Eye on Emmy: Alison Brie Embraces Her Spot Within TV's Elite Community of Funny People

Alison Brie was once a drama queen. Though today she is best known for playing both sweet and saucy Annie on NBC’s quirky comedy Community and Mad Men‘s over-the-top scene stealer Trudy, Brie was once a theater student studying the works of Shakespeare on the road to achieving her “naïve” goal of becoming an actress who does only serious stage and film work. Five years later, she’s enlisting her inner funnygirl (and eliciting Emmy buzz) for not one but two acclaimed TV gigs, plus a supporting role in Judd Apatow’s latest film comedy, The Five-Year Engagement.

TVLINE | Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy movie schedule to talk Community! Which reminds me, how is life in Ann Arbor on the set of The Five-Year Engagement?
It feels so comfortable and fun. Everyone gets along so well — it’s very similar to the set of Community — so I’m feeling very at home. Plus, Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) plays my husband in the movie and he’s part of that NBC Thursday night lineup, so it’s been fun improv-ing together. He’s a comedic genius. All these people here are so good at comedy that there’s that added aspect of wanting to hold your own in that environment.

TVLINE | Which brings me to my next question: Having studied drama, did you ever anticipate such a successful career in comedy? Because I’d argue that’s what you’re now best known for. Even Mad Men‘s Trudy is one of the funny folk.
I’ve always wanted to act, was nerdily active in drama clubs growing up, and I think I’d always kept my sense of humor in real life separate from the work I was doing. At my college, Cal Arts, you have a chance to do everything, so I did dabble in comedy and went into the business ready to go any direction. Mad Men was my first real television job, and as that continued I thought that it made sense — I’ll deal with drama. I didn’t initially realize that Pete and Trudy were a bit of comic relief, because when you’re acting in the scenes, the subject matter is quite dramatic. Really, the TV aspect of my career surprises me more than the comedy.

TVLINE | You never saw yourself becoming a television star?
When I was younger and in school I thought I’d become an actress who does theater and film — a very naïve attitude coming from a snobby college student at the time. [Laughs] The truth is, I didn’t have any experience in TV. I had watched a ton of it, and yet I never saw myself working in television. Ironically, all of my success so far has been there. My first TV job was on an episode of Hannah Montana, and after doing that I knew that TV was really fun. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to end up on shows that are just such a high quality, where the writing and material is incredible. I also think that television right now is really good. I feel like I’m quoting Joel McHale when I say this, but it’s TV’s best of times and worst of times. Of course, you have a lot of trash reality TV on now, but at the same time there are the Mad Mens, the Breaking Bads, and the Communitys out there.

TVLINE | Tell us a little about what initially attracted you to the role of Annie.
For all the roles that I’ve had, there’s been a tinge of that special feeling. When I read for Community, I knew that Joel and Chevy [Chase] were doing it, so I was able to read for it with them in mind, and that helped it click in a bit. At the time, I’d also been working on this little Breakfast Club-y web series on Take180.com, and the character I was playing was very similar to Annie. So in reading the pilot I realized I’d been prepping for this role over a year. It was like, “Oh, I know this girl!” Since then, the character has changed so much and what the writers have done with the show is so different. There have been a number of times we’ll be sitting in our trailers thinking that when we read this pilot two years ago about students in a community college, we never thought that this is what we’d be doing.

TVLINE | Community really is a different show today compared to the pilot I screened a few years ago. I can’t imagine how it must feel actually working on the series.
The genius behind that transition is that [series creator] Dan Harmon and the writers did it the right way. It’s not as if you watched one episode and by the next it was a completely different show. It had a natural progression. The sense of humor of the show is the same as it started out being, it’s just that they’ve been pushing the boundaries further. And being on a network like NBC is great because they let you! We’ve lucked out that they see that creative aspect and allow us to make a zombie episode. [Laughs] It’s all just melded along really well. I’m so thankful we get to work on a show with such imagination and creativity.

TVLINE | As a cast, you’re all obviously so proud of the work you do. Is it at all frustrating that while critical and industry acclaim has come in droves, accolades have yet to followed suit?
On the one hand, you can’t get too bogged down by those things because to look at it from an objective standpoint — which I can’t even do — we’re so lucky. You think of how many actors don’t have jobs or work on shows and hate the people they work with, and we’ve really lucked out already in so many ways by just having this incredible job that we go to everyday. We have our own community where we’re supportive of each other and give ourselves our own little accolades. So, it’s fulfilling. We go home really satisfied. Anything after that is just icing on the cake — but yes, it’s amazingly rich icing that you would like to eat.

TVLINE | What would you say your proudest moment on Community has been thus far?
I have three favorite episodes this season. The first is the bottle episode (“Cooperative Calligraphy”); the second is the episode when we go to the bar for Troy’s birthday (“Mixology Certification”); and then the first part of the season finale, “A Fistful of Paintballs.” Watching the finale, I just felt so in awe of the people that I work with. I thought that it didn’t look like something you would see on television, and certainly not on a half-hour comedy. It’s so wild the places they take us on our show, that you’re constantly exploring different sides of the characters and differently styles of acting and material. It felt cool to be honing my action-hero skills. [Laughs] I was so, so proud of the finale.

TVLINE | Where do you see yourself down the road? Once Community and Mad Men have come and gone, do you think you’ll stick with TV?
I would definitely love to venture more into film and do that on a regular basis. Like I said, I feel so lucky working on both [Community and Mad Men] right now, and once they come to an end, the bar will have been set so high. If I were to work on another series, it would really have to be an amazing show. Now that I’ve tasted the quality of these shows, I’d never want to take a step backward.