Interview: Alison Brie on comedic inspiration, the changing landscape of television and new comedy Somebody I Used To Know

If you want to know why when Peter Gray spoke to Alison Brie about her latest film, Somebody I Used To Know, they started suggesting television shows where Jason Biggs would fornicate with various types of dessert pies, you’ll just have to watch it and find out.

To be fair, Brie’s character Ally and her in-film profession as a television producer specialising in food-themed reality show means the exchange has a little bit of context, but it was ultimately a wild start to the two’s discussion about the film’s honest representation of queerness, if there’s any commentary on Brie’s own series being cancelled by Netflix, and how comedy and drama naturally intertwine for her.

I’m going to say, there’s obviously been a lot of philosophical lines that we get from films over time and I think “I wasn’t there to make friends, I was there to make flan” may be one of the new ones to add…

(Laughs) Words to live by!

I think so! Not going to lie, “Dessert Island”? Would kind of watch that.

I’m glad you say that.  I would watch it too.  Absolutely.  It comes from a place of love.

And then “Des-Hurt Locker”? Even better!

You’re in for that one as well?

I’m in for that one as well, yes.

Yes! Great.  I mean we can keep spinning them off, I have a whole napkin.  What about “Foods you would fuck?” “Foods you could fuck” (laughs)

Oh, well that changes everything!

That’s taking it a little far…

Oh, no, I mean I think that would be the show I would choose over everything else…

If we could get Jason Biggs to recreate like an American Pie situation.  Like Jason Biggs hosting “Foods you could fuck” is pretty golden.

Where all he does is just fuck pies.  That would work.

Different flavours of pie (laughs)

Well, I guess onto more serious things, because I actually have an interview to do…

(Laughs) Fine…

I was going to ask, those discussions around the absurdity of shows and the cancellations, and with all those executives, were they born from any personal experience when writing this film?

Ah, well (laughs), let’s see on the timeline of our lives, I guess that Glow was cancelled while we were writing this movie.  So, sure…I hope that it doesn’t come across as too “inside baseball” as we’re having the third season of a show…

It’s not just specific to Glow.  I’ve worked in television for a long time, and I’ve witnessed this shift from when I worked in network TV, on Community, to working on the streamers, like on Netflix with Glow, and how it’s different.  The way that people consume content now is different.  The way shows are made is different.  The shelf life of a show these days is shorter, right? And people love a limited series.  A lot of shows don’t go beyond three seasons because, I don’t know, the networks maybe don’t feel like audiences have the attention span, or that they’re not going to continue to make money after three seasons.

These are the newer questions that are being asked versus a network show where you’re looking at numbers, and you’re trying to do as many seasons as possible to get that residual money, and all that kind of stuff.  It just has shifted.  So I think we were partially analysing that and our experiences within that shift.

I was going to say that kids today just don’t understand what it was like to wait week-to-week to know what was going to happen to Ross & Rachel!  That struggle? Everything is handed to them.

The cliffhanger is lost.  Although I think it’s coming back around.  I mean, we are all on the edge of our seats watching White Lotus, and things like that, so I like the space we’ve landed where there’s both.  There’s the shows you get to binge and then there’s the other shows that make you wait.  You have a little of both.

I’m going to pivot to something much more emotional after all of that.  I was talking to Kiersey before, and I said how I love how natural queer representation is becoming, especially with the characters in this film.  It doesn’t feel like you’re just checking a box for the sake of it.  I have to thank you for that, as a gay man who is starting to see representation become extremely natural.  Gay people aren’t always going to be the best people, so I like that that’s what’s being brought across.  I was wondering is that something you’re thinking of when writing these scripts? Kiersey mentioned how it was already an additive in the script itself.

Yeah.  Yes.  Thank you so much for saying that, I really appreciate hearing this feedback, and it means a lot to me.  It was very intentional, certainly with (Kiersey’s) character (Cassidy).  We wanted every character in the movie to have a rich and complex emotional history and backstory from top to bottom.  Even if it’s Haley Joel Osment’s character, who seems like he’s the comic relief, (but) actually this is a character with a full life, who has two kids (and) who wants the same for his brother.  And Cassidy, I think a big part of the intentionality with her queerness was exactly what you’re saying, where we were just like “she’s also queer”, but that’s not her entire identity.  That’s just one facet to who she is.  It’s not the entire plot of this movie.  It’s the same with Sean’s adoption story and his history with that, that doesn’t encapsulate everything about Sean, but it does inform a lot of the decisions that he makes.

Cassidy is a character that really represents a person who is comfortable in their own skin, who loves who they are (and) is unashamed of who they are.  The fact that she’s queer is just a part of her.  Just one part of her personality and her identity.

It really is amazing to see it, to just be represented in this very natural way.  I also said that the delivery of “This bitch” as a line from her, and from you, was just…you’re giving me all these nuggets throughout the movie, I love it.  It’s great.  From my perspective, comedy is something that comes very naturally to you.  I’m wondering did that start somewhere in particular for you? Did you always know that comedy was something you wanted to explore? And was there anybody that you looked up to as an inspiration?

Oh, wow.  So many people.  It took me a while to sort of connect the dots between my sense of humour in my personal life and working in comedy, prior to Community, which seems so early in my career.  But when I think about acting in college, I didn’t think like “I’m the comedy gal”, which is strange to me, because I think with my friends I’ve always had a really silly sense of humour.  I love joking around with the people in my life.  I love making people laugh and doing impressions and all that stuff.  (But) then I would take the work really seriously.  A lot of my early auditions were always for very dramatic roles.  I wasn’t trying to connect the two, but I was also just auditioning for any different type of show.  It’s coincidental to me that I ended up on Community.

I started to watch all of these other great comedic actors on that show come at it from a different place of their comedic sensibilities.  I think it also brought out my own nature also because I got along so well (with everyone).  We had such great chemistry, the Community cast, (and) obviously Danny Pudi is in this movie, we wrote that role for him.  We really wanted to capitalise off the chemistry and history that he and I have.  I think working on Community I really got to tap into my personal sense of humour, and have just continued to capitalise on that across the board.  I don’t think about a difference when I’m working in comedy and drama.

A lot of the actors that inspire me in the comedic space are the same ones that inspire me in the dramatic space.  Like, Annette Bening.  One of my all time favourite movies is The American President, and that’s a romantic comedy.  It’s a timeless classic to me.  She (gives) such an amazing performance.  There are all these great little comedic beats, but they’re so grounded in who that character is.  I even think of Frances McDormand, who is obviously the most incredible dramatic actress, but even in a very dark comedy like Fargo, there’s a lot of comedic gold that she’s spinning.  I look at Raising Arizona.  I love Holly Hunter, she’s another of those actors who, to me, can do both.  I mean, we were just re-watching 9 To 5, and everybody in that cast is just hilarious and perfect (laughs).

I think comedy is going to go alright for you.

(Laughs) Thank you.

Thank you so much for your time.  I’m just going to also say, Scream 4? You are amazing in that movie…

Thank you.

This really is a beautiful film, so thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

Thank you.  I really appreciate you.  I appreciate these thoughtful questions.  That was really fun.

Somebody I Used To Know is now streaming on Prime Video.


Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.