NET-A-PORTER – A series about female wrestlers proved not just to be Alison Brie’s first starring role, but a life- and body-changing experience, too. The actress talks about working with her husband Dave Franco and finding her inner Glow with Jennifer Dickinson
A new job, a great one, can make you feel like a new person. For Alison Brie, her Golden Globe-nominated role in this summer’s surprise hit, Glow, made her look like one, too. The cult Netflix series tells the story of a group of women in the ’80s who sign up to become wrestlers, with 34-year-old Brie playing the engagingly imperfect Ruth. The actress really wanted to win the part. And even though her wide-eyed, lithe-framed, impossibly-glossy-haired brand of beauty had placed her on multiple ‘world’s most beautiful women’ lists – and this character required a helmet-like perm and borderline-steroid muscles – she didn’t hesitate. In fact, it made her desire it more.
“I’d really been wanting to do something where I looked totally different, because I felt like in all the roles I’d done in the past,” – including Trudy in Mad Men, Annie in Community, and Lucy, the online-dating expert in How to be Single – “I’d always looked the same. Nobody would ever let me cut my hair. Every job that I’d get, I’d be like, ‘Maybe she has a short, blond bob?’ And they’d say, ‘What? No! You’re gonna look how you look, that’s why we cast you to do the part.’”
But while a bad perm only involves a few hours and an assault on your nasal passages, a body that looks as though you spend a minimum of three hours a day in the testosterone-thick weights corner of the gym takes, well, three hours a day minimum in the gym. And making those physical changes turned out to be a psychological game changer for Brie, too.
“It’s not just, ‘Oh, we got in amazing shape for this show, so I feel great’,” says the actress, displaying the fruits of the very labour we are discussing in a pair of denim shorts and a ‘We should all be Mirandas’ T-shirt with the sleeves rolled back, showing both her love of Sex and the City’s most under-appreciated character and some very impressive triceps. “It was more about learning to use our bodies in this totally different way,” she explains. “It really changed the way I felt about my body. It felt so empowering and exciting, and it proved that we were capable of so much more than we expected. Glow is such a body-positive show; all of the women on it feel really comfortable in their bodies, and that is such a healthy thing to be surrounded by.”
The Glow workouts, says Brie, have flipped the script on the traditional, society-honed view of what women’s bodies should look like and what we should strive for ours to be. But the actress thinks that men can be just as hard on themselves, if not more so. “In my experience, it’s the men that I’ve worked with who have been much more obsessed with what they were eating and what sort of shape they were in, talking about that kind of stuff,” she says.
“On [our] show, if we’re talking about our bodies, it’s because we’re talking about a [wrestling] move that we’re learning, or workouts that we’re doing to prepare for a move.”
Take a look at Brie’s Instagram (@alisonbrie) and you’ll find – and start watching on repeat – video clips of her intense training sessions. We’re talking bear crawls, pull-ups, hauling three times her own bodyweight. When we meet, the actress has just begun filming season two and is working out like the professional athlete she portrays. “While you’re doing something really physical and it has to do with your body and being healthy, the goals are not necessarily about weight-loss, which is so important,” she says.
Even between seasons, pressure dissipated, Brie keeps up the pace. There is an unmistakable aura of the worker bee about her; a sense of someone who is not exactly driven to succeed, but who actually enjoys getting up each morning (before her alarm, no doubt) and getting stuck into a challenge. She is also to-the-core nice. Smiling, unpretentious, almost effervescent with contagious happiness vibes –perhaps a byproduct of all those exercise-induced endorphins.
Today’s meeting spot – chosen by her – is a stone’s throw from some of LA’s most popular hiking trails and within screeching distance of a group of five year olds and their particularly resilient piñata. Her husband, actor Dave Franco, was here with her until a few minutes ago and this is one of their regular haunts – getting outside, being on the move, is pretty much essential for this California native. Relaxing is not really in her repertoire. After months of pushing her body to its limits for Glow, she barely paused to recover: “I took a two-week ‘break’, just running and doing mellower workouts. I love to workout, so I try to [do it] six days a week: three or four days with my trainer, then cardio at weekends.”
As well as exercising, she used the show’s hiatus to film The Post (out Dec 22), Spielberg’s examination of the US battle between media and government. Co-starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, Brie clearly still can’t believe that she is part of such a team. “Shooting [it] was so exciting and insane, it was just like a dream,” says the actress. “It’s Steven Spielberg, it’s Meryl Streep, it’s Tom Hanks…it’s just super surreal. And it’s about this whole thing that couldn’t be more relevant right now.”
But neither The Post or Glow are what Brie is here to talk about, happy though she is to veer off course. This month sees the release of The Disaster Artist, an indie project directed, produced by and starring her brother-in-law James Franco, the first film on which he has teamed up with his younger sibling Dave. The unusual plot centers on the story the 2003 film The Room, otherwise known as ‘the worst film ever made’. Conceived and made by the eccentric Tommy Wiseau, who has a cameo in Franco’s movie, The Room became cult viewing because of its many plot holes and inconsistencies. It’s an unusual premise and it’s taken two years to finish, but the reviews are stellar.
Signing up was a no-brainer, says Brie. “It was a last-minute decision.
Maybe two weeks before they started filming they were like, ‘Oh, do you want to play Dave’s girlfriend?’ And I said, ‘Why not?’”
Brie and Franco met in 2012 and married earlier this year. “We spent the first few years of our relationship on opposite sides of the world, because I was shooting TV shows that were based here [in LA], and he was shooting movies that were in Berlin, London, places like that,” says the actress. “It was kind of great, because on my breaks I could travel the world, but it’s hard to be apart from your partner, so to shoot this with him and James was very special.” While film used to be Brie’s ultimate goal – “When I was small, I performed all the time for my parents and my neighbors, putting on costumes, creating characters and doing sketches, singing songs… I just probably always wanted attention and liked the feeling of entertaining” – it is the small screen and Glow’s Ruth that have finally fulfilled her.
“I was such a snob when I was in theater school; I never thought I would do TV,” she says. “[But] this job has completed me in so many ways. I don’t just feel proud of my work, I feel proud of the show and what it is – that it is representative of powerful women, women creating their own way and finding success for themselves. Maybe in my mind I had this dream of being a movie star, but as the dream has become realized, I’m like, ‘Oh, no, this is the dream.’ The first season of shooting was unlike anything that I’d experienced, it was like euphoria all the time. [The set] feels a little like an island of misfit toys, I think, which is an environment I’m comfortable in.”
Even challenges such as the show’s nudity and Brie’s first in-depth sex scene felt empowering rather than nerve-wracking, she insists.
“Very early on in auditioning it was a case of, ‘Don’t come to any more auditions unless you’re comfortable with nudity, because it is a part of the show.’ It was a deal-breaker, for sure. At that time, I just wanted to be on the show so much that I really didn’t care. It was important that the show be a realistic portrayal of life in the
way people live and the way they have sex. And also that our show be about every aspect of women’s bodies, and women not being ashamed of their bodies. We’re not being shot in a way that’s over-sexualizing us, or exploiting us. I found it very freeing and empowering, and I’m so glad that
I did it.”
Glow may have made Brie look different, but it’s changed her irrevocably on the inside, too. Here’s to jobs that do that for all of us. Though hopefully without the ’80s perm.
The Disaster Artist is out now