How can an actress star in all four Scary Movie movies and still emerge a critical darling? Such is the magic of Anna Faris, a bubbly, infectious comedian whose willingness to go far, far out on a limb to get a laugh has made her the best part of a lot of dire projects, and a few good ones. Since breaking onto the scene with Scary Movie, Faris has teamed up with Van Wilder-mode Ryan Reynolds in Waiting… and Just Friends, played a recurring role on the last season of Friends, and balanced lowbrow studio comedies like The Hot Chick and My Super Ex-Girlfriend with brief appearances in independent films like Brokeback Mountain and Lost In Translation, and a lead role in the stoner comedy Smiley Face. Faris raised her profile by producing and starring in The House Bunny, which became a minor end-of-summer sleeper hit. In the new black comedy Observe And Report, from The Foot Fist Way writer-director Jody Hill, Faris plays Brandi, a self-involved makeup girl whose monstrousness does nothing to repel Ronnie (Seth Rogen), the mall’s disturbed head of security. Faris recently spoke to The A.V. Club about suppressing her vanity and loving her career.
The A.V. Club: How would you describe Brandi in Observe And Report?
Anna Faris: Brandi is a wonderful, loving, kind person. [Laughs.] No, really, Brandy is the worst. I’ve played a few bad characters in my day, but I think she’s the worst. She works at the makeup counter, and she’s very proud of that fact. She’s really vain, she’s really bitchy, and I always imagined she was incredibly stupid, too, but it was just a joy and delight to play her. It’s not often you get to be that naughty. It was wonderfully shocking. I read a script where the lead female is so awful, and I was like, “This could not be a studio movie.” So it was just a joy.
AVC: Was it basically your job to make her as mean as you could, or were there other dimensions to the character, too?
AF: She loves to have a good time. A bit of a party girl. What helped me get into the role were these long fake green press-on nails I’d put on every morning. They sort of render you helpless, so there’s something about that quality that was like, “Oh. This is a person who can’t really do anything.” There’s a line that actually got cut out of the movie, but I always thought kind of summed Brandi up perfectly. When she went on the date with Ronnie, he starts talking about how she’s just too generous. She’s like, “You know what my problem is? I just give. I just give way too much. All I do is I give and I give and I give. And you know what? I’m done.” Oh, that’s such a delicious line.
AVC: Someone who actually gives would never say something like that.
AF: [Laughs.] Right. The idea of being the kind of person that does a lot of… Listen, I’m an actress. I’m completely vain and self-absorbed, but the kind of person who self-describes like Brandi is the kind of person that would say stuff like “Oh, I’m really spiritual.” Or “I’m a really strong-willed person.”
AVC: She stops just short of referring to herself in the third person.
AF: Yeah, totally! Totally!
AVC: Getting a sense of her by putting on press-on nails—is that something you do often when you play a role? Some small thing to help get you into a character?
AF: Yeah. I know a lot of actors talk about the importance of wardrobe, and it always seems like it’s kind of a cop-out, maybe, because it seems like a minor detail to some people. But I think it’s hugely important. It’s kind of the way other people perceive you that’s the most important thing, even if they’re crew members that have seen you like this all the time. When I’d wander around the set with my cleavage popping out as Brandi, people treated me different than when I would wander around in my pajamas or my baseball cap or whatever. In that, too, I think it makes you embody the character.
When I did this movie called Smiley Face a while back, my character was so stoned, and she really didn’t care about wardrobe or clothes or hair and makeup. Every time I put those ratty clothes on, I’d kind of hunch my shoulders over and I was into character. It’s shoes, too. Shoes, I think, are especially huge. When I wore those [high-heeled] shoes in The House Bunny… one time they asked me not to wear the shoes because I needed to be a little shorter for the setup, and I just couldn’t do it. I kind of freaked out a little bit. I didn’t think I can play that character without wearing those ridiculous heels. Because they were what helped ground me to the scene and the character. God, I hope I’m not coming across as a pretentious actress. I’m sorry.
AVC: What did you think of the script for Observe And Report when you read it? Did you have a sense of how dark and tonally edgy it would end up being?
AF: Honestly, I didn’t have a very good sense at all. [Laughs.] I mean, I read the script and I auditioned for it. I had to fight a little bit for the role, and I wanted to be a part of it so badly. I had seen Jody Hill’s Foot Fist Way and loved it. Danny McBride, I loved. The unapologetic nature of Jody’s comedy was so appealing to me, and I really wanted be part of it. I’m so grateful I was cast, but when I read the script, I thought, “Well, this is Warner Brothers. This is a studio movie, so this is all gonna be softened up. It’s a comedy, right?” So when we were shooting it, even the date-rape scene—or as I refer to it, “The Tender Love-Making Scene”—I just thought, “We’ll shoot it, but it’s not gonna be in the movie. I don’t have to worry about that one.” And yet there it is. But I think it’s really hard when you’re an actor, especially for a project like this where it’s an ensemble and I sort of bopped in and out of the movie… I think it’s incredibly difficult to get a sense of tone. When I did Lost In Translation, I was cast last-minute on that, and I was really nervous, because I knew it was kind of a big deal for me. I had only done Scary Movie and Scary Movie 2, and when I got to Japan and started doing the scenes, I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve got this all wrong. I don’t understand the tone of this movie at all.” I think it’s really difficult for an actor to get a sense of that when you aren’t a part of the project from the beginning.
AVC: So you’ve had a lot of situations where you’ve finished your work on a movie and when it came out, you were shocked at how it ended up?
AF: Yeah, totally. I feel like I’ve been dropping all my credits here, but with something like Brokeback Mountain, I was only in Calgary for two days. I just have one scene in the movie, but that felt like something really special. It was like, “This is important.” So it wasn’t a surprise to me when people responded critically the way they did, because there was such care in every performance and every condition in that movie. I mean, the crew members… everybody knew that was a special project. But I think it is really hard. Sometimes you think, “Oh man, this is going to be a fantastic movie,” and then when you see it put together, you’re like, “Oh, huh. Well, that didn’t turn out quite the way I thought.” But it’s the same vice-versa as well. Sometimes you think you’re part of a project and it isn’t that great, and then it sort of becomes a pleasant surprise. But I think there’s just too many elements that affect the tone of a movie, so I think even for a director, it may be hard to gauge that.
AVC: You’re willing to go to places in comedies that more image-conscious actresses might not. And that’s certainly the case here, too. Is it easy for you to suppress your vanity?
AF: Yeah. I had this moment during the first Scary Movie where I felt really unattractive and really concerned. Just like, “What am I doing? I’m getting shot to the ceiling in love juice.” [Laughs.] But I remember thinking, “Oh, this is hard. I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I have the stomach or the guts for this.” And Keenen [Ivory Wayans] pulled me aside and said, “Look, there’s no vanity in comedy.” And that really hit home with me. That’s an idea I try to embrace.
AVC: Doing a scene like that, you had to think that the distance from there to the Oscar podium couldn’t be further away.
AF: [Laughs.] I’m not getting nominated?! I can’t believe you broke the news to me like this! [Laughs.] You know, a few years ago, I really wanted to do some serious work. I really wanted to be a part of dramatic films. I wanted to show this talent, whatever that means, that I could be a dramatic actress as well. But the truth is, a) I don’t know if I can, and b) I love doing comedy, and I felt almost a little embarrassed that I succumbed to the pressure. Vanity is really what it is. I feel really grateful that I am in comedy, and I love doing it, and I feel like, “Why would I need to apologize?” This is hard. It’s fun, but it’s hard. And I love doing it. I find it so rewarding on so many levels. So anyway, I’m sorry I’m being so long-winded, but I think that my goal for the next few years is, I want to make funny movies, and I love doing it. So I’m sticking to that.
AVC: When The House Bunny came out, reviews were mixed, but there was a huge amount of support from critics for you specifically—you were compared to Lucille Ball and Goldie Hawn. Were you conscious of that press, and do you feel like you’re a part of that comedic tradition?
AF: It was so flattering to hear that. And I don’t think I’ve earned it. I’m not a part of that club yet. I try not to get too absorbed in reviews. It’s hard not to, but I am a little disciplined with keeping myself at a distance from tabloids and reading reviews and keeping track of who I am in the public eye. It’s terrifying. Last time I Googled myself, I think it was a few years ago, and somebody said one of my boobs was bigger than the other. And I remember thinking, “I can never, never do this again.” [Laughs.] It’s too painful. I think someone also said at the time that I was involved in porn. It just became emotionally overwhelming. So I try not to read newspapers when I have a movie coming out, but I guess I’m not immune to public opinion. I’m hurt by it.