She's already won the hearts of countless fans as headstrong, doe-eyed Annie in NBC's Community, and as Pete's doting, buttoned-up wife, Trudy, in AMC's Mad Men. Now, actress Alison Brie says she finds herself at "the other end" of what is apparently a very multi-pronged spectrum as Suzie Barnes-Eilhauer in The Five-Year Engagement — a big screen comedy about two people who just can't seem to get hitched to one another.
The film — which stars Emily Blunt and Jason Segel as the long-suffering couple, Tom and Violet — positions Brie as the impulsive, slightly boozy sister of the bride-to-be. She won the role on the strength of a table read, and with the aid of a spot-on British dialect gleaned from a combination of instructional CDs and some heavy research into Engagement's leading lady.
"I watched a lot of Emily," Brie admits. "I watched The Devil Wears Prada so many times, just prior to the table read, so that I could sound more like her. For me, it wasn’t just about her accent, but also about [capturing] her cadences and the way that she talks and jokes. Just doing a generic British accent? That’d be weird. I have a sister, and I know we talk the same."
Brie's hard work paid off, and today the actress says she's thrilled to be part of a cast that includes fellow NBC alumni Mindy Kaling (The Office), Chris Parnell (formerly of Saturday Night Live) and Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation). As Suzie's big-hearted husband, Alex, it was Pratt who had to match Brie's comedic skills, step for passionate step. Throughout the entire filmmaking process, Brie relished their fiery, big-screen romance.
"Alex and Suzie sort of [represent] the whole lesson of the movie," Brie says. "Jason and Emily’s characters try so hard to control everything, and they’re waiting for everything to be perfect, waiting for everything to fall into place. But Chris and I played people who are so impulsive and who just act and clean up the mess as they go. They fully embrace everything that comes along. Their lives could have been disasters, but they appreciate them and just go."
That powerful sense of adventure mirrors Brie's own approach to choosing material of wide variety and admirable difficulty. Rather than box herself into a particular brand of performance, she continues to seek out roles that will offer fun and diverse challenges.
"When I was in high school," Brie says, "I was very idealistic, thinking you could really plan your career. After college, I sort of realized I had to let that go, and that [a career] was more about doing whatever role I could get my hands on. I so just wanted to work and to act and, through that process, learn what it is that I enjoy — which is almost anything. It’s been hard to limit genres for me, because I just love doing this so much."
As professional sacrifice is a major theme of The Five-Year Engagement, Brie says the film carries a much needed message for female moviegoers who question whether they can truly "have it all."
"We see a great role reversal in this movie," Brie says, "because the woman is pursuing her career and it’s the man who has to change his life to fit into her mold. Not to get all feminist about it, but I do think women should pursue their goals and figure out what they want and what they’re passionate about and what they love. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices, relationship-wise, to continue to pursue my career and, at this point, I wouldn’t have it any other way."
By the looks of her schedule, Brie's career shows no signs of slowing down. As audiences enjoy her dual television roles and scene-stealing turn in The Five-Year Engagement, the actress is wrapping work on Get a Job, a recession-era comedy starring Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Bryan Cranston (AMC's Breaking Bad) and Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden of Pollock. Her latest project offers the multi-talented Brie a chance to celebrate her undeniable sex appeal.
"I popped in on the set for a week and had a lot of fun," Brie says. "I played a company's head of human resources, and she’s very, very dirty, I guess you could say. Very inappropriate. But nobody can report her!”
The Five-Year Engagement takes its vows on April 27.
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