Alison Brie and Dave Franco‘s first working experience as actor and director went so well that they would read each other’s minds on the set of Franco’s directorial debut, The Rental. The film is about two couples who go on a weekend getaway that quickly goes awry amid a picturesque coastal setting. Brie plays a character named Michelle, who discovers something about her husband, Charlie (Dan Stevens), that recontextualizes their entire marriage.
Despite working together as actors before they were married, Brie was well aware that the actor-director relationship between Hollywood couples is a whole different animal. Nevertheless, she wasn’t surprised that things went as smoothly as they did.
“It was wonderful. It was so easy. When I work with first-time directors, sometimes I feel like I can have a mistrust of them, and it’s a horrible feeling, you know? You’re sort of not sure if they know what they’re doing,” Brie tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I felt so confident in [Dave] as a director going into it, which was a really comforting feeling to me. I think it was validating to be his main creative sounding board on set and to really feel like a team. We had little conversations here and there and little check-ins about how the process was going. And for him, I think I was a great source of emotional support. He could come back to our Airbnb at night, debrief the day and get my more objective view, maybe, of things that happened. We’ve spent over eight years working on our communication with one another, so talking to each other on-set as actor and director was just seamless.”
As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues its surge across the United States, Hollywood is beginning to resume various film and television productions in accordance with strict safety protocols. Unfortunately, Brie’s hit Netflix series, GLOW, is facing a longer hiatus than most given the close-contact nature of the women’s wrestling show. Production on GLOW‘s final season was originally scheduled to begin in March, just as the industrywide shutdowns began.
“Sadly, I think it’s going to mean a longer hiatus for our show than probably some other shows that might be able to get back to work sooner and maintain a safe environment,” Brie admits. “I think especially because it’s the final season … there’s a sense of wanting to preserve what the show is. And at its heart, it’s a wrestling show. It’s a really physical show. It’s the main driving force of these characters and how they’ve found themselves is through wrestling and through this close contact with one another — with one another’s bodies, specifically. So, I think if we tried to really change that, it would feel like a different show. I think it’s going to be more about rapid testing and seeing if we can just monitor everybody’s health to make sure that actors can be in close proximity to one another.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Brie also discusses how Franco inspired her to co-write her first film, Horse Girl, their nonverbal communication on The Rental set and the latest on Marvel’s She-Hulk rumors.
Since making this film, have you and Dave been a little more paranoid than usual when staying at a hotel or rental property?
Dave definitely has, but I kind of just made the movie and then didn’t think about it again. (Laughs.) Honestly, the longest amount of time that I have stayed in an Airbnb was while we were shooting this movie. And so, it was this weird ripping of the Band-Aid where maybe we had stayed in one, and then suddenly, it was six weeks in Airbnbs in Oregon while driving to a house in the middle of nowhere and then shooting this movie about people getting killed in an Airbnb. (Laughs.) So, it ended up being kind of a cathartic experience. Getting to go to work and demystify my worst fears about what could happen in a rental property.
The Orwellian term “Big Brother” has long been synonymous with mass surveillance by the government, but what makes this movie so chilling is that modern technology can turn any ordinary citizen with a credit card into a Big Brother of sorts. Does today’s technology also frighten you since privacy appears to be a thing of the past for just about everyone?
(Laughs.) Yes, it definitely does. I think what Dave is playing with in this movie is that we read articles about hidden cameras in rental properties and we are aware of those possibilities, but we still stay in them. Somehow, the convenience beats the fear, and you could say the same about technology. It’s a major fear to me that we would lose our privacy. Phones get hacked. Computers get hacked. Within our industry and my community of actresses, this has been a problem. And every day, I feel like I’m making jokes with friends about how our phones are listening to us and they’re guiding my searches online. I have an awareness of it, but do I think that I’ll stop using my smartphone anytime soon? I don’t think so.
I really relate to your character because I am usually the one who’s too tired to do anything on the first night of vacation, and then I’m raring to go the next day while everybody else is dragging. Do you tend to pace yourself like Michelle?
I probably do go big the first night, but where I do feel a kinship with Michelle is that I just like how she does things on her own terms. And I am that way as well, where I’m like, “Oh, I’m down to party, but not tonight. Tonight, I’m tired.” I think I have let go of any sort of FOMO that I might’ve had in my 20s. And now, even if there’s some big fun event and everyone wants to do something, if I’m not in the mood, I’m just not going to go, and I generally feel fine about it. So, I kind of like that about her as a character. At first, you might think she’s a kind of classic uptight, tightly wound character that we’ve seen before — this sort of archetype — but she’s really not. She is just practical and does things her own way.
I can’t help but view entertainment through our present-day lens. And among the points that have impacted me the most of late is that it’s not enough to be not racist; it’s important to be anti-racist. So, when Sheila Vand’s character questions Toby Huss’ character over rental housing discrimination, the three other characters stood out to me because they were passive and silent during that argument. Are current events also changing the way you view scenes like this one as well as entertainment in general?
Yes, I think so, but I also think that entertainment is changing as these conversations become more prevalent. I mean, there’s a reason that the characters are silent in that scene. It wasn’t an accident. It’s Dave and Joe [Swanberg], when they wrote the script, wanting to point out the inherent racism in people, and also, now we’re learning to say the term “microaggressions” and things like that. One of my favorite scenes is the drive to the rental property. The way that it’s written is fantastic, and also the way that Dave edited it, in that we’re really seeing Sheila Vand’s character, Mina Mohammadi, an Iranian woman. The camera holds on her for so long while these two white men debate whether or not this homeowner has racially profiled her. Whether or not this racist act has been committed against her. And she’s not part of the conversation. They’re really not asking her about her experience. And in that way, to follow the normal sort of horror movie guidelines of no innocent character will get killed, that’s one of the ways in which all of these characters are flawed, or certainly our three white characters.
You started writing Horse Girl as Dave was writing The Rental, and I’m sure you inspired each other along the way. When you’d break for lunch, would the two of you ask each other for feedback on this or that whenever you were stuck?
Sure. First of all, Dave totally inspired me to write Horse Girl. It’s an idea I’d had for a long time, but I just didn’t have the courage to put pen to paper, old-school style. And watching him collaborate with Joe and how passionately they were engaged with one another — and just the energy with which he would return home from his writing sessions with Joe — inspired me to not only want to write my script, but to think, “Oh, maybe I need a collaborator. Maybe I’m not quite ready to do it on my own.” So, that was the main influence for me reaching out to Jeff Baena, who’s a good friend of ours. Dave and I had both worked with him before choosing to collaborate with him on Horse Girl. Dave was definitely the first person to read a draft of that script, just as I was one of the first people to read the early draft of The Rental before I knew that I would even be acting in it. And it was really fun. It made for this great collaborative home environment that has served us well during quarantine, to kind of get those creative juices flowing and feel really open in terms of no judgement and looking at each othe’s material. And now that we’ve been quarantining together, Dave and I have written another feature together, and that’s been really fun. So, it’s the next step in the evolution. (Laughs.)
While you’ve acted alongside Dave in the past, what was the actor-director relationship like on set?
It was wonderful. It was so easy. When I work with first-time directors, sometimes I feel like I can have a mistrust of them, and it’s a horrible feeling, you know? You’re sort of not sure if they know what they’re doing. And Dave is probably the person I trust most in the world, and I was able to be privy to every step of his preparation process. I felt so confident in him as a director going into it, which was a really comforting feeling to me. And then, once we were actually physically on set together, it just was so nice for both of us. I think it was validating to be his main creative sounding board on set and to really feel like a team. We had little conversations here and there and little check-ins about how the process was going. And for him, I think I was a great source of emotional support. Even aside from being an actor, just truly being his wife and being there for the whole experience. He could come back to our Airbnb at night, debrief the day and get my more objective view, maybe, of things that happened. And I think that was really nice. We’ve spent over eight years working on our communication with one another, so talking to each other onset as actor and director was just seamless.
Whenever couples work together as actor and director, I tend to imagine very specific performance direction, such as, “Try the reaction shot that Rebecca Walters gave in the car in Scream 4” or “Remind yourself of how disappointed Trudy was when Pete did what he did.” But Dave told me that you actually read each other’s minds. Were you surprised that your communication was as nonverbal as it was?
(Laughs.) No, I actually don’t think I was surprised. When Dave was writing the script, the way that the characters talk and the things that they do are based on his experiences and things that he’s witnessed, which, for me, are a lot of shared experiences. Dave was so flexible with letting us tweak dialogue if things didn’t feel right in our mouths, which, for me, was never the case because I was like, “Well, the way that these characters talk is sort of an extension of the way that Dave talks, which is pretty much an extension of the way that I talk.” (Laughs.) Everyone’s kind of speaking our language, and they have our sense of humor. And also, to go back to the fact that during prep, I was privy to every thought that Dave was having about how he wanted the movie to be, how he wanted the performances to be, how grounded he wanted it to be and what the characters were like. And we just had so many of those conversations, so by the time we got on set, honestly, sometimes, I felt like I would just throw out a wacky performance in some of the takes knowing it was going to be a little too much. And then, he would come in and be like, “You know what—,” and I’d be like, “I know,” and he’d be like, “OK.” (Laughs.) And the conversations were just so brief because I knew what he was going to say.
Since you’ve chronicled your fitness journey quite a bit since joining GLOW, I’m curious about how that translates to roles outside of GLOW. While I’m sure you feel noticeably stronger as your other characters, can it be a disadvantage if you’re playing someone whose mind and body are unfit?
Not at all. I think that the way that I’ve connected to my body through physical fitness has, more than anything, been a confidence builder. So, I’ve been able to witness myself becoming more self-assured and more comfortable in my own body. And that only makes it more of a safe place for me to take risks and experiment in my acting.
ALISON BRIE LARSON is coming for ya pic.twitter.com/KXIdhLkC8W
— Brie Larson (@brielarson) September 3, 2018
Your personal trainer, Jason Walsh, trains another actor with the name Brie — Brie Larson — and there’s a great picture out there of you guys getting swole together. Will your trainer use the other Brie to motivate you during your sessions by saying things like, “Brie did 11 reps this morning, you should do 12!”?
Oh my God. Absolutely. (Laughs.) I actually think it’s one of his favorite things to do. It’s one of his favorite motivational tools. He’s literally shown me videos of Brie’s workout to get my juices flowing and pump me up. And it works! (Laughs.)
“Brie just pushed a Jeep; you should push a Suburban!”
(Laughs.) That’s the video that surfaces every couple months. I’m like, “I’ve seen it, I know!”
Are there any updates on the “Alison Brie-type” saga? (In February, a rumor circulated that Marvel was looking for an “Alison Brie-type” to play She-Hulk/Jennifer Walters in Disney+’s upcoming series.)
(Laughs.) You know, I’ve been trying to follow it online a little bit, and there don’t seem to be. But it is always funny to me when something kind of takes off on the internet, and I’m getting my updates from fans tagging me in things on Instagram. I’m like, “Oh, interesting. Oh, people are still talking about it. That’s cool.” (Laughs.)
Every production has its hands full when it comes to figuring out a way to resume shooting, but GLOW really has its work cut out for itself given the physical nature of the series. Do you anticipate every character wearing gloves in the final season, among other things?
I don’t. Sadly, I think it’s going to mean a longer hiatus for our show than probably some other shows that might be able to get back to work sooner and maintain a safe environment. Especially because it’s the final season and we already know that, there’s a sense of wanting to preserve what the show is. And at its heart, it’s a wrestling show. It’s a really physical show. It’s the main driving force of these characters and how they’ve found themselves is through wrestling and through this close contact with one another — with one another’s bodies, specifically. So, if we tried to really change that, it would feel like a different show. I think it’s going to be more about rapid testing and seeing if we can just monitor everybody’s health to make sure that actors can be in close proximity to one another.
What can you say about Clea DuVall’s Happiest Season, which I’m really looking forward to seeing someday?
(Laughs.) Well, I haven’t heard much about Happiest Season, although I feel like it might be on track to still be released this year? I say that with a giant question mark, but what a fun movie. Oh, it was just a blast to shoot, and it has an incredible cast. Mackenzie Davis and Kristen Stewart lead the way. It’s like a totally joyful holiday rom-com. And it’s about Mackenzie Davis’ character bringing her girlfriend, Kristen Stewart’s character, home for the holidays, and her family doesn’t yet know that she’s gay. And it’s a holiday rom-com, but it’s also a family comedy, holiday movie. It’s got a bunch of delicious characters and again, an amazing cast: Mary Steenburgen, Victor Garber, Dan Levy, Aubrey Plaza and Mary Holland, who co-wrote the movie with Clea DuVall. Clea is an incredible director, and we really had such a fun time with everybody on set. It was such a joyful experience, and it was really fun for me coming out of shooting The Rental and Horse Girl, which were very dramatic thrillers. It was nice to have that release.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The Rental is available at drive-ins, in select theaters and on demand July 24.