A very L.A. morn­ing spent work­ing out and eat­ing breakfast with Ali­son Brie. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Max Aba­dian.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Greg Hud­son Pho­tog­ra­phy by Max Aba­dian Styling by So­phie Lopez Cre­ative di­rec­tion by Brit­tany Ec­cles

THE ROOM IS DARK,

il­lu­mi­nated only by flashes of coloured ar­cade lights snaking across the ceil­ing. The in­struc­tor is shout­ing en­cour­age­ment over crunchy EDM. I’ve never been to a Rise Na­tion ses­sion, but the con­cept is sim­i­lar, I as­sume, to a spin class—only in­stead of sta­tion­ary bikes, there are climb­ing ma­chines that, in the low light, look a lit­tle like high-tech easels.

I had booked a climb­ing ma­chine close to Ali­son Brie, whom I am here to meet and who, I would find out later, had planned on ex­plain­ing the con­trap­tion to me so I wouldn’t feel lost. But now, owing to a fun­da­men­tal ig­no­rance of Los An­ge­les’s size and ge­og­ra­phy and an ag­gres­sively lack­adaisi­cal taxi driver, I’m late and it’s im­pos­si­ble to see where she is in the laser-tag dark. I hop onto the climber clos­est to the door and try to get into the rhythm of the class.

I am very bad at this. At least once dur­ing ev­ery song (which is ap­par­ently how time is mea­sured in fit­ness classes), usu­ally when the in­struc­tor is ex­hort­ing us to dig deep, I stop to rest. I take these op­por­tu­ni­ties to scan the room for Brie. No luck. In­stead, as is the case when­ever you are fail­ing at some­thing, I look around for peo­ple who are do­ing worse than I am. Def­i­nitely not the woman in front of me. She is a ma­chine—small, strong, seem­ingly un­stop­pable. She hits ev­ery beat and ev­ery combo the in­struc­tor throws at us. I fid­dle with my ma­chine, see­ing if maybe it’s on, like, the ex­pert set­ting. It is not. The woman in front of me is on the same ma­chine as I am, hear­ing the same or­ders as me, only she’s Daft Punk-ing me: She’s harder, bet­ter, faster, stronger.

I learn two things once the lights come up at the end of the class. The first is that if per­for­mance were rated by the amount of sweat pooled at the base of one’s ma­chine, I would be the best climber-dancer in the room. The sec­ond is that the su­per­hero in front of me is Ali­son Brie.

“One other time, I had a jour­nal­ist go for a hike with me,” she tells me, over an L.A.-ap­pro­pri­ate post-workout breakfast, af­ter I’ve fi­nally, mostly, re­cov­ered. “She threw up. So I feel like I’m re­ally de­stroy­ing jour­nal­ists’ lives, one at a time. But you know who needs to be cut down to size? Print jour­nal­ists.”

With that history (one more fallen writer and it’s a trend), it might be tempt­ing to con­clude that Brie doesn’t know her own strength. That would make for a con­ve­nient anal­ogy for an ac­tress who seems so down-to-earth. But it doesn’t work here. Brie knows ex­actly how strong she is.

The prob­lem—if you can say that a ca­reer that in­cludes three crit­i­cally adored, cul­tur­ally sig­nif­i­cant shows and has a prob­lem—is that still don’t un­der­stand how pow­er­ful Brie is. “If you need a head­line,” she says, “that would be the head­line of my life: ‘There’s a Lot More Go­ing on With Me Than Peo­ple Think.’” If an ac­tress is al­ways sur­pris­ing us with her depth, tal­ent and/or range, maybe that says more about the au­di­ences’ ex­pec­ta­tions than it does about the ac­tress. So let me cor­rect our ex­pec­ta­tions with this prediction: A time will come—and it will come soon—when Ali­son Brie will be con­sid­ered one of the best ac­tresses of her gen­er­a­tion. If we let her.

Part of what’s keep­ing Brie from be­ing known as a dom­i­nant force in Hol­ly­wood is the na­ture of Hol­ly­wood it­self. Au­di­ences are so frag­mented and have so many op­tions that it’s hard to be­come super-fa­mous with­out play­ing a su­per­hero. While the tele­vi­sion projects she’s been a part of have been—and con­tinue to be—among the most lauded of the past 10 years, they didn’t ex­actly bring in Big Bang The­ory num­bers. Brie played the in­no­cent, if a bit un­sta­ble, An­nie in the cult com­edy Com­mu­nity at the same time as she was bring­ing nu­ance and power to the role of Trudy Camp­bell on Mad Men. These days, along with play­ing the frus­trat­ingly am­bi­tious, morally com­pli­cated lead ac­tress-turned­wrestler in GLOW (now in its sec­ond sea­son on Net­flix), she is one of the main voices in the not­for-chil­dren-or-the-faint-of-heart com­edy car­toon BoJack Horse­man.

But even among peo­ple who do rec­og­nize her—she did star in two Os­car-nom­i­nated movies this past year, af­ter all (The Dis­as­ter Artist, along with her hus­band, Dave Franco, and The Post, with Meryl Streep)—she isn’t al­ways remembered for the right things. “The big­gest mis­con­cep­tion across the board is that I’m a com­edy ac­tress, and it drives me crazy,” she ex­plains. “Which is weird be­cause I don’t want to be­grudge that ti­tle in a way that im­plies I hate the genre. I don’t. I love it! But, to me, there’s more to me. There’s un­tapped re­sources you guys don’t even know about.”

There is a per­sis­tent ru­mour per­pet­u­ated by the main­stream me­dia that Brie is a god­damned de­light to talk to. I can con­firm that this ru­mour is 100 per cent true. She is warm, open and funny. She riffs with you. She is nat­u­rally, ef­fort­lessly charm­ing. What makes some fa­mous peo­ple seem nice is how they shed the awk­ward in­ter­view dy­namic and power dif­fer­en­tial like an over­coat—but you never for­get that that coat is close by. Brie talks with you like she’s never worn that coat in the first place. This is not a ground­break­ing ob­ser­va­tion, but its per­sis­tence is note­wor­thy. She re­ally is that cool.

And so it’s not that I wish she were less kind but that, cyn­i­cally, I won­der if some peo­ple are so dis­tracted by her charm that they aren’t able to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the depth of her tal­ent. So here’s another prediction: What will hap­pen with Brie will be a »

re­peat of how she scored the role of Ruth on GLOW, only on a larger, per­ma­nent scale.

She had to fight for GLOW. But when you know how strong you are, you get a sense of which fights you’re go­ing to win. That doesn’t mean it was easy.

“I al­most can’t even de­fine why, but cer­tain things you just read and you’re like, this is my role,” she says. “Maybe it came from hav­ing felt slightly mis­un­der­stood in my ca­reer—al­though I still sort of feel that way ev­ery­where out­side of GLOW—but I just had this drive to fight for this char­ac­ter, and I knew ex­actly what I wanted to do with her. I would go into ev­ery au­di­tion su­per­con­fi­dent with all these amaz­ing de­ci­sions and then leave the au­di­tions and go cry in my car be­cause our pro­duc­ers, as much as I love them now, were very cold and awk­ward in the room while I was au­di­tion­ing.”

See, back when her ca­reer was new, af­ter she trained at the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of the Arts (she spent a se­mes­ter at Glas­gow’s Royal Scot­tish Acad­emy of Mu­sic and Drama), Brie took classes in Los An­ge­les on how to act for the cam­era. They prob­a­bly helped her score her roles on Mad Men and

Com­mu­nity, but they also changed how she thought about her­self. “You get out of col­lege and ev­ery­one tells you to de­fine your­self now: ‘Put your­self in a box be­fore other peo­ple do and then you’ll work more.’ I was learn­ing good tools that I would con­tinue to use, but my in­di­vid­u­al­ity was at stake be­cause a lot of work in this in­dus­try is peo­ple say­ing ‘Don’t trust what you think—just be the way these peo­ple want you to be.’ And you have to let go of that.”

So she did and even­tu­ally con­vinced GLOW’s pro­duc­ers of what is ob­vi­ous now: There re­ally wasn’t any­one else who could tackle that role bet­ter than her. Maybe a bit more on GLOW is in or­der be­cause this is the kind of mar­riage be­tween ac­tor and role that makes other mar­riages ques­tion the strength of their re­la­tion­ships. “I think, for me, work­ing on GLOW— I feel like I’m tap­ping into ev­ery part of my­self,” she says. I sus­pect that an ac­tor can’t cre­ate a fully re­al­ized char­ac­ter if they don’t know them­selves first. Which is why this role feels like a cul­mi­na­tion—a kind of crescendo of all of Brie’s tal­ents, in­clud­ing, as she says, some we haven’t seen yet.

Ruth is ag­gres­sively am­bi­tious and al­most des­per­ate. Un­able to find work as an ac­tress—un­able to be seen, re­ally—she throws her­self into the op­por­tu­nity to be­come a wrestler and de facto leader of the other women. There’s com­edy (which we al­ready knew Brie was good at) and the kind of moral am­bi­gu­ity that ac­tors rel­ish. But, ac­tu­ally, it’s in the more sub­dued, every­day Ruth-ness that Brie is most sur­pris­ing. She dis­plays this trans­for­ma­tive Thero­nian abil­ity to be be­liev­ably plain. Yes, it has to do with makeup— or the lack thereof—and the ’80s fash­ions she gets (has) to wear, but there’s some­thing in­ter­nal, too. A switch of fo­cus in the eyes—like some­thing is bro­ken in­side and we can only just barely see it. It’s not there when we’re talk­ing over smooth­ies, and it cer­tainly isn’t there later that day, when she’s dressed head to toe in golden Gucci. Be­cause it’s in Ruth, not Brie.

Now the down­side of say­ing that Brie and Ruth rep­re­sent the pla­tonic ideal of an ac­tor in­hab­it­ing a role is that one might in­fer the two are sim­i­lar, that play­ing Ruth doesn’t re­quire much of a stretch. But it’s more like a recipe. Brie brings all the right in­gre­di­ents for this par­tic­u­lar dish—in­clud­ing phys­i­cal strength, which I’ll ap­pre­ci­ate even more as my legs stay stiff for days af­ter my Rise Na­tion ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ac­tu­ally, the phys­i­cal­ity of the role—and Brie’s com­mit­ment to it—de­serves men­tion­ing. Her body has of­ten been a fac­tor in her ca­reer (not sur­pris­ingly, she is quite pop­u­lar with men on the In­ter­net), but it’s dif­fer­ent this time. “We work for women and for a show that’s so much about our bod­ies, and yet we’re never sex­u­al­ized,” she ex­plains. “That’s not a pri­or­ity of the show. And it cer­tainly is in sync with how I feel as a per­son in terms of hav­ing lit­tle in­ter­est in hav­ing to prove my own sex­i­ness.” And be­cause she is Brie—and a god­damned de­light to talk to—she con­tin­ues: “Al­though, even right now, in this ex­plo­sive mo­ment, there is still a thing where we’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m tak­ing back my body, and I don’t have to be sexy… But I’m also 35, and do you still find me sexy? Be­cause I just want to make sure.’ It’s like as much as we want to think ev­ery­thing’s changed, I still have a fear about want­ing to be seen that way enough to con­tinue to work.”

Of course, the most strik­ing dif­fer­ence be­tween Ruth and Brie is like­abil­ity. “Play­ing Ruth, I adore her and sym­pa­thize with her,” says Brie. “And ob­vi­ously I must. I have to un­der­stand ev­ery­thing she’s do­ing and why. Where this is a chal­lenge is for au­di­ences; there’s a myr­iad of re­ac­tions. Some peo­ple love her. Some peo­ple find her cloy­ing. Some peo­ple just hate her and think she’s aw­ful but still want to watch the show.” I was look­ing for an anal­ogy ear­lier, back when we were in the dark, sweat­ing and pant­ing, climb­ing and climb­ing and climb­ing with­out ac­tu­ally get­ting any­where. And while there would be a cer­tain amount of poetry if I used that to de­scribe Brie’s sit­u­a­tion, it would also be way too sad and un­true, not to men­tion pre­ten­tious and dumb. In­stead, con­sider how the day ends: Brie is dressed in a re­splen­dent gown, stand­ing on a roof that al­lows you to see far­ther across Los An­ge­les than your eyes can fo­cus on. She’s al­ready on top—where her fol­low­ers and fans know to find her—but soon that whole city be­low will look up. And then she’s go­ing to need a taller roof.

Top, $32,290, and pants, $2,860, Mary Ka­trant­zou. Belt, stylist’s own.

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