From director Jeff Baena (The Little Hours, Joshy), the darkly twisted comedy Spin Me Round follows Amber (Alison Brie, who co-wrote the script with Baena), as she decides to go all-in on an all-expenses-paid trip to Florence, Italy for select managers of an American fast-casual restaurant chain to deepen their knowledge of the culinary arts and each other. While she thinks she’s going to be living the dream at a scenic villa surrounded by glamour and romance, Amber finds that the brochure was a less than accurate representation of an adventure that leads to an unexpected love triangle and a sense of danger that could play out in any number of ways.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Brie talked about how her collaborative relationship with Baena originally started, her trust in him as a filmmaker, writing a full script for this project instead of just an outline, the story’s mix of tones, and the Amber/Kat (Aubrey Plaza) relationship dynamic. She also talked about her love for working on television, which show she’d love to be a guest on, and whether she’s considering directing a feature film.
Collider: I love how unexpected this movie is. I wasn’t sure where it was going, but I was on the journey.
ALISON BRIE: Thank you.
How did you and Jeff Baena start working together, originally? You’ve done a few films together, and you’ve co-written together. How did all of that start?
BRIE: It started with Jeff coming to the set of Community, in our sixth season, and asking me to play a small role in his film, Joshy. There was no script for that. All of his films that I’ve been involved with, prior to this one, were fully improvised. So, he came to my dressing. We set a meeting, and he came to meet me. I didn’t just discover him in my dressing room. There was a meeting set, so he came, and he told me a bit about the way he likes to work and about the movie Joshy. I knew a lot of the cast members in that movie. Nick Kroll, Jenny Slate, and Adam Pally were friends of mine. I just thought, “Yeah, that sounds fun to do.” It was one day. I’m in two scenes in that movie. I thought the story was cool. And then, it just grew from there.
After that, Jeff called and pitched me The Little Hours, which he pitched to my husband, Dave [Franco], as well. The next debate was, “Okay, one day felt cool. Could I do a whole movie that’s improvised? What would that be like? That’s really exciting, so why not go to Italy with my husband to shoot a movie together? That seems really fun.” Also, the idea for The Little Hours was just so unique, playing 14th-century nuns that are cursing and having sex. It was just unlike anything I had heard before. I was so pleased with how that movie turned out. I love that film. It was a great group of people to work with, and I thought it came together really well.
Then, in the interim, we moved into the neighborhood. Dave and I lived quite close to Jeff and Aubrey [Plaza]. Jeff and I started hiking together pretty regularly, just as buddies, and during these long hikes, we would talk about different ideas. Eventually, I felt comfortable enough with him to talk to him about my idea for Horse Girl, which we co-wrote and co-produced together. That was such a good experience. And then, he came to me and said, “Well, I have this idea that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.” That led to this (Spin Me Round). It’s all been a pretty organic evolution.
It’s really cool to have a collaboration like that, with someone where all the projects you’ve done together are so different, you’re playing such different characters, and you can trust that he’s not going to steer you wrong when he’s directing?
BRIE: Exactly. It’s about that trust and seeing the way that the films have come out. That gave me the confidence. Jeff is a great filmmaker and I love how much he strives to do something different. That’s why, talking to him about Horse Girl, I did not feel self-conscious about it. I know that he likes unique ideas, and I knew that he would be willing to go out on a limb with me and explore something off the beaten path. And I feel like we’ve done that again here. It’s really fun to work in a way that’s genre-less and that feels really creativity driven. It’s so much about the art that we’re making.
This went from a 10-page outline that he’d written, to a 35-page outline that you collaborated on together, to then COVID leading to you writing a whole script. What was that like to figure out over Zoom? How did that affect the process for you guys?
BRIE: Honestly, it wasn’t that different from being in-person, aside from the fact that when we write in person, the hiking aspect comes into play a lot more. When we find ourselves in a rut, we’re like, “Let’s go walk to get different juices flowing and get outside, get different things happening, and have different sources of inspiration.” But honestly, writing over Zoom was not too different from sitting in Jeff’s living room on two different couches with our computers. Ultimately, it was pretty similar. A lot of our process ends up just being talking. It’s not like, “Okay, we’ve gotta get to this next scene and plot this next thing. The start of our collaboration felt very organic, much like this did, in terms of just talking about what’s funny and telling stories from our lives. It just felt pretty similar.
Once you had that script, did you stick to that script during the shoot?
BRIE: We did, because of time constraints. We really didn’t have a ton of time to try a lot of different stuff. In that way, it was really helpful to have the script as the real guide, as you do on most films. But with a cast this talented and funny, there was certainly a little bit of breathing room to let people riff. Once we got into certain scenes, sometimes it was easy to find spots for Molly Shannon to riff on certain beats. That was fun.
This movie is so interesting because it’s a, a comedy, but not. And it’s a drama, but there are funny moments. How did you juggle that? What was the balance you guys were looking to hit with this?
BRIE: Jeff doesn’t ever like to think about genre when he’s writing, and I feel the same. It wasn’t like we had a target that we wanted to hit, except we did like playing with this idea of how, as the characters begin to try to take control over their own destiny in their own storyline more, their emotions are dictating the tone of the movie. It was less about genre and more about story and tone, driven by these emotions. When Amber thinks she’s gonna fall in love, the movie should feel really romantic, like we’re in a rom-com. And when she starts to feel like she’s in danger, the movie should feel a little more scary and threatening.
From the moment that we meet Nick, and we see his interactions with Amber, we’re not sure what to make of him. I didn’t know if he was going to kidnap and chain her in the basement for a murder party, or if they were going to fall in love. What is it about this manipulated way that he presents himself that you think allows Amber to get reeled in by him?
BRIE: I think a lot of it has to do with Amber’s naïveté. Also, a main personality trait of hers is passivity. She’s super passive. She doesn’t wanna rock the boat. I think she has a very low self-worth. So, even when she’s in situations, like the scene with Molly Shannon where she’s borrowing her clothes, that make her feel very uncomfortable, she doesn’t wanna be impolite. She doesn’t quite know what to do. She gets a little paralyzed. So, in the scenes with Nick, she’s caught off guard by his energy and her lack of experience with people like that, which leads her to not know how to react. Another side of it is expectation. She has everybody around her telling her, “You’re gonna fall in love. This guy’s exciting. He’s giving you special attention. That’s good.” All these messages are being sent to her, that are signaling, “You should like this and be into this.” It takes her a little too long to realize that she can decide how she feels.
The brief romance that Amber has with Kat is fun because it’s a bit more playful. What did you most enjoy about who Amber is with Kat? Is it more fun to do scenes like that when you’re playing them with somebody who you know as well as you know Aubrey Plaza?
BRIE: Yeah, it is more fun to do scenes like that, with somebody that, just for comfortability’s sake. To me, the scenes between Kat and Amber are the moments in the film when Amber is the most present. She’s not being manipulated. She’s really in the moment, experiencing real feelings rather than experiencing what she thinks she’s supposed to feel. So, they’re inherently the most exciting because they feel charged with that energy.
From Mad Men to Community to GLOW, you’ve been a part of some pretty great TV projects. Would you consider doing another one? Is that something that you’re open to doing? Are you always just looking at characters, no matter where they end up?
BRIE: Absolutely, yes, I would love to do another TV show. I love working in TV. I love the format of it. I watch a ton of TV. I love getting to spend years with a character and watch the ways in which they evolve, and creating a relationship with an audience. I’m certainly looking for the next show right now, and I’m developing some projects, so we’ll see what happens with those. You’re right, it is absolutely character based. I’m always thinking, as I grow and evolve as a person, about what the next type of role I would like to take on is, and how can I push myself as an actor and dip into some different types of character that I haven’t played before. You’re right, I’ve been afforded these incredible opportunities in television, that are all very different. It’s tough because it sets the bar really high.
You mentioned watching a lot of TV. Is there a show that you watch that you would love to show up and do a guest spot on, and just play a really fun character?
BRIE: Oh, my God, yes. I have to say my favorite show that I’ve been watching lately is I Love That For You on Showtime. It stars our very own Molly Shannon, and Ayden Mayeri, and Vanessa Bayer. It’s an incredible cast. Everybody on that show is so funny. I just think it’s such a great, pure comedy that has a lot of heart and great characters. It’s just firing on all cylinders. That kind of quirky, awkward comedy is my taste. Vanessa Bayer is so funny. I love that show.
And guest spots are great because you can go play something that people don’t expect and don’t necessarily see you as, and it’s temporary and just so much fun.
BRIE: Yeah, totally. Exactly. It’s a minimal commitment to just have fun doing something different.
You’ve directed a couple of TV episodes now, with GLOW and Marvel 616. Is the next step directing a feature? Is that something you’d like to do and that you’re looking to do?
BRIE: I definitely think about it. I’ve co-written a few features no, and produced them, and I would like to do it, but it’s daunting. I feel like there has to be a real intense passion for the project because it’s a real commitment. I definitely would love to direct more in television again. I’ve had such a great time on the couple of television projects that I directed, and even shadowing on some other TV shows. I feel like it’s a really different type of skill, directing in TV rather than a movie. You’re coming into somebody else’s house and trying to make the best version of the thing that already exists, that you didn’t necessarily create. That’s a fun challenge. You get to pop in, collaborate, get that artistic juice flowing, and be like, “Bye-bye. Good luck with the rest of the season.”