well that’s the funny thing because after all the work on the British accent, I know because Nick Stoller has confirmed this, that it’s the elmo voice that got me the job. I did all this or on the accent and then maybe watched a YouTube video of Elmo two or three times and I said, “Oh yeah I got that.” When I did the table read, Nick runs up at end of the reading, super excited and said, “That Elmo voice huh? How’d you do that?” The Elmo just came naturally, who knew I had that gift. It was a surprise.
What was your relationship with Emily on set?
AB: Amazing. Very sisterly. I was lucky to go out to Michigan. They had us all come out about a week early so that we could all hang out. We all hit it off immediately. Chris is such a sweet heart; Emily is amazing; obviously Jason’s [Segel] great. I think that Emily and I felt a closeness immediately. She was so encouraging to me with the accent and everything like that and so it felt sisterly. It was like I was being taken care of by her, which was great.
Hearing yourself, did you feel unrecognizable?
AB: It’s cool to see and feel like it’s going to be so different from these other characters I’ve played. I was very relieved that the accent sounded genuine. It’s a daunting thing to do. My mother said that it wasn’t weird for her to watch it because it didn’t seem like she was watching me. I was like, “Thanks. Is it usually weird when you watch me in other stuff?” I think she was excited to see me in a movie, in this big movie.
And you were just saying that you felt this character was more like you. More than Annie [Brie's character on Community]?
AB: Well, Annie is a bit younger than me. I’m not as crazy as this character. I don’t cry as much or fight with anyone as much as she does. But in terms of the way, the banter and the way she jokes around felt more natural to me. There are so many similarities between Annie and I these days because that character has evolved so much, and I’ve put so much of myself in it as well. It’s probably a toss up between the two but they are on different sides of the spectrum.
What does your character do for a job? Is it ever mentioned?
AB: We never talk about it. It’s never brought up. Once she gets married and has kids, she does not work for sure. There’s a line where I say I wanted to be a kinesiologist and was never able to do it, but I always pictured her just working at like some vintage clothing shop or something. Her wardrobe is so wacky. She was like that girl who never had it figured out, or maybe going back to community college – well – taking a few classes here and there, but not commenting to anything and then maybe getting another job temping somewhere. I just picture her being all over the place.
At first when we see you and Chris interact, he’s making a pass at you. I love how it ended up playing. What was your reaction when you were reading that scene?
AB: I feel like I knew immediately where it gearing towards. Maybe it’s just girl instinct, but any guy that you say to, “Hey this isn’t happening,” is like so the guy that it’s happening with. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t say anything, you’d just leave. When I was reading it, I remember saying, “Uh oh.” Especially because they are such disasters at the start to the film that it makes sense.
They figure out how to have a more functional relationship though.
AB: Absolutely. It’s sort of the whole lesson of the movie which is that this other couple are trying so hard to control everything and they are waiting for everything to be careful, and then these other characters who are so impulsive act and then clean up the mess as they go. They’re life seems to work out perfectly, but it’s because of the way that the embrace everything that comes along. Their lives could have been disastrous, but they appreciate them and go with them.
How is it like working opposite Chris?
AB: So fun. Chris is so divine. He couldn’t be here because he’s shooting a huge movie. I just adore him. He’s the entire package: sweet, funny and whip smart. He’s improv skills are incredible. We just hit it off right away. Our characters were so out there, we got to have a ton of fun just getting super passionate in terms of fighting, then we had kids. We had a blast.
A lot of the cast comes from hit TV comedies right now, did you notice that at all?
AB: Yeah, Mindy [Kaling] and I were talking about it earlier. Is it a coincidence or is it not because there’s something about Thursday night comedies on NBC that have a certain tone and I think a certain quality level that’s set and so because it’s this comedic voice – Mindy has a better knowledge of this than me – but we were saying that a lot of the comedy that we’re doing on our shows, is reformed by [Judd] Apatow films and their sense of humor and that kind of realistic thing, especially because we work on single camera comedies. It makes sense that we would fit into this world since the work we are doing is fueled by it. We’re always ready for anything.
Was there anything challenging or that you dreaded doing for this movie?
AB: The accent was a big challenge and I put a lot of work into it. The accent and the improv at the same time were challenging. It was the two-punch thing.
What about the kids?
AB: The kids. [Laughs] That’s a good point. Kids can be tough to work with. Those little boys that played our son, they were adorable and wonderful but for some reason, terrified of Chris. The little girl was so sweet, but she was terrified of the crossbow scene, she hated having to hurt Emily because she would scream out and felt it was her fault. The little boys were terrified of Chris. The first day we met them was the day we were shooting the funeral scene. We were suppose to sit back there with our kids just looking great, but these boys would not stop crying because Chris would lean in and say something. Eventually we told Nick to just roll on them crying. That’s what in the film. We had a whole bit of me trying to get something from the bag and improving anything we could based on the kid. He dictated that scene.
You have a kid on Mad Men now.
AB: I do, little Tammy.
We haven’t seen you in the past few episodes, do you show up again?
AB: I believe so.
So far it’s been the season of the women.
AB: Yeah, they’re killing it. I love that show. I’m such a fan of it. It’s great to be on it, but when I watch it, because I don’t get to read the episodes I’m not in, when it airs, I’m always like, “Ah, this is a great show.”
Is there any show on TV that you would just kill to be on? A guest star role?
AB: It was Bored to Death, but that’s no longer on the air. I would have killed to be on that show. I loved Bored to Death. Charming guys. I love Children’s Hospital. We’ve tried to get me on it, but it has not worked out with scheduling. They are so funny. That’s my favorite show.
Did you ever have a specific career role about being a dramatic or comedic actress?
AB: When I was maybe in High School and very idealistic thinking that you could really plan your career, and naive about that, I’m sure I had certain ideas about it then and after college I did realize that I had to let that go. It was more about doing whatever role I could get my hands on because I wanted to work and to act and through that process learning what I loved to do which is almost anything. It’s been hard to limit genres for me. I just love doing this so much, I have to find a genre that’s not for me.
Do you have any interest in writing or directing?
AB: I don’t know about directing, maybe writing. I would consider it, but I don’t know. I have to have some ideas first. I have a few. We’ll see if I ever have the courage. If I have down time maybe I’ll explore that.
What do you have coming up next?
AB: I just finished working on a film called Get A Job, directed by Dylan Kid and it stars Miles Teller, Anna Kendrick, and Bryan Cranston. It’s a great group of people. It’s a comedy about the job market today and these kids graduating from college and their trouble finding work. I play the head of human resources for this company who is very dirty, you could say. That was fun.
The Five-Year Engagement opens Friday, April 27th.