20 Questions: Alison Brie and Donald Glover of 'Community'

Photo of Alison Brie (partial) by Kate Romero

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.

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!”

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