This isn’t Alia Shawkat’s first rodeo. Best known for her role as Maeby Fünke on Fox’s Emmy award winning "Arrested Development," Shawkat has been acting in both television and film since she was in her pre-teens. More recently, Shawkat starred in the indie comedy "Cedar Rapids" opposite Ed Helms and John C. Reilly, and Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut "Whip It" alongside Ellen Page and Kristen Wiig.
As an actor who has been working since a young age, can you relate to Vanessa’s feeling of being ‘stuck’?
As an actress, you never know when you’re going to work again – and there’s so much dependency on working. I’ve found work always comes the minute you say, "It’s just work." When you focus on life, on enjoying and connecting with other people, that’s when work comes. When you focus on work, you can never work. I’m always going through waves of that.
Was there a big obstacle for you as an actor during the production, a mountain you had to climb?
Well -- maybe a small hill. We had our two great writers, Jay and Ian, on set with us all the time, and everyone was much more involved; in that way, it was much more like a TV production. In TV shows, the writers have almost just as much say as the directors, whereas in movies, the director can have tunnel vision and be like, "This is exactly what I want, and no one else has a say"; and then you’re left saying, "Well alright, fuck." While that was good that everyone was so involved, it was also challenging because scenes would change constantly, even the ending, and it would become something very different.
A part of me -- especially working on something like "Arrested Development," where they do write a lot of stuff last minute – is used to that style. But with "Arrested Development," since it’s such purely crazy comedy, it’s easier to plug it in because the rhythm of the show is unique and different. But with this, I needed it to be based in reality. Even though it’s a comedy, the comedy is coming out of the realism. The biggest challenged I’d face were when shit would change last minute and I’d be like "I’d been preparing to come at it from this angle, I need to know what’s happening!" But Julian was always able to bring it back around to make sure I felt good about it.
You’ve done a lot of independent films: is there something special about the independent film community for you?
Definitely. First of all, a lot of the better scripts I read are independent films, cause they’re much riskier, unafraid. Because I’m not a big box office hitter yet, I have a lot of opportunity to read these types of scripts. I’ve worked a lot with new directors, and some have turned out to be the greatest experiences I’ve ever had and some have turned out to be some of the worst. It’s very tricky. With independent film, as an actor, you have more involvement -- it’s very much more connected. It’s not just like I’m showing up and there’s another actor on the call sheet; you’re very attached to it.
As an actor, you just want to find stories that haven’t been told yet - or stories that are weird and cool that you actually want to tell - and that definitely comes out a lot more in independent films. There’s no big studio showing up on set that’s gonna be like, "She can’t say that word," or, "That part’s too strange, you gotta clean it up." It’s completely "What do you think?"..."What do you want to do?" -- which is what it should be.
This film was especially great because it was able to bring in high caliber professionals without losing its indie roots: the script and art and the performances came first in every way. They weren’t trying to soften the edges just to make it palatable.
Nina asked David in the film, "If there were no rules, would you…" and I was wondering: if there were no rules, what would you do?
Oh, gosh. No rules. That’s a good question. You like to think you live your life with no rules, and this seems like a lame answer, but because I’m an actor, when I’m working… I can’t cut my hair. I have to have a certain look, and sometimes I wonder -- what if I was a musician, you know, what would I look like?
What would you look like?
I don’t know, maybe I’d have a shaved head. Who knows? Maybe I’d be living in fucking India. I don’t know if I’d live in Hollywood and I don’t know if I’d look like this, so - maybe this will all change some day.