Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Alison Brie on making a horror movie: “It’s a high-intensity sport”

Though one of her earliest film roles was in 2011’s Scream 4, it took some time for Alison Brie to feel ready to jump back into horror. After all, once you’ve been killed by Ghostface, you’ve already accomplished a milestone for the genre. So what convinced her to dive back in with an indie horror from a first-time feature director? Well, that director happens to be her husband, Dave Franco. Co-written by Franco and Joe Swanberg, The Rental follows two couples on their weekend getaway to a gorgeous, secluded home found through an Airbnb-esque service. Things begin to go awry when secrets bubble to the surface between the four friends—and that’s before they realize they may not be alone in the home. Brie co-stars as Michelle, a character she has more than a few things in common with, despite the fact that it wasn’t a given she’d be part of Franco’s directorial debut.

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Ahead of its July 24 premiere (in select drive-ins and VOD), The A.V. Club spoke with Brie about falling in love with Franco “all over again” on set, our odd comfort with staying in total strangers’ homes, and what makes horror such a “high-intensity sport.” Brie also discussed the thrill of seeing The Rental at a drive-in, and updated us on the still-delayed production of GLOW’s fourth and final season. Excerpts of that chat are in the video above, with the full transcript below.

The A.V. Club: The Rental comes from first-time feature writer/director Dave Franco—so, what’s this guy’s deal? Are we going to be seeing more from him? 

Alison Brie: I hope so! Sincerely, Dave was so good; he was so incredibly good at directing. I knew he would be because, as an actor, he has always wanted to look at the whole picture with every project in a way that I haven’t. When I’m acting in something, I’m like, “Okay, here’s my piece of what I need to do,” and I’m going to do the best I can at this piece of it and the rest of it is up to those guys. And Dave was always the kind of actor who was like, “I’m going to see if I can get in the writers’ room with them! I’m going to see if I can get into the edit!” And I’d be like, “Why do you want to go to the edit?” That’s my nightmare.

So, really he’s always had that kind of master vision. And I got to kind of watch him write this, come up with the idea—he wrote it with Joe Swanberg. He’d be coming home from writing every day, feeling so inspired. And then being on set with him was just, I can’t express quite how much it was the most wonderful experience for the two of us—it was a new way for us to collaborate creatively together.

And, you know, on set as an actor, if you don’t trust your director, that can be a really scary space, right? But obviously I trust Dave more than anyone, so I couldn’t have had more faith in what he was going to do. And then it just got to be a fun treat for me to watch him on set and watch him flourish in this new way. And to watch him interact with everybody on our crew and how much they were kind of like falling in love with him. And then I was like falling in love with him all over again. It was very romantic.

AVC: Knowing that you got to watch this project develop from start to finish, at what point did it become clear that you’d be playing the role of Michelle? Did Dave just turn to you one day and ask if you wanted to do it?

AB: Well, when he was first writing it, he was originally going to play the role that Jeremy Allen White plays, the younger brother. And so I think when that was the idea, he didn’t bring up me playing Michelle. But pretty much as soon as he decided he was going to direct, it was exactly what you said, where he was just sitting on the couch and turned to me and said, “I mean, you should just play Michelle.” But then as we were shooting it, I kept kind of having moments where I’d be like, “I actually kind of feels like you wrote this part for me,” whether he knew it or not.

AVC: I was going to say, Michelle certainly has some “Alison Brie” qualities to her.

AB: That’s what I really loved about the character. [Laughs.] For the first part of the movie, you’re like, “Oh, she’s kind of a wet blanket, she’s a little uptight,” I’ve played characters like that before. But then, in the second half, before things go off the rails, she’s like, “No, let’s party. I want to do drugs—I just want to do, when I want to do them,” which I feel the same [Laughs]. Very much true to my life.

AVC: And, on that note, you do play “under the influence” quite convincingly.

AB: You know, Dave and I had a lot of conversations about that. Because, for the whole movie, Dave really had this vision of a grounded, realistic tone and getting people invested in the characters. So, when it came down to Michelle’s molly experience, he knew it should just feel natural and normal—it’s not like this wild drug trip sequence. We may have done a little research as we were preparing to shoot the movie. There are videos of myself that I was pretty much basing my performance off of [Laughs.]—so, I wouldn’t say it’s accurate.

AVC: You do feel like a horror movie natural, which is why I was surprised to realize this was your first horror movie since Scream 4.

AB: Yes, I think so! Prior to Scream 4, I had done a few B-horror movies, but I think Scream is so different from all of those. I was so excited to be in Scream 4—I’m a huge fan of the franchise, and I had been since high school, when the first movie came out. They shot the second Scream in South Pasadena, where I’m from. So that opportunity was very exciting, but obviously that movie has a bit of a campier edge, and the meta quality is what makes those movies so fun. And [The Rental] is not that, but it was really fun to go back to the genre—one that I honestly love, but I’ve been so picky about finding one to do because it’s a high-intensity sport.

It’s a lot of emotional energy for movies that, frankly, don’t often get the credit they deserve, you know? But what I love about this movie and how Dave wrote it is that it really is a character-driven movie; it’s an “actor’s movie.” It really starts out as an intimate character drama before things start to get truly terrifying. Not to spoil anything, but there’s a sequence with my character [where she’s] following a sound through the house. There’s certainly tension, but where that scene lands is not a typical horror movie beat—it’s much more about the emotional impact, which is just as terrifying in this context.

AVC: Aside from the personal dynamics, this movie is definitely tapping into something that I think that we’ve maybe become desensitized to: It’s kind of surprising how comfortable we’ve become with living in a stranger’s house for a few days.

AB: Oh yeah. I mean, that was the impetus for the whole project—Dave was like, “it’s pretty weird that we do this, right?” Especially right now, at this time in our country, it feels like no one trusts anyone, but then we’re also like, “Oh, I’ll stay in that stranger’s house, sure!” Just because maybe they got a couple of positive reviews? I mean, you could say the same thing about ride-sharing apps. When I was a kid, you really weren’t supposed to get in cars with strangers. Now we do it all the time.

And while we were shooting this movie, there really were new articles coming out every day about cameras being found in home-sharing apartments and houses—but we still do it! We all stayed in Airbnbs while we shot this movie. That’s the longest I’ve ever stayed in an Airbnb. So, yeah, Dave is trying to point out that disconnect, even within our own household and the way that we treat home-sharing. When we stay in places, we’re aware of all of those dangers and, still, you’re sort of just like, “Oh, it’s cheaper? Yeah, let do that one!”

AVC: Do you have any Airbnb or home-sharing horror stories of your own?

AB: No, I really haven’t. I will say, the house that we stayed in while we shot this movie was in a town called Bandon, Oregon. It’s on the coast and we were in this house that was sort of on the beach, just little wood cabin with like a hundred rickety stairs leading down to it. It was really wonderful during the day, but sometimes at night, when I would like get back from shooting at like 4 in the morning… There’s no lights and I’m just like walking down these rickety stairs into darkness, I would think, “Is this the end?”

AVC: Right. Working on this movie might make you especially paranoid about the whole experience.

AB: In a way. But it’s also a nice way to face your fears. It’s a little bit cathartic because, well, the movie’s making up a sort of worst-case scenario. But now I know that that guy behind the mask is Anthony, our stunt guy, and it kind of demystifies it a little bit. I think that even speaks to this idea of why people kind of like horror movies in the first place—to address these fears. Like, “Give me the worst-case scenario and let it play out in the most horrifying way;” maybe then you can kind of experience it and just let it go.

AVC: This is one of many movies this year that’s missing out on a traditional theatrical release due to the pandemic, but IFC Films is also pushing it to drive-in theaters—you and Dave and the cast even hosted an early preview at a drive-in here in Los Angeles. What was that like? Do you think The Rental is well-suited to that experience?

AB: Oh man, it was really awesome. I realized I had never been to a drive-in before—at least not that I remember. First of all, it was cool just because we’ve all been so isolated during quarantine. It was really a big deal to be out surrounded by so many people. At a safe distance, of course. But, like, there was a palpable energy that I haven’t felt in a minute. Even just waiting in line for the women’s room!

You know, there’s a certain type of feeling to a group of people congregating together that you can’t replicate virtually. And, I think with horror movies too, there’s something so fun about the communal experience, of getting scared together. But then the drive-in setting even an an element to the experience, because, again, you’re in your car—a space that sort of like gives us the illusion of safety. You’re like, “I can kind of see everything, I’m in my own little pod, I’m good.” But you’re also just parked outside. You’re exposed. It’s dark. There’s something to feeling spooky and safe at the same time.

AVC: And speaking of quarantine, before our time is up, I wondered if there were an updates on GLOW’s anticipated fourth and final season. I know production was delayed indefinitely until it was safe to film again.

AB: We really don’t know anything concrete just yet, and sadly I think it’s going to take a while. I think we’re probably going to be one of the—I don’t want to say one of the last, but certainly not one of the first—shows back into production just because of the wrestling. There’s a lot of physical contact on the show. So it’s just not something I think that any of us want to sacrifice, especially since it’s our final season. I mean, how do you do a final season of a wrestling show without wrestling? So I think we’re just going to wait it out. Which, you know, will make it that much more special when we do get back to filming, and when the season does premiere. But hopefully they’ll get that rapid testing going!

Image Credit: Graphic: Natalie Peeples, Photo: David Crotty/Getty Images

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