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A Shooting star
Alison Brie is one of the busiest young actresses in Hollywood, but wait ’til you find out how she spends her free time.
By Carl Kozlowski
Arroyo Monthly, August 2009
Alison Brie is caught between two worlds — the small screen and a small town.
The young actress is in the rare and enviable position of having major roles in two prominent TV series at once: AMC’s award-winning drama Mad Men — about an advertising firm in the early ’60s, which begins its third season this month — and NBC’s highly anticipated new Thursday-night comedy, Community, which premieres on Sept. 17 in the time slot following megahit The Office. Brie co-stars with Chevy Chase, in his first regular sitcom role, as part of a merry band of misfits, the study group of a two-year college, tutored by a character played by Joel McHale (of E! Television’s The Soup). Outside the spotlight, the South Pasadena–born-and-bred Brie still considers herself “a small-town girl.”
At a recent photo shoot for this issue, Brie reflected on her impending dual career while her hair-and-makeup team transformed her from girl next door to sleek cover girl. She’d arrived for the session at Castle Green in blue jeans, flip flops and a T-shirt wryly emblazoned with the words: “Die Yuppie Scum.”
“The shows couldn’t be more opposite, but what makes both great is that the writing is incredible,” Brie said, unleashing a gust of energy with frequent hand gestures and an infectious smile. “I’m an 18-year-old in college, right out of high school in present-day America on Community, and a 26-year-old housewife in the ’60s on Mad Men. The characters’ only similarity is their uptightness. I don’t know why people see me that way for series, like I’m all prim and proper, when I couldn’t be more different. People think I come off that way, but I’m not.”
Along with the two starring roles comes the unusual challenge of juggling her schedule to accommodate both series. “I don’t really know how it’s going to play out, because we’ve only shot the pilot for Community and don’t get back to filming that until August,” said Brie. “I’m excited to do both, but I’m starting to realize there’s likely going to be a lot of shooting overlap.”
Brie is already a familiar face to Mad Men aficionados as Trudy Campbell, the Upper East Side wife of ad man Pete (Vince Kartheiser), who experiences marital and fertility problems. But so far, she hasn’t been chased by the paparazzi, she said. That’s fine with Brie, who credits her “hippie” parents with keeping her feet on the ground. She’s the younger of two daughters of Joanne Brenner, director of early childhood services at the L.A.–based family service nonprofit Para Los Niños, and Terry Charles, a freelance entertainment reporter and musician who has performed at the House of Blues.
“I hope people will recognize me for both [roles],” Brie said. “People never recognize me yet — well, actually once or twice, and it’s so exciting to me. If I’m at the gym or shopping or walking around town, people aren’t going to recognize me because on the show I’m so made up and my hair’s done.”
Brie was smitten with acting as early as age 5, when she and her sister, Lauren, performed for neighbors. She went on to attend a theater workshop at the Barnsdall Junior Art Center in Los Feliz and played Toto in a production of The Wizard of Oz at the nearby Jewish Community Center. All the while, her parents made sure she received a solid education.
“I went to South Pasadena High, which was great because the drama program there was particularly intense for my interest level,” said Brie, who still lives in South Pasadena. “It wasn’t just for people to be in the school play. I liked going to a regular high school, having normal friends and yet being president of the drama club. It prepared me for college theater and the discipline of working in Hollywood.”
Brie studied acting at the California Institute of the Arts; while enrolled there, she spent a year at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. That training paid off, according to Joe Russo, who created Community with his brother Anthony, both among the directors of the cult-classic Fox sitcom Arrested Development.
“She has incredible acting chops and an ability to handle comedy as deftly as she does drama,” Russo said. “We always look for the best actors we can, because the show has a heart to it and depth as well as comedy. You need versatile actors to take audiences to the places they need to go. Her character is the antagonist for the ensemble, and we felt we needed somebody with her kind of poise and ability to be able to drive the energy and the conflict when you have guys like Joel McHale and Chevy Chase around.”
As Brie headed down a hallway to change into her first frock, she talked about how she spends her increasingly limited free time.
“I’m pretty mellow, and I stay around South Pasadena and Pasadena a lot because I’m a homebody who’s fine with dinner and a movie,” Brie said. “But my boyfriend is from Texas, and two years ago, I went there with him on the ultimate trip where we shot guns, drank beer and saw the rodeo. When I got back, I was like ‘Let’s go to the gun range!’ My parents are so anti-gun and I used to be, but now I feel so empowered when I go to the L.A. Gun Club downtown. It’s sort of seedy, but hey, I love going.”
Just call her a shooting star.