It should come as no surprise that Alison Brie, the actor who played Annie Edison of CommunityTrudy Campbell of Mad Menand Ruth Wilder of GLOW, is as adept at penning such brilliant characters as she is at performing them. In fact, it was her acting skills that informed the largely improvised page-to-screen process in her feature screenplay debut, Horse Girl—a psychological deep dive of a horror indie that also had audiences asking, “Oh, damn, is Alison Brie okay?”
Spin Me Rounda wild, dark-sided Eat Pray Love that marks Brie’s follow-up collaboration with writer-director Jeff Baena, retains that inner nuance while reclaiming the loose comedy for which she and co-stars Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, and Aubrey Plaza are best known. Playing a restaurant chain manager whose all-expenses-paid corporate retreat to Italy goes more than a little awry—particularly under the auspices of company founder Nick (played by Alessandro Nivola)—Brie toes the line between plausibility and outright absurdity. As the writer-star tells The AV Clubher conception of Nick was inspired by real-life manipulators of the male persuasion.
The AV Club: Asking what a film is “about” can oversimplify it, but Spin Me Round is doing and saying so much and covering so many genres that I have to ask: What would you, Alison Brie, say your movie is about?
Alison Brie: I like to do the same thing, I like to reduce a story to its most basic elements! Spin Me Round is about a woman who goes on a trip. She thinks she’s going to have the trip of a lifetime and fall in love…and things go off the rails. Things do not go as expected. That’s all I have to say about it.
AVC: There are so many absurd-yet-realistic scenarios in this film. How much improvisation was there in the writing versus the acting? Horse Girl and your other collaborations with Jeff Baena were more improvised, yes?
AB: Yeah, unlike all the other projects that I’ve done with Jeff, we actually did write the full script for this and wrote all the dialogue and everything like that. But with a cast this talented, there was certainly some riffing on set, especially with Molly Shannon. Her character is so fun—and talk about going off the rails. She had a lot of different stuff to play with, so we really let her do her thing, which was really great.
AVC: Did you write with these actors in mind?
AB: Molly, for sure, and Aubrey, who are kind of part of the “Jeff Baena players.” Molly, Aubrey, and I have all been in four out of five of Jeff’s movies, and Fred Armisen is a repeat offender as well. The rest of the cast, no, we sort of delved into the characters and once we secured the cast, we went back in and then sort of tailored the roles more to the actors who we had cast.
AVC: So there wasn’t as much relying on improv while shooting?
AB: That’s right. We were, as with a lot of indie movies, a little bit strapped for time. So it was easier to stick to the script most of the time. But there’s a great scene with Zach Woods and Ben Sinclair getting into a bit of a kerfuffle where there was certainly some improv. It’s always nice to just let the material breathe. When you have such a talented cast—and these actors are all really gifted at improv and comedy and drama—coming at it from all directions, letting them play it a little bit fast and loose, I think, offers so much. We get so much back. [Each take was] pretty different.
AVC: How often do you break character, laughing at all of these hilarious co-stars?
AB: Me, never. I have to say, I am one of those people, I hardly ever break. And I think in this project I found it especially important not to break because my character is the one who is kind of witnessing all of this wacky behavior and taking it in. Not that she’s the audience; I think the audience has a different perspective from her and can see things a little more clearly than she can. She’s a bit naive. But I found, being a co-writer on the project, that my playing it straight was going to keep everything anchored as we were witnessing all of these characters that are kind of out there.
AVC: In terms of your own cinematic inspirations, do you have a favorite film? Or what about a dream collaborator that you would love to work with?
AB: My favorite movie is The American President, directed by Rob Reiner, starring Annette Bening and Michael Douglas. It’s just my favorite movie of all time. I mean, I would love to work with Annette Bening. But a collaborator, a director…there’s just too many to lock one down. I mean, I could say [Quentin] Tarantino. Wouldn’t that be fun, in your lifetime, to work with him? But it feels like a long shot. [Laughs]
AVC: You and Tarantino and Bening!
AB: Yeah, me, Tarantino, and Annette Bening! It’s like Tarantino’s dream cast. It feels like a no-brainer. [Laughs]