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.
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."