The only thing standing between Alison Brie and the weekend is our Friday evening interview, but here she is, cheery and upbeat, energetically shaking my hand with a “Hi!” in that high-pitched voice so distinctive it immediately conjures up her perky roles in Mad Men and Community. Looking on-trend casual in a white Tory Burch turtleneck sweater, Industry Standard jeans, and Stan Smiths, the 33-year-old actress has just taken her hair down from her press-junket-style look. It’s wavy, with a lot of volume and that mussed, just-got-out-of-bed-possibly-with-someone-else look. “I just did that thing where I had my hair up all day and took it down, and I was like, ‘yes!’ It’s like an ’80s kind of working girl chic,” she says. “This is the kind of hair that, when you take it down, you’re like, ‘yeah!’ And the halfway through dinner you go to the bathroom and see yourself in the mirror, and you’re like, ‘Oh. I’m crazy.’”
Despite this Southern California native’s recent rise in Hollywood — she’s currently starring in How to Be Single, a beer- and dance floor-fueled joyride through New York’s bar scene, text flirtations, and hung-over afternoons in corporate desk chairs — she’s still getting used to the spotlight. How to Be Single depicts Manhattan at its apex of everything bacchanalian and pleasant: young drunk people spilling out of downtown bars in the spring; pensive come-to-Jesus moments on fire escapes; mimosa picnics in the park.
Dakota Johnson plays a serial monogamist on a break adopted by coworker Rebel Wilson, who acts as a sort of nightlife spirit guide to the fledgling single girl. Wilson’s character eagerly imparts all her wisdom to her new disciple; things like the ins and outs of no-strings-attached hookups, fixing headaches with Pedialyte, and some sort of beer mathematics about how many Bud Lights between two people equals sex. Brie plays Lucy, a woman who does not believe in beer mathematics but does wholeheartedly believe in the science of online dating. She’s a hyper-foil to Wilson’s raucousness, a girl who uses the free Wi-Fi at her local bar to optimize and analyze her dating profiles in hopes of landing the perfectly algorithmed mate.
It’s a character you might think you’ve almost seen Brie play before: high-strung, prone to fast-talking diatribes, all her ducks in a row. But what Brie actually liked about the role is that it goes where you least expect it. “I think when you meet that character, you think you know her,” she says, “Especially for me, I’ve played a lot of type-A characters. But then I kept reading, and I found her storyline realistic and not predictable. I also really liked the character because she’s so confident in her methods,” Brie continues. “Sometimes people act a little squeamish or a little too cool about online dating, like, ‘I’m doing it, but I’m not that person.’ Lucy is like: ‘I am that person. Because it works, and here’s why.’”
Brie’s type-A characters include Trudy Campbell in Mad Men, Annie Edison in Community, and Diane Nguyen in BoJack Horseman, but she says her personal life mirrors that trait only in terms of how she approaches her work: with obsessive ethic and diligence. “I think I’ve become more type A the more I play characters that are type A,” Brie confesses. The character to whom she actually relates the most is Lainey, a serial cheater in last fall’s Sleeping With Other People, where she starred opposite Jason Sudeikis. “She was a well-rounded, modern woman,” Brie notes. “And also a very flawed person who is able to have fun and hang out but also gets really down on herself sometimes and has low moments.”
Though How to Be Single hinges mostly around the women, Brie’s scenes mostly involved playing opposite a lot of very funny dudes, including Workaholics’ Anders Holm and Undateable’s Brett Morin. In the acting world, she’s part of this revered comedy circle, she admits, thanks to her role as the hyper-focused, former Adderall addict Annie Edison in Community. “I think because Community had such a cult following and so many comedic actors and writers coming through, it was a great time to meet a lot of people and learn about that side of the business,” she says. “And it carried this incredible weight,” she continues. “Because Dan Harmon is such an incredible writer.”
Though grateful to be a part of the comedy world, Brie doesn’t cast herself as a comedic actor (though she will make you laugh in Single). In addition to first-time producing a TV Land series called Teachers, her next acting roles defy what you know of her: a Victorian drama for ITV by Julian Fellowes and her first film drama, The Headhunter’s Calling, with Gerard Butler and Willem Dafoe. You’ll also see her in The Disaster Artist, directed by James Franco and starring his younger brother and her fiancé, Dave (“Davey” when Brie talks about him). “I’ve never been more comfortable on a set, obviously,” she says of shooting with her soon-to-be family. “It was nice because you had your person to hang out with. We spend a lot of time apart because of work, and it was nice to say, “Oh, my gosh, I’m leaving for work … and I’ll see you in an hour!”
When Franco and Brie got engaged in August, people seemed surprised to learn they were even dating (they had been for over three years). Their digital footprint is minimal: It’s hard to track down a photo of the pair leaving Petco or glaring at the paparazzi during a coffee run. “We don’t go out of our way, we just don’t flaunt it,” she says when asked if dodging attention requires a lot of work. And if you think meeting a guy in a bar in New York is a crapshoot, consider this: Brie and Franco met at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. “People were like, ‘So you’re … the ones it works out for,’” she says. “I don’t think I’d recommend it normally; it’s sort of outside of both of our characters.”
Brie is quiet about wedding details, mainly because she’s never thought of herself as much of a wedding person. “I’m not very bridal, instinctually,” she explains. “Marriage never really interested me, I guess because I was very focused on my work. I wasn’t sure if I really saw the point to it. I bought a dress on Net-a-Porter, and I’m like, ‘Maybe I’ll wear that.’” As far as what she’s been wearing on the red carpet these days, Brie continues to opt for tried-and-true designers that work for her (Giambattista Valli, Dior, Narciso Rodriguez), and she’s branching to newer, younger brands like Monse, Cushnie et Ochs, and Self-Portrait. It wasn’t until Mad Men that she started taking more of an interest in fashion. “It had the biggest effect on my fashion sense in terms of having an eye and dressing like an adult,” she says. “Janie Bryant (our costume designer) and I would talk a lot about clothes and colors.”
Whenever Brie does walk down the aisle, she’ll do so with an even greater professional range under her belt. Which seems to be her priority, much more than planning upcoming nuptials. What changed her mind about getting married? “I just met that person that I was like, ‘Well, I’m really in love with you and would like to grow old with you.’ I actually think it’s much more romantic when two people are like, ‘Oh, I could go either way on marriage, but I want to marry you.’”