When first starting out in the industry, all actors dream of landing a role on a project so beloved by people that it becomes a cult hit that lives on forever. Alison Brie just so happened to land two, right around the same time and right when she was just breaking out into the industry. Even better? They were nothing alike. On Mad Men, she portrayed the role of Trudy Campbell, a proper 1960’s housewife; on Community, a hyperactive and over-achieving collegiate that allowed her to flex her comedy muscles.
Transformation is part of Brie’s favorite aspect of acting, and so for her latest role, as a female wrestler of on Netflix’s GLOW, she “fought tooth and nail” for the very physically demanding part. “It’s fun to take on a different era and have a different style of hair and makeup and wardrobe and to be in a leotard, constantly,” she says. “The appeal of the physicality of the show, having to actually do our own stunts and our own wrestling seemed like a very exciting idea. We had to answer a number of questions about what kind of physical shape we were in.” Here, Brie talks about how she landed her first television roles, bulking up for GLOW, and her first kiss.
How old were you when you thought you wanted to act?
I wanted to act since I was a little bean sprout. I was probably, you know I was doing singing and dancing shows for my neighbors when I was four or five years old and would just go around the neighborhood harassing my neighbors and performing for them.
I didn’t start working professionally until after college. I got a commercial agent before college and then I went to Cal Art for theater school and it was very much frowned upon to have an agent which I quickly realized was because the school load was pretty intense in terms of our acting classes during the day and working crew or being in plays in the evening.
What was the first thing you booked?
The first job I ever booked was an episode of Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel starring Miley Cyrus. It was the first season of the show so I knew nothing about it. It was sort of like, “Oh! Billy Ray Cyrus is on a show? What is this?” I played Miley’s brother’s character’s sort of love interest for the episode. I was a kooky hairdresser and what I remember most about the episode is that for my audition, I came in and took a big swing at a Long Island accent which was not requested. And then, I kept doing. Later I was sitting in the hallway and I heard them telling other actresses as they were coming in, “And could you do a bit of a Long Island or like New York accent?” And then when I got the role, I got there for my first day of filming and they said “Everything looks great. Just lose the accent.”
How soon after that did you get Mad Men?
Pretty soon. Within a year I was doing regional theater in Ventura County. I guess you can call it regional theater. I was playing Ophelia in Hamlet at Rubicon Theater. My managers at the time dropped me because I went to go do that play. But I could still drive into LA for auditions and so I auditioned for Mad Men and that was maybe my third job on the screen.
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The working title of our show was not Fosse/Verdon—it was just Fosse, but then the producers got smart. They realized that Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse were romantic and creative partners who remained entangled until the end of his life. It was the right time, in 2019, to make a show about a partnership. It was also the first time that I’ve had pay parity with a male costar and equal space to voice my thoughts. I’d never experienced anything like it. Since I felt completely supported, I could jump higher and take more risks.
You started acting as a child. Did you find that people treated you—and continue to treat you—in a diminishing way?
Absolutely. When you’re physically small, when men hug you, they pick you up off the floor. That doesn’t happen anymore.
What’s your favorite Fosse musical?
Cabaret. When I performed the song “Maybe This Time” [on Broadway, in 2014], it never didn’t get to me. I’m sad that I’ll never sing it again. Musicals are deep in me: When I did a tap dance for Fosse/Verdon, I realized it returned me to this very primal love, before anything negative was associated with acting, work, or identity. I felt like I was a little girl. It was a genuine moment of joy.
Williams wears a Louis Vuitton turtleneck, skirt, belt, and boots.
I started out doing stand-up comedy at U.C. Davis and then moved to San Francisco, which has one of the most interesting comedy scenes in the country. In comedy, we’re all mutants and we share these different superpowers. Early on, I learned that humor is a way to break tension. It’s a very powerful tool.
Is it easier for you to be autobiographical or political?
I came from The Daily Show, where you are steeped in politics and the news. It’s your life, day in and day out. But for me, as an Indian-American Muslim, I always felt this insider/outsider relationship with America. And because of my background, at this moment in time, the personal and the political merged.
Do your parents worry when your show takes on Saudi Arabia?
Sure. That episode was banned in Saudi Arabia, and my parents said, “We don’t want you causing international outrage and controversy.” They said, “Please just tell embarrassing stories about your childhood.”
Minhaj wears a Prada jacket, pants, and belt; Jil Sander shirt; Shinola bracelet; Dior Men boots.
I honestly didn’t know much about witchcraft before starting on Sabrina, but now I realize it’s just dudes being scared of women and their power.
You were a child on Mad Men. Have you finally seen the episodes you were too young to watch?
I have now seen Mad Men. I can say I’m a fan, but it’s weird to watch your 6-year-old self. Oftentimes, while I was watching, I’d forget that I was in the show. So many things happened to Sally on Mad Men before they happened in my real life: My first kiss was onscreen; I got my TV period before my real period. I was prepared for everything because on Mad Men Sally was a little ahead of me. She taught me the ways of the world.
Shipka wears a Chloé dress; Isabel Marant belt; Cartier ring.
Tell me about kissing Chris Hemsworth.
I was on the shoot for Bad Times at the El Royale, and I still hadn’t met Chris. He played a cult leader, and I was his devoted follower. I knew he was on set, and I wanted to meet him because we had a kissing scene that day. At the last minute—we still hadn’t met—we were about to make out, and I’m like, “How many kids do you have? Oh, you have three kids,” and then—“Action!” He was really nice, but it was super-awkward, and they ended up dropping the scene from the film.
You cut your hair very short for Devs. Is androgyny part of your character?
Yes. The show has to do with a tech company. Secret stuff. My character is really smart and knows quantum physics, so that’s kind of like a superpower. I was supposed to shave my head for the part, and I was always down for that. I think I’m going to shave it all off anyway: I’m so into being bald.
Spaeny wears a Bottega Veneta sweater; Sophie Buhai earrings; Tiffany & Co. ring (right hand); Cartier ring (left hand); Manolo Blahnik shoes.
My first part was in a film called Complicity. I played a boy who gets raped and then kills his rapist. I was 11 years old. It was baptism by fire.
In your TV projects, you seem to undergo torture or get killed a lot.
I love a good death, and I’ve had a few really good demises in my time. On Game of Thrones, I was killed at the Red Wedding. That was my favorite death: full of arrows and then they cut off my head. I was covered in blood and my limbs were hanging off.
Do you have any surprising secret skills?
No. I went to drama school to learn all those skills, and then I was like, “I ain’t going to sing or dance in films, so I’m not going to singing or dancing class. And I can’t be bothered with the fencing class, because I won’t be fencing.” Cut to: I have been sword fighting for half my life and now I’ve had to sing and dance. This is why you should go to class. Kids: Stay in school.
Madden wears a Givenchy jacket; Calvin Klein Underwear tank top; Dries Van Noten pants; Shinola bracelet; Dior Men shoes.
My agent called me and said, “They’re casting a show about a women’s wrestling television program in the ’80s.” I said, “I want that job!” However, I very quickly learned that the producers didn’t think I was right.
Why? Too petite?
Yes, but I’ve secretly been strength training for years. After four auditions, I wore them down. And yes, I’ve learned how to wrestle and throw women across a ring. It’s incredibly empowering.
Do you ever practice by beating up your husband?
I don’t ever beat up my husband. I’ve been known to wrestle our cat a little bit. He doesn’t love it.
Brie wears a Givenchy sweater and skirt; Balenciaga boots.
When I was 12, I was washing dishes at home and the Tony Awards came on. It was the year Dreamgirls was up for best musical and Jennifer Holliday sang “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” I was in shock: all of these beautiful black people in high fashion with gowns and hair and makeup. At that time, you didn’t see a lot of people of color on television, dripping in style. And Jennifer Holliday sang like I knew how to sing in church, except she was on television! The connection of money, style, and television launched me into this space where I thought, That’s what I’m going to do. I can be that.
How did Pose come about?
They called me in to play the dance teacher. I was like, “Well, this ain’t quite the role I want, but…” I told them at the audition that I felt I’d lived through the world of Pose. I said, “Wouldn’t you need a father figure in the ballroom world?” Because one of the things that’s so powerful about Paris Is Burning [which influenced Pose] is that it’s about a marginalized group of people who had nothing in a world where people were dying of AIDS. And they chose life anyway. I wanted to tell that story.
Porter wears a Thom Browne dress and shoes; Wolford fishnets; his own jewelry.
I moved to California from London because I wanted to be happy. My very first audition was for The Good Place, and it went great: I am now on a show opposite Ted Danson, my hero. As a young girl, I always fancied Ted! Is that creepy? Am I creepy? But, my Lord, he’s still so hot.
Were you on social media before the show began? You currently have 2 million followers on Instagram.
The Good Place asked me to join Instagram, and now I use it to scream at people [laughs]. In all honesty, I think I’ve found a genuine community of people online who are tired of being erased. I understand being challenged: The bravest thing I’ve done in my life was move to Los Angeles, even though I was told I was too old, too fat, and too ethnic. I had no contacts and no friends in L.A. But I got on a plane anyway and flew to California to have an acting career. This had to work: I’m not talented at sex, so I couldn’t be a porn star. And I have no upper body strength, so pole dancing was out.
Jamil wears a Sacai coat; Prada boots.
For my sweet 16 party, my parents knew I loved The Book of Mormon so they had Andrew Rannells, who was one of the leads in the show, come and perform. It was literally the best moment of my life.
You were named after the kooky octogenarian in the film Harold and Maude.
Yes. As a joke, my dad started calling me Maude when my mom was pregnant, and it stuck. I do love that movie.
Do you ever sing any of the Cat Stevens songs from that film when you do karaoke?
No. I sing “The Confrontation” from Les Misérables. I love musical theater. The first album I really listened to was Hairspray, and the first thing I auditioned for was Grease. I was Jan, one of the Pink Ladies. I got to sing in a musical, and I had never been happier.
Apatow wears a Dior jacket, top, and pants; Cartier earrings, necklace, and ring.
I had not listened to the Dirty John podcast, but I heard friends talking about it obsessively. Two days later, my agent asked me, “Have you heard of Dirty John?” That was exciting to me: I love things that are creating conversation in the culture.
Your character, Debra, is both intriguing and infuriating.
I never judge my characters. I looked at playing Debra as almost a women’s studies project. She was self-made and had raised a family by herself, but she had this Achilles’ heel: She needed to have a man in her life. As horrible as it got for Debra, she thought she could handle and change that man. As the show goes on, she becomes more and more aware. We reflected that awakening in her clothing: In the beginning, she wears pink and light colors. And as the situation with John becomes more and more extreme, we go darker. By the end, she’s in black.
You were in a happier marriage on Friday Night Lights.
Kyle Chandler [who played Coach Taylor, her character’s husband] and I really fought for that marriage. Right from the beginning, we said to the writers, “Don’t make one of us go and have an affair.” I think the audience really appreciated that.
Growing up, who did you have a crush on?
Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I. The short shorts. The floral shirts. He was a sexual fantasy. I actually auditioned to play his wife in something. I remember thinking, No, Tom Selleck was a grown-up when I was a little girl. So that didn’t happen.
Britton wears a Stella McCartney shirt; Loro Piana skirt; Bulgari earrings; Tiffany & Co. wrap bracelet worn as necklace; Cartier ring; Tom Ford belt; Balenciaga shoes.
In The Loudest Voice, which is about Roger Ailes and Fox News, I play Laurie Luhn, who was a booker for the shows. To play her, we worked with very orange makeup and a look that was curated by Roger Ailes: the tight, the bright, the overly revealing. And legs. Lots of legs. There were no desks at Fox News, because with a desk, I suspect, you could get up to a lot of trouble underneath.
Do you have a secret skill?
I’m good with animals. When I was young, I wanted to live among animals. I liked sloths the best: That’s the animal I aspire to be like. A sloth just owns it. There’s great power in stillness.
Wallis wears an Isabel Marant top; Hermès skirt; Dior belt; Tiffany & Co. bracelet.
I am from Omaha, Nebraska, and I wanted to move to New York since the third grade. I had never been to New York, but I knew all about the city from watching television. I just knew New York was where I belonged. Later, I learned that most of those New York City shows like Friends and Seinfeld were filmed in Los Angeles. That was a bit of a mind fuck.
Was Girls your first part outside of theater?
No. I had another job playing a headless stripper in Sex and the City 2. It was just me in a Speedo grinding with another guy. On Girls, I played the ex-boyfriend who turned out to be gay and then became Hannah’s [Lena Dunham] best friend. My first nude scene was in season two. Suddenly, I would show up to work and there would just be a pair of underwear on a hanger. I was oddly comfortable with it.
Growing up, who did you have a crush on?
Maxwell Caulfield from Grease 2. He played Michael Carrington. He also played Miles Colby on Dynasty. Every day of my life is a hair tribute to Maxwell Caulfield.
Rannells wears a Dior Men coat and pants; Brioni turtleneck; Givenchy boots.
When I first read the script for You, I was not attracted to Joe, my character. I was like, “Oof—I don’t know.” He’s a villain, and yet he’s also an antihero. He’s seductive, but he’s a murderer. It’s fascinating that people—especially women—are drawn to this guy. The greatest challenge I have is not judging him. I don’t ever think of him as a killer. To him, murder is simply a means to an end.
Did you always want to act?
At the age of eight, I was in The Music Man, and I told my parents, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.” When I was 12, my mom and I went to L.A. and I started working immediately.
Was your first kiss on camera?
No, but starting out so young, you’re always having to display sexuality before you’ve had those experiences. For You, I was tied up in bondage rope for the first and, so far, only time in my life. Look [shows his wrists], I still have rope burn. First time, and it’s on camera.
Badgley wears an Alexander McQueen coat; Boss T-shirt; Jil Sander pants; Sophie Buhai bracelet.
My big childhood claim to mediocre fame is Pee-wee’s Playhouse. I played Opal on that show when I was around 6 years old. I’d already done a bunch of commercials, and they didn’t all air. You want the ads to get on the air if you want to get your imaginary Lamborghini. Sadly, I didn’t get the Lambo.
You always had a smoky voice.
Yes, but thanks to a lifetime of smoking cigarettes—which they recently discovered are actually good for you—my voice has become thicker and deeper over the years.
In Russian Doll, you are asking existential questions.
I am curious about what it means to have a life. I imagined being at death’s door, looking back and asking, “What happened here?” I also recognize that it’s a nice thing to move from a disconnected life to a more connected one.
Who is your cinematic crush?
Recently, I watched Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises, and Mamma mia! My boyfriend, Fred Armisen, was there. I took screen grabs of Viggo’s nude fight scene and told Fred the stills were for research. Usually, when I play this game, I think it’s best to pick dead people—to say, like, “Isn’t Peter Falk a babe on Columbo?” I’m also very disappointed to discover that Idris Elba and I did not get married. I think many women felt the same way.
Lyonne wears a Marni dress; Tiffany & Co. wrap bracelet worn as necklace, and bracelet.
Did you go into that audition in character?
I definitely went in character. I spent maybe two hours doing a side sweep, beehive in my hair and maybe bought a new dress for the audition that had a bit of a A-line and like a little cowl neck and I felt really good about it. And then I didn’t hear back from them for two weeks, which in television casting time is an eternity. I was certain I didn’t get the job and devastated, which is strange because I do auditions for so many TV shows but that one really stuck with me. I felt like it was destined to be my role.. And then, out of the blue, I got the call that I got the job.
How did Community happen at the same time?
I had been working on Mad Men for two years. I was a recurring guest star on Mad Men for my entire Mad Men career. I was very much like, the other woman waiting by the phone. I would cancel everything to do episodes of Mad Men and was always waiting for them to have me back on but I did still go out and audition for every other type of show or pilot I could. And it was kind of dumb luck that I got the role on Community. The auditioning process was extremely simple, which I later learned was because they were having trouble casting that role. By the time I auditioned, the pilot was set to start shooting in about five days so they sort of were down to the wire.
It was such a dream come true to be able to work on Mad Men and Community at the same time. It never stressed me out. It really felt like, “I’m a young actor, living the dream!” Every so often there would be a day where I would shoot on Community in the morning and then shoot on Mad Men in the evening. And it was so exciting, I just thought, “I’m a working actress,” driving my Honda in traffic from studio to studio. And very fun to go back and forth from being a contemporary college student to being a housewife in the sixties. They felt very different to me. Just going through hair and makeup felt like a transformation was done.
And how did GLOW come to you?
Well, I fought tooth and nail, and then GLOW came to me. My agents called me and said “Jenji Kohan’s producing a show for Netflix. It’s about a women’s wrestling television show in the eighties.” And I said, “I want that job!” I wasn’t familiar with the original GLOW. But it only took a quick Google search and watching a handful of YouTube videos for me to be so flabbergasted by it and excited by the idea. It’s unlike anything I have read or seen before. It was such a wild concept.
It’s fun to take on a different era and have a different style of hair and makeup and wardrobe and to be in a leotard, constantly. The appeal of the physicality of the show, having to actually do our own stunts and our own wrestling seemed like a very exciting idea. We had to answer a number of questions about what kind of physical shape we were in. But I didn’t have to do any sort of physical audition, really. However, I very quickly learned that they didn’t think I was right for the role. After numerous auditions, I basically just wore them down.
Has the training changed you since you’ve started doing all the training for this? Do you feel different as a person?
I feel totally different as a person since working on GLOW. The show has been completely empowering. And yes, learning to use my body in a different way, aside from my strength training, learning how to wrestle and throw women across a ring and be thrown is incredibly empowering and humbling and also requires an incredible amount of teamwork and vulnerability. So I think that it’s opened me up in a lot of ways and also sort of relaxed me and settled me into my own power. And it’s all been very exciting.
And do you beat up your husband [Dave Franco]?
I don’t ever beat up my husband. I’ve been known to wrestle our cat a little bit. He doesn’t love it. Here’s the thing about wrestling, it requires the cooperation of your partner in the ring. So you are really working together to do moves, whether or not one person looks like the stronger person in the equation so season one, I would come home very excited, having just learned a new move. And go to Dave and try to do the move on him and he’s sort of fight back and then I would have to explain to him, “No, no, no, you kind of have to kind of submit for the move to work”. And it just didn’t go over well with me. I was like, “You don’t understand it! I have to do it with women!”
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
My go-to karaoke song is “Lady Marmalade,” the original, not the Pink version.
Where was your first kiss?
My first real kiss, like make out kiss, was along the banks of the Kern River in California. I used to take camping trips up there with a friend and her family. My two best girlfriends would go with my one friend’s family and we would always meet boys up there because it was a big camping grounds where all different people would go during the summer to camp. And I met this boy, I don’t remember his name, I just remember us sitting on the sand, next to the river in an inner tube kind of sharing it, and he had a cherry cough drop in his mouth. So there was a bit of passing back and forth of the cough drop and like, that’s a bit of sense memory for me, forever.
What was your favorite Halloween costume?
There was a period of time in my late twenties where my friends and I would always wear a group costume together and we would make them and the only rule was that they had to be leotard based. The text chain would start going maybe a month before Halloween and people would feel ideas. We’ve done synchronized swimmers, which was really great. We’ve done ostriches, which was a fun one. But I think the best was when we attempted to be California raisins and one of my friends said, “We’ll wear black leotards and then we’ll make the costumes with trash bags”. So as a raisin, I sort of envisioned us wearing a big trash bag and having it be poufy and wrinkled but my friend had cut the trash bag into tiny little vests that wrapped around so we were just in black leotards with vests and we had different accoutrements to be California raisins. Like big sunglasses or bulky tennis shoes. We had blow up instruments, like a saxophone and at some point during that Halloween party, someone asked us if we were all different stages of Michael Jackson in his career. And I thought, “How did you get that from this costume?” And now it seems very inappropriate. But we were not dressed as Michael Jackson.
A fun piece of trivia actually about this costume is that at that Halloween party, this was years before my husband Dave and I met. After we started dating, we realized that we had both been at this same Halloween party. And then I found a video on my computer of me and my friends singing “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” and in the back of the video, you can see Dave and his friend dressed as Mario and Luigi.
Who was your crush growing up?
One of my crushes growing up was Joseph Gordon-Levitt because he was on Third Rock From The Sun and he had like a long bob and for some reason, I found that incredibly attractive.
Did you dream of being a Disney kid?
No, I did not dream of being a Disney kid. When I was younger, I was very pretentious. And I loved doing theater. I did children’s theater in Los Feliz when I was a kid and I didn’t ever want to be a child actor. I think in my fantasy I was going to book a gritty indie film or a cool period piece in my early twenties and that would send me on my road to the Oscars. I think I had seen Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma and then I thought, “That’s the way. That’s the way I should do it.”