20 Questions: Alison Brie and Donald Glover of ‘Community’

Alison Brie, who plays Trudy on Mad Men and Donald Glover, who wrote for 30 Rock before joining the Community cast, indulge in a friendly, teasing tête à tête of sorts, as they consider PopMatters 20 Questions. Donald plays football jock Troy and Alison plays goody two shoes Annie on NBC’s new comedy, Community, which airs Thursdays at 8PM on NBC.

The next episode of Community, “Environmental Science”, airs 19 November. Señor Chang (Ken Jeong) has become the teacher from hell, and the group nominates Jeff (Joel McHale) to intervene. Meanwhile Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) have trouble with a lab rat experiment, and Pierce (Chevy Chase) helps Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) with public speaking.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Donald Glover: Honestly, there’s a part in an upcoming episode of Community where I sing “Somewhere Out There” from the animated film American Tale. So I thought I do my research and watch the clip of it on YouTube. I don’t know… it brought up a lot of feeling from when I saw it as a kid, also me moving from New York, relationships and… damn. I got emotional, alright?

Sadly the last thing before that that made me cry was seeing part of Jim Henson’s funeral. Also a Youtube clip. Big Bird comes out and sings “It’s Not Easy Being Green” and I just couldn’t hold it together. I don’t cry a lot from grown up stuff. I think I was a really sensitive kid, so when things get brought up from that time, my skin isn’t that thick in that area.

Alison Brie: It was Inglourious Basterds for me. Yeah, luckily I saw that more recently than The Time Traveler’s Wife which, even though I didn’t care for the film, still made me cry.

I suppose it doesn’t take too much to make me cry – a good song really does the trick. That’s my latest revelation; that it’s not really the film necessarily, but the music that paints the agonizing backdrop for whatever the characters are going through.

I almost cried at the end of The Invention of Lying, hell – the other day I cried during a preview for a Sandra Bullock movie. I know. This was not the case with Inglourious Basterds, though actually. I cried during the scene in which all the Nazis were trapped in the burning theatre and they rushed the doors only to find that they were trapped and would indeed all burn to their death. Tears of joy, I cried. Or rather, tears of sorrow, maybe, but not for the characters in the film.

It made me think of all the people, Jews and other minorities, that were locked in burning buildings, or showers filled with poisonous gas and put in that same position. It was such a great film in that respect. It was really such a satisfying feeling to watch all of these Nazis in that same horrific position; to watch Hitler get shot in the face, I was moved to tears. Never have I felt such gratification or retribution watching a film.

I’m Jewish, well, my mother is, so I am by default, and even though she’s never been a real practicing Jew, she certainly is a proud Jew. I saw the film with her and I thought she might be horrified by all the violence but she turned to me after, I’m crying, and she’s got a big smile and says, “That movie was great!”

2. The fictional character most like you?

Alison: My first instinct here was to say Miranda from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, or maybe Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, probably more like Lydia in Pride and Prejudice actually, but I take it all back. These characters are really idealized versions of me, right? Or anyone for that matter.

It’s a tough question, because to assess oneself in the light a fictional character you may never find one that really speaks to every side of you. I can fall in love like Ophelia, but I’m not planning on killing myself any time soon.

Donald: Phew!

Alison: (laughing) Shut up. I would say Miranda from The Tempest because she’s strong, sweet, adventurous, but in all likelihood maybe I’m more like Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada. I mean, I’m probably on my cell phone just as much.

New thought: Alice in Alice in Wonderland. How about that huh? She’s a bit innocent, wide-eyed, yet precocious and above all curious. I like that about her – just takes pills from a stranger.

I think if I were to name my favorite Disney movie/character it would be Sleeping Beauty, but I don’t find that many animals follow me around the forest, though I have attended some crazy tea parties… so we’ll stick with Alice.

Donald: I’d like to say Holden Caulfield, but that’s untrue. I’m probably more Gonzo. He’s just a weird dude that just wants to be liked. No one really knows what he is. He’s into chickens. Why is everyone hatin’ on dude being into chickens?

Alison: It sounds like you’re into chickens.

Donald: Would it matter if I was?! I think the only part of Gonzo that isn’t me is that he hasn’t said “Fuck you guys! I’m gonna do comedy! Then you’ll see.” I like the unbridled sincerity of Gonzo. He just likes what he likes and I really relate to that.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Donald: Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I know that’s a really easy way out of that question, but let’s be honest. There are very few albums you can play straight through. Quincy’s production is on point, Michael’s genius almost burns through the cover art. I can play that album no matter what I’m feeling and there’s a song to compliment it.

Jackson’s “Human Nature” is up there for one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s so beautifully composed and the synth and acoustic instruments don’t try to outdo each other. And it’s a hopeful, sad, amazing song.

There are so many just good pop songs and there are only about ten songs. So you can tell they’re all well crafted. Any pop artist who puts out eight-ten songs on one album is fucking sure of those songs. Most albums now a days have 15 songs, and sometimes there’s a lot of fat on the album. I actually enjoy Jackson’s Off the Wall a little more, but Thriller is… well… Thriller.

Alison: The Beatles, Abbey Road. Donald, you’re wrong.

Donald: My guy’s dead. So I win.

Alison: You know how many Beatles are dead? Bam! Well, wait, you’re kind of right. Thriller is pretty bad-ass. But, I’m a big Beatles fan and in fact, my favorite Beatles’ song, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, is not even on this album, and yes, the Beatles have plenty of amazing albums.

I’m pretty much in love with Magical Mystery Tour, it may even be my favorite, but Abbey Road is the greatest album ever. I mean, The White Album is pretty extraordinary, and pretty much plays like a greatest hits record or something, but Abbey Road is a complete experience. It’s everything an album should be. It takes you on a journey. The songs flow upwards and downwards and conjoin and pull apart.

Abbey Road is the greatest album because I would prefer to listen to most of the songs on it only in conjunction with the other songs on it. Okay maybe just the second half, but how wonderful to have songs that stand on their own but only become more powerful when mixed with their buddies on the album.

It’s a storybook. It is a four-course meal. It makes the listener feel delighted, silly, sexy, lustful, sentimental, loving, reflective, nostalgic, etc. without seeming choppy and disconnected. It’s a masterpiece. Also, the cover art is pretty iconic. I mean, the full package. 

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Alison: Oh definitely Star Wars.

Donald: Yeah. Star Wars. If only for its influential value. Huge impact on my life.

Alison: I never got into Star Trek. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one episode or film that carried the Star Trek title – not even the new one, which I actually had interest in seeing because everyone raved about it, but I never got around to it.

The original Star Wars movies paved the way for contemporary science fiction. Also, I’m pretty sure that even outside the realm of science fiction many movies continue to steal fundamental themes and characterizations from Star Wars.

Donald: Nerd. Nerd. Nerd.

Alison: I think we both know women nerds are the best nerds to be. Oh, and Star Wars provides better Halloween costumes. Chewbacca. Did Star Trek have wookies? I rest my case. Also Star Wars because it had a huge impact on Donald’s life.

Donald: So many people connect with Star Wars. If we didn’t have Star Wars there are so many books, shows, and movies that wouldn’t have been made. My dad was into both Star Wars and Star Trek, but he made sure I was into Star Wars. If I liked or didn’t like Star Trek it didn’t really matter. But I knew the difference between C-3PO and R2-D2 before I knew my right from my left hand. Star Wars is worth it if only for the Ryan vs. Dorkman videos on Youtube. Period.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Alison: Going to the theatre. Pretty much any live theater. If it’s good, it inspires me and makes me wish I was a part of it, and if it’s bad, it inspires me and makes me wish I had been in it so that I could prove how much better I could’ve done it. These responses can even be incited from the same show!

Theatre just gets my creative juices flowing. I miss doing it.

Donald: When I get free time I compose music or DJ. Anytime I’m doing something musical, I feel like I’m becoming more in tune with the universe and myself at the same time. It keeps my brain active and I feel like I’m producing something while also making something.

I love books, but I never have time to read them, and I also feel it’s a one way street. I’m getting from the book, but not giving anything. Music makes it a two way street. Like sex. In conclusion: music is sex.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Donald: I’m proud to be a part of something I really think is special. The show, Community is straight dopeness. Every script has something in it that I think about later on and laugh. I just wanna do good work.

Hopefully, one day, the name Donald Glover will be synonymous with work you can count on, like how Tina Fey is for me. Every time her name is on something I’m like “You already have my money.”

But if you’re talking about what I’ve done so far, I think I should be proud of what I’ve done if only for the fact I’m doing exactly what I said I wanted to do my junior year of high school.

Alison Brie as Annie in Community
NBC Photo (partial) by Mitchell Haaseth.

Alison: I think I’m proud because since I was old enough to speak I’ve been telling people I would make a living as an actress and that’s what I’m doing. There’s something to said for setting goals and accomplishing them.

I remember my high school guidance counselor being unable to understand why my parents were okay with me not having a backup plan. It’s especially funny now. She really wanted me to have some other colleges, some other careers in mind, and when I just looked her in the face and said “Well, I don’t need to, I’m going to be an actress” she just held my stare and scoffed, “Well, that’s very difficult to do!”

Influential People, Inspiring Advice, and Elastic that Died Years Ago

7. You want to be remembered for…?

Donald Hmmm… I kinda answered that in the last question. Umm… I wanna be remembered as a funny dude who didn’t make too many dick jokes. And a loving father. I do not want to be remembered as a degenerate masturbator.

Alison: I’m not sure I’ve yet done the things I’ll want to be remembered for. I’d love to be remembered for my work. I’ve grown up watching actresses in films and on TV respecting what they do and looking up to them, wondering if I could do it – or do better. I’d love to provide that same kind of challenge for a younger generation of actors.

I’d also want to be remembered for being kind and fun to be around. In this business you cross the paths of so many people, sometimes spending a lot of time with them, and often just having a few brief exchanges. It’s a great thing to feel like some of those people truly enjoyed working with you, that you made their day a little more fun, or you made their job a little easier. I hope I can entertain people in the process. That’s what we do, right?

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

Donald: Kanye West. I love that dude. That’s a passionate dude. I love hearing his story.

Umm… Chris Rock. I love watching him. He and Adam Sandler are such hard workers. It’s nice to see people who never slow down.

Those guys and Salvador Dali I look at and go “See! You can work every minute of every day and not go crazy!” Maybe not so much for Salvador Dali, but definitely for Chris Rock.

Also John Williams and Steven Speilberg. I wanna have a relationship like that one day. Just geniuses hanging out. Making stuff. That would be great.

Alison: Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchet. Basically anyone named Kate. These are two women who exude class and honor their craft. I feel like they are real people. Though they are both very beautiful, their beauty never overshadows their ability to bring truth to a role. It seems like they are just amazing actresses.

They work hard at what they do and they have been rewarded with success. There is merit in that. They also seem to make daring choices, in both the roles they take on and their characterizations of those roles. They’re bold and they’re good at what they do. I respect that.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

Donald: Back to the Future. I love that movie. It’s so much fun, and funny, and has action and love and everything. And McFly is so ol’ school cool. I just love it. I wish that bore my name ‘cause I only get jealous of things I feel like I could’ve made.

I love time travel and love stories and action sequences. I feel like if I was born a little earlier, I could have made something similar. But I’m 98 percent sure that’s just wishful thinking.

Alison: I’ll see your Back to the Future and raise you a Ghostbusters. I love that movie! A while ago they played it on AMC every Saturday and Sunday for a month and I watched it every time. No joke.

Then I decided to join Twitter because I thought there must be better ways to spend my time. Ghostbusters has the perfect balance of humor and science-fiction and action. And Sigourney Weaver is damn near perfect in it. And its theme song rocked the world.

Also, Almost Famous, not because I think I could’ve made it, but because every time I watch it I wish I were in it. I wouldn’t have needed a huge lead or anything, either. I’d take the Anna Paquin role, if only to romp around a room half-naked with a bottle of champagne and Jason Lee.

10. Your hidden talents…?

Alison: I have a great talent for holding eye-contact. I’m not saying I could beat you in a staring contest, although I probably could, but I can definitely either make someone feel like the only person in the room or totally creep someone out. It’s pretty awesome, or weirdly intense, your call. 

Donald: I can fart with my back. If I have a smooth floor to lay on, I can put a little water on my back and make a fart sound. I’m also a pretty good lover I think. I think it’s because I really think of it as competition. Is that bad?

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

Donald: Don’t be mean to your brothers and sisters. I was the fighting with them once and my mom says “One day we’ll be gone and they’ll be the only links to your past. Be nice!” That’s pretty heavy to drop on an eight-year-old. But it did make me realize that very few people know you like family. You have to cherish that at all costs.

Alison: “Stay in school.” Because I went to an arts conservatory just outside Los Angeles a lot of students who came out from other states started getting the itch to just go out and become stars; try their luck at it while they were young and in their “prime”. So after staying up all night listening to a guy in my class describe all the wonderful things we could be doing that we might be missing out on, and how we needed to do them now! I decided, in a moment of terrible misjudgment, to drive home and tell my parents that I wanted to leave school and pursue being an actress straight away.

They were actually surprisingly supportive, but my dad sat me down and talked to me about the benefits of college, not in an academic way, but in a getting to know yourself way. He basically said, “Look, you have four years to do what you want to do all day, every day. And while you’re doing that you can make the best friends of your life and have fun and figure out who you really are.” And he was absolutely right. I wouldn’t take back those years for anything and I don’t think I would be the woman I am today or the actress I am today without my time in school.

I also think that I was able to use that time to develop some thick skin and some ideas about what I will and will not do to achieve success. Had I left school and attempted this career at 18, the outcome might not have been so positive.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

Donald: My Techniques. Those turntables don’t stop being awesome. It’s fun to just waste and afternoon mixing different albums and sounds together. I’ve never regretted getting them, even though they cost a pretty penny.

Alison: It would have to be these little shorts I bought in maybe 8th grade that were navy with a lace trim. I bought them just to be undershorts really, little bloomers to wear under skirts so people wouldn’t see my underwear when I would bend over, jump high in the air, or dance crazy.

Now the elastic has worn out, the lace is but a mere suggestion and they are my favorite thing to wear around the house at all times. They kind of just hang off my body, sadly clinging to my undies, barely more clothing than the undies themselves.

I love them. I always bring them with me when I travel too; makes my time spent in a hotel room feel more like home. They’re basically my teddy bear of clothes.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?

Alison: Coincidentally, shorts! Mini shorts. Though I love a good pair of jeans, really my favorite thing is wearing shorts all the time.

Because I grew up, and still live, in California I can pretty much get away with wearing them year-round. You can dress them up or down – I’ve got a great pair of formal shorts from BCBG that I’ll wear almost every day. Throw on some heels and they can go day to night, love it!

Donald: It all depends on the girl I’m trying to impress. If she wants James Bond, I love suits. If she wants rough and tumble, T-shirt it is. I feel best in the clothes I’m getting laid in.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Donald: Dr. Martin Luther King. I sorta felt like he always knew he was going to die doing what he did. I just would want to chat and see how someone could go on knowing that.

Also, there’s not a ton of stuff with him just being him. He’s always giving a speech. I’d like to get him drunk and see how he feels about BET and stuff. The real dirt.

Wait! Richard Pryor! There we go!

Alison: Okay, my first instinct was President Obama – how great is that? That we have a president that I think it would actually be fun to sit down to dinner with… well, it’s pretty great to me. Doesn’t he just seem cool?

But OK, let’s be more realistic, I would not want to dine with the president because then you’d have all the secret service and it’d be on the news and it would be a whole big thing. The rest of the family would probably have to be there, and they’re great, but I think for a dinner at the Ritz you may not want kids around… No, Donald, it’s not because I hate kids.

Donald: But you do hate kids. That’s just who you are.

Alison: We have an inside joke where Donald thinks I hate kids. It’s boring. I’m going to stop talking about it now.

Anyway, how about a cool director whose work I really respect and whose opinions seem interesting like Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese? That would fundamentally be great – both of those guys at dinner with me discussing pretty much anything — seems like I would just want to sit and listen.

But here’s the thing; I don’t like it. I don’t like the idea of sitting down to some fancy dinner with somebody whose work you really respect or someone whom you’d be forced to have some serious conversation with. So definitely not some super serious historical person, or even someone you greatly admire. Too much pressure — and the possibility of great disappointment.

Would either of you really be yourselves – or just two people forced to go to dinner and talk about “important stuff”? The whole idea makes me uncomfortable. I have a tendency to embarrass easily when in the presence of greatness.

When I’m at dinner I like to have a good time, have a glass of wine, relax, and enjoy the food. I think I would prefer to invite someone who would be fun. Ok, I’d invite one of the following: Seth McFarlane, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, or Elizabeth Banks. This is not to say that I don’t respect the work of any of these people, I just think they’d be fun to have dinner with.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

Donald: I’d go into the future. About 500 years. To see if mankind has progressed. What’s possible and normal? Are the Beatles still important? Do people still worry about cancer? Do the same problems exist? I’d also check on my great-great-great-great grand children. I’d just like to know everything was okay, I guess.

Alison: I’d go back to Woodstock. Don’t give me shit about this being cliché or whatever. There will never be another anything quite like Woodstock.

I’ve been to Coachella and I enjoy it, but it’s not the same. It would be great to go back in time and experience something like Woodstock. It would be one hell of a concert. Plus you could really go all out, really indulge in it and leave and come back to the present. And you’d know that you weren’t going to alter history or anything, you know, create some paradox or damage a time-space continuum or anything. Is that a real thing or did I just steal that from Back to the Future?

But seriously, it’s a waste to think that you’d go back in time and change history, like stop the Holocaust or the bombing of Pearl Harbor or something, as if by going back in time you’d also gain super powers or something. Wrong. I think you go back in time to be part of something exciting that you will never be able to recreate. Go back and enjoy something. I’d go back and experience Woodstock with reckless abandon and hopefully have an amazing time.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Donald: I shop. Too much. Love clothes and music and food. If I’m really stressed, you’ll see me walking into a record shop wearing a new sweater, eating Pinkberry. Like I’m some overweight aunt or something. It’s super sad.

Alison: Spa vacation! I love getting massages. I love doing yoga. Yoga really does it for me because it makes me connect with my body. I feel like so often we spend time at odds with our bodies, trying to get it to do what we want, or to be different than it is, but not always giving it the attention it needs.

In yoga class I understand the power and beauty of my body. It also forces me to quiet my mind. To spend an hour and a half with no phone, no internet, no talking at all, is really refreshing. That’s why I like spas, too – although, I can never stay totally silent when I’m with my family at a spa. The ladies in my family love to chit chat! But a spa can create the same feeling as yoga for me, in terms of connecting with my body and feeling beautiful. Plus, you get to be naked.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?

Donald: Flaming Hot Cheetos. I used to eat those and have a (now discontinued) Coke Black and watch Lost. Some of the happiest hours of my life.

Now Coke Black is gone and Lost is on its final season. All I have left are these spicy, powdery morsels. They’ve always been there for me.

Alison: Oooooooh chocolate, I suppose. I always try to say I’m not really a chocolate person, as if when I search for a treat it usually veers more towards cashews or ice cream, and flavor-wise I’ve always preferred vanilla to chocolate… but I’ve got to say, I love me some peanut M&M’s. Movie candy of choice for sure! That or Reeses Pieces. Or Bunch a Crunch. OK, I like chocolate. It’s an aphrodisiac, you know.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Donald: City. New York City, baby. I’ve never seen anything else like it. It has everything you need. Everything’s open late. Dancing, food, women. It’s the only way to live.

Alison: I like a small town, or a house in the hills, definitely on the west coast.

I do love New York. I love being in the city and I’m totally in awe of Central Park, but I’ve always thought that I’d love to keep a place in the city, not live there permanently. Even in L.A. I love to go into the city, I love to play in the city, but then I love to leave.

I’ve lived in South Pasadena all my life and I used to think I lived there because it was just the easiest choice for me, but now as I get older and have the capacity to explore other options I find myself not wanting to leave.

I love the small-town feeling. I love the trees mostly. I like that I live up on a hill because that is my favorite thing – being up above in the peace and quiet of it all, looking down into the hustle bustle. I like that going home feels like an escape.

Donald Glover as Troy in Community

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Alison: Good luck!

Donald: Yeah. I’m pretty much just wanna say “It’s gonna be okay… right?”

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Alison: We just wrapped filming on the third season of Mad Men and are knee-deep in season one of Community.

I’m in the editing process of having a story published in a forthcoming book and looking for some meaty film roles to tackle in the time between shows. Also considering working on my tan, which is still possible in California, even in winter.

Donald: Working on a pilot, writing three movies, a half our special for Comedy Central I’m taping in November, Community, my third rap album, and creating a replicant to do the first three things at the beginning of this sentence.