I wish I’d known that people were going to get up in arms over a scene in “Observe and Report” and intentionally misread it so I could have asked Anna Faris about it during our time together in Austin. Alas, I made the mistake of believing that my fellow film critics had the ability to actually understand the full context of a scene. Oh, well. That’ll show me.
Instead, when I sat down with Faris on the patio of the Four Seasons in Austin the day after I saw the premiere of “Observe and Report,” we talked about her work to define herself as a comic persona in Hollywood, how strange it is to play yourself on a show like “Entourage,” and what she sees in her future. I found her charming, forthcoming, and very focused, and not at all like the characters she typically plays, which reinforces my view that to play dumb successfully, you’ve got to be fairly smart.
She claims that it was hard to even get an audition for this film, but at the Q&A after the screening, Jody Hill introduced her as “the funniest woman alive,” so I think this is a relationship that has definitely clicked at this point.
[more after the jump]
Motion/Captured: Man, they picked a nice day for this.
Anna Faris: Gorgeous. Oh, man…
M/C: This is the best weather since I got to Austin last Thursday.
AF: That’s what people were saying, that it was really rainy and stormy…
M/C: And then yesterday, just brutal hot, all at once. Anyway… let’s talk about how you got involved in this. There’s no denying that there are comedy cliques right now. And there’s this Apatow thing over here, and you guys doing the “Scary Movie” thing over here… and this… this is the first time you’ve been involved with this group of guys. How was that?
AF: It was great. I was a big fan of Jody’s from “Foot Fist Way”…
M/C: How can you not be?
AF: Yeah, I know. And Danny… oh, man. And I met them, um… one tipsy night. I was out, and I was so… I was gushing. I’m sure they were probably like, “Get away from me,” but, um… yeah, I loved “Foot Fist Way,” and when this project came around, I heard about it and I… I think Jody was initially a little bit hesitant to cast me, but I pushed and I pushed for an audition, and, uh… and I ended up… here, I guess, in beautiful Austin. [laughs] It was, uh, it was really exciting, you know, getting to work with… and what’s cool is… ’cause I’ve done a lot of comedies where there’s… where improv is not encouraged…
AF: Yeah, so it’s really refreshing that performance is foremost in what…
M/C: Oh, absolutely. Character is key. It’s not about the gags. That’s what I love. The comedy in Jody’s work is so painfully human.
AF: I completely agree, and it makes the job so much easier when you’re playing a fully fleshed-out three-dimensional character. I love doing the “Scary Movies,” but Cindy? Playing her is really challenging because Cindy Campbell is so… she’s just so… there’s no dimension at all to her, and that’s… it’s incredibly difficult. So this is like… this is, Jody made it so easy. It’s like, “Oh, I know this girl! She’s awful! I love her!”
M/C: I sat down on Saturday with Jaime Pressley, and we talked about how hard it is for anybody to establish a clearly-defined comic persona in this business, but for female actors in particular…. the writing isn’t there, the opportunities come few and far between, and it’s tough. But you’ve managed to do it.
AF: Thank you.
M/C: Was comedy something you were always drawn to?
AF: No, I was a very dramatic… I was involved in acting from a pretty young age. I was doing theater and I went on to do some little commercials or whatever, um, but I was always really dramatic. Never funny. Not a funny bone in my body. So I think it’s really surprising to people I grew up with that I ended up in comedy. And it was surprising for me, as well, that I ended up doing comedy. And now it’s like, “Oh, that’s what I do.” I can’t get a dramatic role to save my life. Um… I also think that it is… it’s incredibly difficult for women for a number of reasons. We don’t have enough… there aren’t enough people writing funny women. Studios are afraid of, sort of…
M/C: It’s a very real thing. Look, I’m a writer, and the truth is that when you’re looking to sell something, you hear over and over that the market has no place for things that are female-driven. It’s unfair.
AF: That’s a great way to put it, and, look… a lot of girls wanted this role. It’s just so refreshing and rare to… to not have to… to shake off the pressure of, like, “I need this guy to fall in love with me, and I need the audience to be in love with me, so I’ve gotta be charming and goofy,” and that’s fun to do sometimes as well, but for this, it was like so fun to just be naughty and unashamed and unapologetic. You know, I think the thing is that, for me… I was involved in “The House Bunny” from its conception, and that’s opened some doors for me, and I feel like, you know, if I want to play the kinds of roles that I want to play, I can’t wait for people to write them. I’ve gotta be more proactive. I’ve got to, like, work on this myself. So I’m trying to do more of that.
M/C: I think that’s great. Once you take control, that’s when things change.
AF: Yeah, that’s true. Nobody’s going to do it for me. I’ve got to sort of step up to the plate a little bit.
M/C: But there are filmmakers you’ve worked with… guys with their own voices… like Greg Araki. And I really dug “Smiley Face”…
AF: Oh, good. Goooood.
M/C: That’s fun to hand to someone without telling them what it’s about. They just see you on the cover and go, “Okay.”
AF: [laughs] Oh, good.
M/C: And “The House Bunny” is totally driven by you and your persona. But a film like “Observe” is all about the ensemble. It’s not just one role or two roles or even four roles deep. Everyone’s got something to do. Like Collette’s character…
AF: Oh, yeah. Totally.
M/C: … has a real heart, and she’s used so well. They write deep into their cast.
AF: It’s true, and it just makes our jobs so much easier. You don’t have to go fishing around for… you’re not a bounce card. A lot of those female roles are just bounce cards for the silly guy or, you know, the crazy guy. And it’s hard to bring anything sincere or special to a character just designed to serve that purpose. And so it’s… it’s… yeah. Jody and Ben are great writers. And I think also that with the Judd Apatow thing and some of these ensemble casts in these comedies… it’s just really great casting. Unusual casting. Refreshing casting. And I think…
M/C: Like Michael Pena?
AF: Oh, god… I know, right?
M/C: Now I feel like he can go do anything. And who knew? And in the new Broken Lizard movie, Michael Clarke Duncan’s the same way.
AF: Oh, cool.
M/C: I love when people shake it up.
AF: Oh, god, yes. You remember how revolutionary the casting of “Pulp Fiction” seemed? Hollywood sometimes has a really limited imagination, and it’s like, you know, everyone gets put in their little slot, and, uh…
M/C: Some of that is the money. Especially if you’re dealing with international money. I was trying to cast something last year, and we kept being told, “You can only cast off this list. And no black leads, because black doesn’t sell overseas.” So all these great actors we love are off the list… because they’re black? What year is this? That hurts movies.
AF: Absolutely. Crazy. And it feels so arbitrary. You’ve got your five superstars, and… it seems like financiers don’t care. “Pick one of those. Whatever. I don’t watch movies.” It’s very, very frustrating.
M/C: It reduces you guys to baseball cards, and it takes chemistry completely out of the equation.
AF: I agree, and the frustration is just… I mean, I didn’t have a lot of power at all on “The House Bunny,” but, um… that whole…
M/C: Well, you got to cast some younger actors who are just breaking, like Kat Demmings or Emma Stone…
AF: Yeah, true.
M/C: And it was fun to watch you as the veteran in that group.
AF: Oh, I think Emma… is… she’s really, really talented, for sure. She really knows what she’s doing.
M/C: So what’s coming up next?
AF: Um, well, I’ve got two… one animated movie called “Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.” And that’s been really fun, working with Bill Hader and Mr. T, who is hysterical. He’s so funny.
M/C: And Bill?
AF: Bill’s great. He’s a really lovely guy. I love working with him. He’s truly… totally a down-to-earth guy. When I was hosting “Saturday Night Live,” he was one of the more… um… calming forces. Which was cool. But, um… and then I’ve got, um… I’m trying to produce more stuff. We’ve got some stuff crankin’ along, but… you know… it’s always so uncertain. It’s like until… and even if the project’s greenlit, they can still pull the rug out from under you. It’s like… nothing is a go until you’re on set. So… all comedy…
M/C: But you’ve done some dramatic roles. You’re very good in “Brokeback.” If someone offered you a great role tomorrow…
AF: Oh, I would jump at the chance. But I definitely have become more comfortable with… I used to feel, a few years ago, like I have to do something dramatic. I’ve got to. My next project has to… I’ve got to show this town that I can do this. I can be a part of those films as well. But now… it’s just… I don’t… you know, I would love to, but I’m not quite sure what I have to prove.
M/C: If you’re comfortable…
AF: I love doing comedy. And people who understand the process know how challenging this is. And… it’s so… it’s so rewarding. I’m not quite sure why I feel the need to, you know, drudge through the dark depths of my soul to be tortured or whatever. So I’ve definitely become more comfortable with… you know what? I’d like to continue doing comedy for the rest of my career. And maybe I’ll do a few dramatic things. But I want to keep on doing what I’m really loving.
M/C: When you were on “Entourage,” you appeared as “yourself,” but that’s not you. It’s a riff on you. You’re playing a character that is someone else’s idea of you. Is that a weird, meta thing to do?
AF: Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s sooooo weird. And really difficult, too, because at times, I’m like, “Okay, I don’t get it. Am I making fun of myself here, or is this just making fun of insecure actors, or do you think I’m this way? Is he supposed to like me? What are we doing? What’s happening? I don’t quite understand.” Ummm… the whole process was totally confusing to me, actually. It was really fun to be a part of, and sort of fun to be, like, “Anna Faris,” but it also… I also felt completely confused, because I’m not a broad enough character to… it’s not like I was Samantha Jones, all loud and obnoxious. I’m not. So it was definitely confusing, for sure.
M/C: The way that show works in general, it’s very broad. I watch it and I feel like a doctor watching “E/R,” nitpicking all the things they get wrong about the business.
AF: Right, right. That’s a good point. And the me on the show? Much richer, it turns out.
M/C: Anna, thank you very much.
AF: Thank you!
“Observe and Report” opens nationwide in theaters today.
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