Before the genre-bending feature Horse Girl dropped on Netflix on Friday, EW put Alison Brie in the hot seat about her acting history to get the answer fans deserve: Yes, her character Annie from NBC’s Community just might be a horse girl.
“If she hadn’t, you know, had a high school pill addiction, she could have channeled that energy into riding horses,” Brie tells EW.
In 2018, Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande birthed the phrase BDE (big d– energy), a casual coolness about a person that simply radiates. In 2020, HGE (horse girl energy) is having its moment, and Community’s Annie could very well be the face of the movement. “The way that she would decorate her binders is the biggest clue that she would have been into horse girl stuff. I think also the way that Annie would develop crushes on boys, to me, it feels very horse girl.”
Annie would have quickly become best pals with the lead character in Horse Girl, a psychological thriller initially disguised as an indie drama, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this month. The spiraling journey takes us inside the mind of the girl you might have made fun of in high school. She always has braided hair, seemed to have braces for way too long, and was perfectly content not talking to anyone in class ever. Sarah (played by Brie) is a craft store employee and our resident horse girl who works alongside Joan (Molly Shannon). She religiously watches guilty pleasure TV and regularly returns to the stable of her childhood horse.
Sarah lives with her roommate Nikki (Debby Ryan), who begins to notice something slightly off about Sarah’s memory. Her track of time is melting like an ice cream cone. Oh, and there’s also something very spoiler-y about aliens, too. But Horse Girl never pokes fun at the challenges Sarah faces, putting us in the passenger seat of a downward spiral that offers insight into what it’s like to live in a state of utter confusion.
Brie, who is a co-writer on the movie alongside director Jeff Baena (Little Hours, Joshy), spoke to EW about the movie, including what it’s like working with Shannon again and what she did on set to give her character the right horse girl energy.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was there anything you did on the set of Horse Girl that gave your character the right horse girl energy?
ALISON BRIE: We had an amazing art department and props department. With our prop department, part of their main job was making tons of friendship bracelets and anklets, little totems that Sarah is hand-making. There was this theme of me sitting there and making a little friendship bracelet from pieces of string, the way that I used to do when I was 11 years old, that would really help me tap into the character.
Were any of them actually personalized to you at all?
I would pick out the horse charms. I was choosing what the color scheme was and things like that. We had a pretty specific color scheme for the movie in general. Peach plays such a big role in the film. And we had a lot of pastels and things like that we wanted everything in Sarah’s world to feel a little dated, because she really hasn’t gotten new possessions since she was younger and had money. And, you know, her life is a bit sort of frozen in time.
What’s really fascinating is that nowhere in the story do I feel like it turns into a comedy. It could have come out that way. Because when we think of somebody like a horse girl, we think of somebody that we may have picked on in middle school or high school. What happened in the scriptwriting process to make sure it hit the right tone?
It’s incredibly important to us that we didn’t feel like we were making fun of this character in any way. There was no aspect of it that was ever meant to be a comedy when I first pitched the idea to Jeff. I think I framed it as a sci-fi thriller. To speak to your point, certainly, as we were first pitching it to producers everyone’s instinct was that it would be a comedy seeing Jeff’s name and my name and the title of the film. A lot of people are very confused from the start because the first act of the movie almost feels like a traditional indie comedy. You know, a sweet girl working at a craft store. It’s me and Molly Shannon. That was kind of intentional. We wanted to lull the audience into a place of comfortability, the way that Sarah feels pretty comfortable and safe at the start of the filter, and then turn them upside down.
What I really like about this story too, is how other characters kind of bounce off of her. And specifically, Sarah’s friendship with Nikki, her roommate. I think it was really fascinating to see how that kind of plays out throughout the movie. What was the inspiration behind her character as you guys were writing it?
Originally, the roommate, she was a much angrier character. She was almost like the villain. She was originally scripted to kind of be much closer in age to Sarah. But, as we kind of honed in on Sarah’s isolation as a character, we thought that it made a lot more sense for her roommate to be significantly younger than her to just kind of really show that disconnect, that they’re just kind of roommates out of convenience that they’re not close friends. Then meeting with Debby Ryan about the role we unlocked some other aspects of that character to us, because Debby was talking a lot about her generational empathy, I guess. That was something that I felt like a lack of awareness as a person of a different generation. Debby, who’s I think 26 years old, thought, oh, what an interesting idea if this character can approach her with a bit more empathy, and a little bit more patience. And, you know, that seemed very sweet and kind of a different side of the character that we hadn’t fully thought about.
Speaking of the generational gap. Your character’s relationship with Molly Shannon’s character at the craft store is a little different. She really tries to take care of you while you’re kind of going through this moment.
Yeah, we crafted Molly’s character to be a very maternal character. There’s a lot of mythology about Sarah’s character throughout the film and you don’t fully learn the circumstances and what happened to her until much later in the movie. It was important to give Sarah a touchstone of a person who she felt comfortable, even if only the slightest bit, broaching dangerous subjects.
You and Molly Shannon were also both in Promising Young Woman. What was that realization like when you saw that she was also in that movie?
We were never on set at the same time. First of all, we wrote this role for Molly in Horse Girl. We just called the character Molly. We finally changed it because we thought she maybe wouldn’t feel comfortable. A funny point to that too is my character in Promising Young Woman’s name was originally Alison. They changed it to Madison at the last second. They were like “Hmm, I don’t know if she wants to be totally associated with her actions. I adore Molly. She’s been in all of Jeff Baena’s movies. We worked together on The Little Hours. She’s so fun to work with. We always had her in mind for this role. The funny thing about signing up for Promising Young Woman is I signed on only really knowing that Carey Mulligan was doing it and then every day I felt like there was a new casting announcement for some awesome person.
Let’s talk about that ending. How did you know you wanted to take it that far?
It was really part of the original idea. I always envisioned how the movie would end. I think we’ve seen so many movies where the twist is that the person’s crazy. You think of like Fight Club or Mr. Robot where you’re like “What, they have multiple personality disorder!?” I hope people take a lot of different things away from the ending and that people have different interpretations of the ending. This woman doesn’t have the tools to know if what’s happening is real or not. She doesn’t have the ability to trust her own mind. Isn’t that much scarier? What if it really was happening?
Horse Girl is streaming now on Netflix.