Alison Brie: Mad about the girl

She is best known for her role as Pete Campbell's wife, Trudy, in Mad Men, but her comic timing and convincing British accent reveal she's destined for big-screen success

There aren't many actresses who can move between drama and comedy without seemingly pausing for breath but Alison Brie, who plays both Pete Campbell's likeable wife Trudy on Mad Men and perfectionist Annie Edison on quirky sitcom Community, makes it look easy.

As the ever-optimistic Trudy, happily ensconced in the suburbs with her young daughter, Brie is equal parts playful flirtation and eager expectation – one of this season's funniest scenes involved her refusing to allow Don to pull out of her dinner party, while her committed Charleston with Pete at Roger's disastrous season three party was touching when it could have been laughable.

Meanwhile, as Community's Annie – the second season of which is currently airing on Sony – she is both martinet and schoolgirl, laying down the law to her fellow students while embracing every craze on campus with all the peppy enthusiasm a former school swot and ex-Adderall addict can muster.

Both performances share a warmth at their core but so different is the 29-year-old Brie in each role that many people don't realise it's the same person. "I'm very lucky to be doing both shows because I'm not boxed in," she admits, laughing when I tell her it took my husband two years before he realised that Community's Annie was also Trudy in Mad Men.

"It's a great compliment when people don't recognise it's me... I still get people doing it the whole time they'll go 'Wait, you're on Mad Men?" or 'Oh my God, you're the girl from Community too'. They always seem so shocked."

Indeed, when Brie signed up for upcoming comedy The Five-Year Engagement, which opens here later this month, producer Judd Apatow was surprised to discover that the actress doing the spot-on British accent [Brie plays Emily Blunt's younger sister] also plays Trudy Campbell. "I'm such a fan of Mad Men... and I had no idea who she was, I didn't know that she wasn't from England," he said. "Afterwards, someone said, 'She's on Mad Men and I thought 'what is the matter with me, how much cholesterol medication am I on that I didn't notice that?' She's so great."

While Brie is delighted with Apatow's praise, she downplays the suggestion that she fooled him entirely. "Judd's a massive Mad Men fan so I'm pretty sure he knew I was Trudy," she says sardonically. "Although he did seem convinced I was British. He congratulated me on how great my American accent was in Mad Men. I was all 'no wait, that's the real accent, that's how I sound.'"

If the engaging Brie sounds unusually relaxed about her rising profile, it's because she grew up in Hollywood without being part of it. Her mother works at a non-profit agency providing services for children at risk, her father is a musician and entertainment reporter and there's a sense that being raised in a loving but laid-back family – "my parents are definitely reformed hippies", she admits – imbued Brie with a realistic sense of stardom's pitfalls.

"A lot of people come to Los Angeles and think that they're going to be famous, just like that," she says. "They're coming from the wrong place. I'm very grateful that when I said I wanted to be an actress my parents signed me up for community theatre classes. It meant I learnt to respect the craft, not take it for granted." Nor did she expect fame to arrive overnight. "I did some really random jobs before working on Mad Men and Community," she says. "I did everything from horrible B-movies to regional theatre." Most notoriously, she was also a clown at children's parties. "Yeah, that was crazy," she admits. "I was quite young, 17 or 18, and I can't believe how brave I was, going to entertain 30 seven-year olds for two hours." She pauses. "I learnt a lot about crowd control."

In 2010, a raunchy comic monologue she had performed about her disastrous sex with a gay friend at college who wanted to sleep with a woman was published in online magazine Nerve.com and became a viral internet hit. "I was a bit naive about the power of the internet," she says now. "It was written as comic story, it was embellished for effect and it became this huge thing. My mum finds it hilarious because she'd seen me perform it. My father was more shocked... We had to talk."

These days, the buzzed-about Brie has people talking about her talent rather than her college affairs. Yet her instinct remains to downplay her growing success. "Honestly, with The Five-Year Engagement it was incredible just getting the job," she says. "It's a very different role from either Annie or Trudy and Judd's such a big deal in the comedy world that it could have been intimidating, particularly with the amount of improvising we had to do. But they were all very welcoming, although I always felt I was a little on the back foot because I had to think about the accent first. I don't know what you guys will think. Emily was nice about it – I just hope she was telling the truth."

Not that she has much time to spend worrying about accents. The fifth season of Mad Men, currently airing on Sky Atlantic, has seen Trudy blissfully playing homemaker in the suburbs even as Pete, feeling trapped, attempts an affair with a fellow commuter's wife and struggles with depression. The increasingly dark storyline – episode eight was filled with the imagery of death and there has been much speculation about Pete's possible suicide – resembles a John Cheever short story, detailing the price you pay for settling for someone else's dream and ensuring you feel for Pete, flaws and all.

Making it all the more depressing is the audience's recognition that Pete is blind to his greatest asset: his wife. Trudy has always supported her husband. If he had ever respected her enough to tell her the truth about anything, she could have been a source of great strength.

"I know, that's why it's so awful," says Brie. "Trudy's really happy, she thinks that the marriage is great, that they're doing really well. She's a very optimistic and straightforward person who, yes, is a little bit spoiled but who's actually grown throughout the series. And then you have this very dark parallel storyline playing out with Pete... There are times when I just want to shout: 'How can you be so unhappy? You're with Trudy.'"

Not that it's all suburban angst. Away from Mad Men, Brie has started a musical side project with two of her closest friends – "It's a hobby really" – and recently learnt that the acclaimed but perennially low-rated Community has been granted a fourth season. As to the future, she remains pragmatic. "I'd love to do more movies and keep trying different genres but I know how lucky I am to be in Mad Men and how lucky I was not to have to choose between that and Community. It's amazing that I got to do both."

The growing army of fans, both male and female, who love Brie's down-to-earth charm and earthy humour, would undoubtedly agree.

'Mad Men' is on Tuesdays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic; 'Community' is on Tuesdays at 10.30pm on Sony TV; 'The Five-Year Engagement' opens on 22 June

Selling themselves: How the other Mad Men stars are raising their profile

Jon Hamm

Hamm, aka the dashing Don Draper, is cornering the market in handsome cads thanks to sharp performances in 'Bridesmaids' and 'Friends with Kids'. He also starred in crime drama 'The Town', appears as Dr Drew Baird in sitcom '30 Rock' and recently went behind the camera to direct episode three of this season's 'Mad Men'.

Christina Hendricks

Eye-catching turns in 'Drive' and Tony Kaye's 'Detachment' have seen Hendricks, who plays curvaceous office manager Joan, move smoothly into film. Next up is Mike Figgis and Neil LaBute's 'Seconds of Pleasure'.

John Slattery

In addition to playing on his smooth-talking silver fox reputation in car commercials, Slattery (who stars as Roger Sterling) has also directed a number of episodes of the show and occasionally turns up looking slick in thrillers such as 'The Adjustment Bureau'.

Elisabeth Moss

While Moss, aka ambitious Peggy Olson, has had no shortage of film offers, her best away-from-'Mad Men' reviews have come in the theatre, with critically acclaimed performances in 'Speed-the-Plow' on Broadway and 'The Children's Hour' with Keira Knightley.

Vincent Kartheiser

Despite a commanding performance as the weaselly yet vulnerable Pete Campbell, Kartheiser has yet to land a big movie role. He provided a rodent's voice in animated Western 'Rango' and popped up as Amanda Seyfried's father in Andrew Niccol's so-so sci-fi film, 'In Time'.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there