In the poignant Sundance standout comedy-drama Save The Date, an uncertain young woman (Lizzy Caplan) publicly rejects a marriage proposal from boyfriend Geoffrey Arend, then falls in love with earnest young Mark Webber. Meanwhile, her sister (Alison Brie) prepares for her upcoming marriage to fiancée Martin Starr, who inconveniently happens to be bandmates with the lovesick, self-destructing Arend.
Brie and Caplan have more in common than their Save The Date roles, though: Both starred on TV shows that earned a cult devotion disproportionate to their modest ratings. Lizzy Caplan played a smartass young stand-up comedian working a soul-crushing day job in catering in Starz’s Party Down, which attracted an intensely committed following, yet was canceled after two seasons. Brie is a cornerstone of Community, the beloved meta-sitcom that has been repeatedly yanked around NBC’s schedule due to low ratings. Brie is also on another critical darling: AMC’s ad-world drama Mad Men. During the Sundance Film Festival, The A.V. Club spoke with the actors about a shelved Community porn parody, Brie’s stint as a teenage clown for hire, the fabled Party Down movie, and, of course, Insane Clown Posse.
The A.V. Club: What attracted you to Save The Date?
Alison Brie: I really liked the script. I identified with it on many levels. The characters seemed like people I knew or people I had been. Also, I feel like I was fortunate to read it after [Caplan] was locked in. And they had Geoffrey [Arend] and Mark [Webber] and Martin [Starr] all in mind by the time I read it. So the cast was a really big part of why I wanted to do it.
AVC: Did you know each other beforehand?
Lizzy Caplan: I wanted her.
AB: We didn’t. I was just enjoying her from afar.
AVC: So there’s not some secret club of people from underwatched cult television shows?
LC: Eventually, we all meet each other. We hadn’t met, but I wanted it to be her, and luckily, she wanted to be in it, because let’s be honest, she’s perfect for the role. I made a decision—because I had done a few small-budget movies leading up to this—that I needed to take a little break from the under-$1-million budget for the next one or two. I read this script, and it was so well-written and such a beautiful story that I had to do it. It felt like there was no real choice in the matter. I just dug it so hard.
AVC: You felt like destiny was forcing you into this film?
LC: Destiny was like, “Girl, stop messin’ around.”
AVC: Why do you two have chemistry?
AB: I mean, we’re both just super-cool.
LC: Very cool people. I think there’s something in that we’re both from L.A., but that’s always just a pleasant surprise when that happens. The girls who are working in the same age range who are considered working comedic actresses, we all kind of know each other and love working with each other.
AB: There’s a kinship. You’re familiar with each other’s work, so before meeting, we were familiar with each other and everyone in the cast, I feel like there was just a really relaxed vibe among all of us. There were no divas, it was the five of us in this tiny trailer all together going rogue all over the streets of Los Angeles. And it was nice that everybody just gelled immediately, because everyone is so low-key.
LC: Totally, there was no room for that kind of behavior on the set. There was nowhere to go with it, so thank God we didn’t have to figure that out. Also, [we’ve] been doing this for enough time, we knew so many people in common. So all you need is three people who vouch for a person to know that they’re going to be fantastic and that you’re going to get along.
AVC: Alison, you were a clown at children’s birthday parties as a teenager. How does one break into that line of work?
AB: I think I was 17 or 18 at the time. A friend of mine who I did drama with who graduated a year before me was like, “Hey, do you want to work this job?” She goes, “They’re looking for young, cute, fun girls to be clowns.” And she goes, “Since we’re drama students, it’s really easy.” But it was also really ghetto. It’s not like we went to clown college, it was like a company that rented out Moon Bounces, the bounce-houses. They started in Compton. Straight out of Compton for real!
AVC: Was it Dr. Dre? Is that his thing now, Moon Bounces and bounce-houses?
AB: I would literally drive into Compton, change into my clown gear, and then drive to whatever party. It was an awesome job.
LC: Are you a Juggalette?
AB: No, but I do balloon animals, face-painting, and parachute games.
LC: I love a parachute game.
AB: And I would roll up with my boom box. My clown name was Sunny; it was pretty straightforward. I had a yellow wig and a yellow suit, and I did my own face paint, of course. I also did characters sometimes, like Cinderella and Snow White and Powerpuff Girls, which was the worst, because you had to wear a little mini dress, but then a huge head that just had this little chinstrap, and you could see through these little dots. You had to do balloon animals and paint kids’ faces while dads were scoping you out. It was really weird.
LC: I can’t decide if you’re talking about a clown or being a stripper, because it totally applies to both.
AB: Well, this is how I started my high-school-level prostitution ring.
LC: Yeah, you were very successful.
AB: It started there, and it spun out. It was themed so you had to be a character, Powerpuff Prostitutes.
LC: A theme for most people would be a high-school girl, but she was really in high school.
AB: Boring. Who doesn’t want to have sex with a Powerpuff Girl?
LC: Especially because she wore no pants and no underwear.
AVC: Was performing at children’s parties good training for rejection?
AB: Not rejection, but I think… courage. I know that sounds lame. But when I think back to it, I think, “God, that was just me with a bag full of toys in my outfit, rolling up to these parties with 27-year-olds.”
LC: Does this not sound like a stripper? Bag of toys with 27-year-olds. Come on.
AB: And you never knew where you were going to go, so sometimes it would be a really nice house in Palos Verdes, and then you’d be down in the LBC in one room. It also taught me how to respond to my environment and change things based on the space.
AVC: You had to improvise, because you couldn’t have had much of a script.
AB: Totally, and it was also the power of persuasion. I couldn’t make that many balloon animals, so kids come up and are like, “I want a spaceship!” You’d be like, “That sounds great, how about a dog!” And they’d be like “Yeah, that sounds just as cool!” You make dogs sound just as cool as a spaceship, it’s a gift.
LC: It’s not as cool.
AB: I think it is. See what I’m doing to you?
LC: Now I think it is, too! She’s mind-tricking me.
AB: I’m creeping myself out.
AVC: Lizzy, when you said “Juggalette,” did you mean in the sense of a lady juggler, or a fan of Insane Clown Posse?
LC: I meant Insane Clown Posse.
AB: “Bitches,” man!
AVC: I’m writing a book about them. I was just at their annual festival, The Gathering Of The Juggalos.
LC: Are you really? I’m so upset. I would love to go, but I’m terrified.
AB: “Bitches” is the only song of theirs I know.
AVC: I’ve been to the Gathering two years in a row. It’s very surreal.
LC: Are there like couches and lagoons?
AB: Does Ol’ Dirty Bastard come and sing with them?
AVC: He did sing on “Bitches.” It’s impressive that you know that.
LC: I’ve seen a lot of photos from each Gathering, and my favorite are the pregnant girls that are there. I’m thinking of Faygo right now. And topless pregnant women.
AB: I like to think that as soon as their babies are born, they give them a little tattoo, and then the tattoo face grows as the babies grow up.
LC: That’s an idea.
AB: Baby tattoos.
LC: Baby tattoos, they grow as you grow!
AB: Yeah! It’s like those sponges that grow in water.
AVC: Alison, how did you feel about the grassroots campaign to get Community back on the air for the 2011-12 midseason schedule?
AB: It’s incredible. I love Community fans. They’re so awesome. I think these little flash mobs are incredible, and they’re so sweet. Even though there’s only 15 people at them.
AVC: I feel like there’s a tidal wave of grassroots support.
AB: Oh my God, it makes us feel more proud of the show than we’ve ever felt, because the fans are being so great about it. We’re all just very humbled at the same time. We love our show, so we’re not totally shocked, “Wait, people think it’s a good show?” We love the show as well, we’re nerdily fans of our own work, so I think it just feels good. I think that the fans have a lot to do with the fact that we’re still shooting episodes.
AVC: Lizzy, are you tired of being asked about the Party Down movie?
LC: I’m not; I wish I had more. I think with our shows and what’s happening with them is that our fans are similar. Our fans like both shows, I would assume. But nobody really noticed our show until it was already done. We had a very impressively tiny audience, and it wasn’t until it got canceled that it started to gain momentum.
AB: It’s the Arrested Development thing.
LC: We had this tiny network, we had no viewers, really none, and so the fact that it’s found legs since then is totally amazing. We cannot wait to shoot the movie, I have high hopes, and I think they’re really realistic. I can’t imagine it won’t happen. We all really want to do it, and they’re almost done with the script. I’m sure the script will be wonderful, and hopefully we’ll be able to shoot it soon.
AB: I’m really excited about it.
AVC: It’s surprising it was canceled, since it seemed to cost very little and had such a popular cast.
LC: It was great to do a show for no money. It really teaches you how little money and time you need to accomplish something. But you know, Starz likes to see you in a loincloth swinging from a wire, and we didn’t really fit into that. Though, had they have given us the opportunity, I think we could have incorporated some of those motifs. The network notes were mostly, “More tits,” that was a big one, and, “More sex.”
AVC: Maybe if the characters on the show didn’t have real problems, like in Entourage, it would have worked out better for the channel.
LC: Yeah, that would have been great. It’s very interesting that on a cable TV show, the tits are mandatory.
AB: But don’t you think, in that way, you guys have license to do other crazy, cool stuff that we don’t have license to?
LC: For sure, you can curse, and even more than that, we can have very unhappy endings, more so than on a network show. But just the expectation for nudity on a show like Party Down is so obscure. They worked around it with the orgy episode and the porn-awards episode, but that’s all. We weren’t going to show our genitalia.
AB: You’re like, “That’s not what I signed up for.”
LC: It doesn’t make sense for the show, although they probably would have enjoyed it quite a bit.
AVC: You’re not prostitutes, like clowns at children’s parties.
AB: You brought it full circle.
AVC: Alison, you mentioned on the Nerdist TV special that there’s a Community porn parody.
AB: Well yes, I’ve recently heard an update about this, and I’m bummed. Here’s what it is: They shot a Community porn movie, but it’s never going to be seen, because they’re not going to distribute it, because not enough people know what the show is. Dan Harmon interviewed the girl who played Britta in the porn version of the show, and she was like, “Oh yeah, none of us knew what the show was, we still don’t know. We were just there to do our job.” I think we were all really crestfallen, like, “What? You didn’t research the show?”
AVC: They’re not real fans?
AB: I was more disappointed that no one will ever see it.
AVC: Those are not dedicated porn stars.
AB: They’re even benching our porn.
AVC: You may not have as many viewers as some of the other shows that are parodied, but maybe your fans masturbate 10 times as much.
AB: It’s true; I bet we have some good masturbators in our group.
LC: Career masturbators.
AB: I’ll just have to rally some troops and shoot my own. Lizzy’s going to star in it with me.
LC: Alison’s totally going to make a porno.
AB: I’m going to make Community porn. Lizzy Caplan’s going to play Annie, and I’m going to produce it. I’m not going to be in it.
AVC: Alison, you wrote a piece about having sex with a male college friend who turned out to be gay for a book of essays called Worst Laid Plans, which got a lot of attention. We’re you surprised by the response?
AB: I was. When I did the show originally, it started as an Upright Citizens Brigade show, and I think when you’re performing comedic material live, it’s much easier to get your point across. I think it’s also easier for people to know you’re taking creative license with it, and maybe even embellishing some things for the sake of comedic effect. So in print, it was much more jarring, and some people who didn’t get it thought it was this weird confession/memoir, which is what surprised me the most, because I never thought of it that way. Then to read it back, I sort of thought, “Okay, I guess I can see that when taken out of context, it’s a bit graphic, but really meant in jest.” I think the people who did get it, really appreciated it.
AVC: Do you regret using the phrase “Queen of Copulation” to describe your college self?
AB: I do not.
AVC: It’s a great phrase.
AB: Thank you. I just like alliteration.