As soon as Alison Brie read the script for “The Five-Year Engagement,” she was excited because the character of Suzie was the complete opposite of the more obsessive, type A personalities she usually plays. In this hilarious romantic comedy about what happens when an engaged couple, Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt), keeps getting tripped up on the long walk down the aisle, Brie thought it would be nice to play someone who’s a bit scatterbrained and spunky, and who doesn’t have it all together and doesn’t care that she doesn’t.
MoviesOnline sat down at a roundtable interview with Brie to talk about what it was like portraying a character that’s more impulse-driven and slightly more frazzled than her buttoned-up ones on “Mad Men” and “Community.” She told us how she acquired the British accent needed for her to pass as Violet’s sister, the challenges of improv-ing without losing her accent, and how much fun she had working opposite Chris Pratt who plays her husband and singing a duet in Portuguese together. She also discussed some of the current TV shows she would love to guest star on plus her upcoming feature film, “Get a Job,” which she recently completed.
Q: I was sitting right behind you at the screening on Monday and you seemed to enjoy it.
AB: I was laughing so loud at my own scenes. How embarrassing! Yeah, I enjoyed it. I loved it. That was my first time seeing it and I’ve just been so proud to have been a part of it.
Q: You and Chris Pratt stole so many of the scenes that you’re in. Whenever the mood went down, you guys were in charge of bringing it up.
AB: 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 were so fun and passionate and impulsive, especially on a project like this where there’s so much improv and you have this freedom. It’s even better that you’re playing these free, outrageous characters, because then that matched with that level of improv is just constant fun and irreverence. It was amazing.
Q: Do you find those kinds of roles hard to come by?
AB: This was certainly a different role for me. I am usually playing more buttoned-up, conservative characters for some reason. But this character is actually more similar to me, how I really am, so it was definitely more fun and I was excited to get a bit of a change. I mean, like a large bit of change because there was also the accent.
Q: Was that something that you just had in your arsenal?
AB: Yeah, I had been working on British accent CDs for about a month before I even knew about this project, just coincidentally for no reason. I’d been doing them in my car on the way to work because I thought I should brush up on my British accent just in case. And then, low and behold, I got a call to do the table read. And then, 20 minutes later, I got a frantic call from my agent like “Wait! Here’s the thing about the table read. They want you to do a British accent,” and he was really bummed, “So I guess this is off.” I was like “Wait! No, no! I can do one. I have one ready to go.” I never felt more prepared. It was a good actor moment like patting myself on the back, “Way to have been prepared for some random thing!” It was like fate.
Q: Are there other accent CDs in your car?
AB: Yeah. I have Irish and I have German so next time … (laughs)
Q: There was some discussion about whether or not they wanted people to use their actual accents, or switch it up, but they said yours was so good that they felt very confident you could do it.
AB: That’s an amazing compliment. They were good tapes. Also, I watched a lot of Emily (Blunt). I watched “The Devil Wears Prada” so many times just prior to the table read so that I could sound more like her. And then, after the table read, of course, she made me recordings of herself speaking and doing drills with me so that I could practice sounding like her. I really wanted to sound specifically like Emily and I wanted to sound like her sister. It wasn’t just about the accent, but also about her cadences and the way that she talks and jokes and things like that, rather than just doing a generic British accent. That’s weird, especially because I have a sister and I know that we talk alike. We don’t just have American accents, we talk the same. The funny thing is, 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 work on the accent and then I watched a YouTube video of Elmo two or three times. I was like “Oh yeah, I’ve got that. That’s fine.” I went to the table read and Nick runs up at the end of the read and is super excited and was like “That Elmo voice! How did you do that?” It was Elmo with a British accent. The Elmo just came naturally. Who knew I had that gift? It was a surprise to me.
Q: What was your relationship like with Emily (Blunt) on set?
Q: Was it very sisterly?
AB: Yeah. It was surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, very sisterly. I was lucky to get to go out to Michigan. They had us come out about a week early so we could all hang out – Jason, Emily, Chris and I. That was great. We all hit it off immediately. Chris is such a sweetheart. Emily is amazing. Obviously Jason is great. I do think that right away Emily and I just felt a closeness, like buddies, and sisterly because she was so encouraging to me with the accent and everything like that. It did feel sisterly like I was being taken care of by her which was great.
Q: Judd (Apatow) said that at the table read he didn’t realize it was you. When you watch it, do you almost feel unrecognizable to yourself?
AB: No, I mean, it’s cool to see and feel like “Wow, it’s going to be so different from these other characters I’ve played.” I was very relieved that I felt like the accent sounded genuine because it’s a daunting thing to do. My mother, who went to a screening, said “It wasn’t so weird for me to watch it because it didn’t seem like I was watching you.” I was like “Thanks,” and then I was like “Is it usually weird when you watch me in other stuff?” I think she was just excited to see me in this big movie.
Q: Do you think that role is closer to you?
AB: Well, Annie is a bit younger than me. Certainly, I’m not as crazy as this character. I don’t cry quite as much or fight with anyone as much as she does. But I think just in terms of the way she banters and jokes around felt more natural to me. It’s tough to say. There are so many similarities these days that I feel to Annie as well because that character has evolved so much, and I put more of my own voice into it as well. It’s probably a toss up between the two, but they’re on different sides of the spectrum.
Q: What does your character do in the movie?
AB: We never talk about it. It’s never brought up. Once she’s married and has kids, she does not work for sure. There’s a line where I say that I wanted to be a kinesiologist and was never able to do it. But I always pictured her just working at some vintage clothing shop or something because the wardrobe was so wacky. I just always pictured her doing that and maybe being that girl who never had it figured out, then maybe going back to community college and taking a couple of classes here and there but not committing to anything, and then maybe getting another job temping somewhere. I just picture her being all over the place.
Q: That would be an interesting crossover opportunity.
AB: Oh boy, so weird.
Q: The first scene when you and Chris interact at the engagement party, did you know when you read the script where this was going to go?
AB: I feel like I kind of knew immediately, and maybe it’s just girl instinct, but any guy where you’re going to say “Hey, this isn’t happening” to is so the guy that it’s happening with, because if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t say anything. You’d just leave. When I was reading it, I was like “Uh oh, these two.” But especially because they’re both such disasters at the start of the film that it makes sense.
Q: In some ways, they find a way to have arguably a more functional relationship than Tom and Violet?
AB: Absolutely. Well it’s sort of the whole lesson of the movie which is this other couple. We look at Jason and Emily’s characters and how they’re trying so hard to control everything and they’re waiting for everything to be perfect and to fall into place, and then these other characters were so impulsive and just act and then clean up the mess as they go and their life seems to work out perfectly. But it’s because of the way that they embrace everything that comes along. Their lives could have been disasters but they appreciate them and go with them so it works out.
Q: Your career has been very diverse, did you have a specific plan about being a comedic actress or a dramatic actress and then ended up with both “Mad Men” and this?
AB: It worked out great. No. I think maybe when I was in high school and very idealistic about thinking that you could really plan your career and naïve about that, I’m sure I had certain ideas about it then. After college, I realized that I had to let that go and that it was really more about doing whatever role I could get my hands on. I just wanted to work and to act and through that process learn what I enjoyed which is almost anything. It’s been hard to limit genres for me because I love doing this so much that I’ve yet to find one that I’m like “Nope, not for me.”
Q: What about a “Saw” movie?
AB: Maybe not for me. A “Saw” movie is probably not for me, but I’ve done a horror movie, so not totally not for me, the genre. “Saw” is not an entire genre.
Q: Do you have any advice for young women career-wise? Is there something they might also draw from this film?
AB: There’s a great role reversal that we see in this movie because it’s the woman who’s pursuing her career and the man that has to change his life to fit into that mold. Not to get all feminist, but I do think that woman should certainly pursue their goals. Figure out what you want to do and what you’re passionate about and what you love doing and just go after it and don’t let relationships stand in your way. Women are notorious for just getting caught up in relationships and trying to change themselves to please men. I think that it’s more important to figure out who you really are and stay true to that and that goes into your career. I know that I’ve made a lot of sacrifices relationship-wise to continue to pursue this career, and at this point, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Q: And beware of one-night stands at engagement parties?
AB: Right. Definitely. Or rather, definitely have one-night stands at engagement parties. You might be meeting your future husband.
Q: How was it working opposite Chris Pratt?
AB: So fun! Chris is so divine. He couldn’t be here because he’s shooting a huge movie and I just adore him. He’s the entire package. He’s so sweet. He’s so funny. He’s whip smart. His improv skills are incredible and we just had a blast. We just hit it off right away. And like I said earlier, because our characters were so out there, I think we got to have a ton of fun just getting super passionate in terms of fighting or whatever, and then we had kids so there was that other element to kind of battle. We had a blast. We had a great time.
Q: Is it a coincidence that a lot of the cast comes from hit television comedies right now?
AB: Yeah! Mindy and I were talking about it earlier and we were saying, 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 sort of comedic voice, it’s probably coming from…Mindy has a better knowledge of this than me and can offer some better reference points. But we were saying that we’re sure that a lot of the comedy that we’re doing on our shows is informed by Apatow films and their sense of humor and that kind of realistic thing, especially because we work on single camera comedies so it kind of makes sense that we would fit into this world since the work that we’re already doing is fueled by it.
Q: With “Community,” you’re talking about so many genres. Just last week you were doing a PBS war documentary.
AB: It’s true. That was incredible. We’re always ready for anything.
Q: Do you have any insight into some of the behind-the-scenes drama of “Community” lately?
AB: No, we’ve been on hiatus so it’s really not at the forefront of my mind at all. I’ve been focused on this movie coming out and I’m so excited. I really feel like when I talk to anyone from the show, all our energy is just focused on crossing our fingers for a fourth season. We just want to come back. I’m more focused on that right now.
Q: What about the Portuguese song you sing in the film with Chris?
AB: I was so excited. It was a re-shoot. It was not in the original script. We actually shot it months later. We had shot the scene with Chris during the film and it was just incredible. They came up with that as well. That wasn’t in the original script either. They came up with that one day when we were on set. I don’t know if it was Nick (Stoller) or Chris or even our D.P. who was like “This would be a really funny song to do.” Chris was like “Yes! I have to do that song.” And he learned it and sang it and we were all like “Why are you so incredible at this?” It’s incredible. The first time I heard him sing it was on set that day shooting it, so my reactions are so genuine. I was enthralled by him. It was such a hit. We were all crying from laughing so hard and falling in love with him at the same time. So, months later, when I got the call and heard that we were doing re-shoots, I was like “Uh oh, what are we going to do? What?” And they said “You’re going to be singing that song with Chris.” I was so excited and then instantly terrified. He did such an amazing job and I started listening to it, and I thought “I don’t speak any Spanish. This is a daunting task.” I texted him immediately and asked him “How did you do this?” He was like “I just listened to the song about a million times.” I was like “Great!” and that’s what I did.
Q: Does he speak any Spanish in real life?
AB: I don’t think so but I’m not actually sure. Maybe he does, but he told me “You have to just listen to it again and again and again.” And I did. It was really funny. We shot that in L.A. We shot everything else on location in Ann Arbor and San Francisco, and that’s where that scene takes place, in San Francisco, but we did the re-shoots in L.A. I thought it looked so funny. Just picture Chris and I in the back of this horse-drawn carriage just singing into this camera as we were driving around Echo Park. People would come out of their houses. I’m thinking they probably think we’re shooting some weird Spanish music video because we’re just singing into the camera wearing these weird, fancy outfits. It was a sight, I’m sure. I was really happy with getting to be a part of that.
Q: Was there anything particularly challenging on this movie that you dreaded or were nervous about?
AB: The accent was a big challenge and I put a lot of work into it. Definitely the accent and the improv at the same time, it was like the two punch thing.
Q: What about the kids?
AB: The kids, yeah, that’s a good point. Kids can be tough to work with. Those little boys, it was twin boys that played our son, they were just so adorable and wonderful, but for some reason they were terrified of Chris, which was the opposite with the little girl who was so sweet who played our daughter. She loved both of us and she was great, although she was terrified of the cross bow scene. She hated having to shoot. She was so scared because Emily would scream out and she felt like it was her fault, so she was terrified. But anyway, the little boys were terrified of Chris. The first day we met them, we were shooting the funeral scene where we’re sitting a pew behind and we’re just supposed to be sitting back there with our kids just looking great, and these boys would not stop crying because they were so scared of him. The minute we would get one to settle down, Chris would lean over and say something, and I’d be like “Really?” We’d swap them out and they just kept screaming and crying. Chris knew, but what were we going to do? He was playing their dad. Eventually, we said to Nick “Just roll on them crying” and that’s what’s in the film. That became the thing and then we had a whole bit about me trying to get something from the bag and improv-ing whatever we could based on the kid. The kid just dictated that scene because we were like “This is what’s happening.”
Q: You have a kid on “Mad Men” now, right?
AB: I do, yes. Little Tammy.
Q: We haven’t seen you in anything recently but do you show up later on?
AB: I believe so.
Q: It’s been the season of the woman so far.
AB: Yeah. A lot of great stuff. God, 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 like “Ohhhh! It’s a great show.”
Q: If someone were going to look at your career, what would you tell them to look at first?
AB: Probably “Mad Men” since it was the thing I started on first, but I would much prefer they look at the body of work because it’s more exciting to me that I get to work on such different projects.
Q: Is there any show on TV that you would just kill to get a guest star role on?
AB: That’s a good one. Well, it was “Bored to Death,” but that’s no longer on the air and I’m really bummed. I would have killed to be on that show. I loved “Bored to Death.” Charming guys, so charming. I love “Childrens Hospital.” They’ve tried to get me on it, but it just has not worked out with scheduling to get over there with those guys. They’re so funny. That’s my favorite show.
Q: Do you have any interest in writing or directing?
AB: I don’t know about directing, but maybe writing. I would consider it. But I don’t know. I’ve got to have some ideas first, I suppose. I have a few. We’ll see if I ever have the courage to do it. If I have a little down time, maybe I’ll explore that.
Q: What do you have coming up next?
AB: I just finished working on a film called “Get a Job” directed by Dylan Kidd and it stars Miles Teller, Anna Kendrick, Bryan Cranston and Marcia Gay Harden. It’s a great group of people. It’s funny. It’s a comedy about the job market today and these college graduates and their trouble finding work. It was a fun role. I just popped in for a week over there and did this little role playing the head of human resources for this company that’s very dirty. I guess you could say very inappropriate. That was a lot of fun.
Q: Is she the HR person that you need someone else to report?
AB: Um huh. Pretty much nobody can report her.
Q: Do you think audiences will have difficulty relating to the theme of unemployment?
AB: I do not.
“The Five-Year Engagement” opens in theaters on April 27th.